Grad student working to understand prejudice

This is the fifth in a five-part series profiling graduate student recipients of the 2016 Jack Miller Excellence in Research Awards. Today’s story features the winners (master’s and doctoral) from the Faculty of Social Sciences. 

Megan Earle – MA, Psychology; Supervisor: Professor Gordon Hodson

As a researcher and scholar, Megan Earle wants to do her part to rid the world of prejudice.

While it’s an ambitious goal, Earle is hopeful her thesis will contribute to a better understanding of prejudice and how it operates in society.

Earle is studying underlying factors of prejudice and discrimination in society. A unique component of her study involves assessing prejudice by looking at how people’s perceived sense of threat from a minority group is influenced by their estimation of the size of the minority group.

This is original research, says Earle’s supervisor Professor Gordon Hodson, particularly in light of recent polls that suggest that people grossly overestimate minority numbers, often in the magnitude of 4 or 8 to 1.

“At present, there is very little research on whether and why people perceive “high” estimates of group sizes for minority groups (eg. Black, sexual minorities),” Hodson explains. “The most novel scientific contribution concerns the assessment of “numerical ability,” that is, participants ability to deal with numbers and ratios.

“Megan’s research has, across several studies, demonstrated that a large amount of overestimating outgroups is predicted by poor numeracy.”

Addressing poor numeracy skills may hold promise as an effective way to help counter prejudice, says Hodson.

“In contrast to prejudice interventions that often backfire, improving one’s ability on a non-social task, for example math, is less likely to be met with pushback and resistance,” he explains.

“It is easy to envision various interventions, even among school-aged children, that work on basic math skills in ways that will not only help their own academic performance but also aid in making more accurate (and less negative) perceptions of other groups.

“It is rare indeed for a master’s student to work on a series of projects with such huge implications and of such considerable societal significance.

“Not only will psychologists find these results valuable and interesting, but so will educators and teachers, not to mention parents, along with public policy makers.”

Shawn Geniole – PhD, Psychology; Supervisor: Professor Cheryl McCormick

Shawn Geniole studies the ways in which people form first impressions of others, the extent to which these judgments are accurate, and how these impressions influence decision-making during social interactions.

To date, Geniole’s research publications have been cited 137 times in scholarly works. He is publishing in leading specialty journals for a variety of disciplines and received the prestigious Young Investigator Award from the International Society of Research on Aggression.

“While Geniole’s research interests in aggression are centred in social psychology, his approach is transdisciplinary,” says his supervisor, Professor Cheryl McCormick.

Shawn Geniole

Shawn Geniole

“Shawn incorporates perspectives and approaches from behavioural neuroscience, neuroendocrinology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology and economics,” McCormick explains. “His overarching hypothesis is that in men, one’s aggressive potential is conveyed to others by specific static clues in the face that serve to regulate social interactions and minimize overt aggression and associated physical costs.”

Genoile pushes boundaries in his approach to research and in his use of a variety of experimental designs and tools.

As an example, McCormick points to a study that involved YouTube.

“Shawn came up with the clever idea to use YouTube to gather screenshots of men clean-shaven and bearded. These screen shots allowed him to test several hypotheses, notably that, if snap judgments of threat/aggression are an evolved adaptation, then such judgments should rely on static facial cues that are not masked by facial hair, as would be the case for ancestors before the advent of shaving.

“He was able to show the face metric remains perceptible in bearded men, and that observers’ judgments of aggressiveness of the bearded versions of men’s faces were highly correlated with observers’ judgments of aggressiveness in clean-shaven versions.”

About the Jack M. Miller Excellence in Research Awards

The awards were established as the Excellence in Research Awards by the late Jack Miller when he served as Vice-President Research and Dean of Graduate Studies, from 1999 to 2004.

As a tribute to Miller, the Faculty of Graduate Studies renamed the awards in his honour in 2013 and, at the same time, increased the number of awards available and the value of each award.

Since then, as many as 11 graduates students, in research-based programs, are selected annually from within the six academic faculties to receive between $1,000 to $1,500 to support their research and scholarship.

Other stories in the series:

Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

Goodman School of Business

Faculty of Humanities

Faculty of Mathematics and Science

Read more stories in: Featured, Front Page, Graduate Students, Graduate Studies, News, Social Sciences
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