Angela Bahns

Associate Professor of Psychology

Social psychologist doing research on the dynamics of prejudice and friendship formation.

I teach courses in social psychology, statistics, research methods in social psychology, and I offer a seminar on prejudice and discrimination. Three aims guide my teaching: (1) training students in empirical methods, (2) introducing a social psychological perspective on human behavior, and (3) encouraging students to reflect on the meaning and value of this perspective.

First, I emphasize that psychology is a science and showcase empirical research as the basis of knowledge in the field. Second, social psychology examines how individual thought, feeling, and behavior are influenced by social context. American society teaches that individual outcomes are solely the product of what each person has wanted, worked for, and deserved. Social psychology provides a framework for questioning these assumptions—examining how characteristics of the individual person and the social environment jointly influence human behavior. Third, I encourage students to consider the utility of a social psychological perspective on human behavior by contrasting it with alternative perspectives. My interest is not in teaching students what to think, but rather in teaching them how to think like scientists. I guide students in attending to the complex set of factors that influence human behavior and in structuring these observations with empirical methods. By emphasizing applications to social issues, I hope to convey that students are developing an intellectual capacity that is broadly useful.

My research focuses on the dynamics of prejudice and intergroup relations with the goal of reducing prejudice. In one line of work I study stereotypes and threats as justifications of prejudice. The central aim of this work is to examine how and when the cognitive and behavioral components of prejudice develop. To do this, I study the relationship between prejudice and threat. Several prominent theories of prejudice suggest that stereotypes and threat cause prejudice. My research uses experimental methods to demonstrate that prejudice can cause stereotypes and threat perception, rather than the other way around. While this new understanding of prejudice is surely theoretically important, its application can have life and death consequences. People may be unaware or unwilling to admit they hold certain prejudices. Nevertheless, my work demonstrates that unrecognized prejudice can cause people to perceive members of marginalized groups as threatening, even in the absence of actual threat.

I also study friendship formation by examining similarity and diversity within friendship pairs. The central aim of this work is to identify the factors that influence friendship choices. My initial work on friendship similarity has led me to explore the factors that facilitate diverse friendships, driven by the goal of learning how to reduce prejudice and improve intergroup relations. Ample research shows diverse friendships can effectively reduce prejudice, yet similarity is a powerful predictor of friendship choices. When left to do what is easy or comfortable, by and large people choose to be friends with others who are like them. My work shows that people with positive diversity beliefs are more likely to have diverse friends, at least when “diverse” is defined in terms of race/ethnicity or sexual orientation. However, my research also finds that people who have positive diversity beliefs are even more likely to share attitudes and values with their friends. This finding suggests that “thought diversity” is not often recognized as an asset in personal relationships. Accordingly, people tend to harbor negative attitudes toward and have difficulty cooperating with others who do not share their political views. In my current work I am exploring whether embracing political disagreement in the context of a friendship confers benefits for relationships and for intergroup relations.

I am a Fellow of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, and an active member of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Education

  • B.A., Pomona College
  • M.A., University of Kansas
  • Ph.D., University of Kansas