B.A., Pomona College; M.A., Ph.D., University of Kansas
Angela BahnsAssociate Professor of Psychology
Social psychologist doing research on similarity and diversity in friendship networks and the justification of prejudice.
My research looks at similarity and diversity in friendship networks by focusing on the individual-level and community-level factors that affect friendship choices. Using survey-based field methods and multilevel analysis, my work explores the role of diversity attitudes, local norms about diversity, and community size and diversity in fostering diverse friendships. Exposure to people from different backgrounds and with attitudes and beliefs different from our own—when coupled with the trust and intimacy that friendships offer—has great potential as a prejudice reduction strategy. My research will inform the development of diversity policies and school-based interventions that aim to create an environment of social equality, by illuminating the factors that promote diverse friendships.
In another line of research, I focus on the justification of prejudice. Using experimental methods, my research tests the hypothesis that negative affect drives the cognitive and behavioral components of prejudice, including perception of threat, stereotypes, and behavioral responses. My work has shown that people’s evaluations of other groups are greatly influenced by the feelings experienced in intergroup contexts. If negative feelings for a group already exist, beliefs that the group is threatening or unfriendly are likely to follow. My work suggests different threats and stereotypes emerge for different groups depending on their differential plausibility as justifications of prejudice. The goal of this research is to better understand how and when the cognitive and behavioral components of prejudice develop—information that is critical to reducing prejudice and improving intergroup relations.
I teach courses in introductory and social psychology, research methods in social psychology, and I offer a seminar in prejudice and discrimination. In all of my classes, I want students to gain an understanding of how empirical methods are used in psychology to answer questions about human thought and behavior. Another goal I have for my students is to recognize how psychological principles operate in everyday life. I try to take advantage of this natural source of student interest by emphasizing the many possible applications of psychological theory and research to social issues, public policy, and the human experience.
For example, in my introductory psychology class, we begin the semester with a discussion of the origins of sexual orientation. This provides an opportunity to discuss the multiple biological, genetic, environmental, and social factors that influence sexual orientation and to discover how the question of whether sexual orientation is innate or learned is closely linked to prejudice toward gay and lesbian people. In my social psychology class, as part of our discussion of social cognition we cover theory and research on implicit racial bias and its applications to current social and policy issues such as the academic performance gap, racial profiling, and immigration reform. Students in my prejudice and discrimination seminar hone their critical thinking skills as we discuss theory and research on racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, singlism, and group-based privilege.
I am an active member of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Association of Psychological Science, and the American Psychological Association.