Overt expressions of bigotry are relatively infrequent, but current psychological research finds that racial biases often lurk in the unconscious mind, influencing behavior in subtle ways without one’s intent. Under a five-year, $834,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award, New York University Psychology Assistant Professor David Amodio is examining the dynamics of such unconscious, or “implicit,” racial associations, through research that aims to advance our basic understanding of how neural mechanisms of learning and memory function in social behavior. The award is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Amodio and his colleagues are conducting research that links emotional and conceptual (i.e., stereotyping) forms of implicit racial bias to different systems of learning and memory in the brain. By linking implicit bias to neural processes, he can apply knowledge from existing scholarship on how these systems learn and unlearn, and how they interact with mechanisms for cognition, emotion, and behavior, to obtain a novel perspective on the dynamics of racial prejudice.
Amodio’s research simultaneously addresses two critical sets of questions in cognitive neuroscience and social psychology: One, how are implicit associations in memory represented in the brain and expressed in social behavior?; and, two, how do non-conscious forms of prejudice and stereotyping operate in the mind and behavior, and how can their effects in society be reduced? The integration of ideas and methods from social psychology and cognitive neuroscience, exemplified in Amodio’s project, characterizes the emerging field of social neuroscience.
In conjunction with his research on the neural mechanisms of intergroup bias, Amodio’s award will support the development of a new program for training and research in social neuroscience at NYU, which will build on the university’s existing strengths in social psychology and neuroscience. As a young, but fast-growing field, this program will be among the first of its kind.
As part of the broader educational activities associated with the project, Amodio and his team will engage students and young researchers from underrepresented groups in science and discovery through school visits and opportunities for students to become involved in aspects of the research. The proposed work will capitalize on the vast diversity of New York City, which affords the unique opportunity to reach out to K-12 schools, colleges, and community groups in disadvantaged areas. As a whole, this integrated research and educational plan is designed to promote science and education while redressing racial discrimination.
CAREER awards are the most prestigious NSF award for junior faculty and are given to those who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.