Below are in-progress projects that I am especially excited about. If you'd like to learn more or have related work to share, I would love to hear from you!
Thinking Structurally about Inequality
To accurately explain inequality between social groups, it is critical for people to recognize structural causes, which are societal forces that systematically advantage some groups and disadvantage others. This line of research draws from counterfactual theories of causal judgment to propose a cognitive framework of how children and adults attribute inequality to structural causes (e.g., Amemiya et al., in press at Perspectives on Psychological Science). New work is exploring which types of evidence best support children's structural thinking.
Representing Complex Status Hierarchies
Perceptions of social status hierarchies underlie the development of group biases. In this line of research, we are studying children's and adults' representations of social status hierarchies in Indonesia, where ethnic groups hold distinct forms of social status (i.e., either wealth or political influence, but not both). We are finding that children as young as 6.5 years old can associate ethnic groups with distinct forms of status and that there is a greater preference for groups with wealth than political influence.
Claims of genetic superiority are at the heart of White supremacist ideology. Current genetics education curriculum does not equip students with the tools to refute these racist essentialist arguments, and in some cases may unintentionally perpetuate essentialist thinking. With my colleagues at BSCS Science Learning, we are developing anti-racist genetics educational curriculum that teaches students why racial essentialism is scientifically inaccurate, and why a structural view of racial inequality is more empirically sound.
Racial Essentialism across Cultures
There are an infinite number of ways to categorize people into groups. Cultural contexts are a central influence on young learners' social categorization, and their reasoning about the causal structure of social groups (i.e., whether groups are biologically or culturally determined). This project examines children's racial essentialism in Brazil, where racial categorization is more closely tied to a malleable trait, skin tone, rather than to parental heritage. We are testing whether Brazilian children and adults have flexible concepts of race.
One challenge when learning from others is that people often disagree. How do we resolve disagreement? Sometimes it makes sense to figure out which perspective is more correct, and disregard the other view. Alternatively, we could consider disagreement as evidence that the referent may be something ambiguous that can elicit multiple rational perspectives. In this case, it may be useful to integrate divergent perspectives to infer something neither speaker mentioned. We find that this latter strategy is late-emerging (~10 years of age; Amemiya et al., 2021), and are currently working on a computational model of the underlying cognitive processes.
Polarization in Causal Judgments
Whether reasoning about social inequality or Covid-19, there is remarkable heterogeneity in people's judgments about the causes of societal problems. This set of projects explores the cognitive mechanisms that lead to causal belief polarization. We propose that people can "manufacture" their preferred causal judgments by cherrypicking counterfactual evidence. Current work is exploring this hypothesis with respect to people's causal reasoning about a global pandemic (see also Amemiya et al., 2021), and future work plans to extend this project to the domain of social inequality.