Social Cognition & Intergroup Processes (SCIP) Laboratory


The Social Cognition and Intergroup Processes (SCIP) Laboratory at Northwestern University is a social psychological science research lab utilizing experimental, descriptive, survey, online, and laboratory methods. Research in the SCIP Lab investigates how individual differences interact with the situation to affect intergroup contexts, educational and healthcare settings, and people's sense of belonging and psychological well-being. 

Here are some of our current projects in the SCIP Lab.

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Bias Awareness

One aspect of our work investigates the positive and negative consequences of racial bias awareness. Specifically, we examine individual differences in Whites’ awareness and concern about displaying prejudice and the social consequences of this (bias) awareness. To assess these individual differences, we developed a measure of bias awareness in which participants are asked to endorse items such as “Even though I know it’s not appropriate, I sometimes feel that I hold unconscious negative attitudes toward Blacks.” Our research shows that some White individuals are indeed bias-aware, and this awareness has important (positive and negative) consequences for intergroup attitudes and behaviors (Perry, Murphy, & Dovidio, 2015).  For example, Whites who are bias aware (relative to those who are unaware of their biases) are more likely to be attuned to others’ biases. Specifically, bias awareness explains unique variance in Whites’ ability to label others’ subtly biased behaviors as racist. Moreover, when high (relative to low) bias-aware Whites are told they are high (vs. low) in implicit racial bias, high bias-aware Whites are motivated by this feedback, expressing greater interest in helping maintain and recruit racial minority students to their institution. In contrast, for low bias-aware Whites this feedback reduces willingness to participate in such activities (Perry, Murphy & Dovidio, 2015). 

Our research further suggests that forms of anti-bias education may have some detrimental effects if the interventions increase bias awareness without also providing skills for managing anxiety. Relative to low bias-aware Whites, high bias-aware Whites express heightened intergroup anxiety. Moreover, relative to low-aware students, high bias-aware medical students who are higher in prejudice indicate less interest in working primarily with minority patients after medical school, and this is explained by their heightened interracial anxiety (Perry, Dovidio, Murphy, & van Ryn, 2015). Thus, in some circumstances bias awareness may have unintended negative consequences, such as decreasing the likelihood that people will interact or seek contact across racial lines. Currently in the SCIP Lab we are investigating how bias awareness develops, and how this awareness affects intergroup attitudes and behavior. 

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Academic Fit and Psychological Well-being

Another line of research in the SCIP Lab investigates the individual difference and situational level factors that influence how underrepresented groups (e.g., women and racial minorities) deal with academic stressors. With one project, we are investigating the effects of sense of fit and belonging on African American medical students’ psychological well-being and self-esteem. Because of the large underrepresentation of Blacks in predominately White medical schools and cultural stereotypes impugning their intellectual ability, Black medical students are highly susceptible to stereotype and identity threat throughout their education and training, perhaps particularly as they adjust to the challenges of medical school and residency. Consistent with this, my colleagues and I found that, by their second semester of medical school, Black students reported greater perceived stress, less acceptance, and more day-to-day discrimination than their White counterparts. While some studies focus on assessing medical students’ biases against patients of color, very few investigate the implications of individual and institutional level bias for medical students of color. Thus, with our NICHD-funded project, we are currently investigating the various situational factors (e.g., racial climate, diversity), and individual level factors (e.g., coping style, race-based rejection sensitivity, racial and domain specific identity) that affect psychological well-being and belongingness among African American medical students in 50 predominately White and 3 historically Black institutions. We are also conducting a self-affirmation intervention to assess whether affirming the self in other domains eases the identity threat experienced by Black students in medical school. Early data suggest that, when everyday discrimination is high, Black medical students who are high (compared to low) in racial identity centrality experience poorer psychological well-being and self-esteem (Hardeman, Perry, Phelan, Przedworski, Burgess, & van Ryn, 2016), and this process is explained through lower feelings of acceptance in medical school (Perry, Hardeman, Burke, Cunningham, Burgess, & van Ryn, 2016). Additionally, data from a larger medical student population shows that, over time, racially discriminatory environments are psychologically taxing for medical students of all races, and that Black students within these environments become less interested in working with predominately minority populations (Hardeman, Przedworski, Burke, Burgess, Perry, Phelan, Dovidio, & van Ryn, 2016).  Currently in the SCIP Lab we are collaborating with researchers at Yale University, the Mayo Clinic, and the University of Minnesota on an NIH-funded grant to investigate the individual difference and environmental factors that impact medical students’ sense of academic fit and well-being.

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How do we Perceive People who Admit their Biases?

In a new line of work, the SCIP Lab is investigating how people perceive those who are bias aware (i.e., those who disclose/admit they express subtle bias; Perry, Parzonka, & Dovidio, in prep). Preliminary evidence suggests that people derogate those who admit their bias. Specifically, our research shows that when an individual admits their bias (versus denies their bias or discloses another negative piece of information), perceivers are more likely to think they are prejudiced, and socially distance themselves from that individual. However, when an individual denies their bias, people are more likely to believe that individual (versus those who disclose prejudice or another negative attribute) is less prejudiced. These results suggest that, even when the target’s level of prejudice is held constant, admitting bias has negative social consequences. We are currently investigating the circumstances under which people do/do not derogate those who are bias aware, and the individual differences that predict when and why people derogate those who admit their prejudices.

Social Perception: Origins, Mechanisms, and Consequences

Graduate student lines of research includes investigating the social psychological consequences of the perceptions of femininity and masculinity as it relates to intersectional identities within social groups based on race, sex, sexuality, and gender expression. 

Specifically, graduate student James Wages investigates how perceptions of masculinity differ by target race, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation in relation to estimating a target's "riskiness" and the downstream consequences in real world domains, such as social group disparities in health and healthcare, education, and criminal justice. Currently, he is interested in whether healthcare providers operate, perhaps implicitly, a masculine-risk bias toward racial and sexual minorities when making healthcare recommendations, potentially contributing to the racial and sexual minorities health and healthcare gap. In other lines of research, James is interested how these masculine-risk perceptions may create risk-related stereotypes that perhaps invoke threat among sexual minorities in health and healthcare contexts, potentially increasing their risk of HIV infection. Additionally, James is interested in the role of experienced stigma and narrative identity in predicting intragroup prejudice among stigmatized groups (e.g., the normative emergence of anti-fat, anti-femme, and anti-Asian/Black biases among gay men manifested as mating "preferences"). 

In regard to femininity perceptions, graduate student EP Nelsen investigates the perceptions and stereotypes about women of color, through the lens of intersectionality.  Preliminary qualitative research on the differences in perception and gender role expectations of White and Black women pointed to limitations in current theory intended to predict perceptions, and subsequent consequences, about individuals who have multiple marginalized identities.  As such, EP is currently working on a review of the literature on intersectional invisibility in attempt to offer a revised model of when those with multiple marginalized identities will be invisible or hyper-visible.  We hope that this review will inspire further research that will not only contribute to our understanding of the perceptions of women of color, but also to eventually aid in the reduction of sexual objectification of and violence toward women.