I am a 5th year doctoral candidate in Psychology at Harvard University, working in Professor Jim Sidanius' laboratory on intergroup relations.
My research focuses broadly on the psychological causes and consequences of power on intergroup relations. I am particularly interested in contexts characterized by unequal power between groups. Broadly speaking, my research addresses overarching questions such as: How do such dominance hierarchies between groups come to exist? What makes them so stable so much of the time? How does being a member of a high or low power group affect individuals' experience of the world in which they live? What are the conditions under which low power group members decide that 'enough is enough', and choose to engage in collective actions aimed at redressing their disadvantage?
I have been working on several research projects that address many aspects of these questions, at various levels of analysis.
1) Power and negotiations
In particular, a major research focus of mine has been investigating the ways in which being high vs. low in power influence individuals' orientation towards invitations to negotiate from their counterpart in conflict. Thus, I examine how power influences individuals' responses to invitations to negotiate as a function of the proposed agenda, and specifically, the order of issues to be discussed. Consistently, and across both real-world and experimental contexts, I observe that low power group members are more willing to negotiate when their high-powered opponent proposes to discuss issues at the core of the conflict up-front rather than later. Interestingly, I observe a reverse pattern among high power group members. Thus, individuals who are high in power seem to favor delaying the discussion of issues central to their power advantage, preferring instead to negotiate issues with less potential to influence the power dynamics.
2) Power and group-based meta-perceptions
I have also been investigating the influence of perceived changes in power on individuals' ability to 'read the mind' of groups with which they are in conflict, or, in more technical terms, accuracy in metaperceptions. Whereas previous research has shown that those who are stably high in power tend to be worse at reading the minds of others than those who are low in power, I have been investigating accuracy in metaperceptions in more dynamic terms. That is, I have been interested in the ways in which feeling that one's side is gaining or losing power influences individuals' motivation towards— and accuracy in— predicting what the group they are competing with is thinking. Indeed, we've found that regardless of whether one is high or low in power, perceiving your group to be losing power is associated with greater accuracy than are perceptions of gain. Moreover, I am interested in the mechanism by which this occurs: do individuals become good mindreaders when they think they are losing power because they are more empathic towards the other side, or because they are trying harder to figure out counterstrategies to beat them. Our preliminary results favor the latter explanation.
3) Social Dominance Orientation
At the individual level of analysis, I've been exploring individual difference factors that contribute to the desire to maintain and challenge hierarchy. In particular, I have been investigating the causal status and generality of social dominance orientation, an individual difference variable reflecting individuals' generalized support for inequality between groups in society, and the domination of some groups by others. Thus, we argue that individuals stably differ in the extent to which they tolerate social hierarchy and inequality across social contexts, and that this preference predicts their attitudes and behavior towards other group members, as well as their endorsement of social policies that have the ability to perpetuate (e.g., legacy admissions at universities) or attenuate (e.g., affirmative action programs) hierarchy. In simpler terms, some people are more "OK" with the principle of other groups being oppressed than other people are, regardless of what the specific groups in question are.
Addressing a theoretical debate about whether this variable is an important construct driving support for prejudice and discrimination or instead simply reflecting pre-existing attitudes, we found that social dominance orientation predicts discriminatory attitudes and behavior towards racial outgroups four years later, even controlling for these attitudes' original levels. More recent work has shown that social dominance orientation also predicts individuals' empathic concern over time, again speaking to its importance as a causal predictor of other variables, including attitudes, behaviors, and personality traits.
Moreover, speaking to the generality of this construct, we showed that social dominance orientation measured in one sitting predicts attitudes and behaviors in a wide array of social contexts, including ethnic relations, gender relations, international relations, the context of immigration , and even abstract hierarchical contexts.
Recently, I have been extending this work to investigate individual difference motivators of support among low power group members for actively challenging hierarchy and their subordination.
4) Theory of Gendered Prejudice
Finally, a recent strand of research I have been developing investigates the gendered nature of prejudice. In particular, we are addressing the "theory of gendered prejudice", which argues that males and females exhibit prejudice— primarily towards men of other groups— for different reasons, associated with evolved psychological mechanisms. As part of this research, and using a psychophysiological paradigm, we have been investigating how quickly individuals acquire— and then extinguish— fear towards males vs. females of their own group vs. other groups when images of these men and women are paired with electrical pulses.