Campus Activity: Virtually Immersive Reality for the Study of Racial Bias


October 15, 2020    
9:00 am-10:00 am

Event Type

John Tawa, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology and Education Department at Mount Holyoke College. Dr. Tawa’s research, broadly speaking, examines the role of race in intergroup interactions. He has two general lines of research. First, he is interested in relations between minority groups (e.g., relations between Blacks and Asians). Some of his research supports the idea that perceived competition for resources (e.g., educational, economic) creates greater distance between Blacks and Asians relative to both their distances towards the White majority group. The second line of Dr. Tawa’s research examines the ways in which people’s essentialist beliefs about race influence their intergroup behaviors. This research demonstrates that people who think of race as biologically distinct (i.e., racial essentialism) tend to experience less comfort among racial outgroup members. While the content of Dr. Tawa’s research focuses on intergroup relations, methodologically he is particularly interested in the use of technology to directly assess people’s “real-time” behavior, in lieu of a primary reliance on self-reported behavior. In the study on resource competition described above, Dr. Tawa’s participants created self-resembling avatars and interacted in social events in the virtual world “Second Life”; when a resource competition task was introduced into the social event, Black and Asian participants were found to increase their collective physical distance towards each other. Dr. Tawa is also currently in the process of developing a study using virtual reality to examine racial bias in police decisions to use lethal force.


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