Abby Folberg, Ph.D., Receives Visionary Grant to Explore Confronting Bias | College of Arts and Sciences


Abby Folberg, Ph.D. (her), Assistant Professor of Psychology at the UN, was awarded a Visionary Grant through the American Psychological Foundation’s EnVISION Anti-Racism Campaign. She will collaborate with researchers from the University of Kentucky to examine how confrontation with prejudice spreads through social networks.

Bias reduction research indicates that confronting someone who says or does something that is perceived as racist reduces the likelihood that the person will express racism in the future. Imagine a scenario where two people are talking face to face and one of them makes a racist comment. If the other person indicates their disapproval, for example by saying “that was really racist!” or “I’m not comfortable with what you just said or did,” the original speaker may feel bad and be less likely to show bias in the future.

We want to see how this information about confronting prejudice spreads through people’s social networks among black, white, and Latino individuals. And we’re interested to see if this affects their intentions to confront bias in the future.

– Abbey Folberg, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Folberg’s work takes this scenario one step further. Although the above example may seem like an isolated incident that occurs between two people, other people are likely affected by it. A third viewer may witness the interaction, or one of the people originally involved may later tell the story to someone else. Either way, these additional people glean insights into the costs and benefits of confronting bias, and the lessons learned can inform their actions in future scenarios.

“That’s really the thrust of this work,” Folberg says. “We want to see how this information about confronting prejudice spreads through people’s social networks among black, white, and Latino individuals. And we’re interested to see if this affects their intentions to confront bias in the future.

The research will also examine scenarios in which no one has spoken out and examine how this implicit tolerance or passivity in response to racism spreads through social networks.

Folberg says group dynamics impact these scenarios. White people often perceive white confronters as more believable and less interested than people of color, while people of color may perceive white confronters as more interested and less sincere than black confronters and more suspicious of the motives of white confronters. Thus, what constitutes a successful or effective confrontation may differ between groups. As another example, a person central to a group of friends may have more influence and see more success in challenging biases than a person peripheral to the group of friends.

To conduct the research, Folberg and his collaborators collect survey data and ask people to answer questions about the last such incident they remember, how they felt, and questions about how the information about the confrontation spread on people’s social media. Although Folberg focuses on confrontations that occurred face-to-face, the medium through which the incident is told to others may vary – such as sharing on social media, telling the story via text or phone call , etc.

As you can imagine, mapping these networks, communications, and psychological impacts can get complicated quickly, making the interdisciplinary expertise of Folberg and his collaborators all the more important. Folberg first met Jennifer Hunt, Ph.D. (she/her), Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Psychology at the University of Kentucky (UK), as a Ph. .D. student at the UN. Folberg then received a competitive postdoctoral fellowship to study with Dr. Hunt at the University of Kentucky. Together, they studied bias tolerance, the extent to which someone believes others are entitled to their own opinions, and found that this had an impact on confrontational intentions.

From there, they connected with Judy Goldsmith, Ph.D. (her), a professor of computer science in the UK. Goldsmith, and his graduate student, Isaac Betts (they/them), who bring expertise in network dynamics to the project, while Hunt and Folberg bring expertise in the psychology of racism and confronting bias.

“We’re interested in exploring what kinds of incidents are portrayed across different racial/ethnic groups, how that information flows, and who they discuss it with,” Folberg said. “For example, white people are often very uncomfortable discussing race and may be less likely to tell a black colleague about a racist incident they witnessed.”

Recognizing intersectional identities and the role they play is also important. In today’s society, the topics of social justice and racial equity are on the minds of many people, and Folberg is happy to contribute research that could be used to inform future efforts.

“Preliminary evidence suggests that bystander intervention trainings tend to be more effective than conventional diversity trainings because they give people real-world tools to use in response to an incident,” Folberg says. “This work could be used to inform bystander intervention projects and determine how we could more effectively, for example, reduce racism in our community or empower people to deal with prejudice when they witness it. »


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