The Familiarity Hypothesis

Hi everyone!

My name is Scott Brewington and I am honored to receive one of the Cummings Memorial Grants. I am currently finishing my sophomore year at the College!! After all of my exams, I am going to go back home to Newport News, only 25 minutes away, before coming back to Williamsburg to conduct research. I am a Psychology Major with an intended minor in Dance. This will be my first shot at doing research and I hope to make everyone supporting me proud!

Personally, I am interested in cognitive processes under specific circumstances and how we can manage priming and familiarity to help reduce these attentional biases and that is what I aim to address in Prof. Dickter’s  Social Cognition Lab. The studies conducted in this lab tackle race and stereotyping, which are two extremely important topics in modern society. The familiarity hypothesis, which I will be testing and is described in greater detail below, is something I have found support for in my personal experience. Being interracial, and having been raised by both parent’s families, has made me more familiar with both my black and white heritage, which I feel has attenuated any attentional biases that I might have had if I were not interracial. Thus, I feel like my racial background has shaped my perception of race in the environment around me, and I hope to explore these anecdotal experiences in the lab.

In recent years, psychologists interested in studying the processes involved in stereotyping and prejudice have examined how individuals preferentially attend to Black and White faces. Specifically, researchers have shown that when simultaneously presented with Black and White faces, White perceivers’ attention is captured more by Black faces than White faces (Trawalter, Todd, Baird, & Richeson, 2008). Although researchers have attributed this attentional bias to the possibility that Black faces represent a threatening outgroup to Whites, recent work in Professor Dickter’s lab has demonstrated that this attentional bias may instead be driven by a lack of familiarity with racial outgroup members. That is, Prof. Dickter’s recent work has shown that Black participants who have high familiarity with both Blacks and Whites showed no bias toward either racial group and Whites’ attentional bias was moderated by the number of close friendships with Blacks (Dickter, Gagnon, & Gyurovski, 2012). However, this previous work is preliminary and more research needs to be conducted to further support the familiarity hypothesis. That’s where I come in!

This summer I will be working alongside Prof. Dickter in her Social Cognition Lab to gather research necessary to further support the Familiarity Hypothesis. Two studies are proposed. In the first study, we will manipulate familiarity to establish a causal relationship between familiarity and attentional bias. In the second study, we will examine attentional bias to Asian compared to White participants; because Asians are not associated with threatening stereotypes, they provide a good comparison group. For these studies, I will be responsible for data collection and data analysis. Data collection will occur in Prof. Dickter’s lab in Tyler Hall, so I will most likely be there throughout my 7 weeks here so don’t be a stranger!

I look forward to reading all of the great things we’re getting accomplished over the summer and hope everyone does great on their finals!