Broadly, we study the social and economic factors that motivate decision makers to discriminate, and the social cognitive and perceptual processes that facilitate this discrimination. Much of our research is guided by real world injustice and inequality. We integrate ideas and methods from experimental social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral decision-making, and psychophysics, and ultimately aim to inform interventions aimed at achieving racial and economic justice.

Motivated race perception

How do our goals and motivations influence the way we “see” race? How does this impact discrimination? 

Although race is often regarded as fixed and veridically perceived, representations of a person’s race or ethnicity can shift as a function of a perceiver’s social goals and motivations. Such biases in race perception have profound implications for the expression of racial bias. For example, discrimination against African Americans is magnified for those viewed as more prototypically “Black” (i.e., as having darker skin tone and more Afrocentric features) such that they are more likely to be socially excluded, shot when unarmed in a police training task, and sentenced to death after a guilty verdict. Ongoing research in our lab examines how group-based motives (e.g., political ideology or the motivation to preserve resources for one's ingroup) influence the perception of race at multiple levels of analysis to promote discriminatory behavior.  In this research, we utilize methods from psychophysics and cognitive neuroscience to show that motivation can change where one draws a line between racial categories, how one represents a face in their "mind's eye," and even the extent to which targets of discrimination are perceptually dehumanized - or literally seen as less human. 

Stereotypes and Visual Perception

How do our stereotypes alter our perception of race? 

The influence of racial stereotypes pervades almost all forms of inequality, from biased hiring practices to disparities in criminal sentencing. Even police officers’ decision to shoot during a confrontation is biased by stereotypes about their targets. Stereotypes are typically thought to operate in high-level cognition, and dominant models suggest face processing is impenetrable to top-down influences. However, in ongoing research we use psychophysical and psychophysiological methods to show that stereotypes can bias visual processing, with profound implications for discrimination. Indeed, our research suggests that stereotypes can influence early face processing (making effects especially difficult for a perceiver to detect and control) and representations of race in ways that may justify, in the mind of the perceiver, greater discrimination (e.g., seeing victims of crime as darker and more stereotypically Black).

intergroup Choice processes

Does group membership influence the choices we make for others?

Racial minorities held a disproportionate number of home foreclosures after the recent housing collapse, due in part to the riskier loans banks made them before the economic collapse. Although this could be explained as overt racial prejudice, it is also possible that this disparity was driven by less explicit, but pernicious differences in decision making processes for racial in vs. outgroup members. Indeed, research in behavioral decision-making suggests people make riskier decisions for others vs. themselves, and distant others vs. close others, because they are less able to incorporate emotional experience into such decisions. In this ongoing research, we use economic models of decision-making and physiological measurements to examine sensitivity to ingroup vs. outgroup losses in risky decision making. 

Racial minorities also suffer the harshest post-recession consequences. For example, during the economic recession of 2007–2009, median household wealth decreased by 16% for White Americans, whereas it decreased by 53% for Black Americans. In another ongoing line of research, we examine how scarcity influences deliberate discriminatory allocation decisions, and whether egalitarian motivation, deliberation time, and zero-sum perceptions influence these decisions.  Together with our research on scarcity effects on visual perception (see above), this program advances the study of racial discrimination under scarcity by elucidating both an implicit route through which scarcity alters race perception to influence allocation, and a deliberate route through which some decision makers are motivated to actively harm Black recipients.