The Social Roots of Implicit Racial Bias

Broadly, my research examines how deeply internalized racial and gender attitudes are shaped by social factors such as political party affiliation and education.  I also investigate how these attitudes fuel — and disrupt — dominant ideologies that help to justify social inequality.  I use surveys, interviews, and experiments in my work, which draws on and contributes to the subfields of race and ethnicity, racial attitudes, social psychology, political sociology, and gender.

My National Science Foundation-funded dissertation bridges social psychological and sociological research on racial attitudes by examining anti-Black implicit bias. This kind of bias is generally unconscious, and it causes discrimination in schools, hospitals, courtrooms and various other social settings. Social psychologists tend to identify the determinants of implicit racial bias in internal processes (i.e., cognition and personality traits). At the same time, sociologists have largely ignored this important dimension of racism, focusing instead on explicit (i.e., conscious) racial attitudes that are ignited by group competition for material goods and social privilege. As a result, we still lack understanding of the ways that broad social forces shape implicit racial bias. My dissertation fills this gap by analyzing original survey data and Race Implicit Association Test scores from a sample of 380 white Americans.

I contracted with YouGov, a prominent polling company, to construct this novel sample from its large pool of opt-in participants. The responses are weighted so that my estimates are nationally representative with regard to key factors. This sampling approach ensures more external validity than many past studies of implicit racial bias, which rely on small samples of college students.

I demonstrate that political party, interracial friendship, and education have important implications for anti-Black implicit bias that have not been previously captured. Further, I show that this kind of bias can fuel some kinds of explicit racial attitudes. These findings challenge classic theorizations of affective prejudice as buried in the individual and impervious to social forces. They also call for reconsideration of the current consensus that implicit and explicit racial bias are always operate independently. Altogether, my research has the potential to inform interventions to reduce implicit racial bias, thereby improving life chances for African Americans across the U.S.

Gender Equality Attitudes in Senegal

In addition to studying racial attitudes, I have also examined attitudes about gender.  In a previous project, I used original survey and in-depth interview data to show that residents of two Senegalese villages that had been exposed to multiple gender equality development programs were more rejecting of gender equality than residents of a low exposure village. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship and a Fulbright Research Fellowship.