Social Cognition & Intergroup Processes (SCIP) Laboratory


Nonverbal Behavior and the Spread of Bias

One line of work, led by our collaborator Dr. Allison Skinner (at the University of Georgia), investigates whether exposure to nonverbal bias can actually create social biases. Findings from this work suggest that social bias can be viewed as “contagious”; that is, exposure to subtle nonverbal messages from others can generate social attitudes toward others (Skinner & Perry, 2019).  Dr. Skinner also investigated how young children develop social bias and prejudice (Skinner & Meltzoff, 2018), largely focusing on the role of exposure to biased nonverbal signals. Findings indicate that preschool children (4-5-year-olds) are sensitive to the effects of nonverbal signals demonstrated by adults, and that these nonverbal signals can shape attitudes toward individuals (Skinner, Meltzoff, & Olson, 2017), as well as attitudes toward larger groups (Skinner, Olson, & Meltzoff, 2019). This work suggests that the actions we take (i.e., nonverbal signals) matter as much, as the statements we make.  Overall, this work suggests that nonverbal signals are a powerful vehicle for transmitting social biases, which may play a critical role in the development of social biases starting early in childhood.