HWS Psychologists Study Prejudice – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

HWS Psychologists Study Prejudice

Assistant Professor of Psychology Emily Fisher and two psychology majors, Ann Epifanio ’14 and Morgan Caudill ’14, joined a collaborative project over the summer that included developing experiments to test their hypothesis about the ways in which prejudices manifest.

In the past, Fisher’s work has measured three main social variables through surveys: “how much social capital a person has, what kind of intergroup contact she or he has, and how he or she thinks about a community in terms of its groups or subgroups (how people sort others into categories).”

“All of these variables relate to each other and to attitudes about groups of people — racial groups, liberals versus conservatives, etcetera,” Fisher said. “Morgan, Ann and I have been working on three experiments to shift people’s levels of each one of those three variables at a time and measure how it changes the others.”

For Epifanio, this project and the idea of social capital — “how connected people feel to one another within a community” — relate directly to everyday life at HWS.

For Caudill, who spent a semester in South Africa, her interest regarding in-group/out-group dynamics was spurred by her experience in the post-apartheid country. “The five months I spent there sparked my interest in Professor Fisher’s research as it focuses on how to break to down barriers between groups and reduce prejudice,” Caudill said.

During the fall semester, Fisher, Epifanio and Caudill conducted two experiments on campus designed to get participants thinking about their social experiences in distinct ways.

One experiment compared how people think about the kind of experiences that lead to high social capital, with how people think about something unrelated, Fisher said.

The other intended to get people “to think about what they have in common with a big group of people versus a smaller subgroup of people,” said Fisher.

In a third experiment this semester, participants will have contact with someone who has a different background from their own.

“By comparing these three experiments, we’ll be able to determine which variables cause change in the others, and we’ll know more about why,” Fisher said.

“We have been working away on a literature review about this topic, with hopes of getting published in the Social Issues and Public Policy Psychology Journal,” said Epifanio, who hopes to go into a career in psychiatric nursing. “Our literature review has potential to make a change in other communities by indicating the importance and benefits of social capital, but also how it can be promoted where it is lacking.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Emily Fisher meets with Ann Epifanio ’14 and Morgan Caudill ’14 to discuss their research.