Current projects in the lab examine how individuals process positive and negative self-relevant information and forge memories in more typical situations, as well as when individuals find themselves in more self-threatening situations. For instance, in more typical situations, or situations that prime positive self-expectations (e.g., high self-esteem individuals being evaluated by novel others), we’ve found that individuals maintain more positive self-esteem by implementing semantic-based neural mechanisms that bias how they encode both negative and positive social feedback (Rachel, elaborate on this to include Jordan’s stuff if you like).
Another line of work examines how priming negative group expectations, or stereotypes, reverses these processes and adversely affects stigmatized individuals in our society, e.g. minorities and women, to ironically engender situations where these individuals inadvertently reinforce the stereotype. Currently we are developing an NSF funded model of academic disidentification (NSF award#1329281) that provides a mechanistic account for why women and minorities are more likely to leave stigmatized domains. Through this research we have learned that stereotype threatening contexts bias stigmatized individuals’ attentional and memory resources towards negative, stereotype confirming feedback (Forbes, Schmader, & Allen, 2008; Forbes & Leitner, 2014). In essence, negative, stereotype confirming evidence appears to receive privileged access and is treated like any other basic biological threat or stressor in the brain. These biases in turn have direct downstream consequences on stigmatized individuals: Even when stigmatized individuals solve comparable amounts of problems correctly, the attentional and encoding bias exhibited towards negative feedback is cognitively taxing in and of itself. This facilitates underperformance on difficult problems, feelings of anxiety after the test, and decreased STEM self-enhancement and valuing. These encoding biases may ultimately lay the foundation for aversive forces that push these individuals out of stigmatized domains at disproportionate levels. Our lab is following up on this work by tracking male and female STEM majors over the course of their first year in college at UD and examining whether there is a relationship between women’s encoding of negative, stereotype confirming evidence, the development of learned STEM aversions and whether they choose to remain in their respective STEM major. In another NSF funded project (NSF award#1535414) we are utilizing both college and high school students to examine how threat-based biases in information processing among specific individuals can, in turn, undermine perceptions and performance among similar others in applied group problem solving contexts.