Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Fall 2019 Newsletter — Graduate Student Spotlight: Guadalupe Gonzalez

Wed, December 11, 2019
Fall 2019 Newsletter — Graduate Student Spotlight: Guadalupe Gonzalez
Lupita (standing) working in the eye-tracking lab with Research Assistant Italia Lopez-Valenzuela

Graduate Student Lupita Gonzalez Researches Stereotypes and How Perceptions of "Ingroup" and Outgroup" Members Affect Racially Biased Behavior

 

We are excited to feature fifth-year graduate student Guadalupe (Lupita) Gonzalez in this semester’s newsletter. Lupita, as she goes by, is a proud first-generation college student and the daughter of two Mexican immigrants. She works in Prof. David Schnyer’s Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, and is active on the Psychology Department Diversity Committee, mentors undergraduates participating in the Department’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, as well as those in UT’s IE (Intellectual Entrepreneurship) Pre-Graduate Program. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Business Administration with a Neuroscience certificate at Bethel College in Kansas.

In her current research at UT, Lupita is examining the assumption that “stereotypes associating Blacks with violence and threat contribute to racially biased behavior.” She is looking at how social contexts influence perceptions of racial “ingroup” (favoring one’s own group above others) members versus “outgroup” (bias against those viewed as not in your group) members, as well as one’s willingness to interact with other racial outgroups at all. In the lab, she uses neuroimaging techniques, such as electroencephalography (EEG/ERPs), to observe the cognitive processes involved in certain situations, and eye-tracking to examine how social context influences racial biases in visual attention.

She says her research began with investigating “the effects of racially heterogeneous contexts on racially biased attention and memory.” She explains, “Contrary to previous research indicating that individuals have better memory for own-race than cross-race faces, my research indicates that White individuals have better memory for racial minority faces (e.g., Black & Asian) compared to own-race faces during racially heterogeneous contexts. My findings suggest that memory for racial outgroup members may increase during interracial contexts.”

In an initial study, she examined “whether the perceived threat of Asian, Black, and White individuals differed across competitive contexts associated with different racial stereotypes (i.e., basketball, math).” She says the results indicated that “Blacks were perceived as more threatening than Asians and Whites in a basketball context, whereas, Asians were perceived as more threatening than Whites and Blacks during a math context. Interestingly, Blacks were perceived as more threatening than Asians and Whites in a neutral context (i.e., rock-paper-scissors competition).” This suggested that Black individuals may be perceived as threatening even in neutral contexts. She is currently using eye tracking to see “how the social context influences attention to the eyes of racial outgroup members.” She is also examining whether the social context influences an individual’s willingness to get to know racial outgroup members.

Lupita’s research methodology is unique in that she is taking an interdisciplinary approach to examine racial biases. She explains that while “research in social psychology has found that the social context influences racial biases, research in cognitive neuroscience has failed to examine the effects of social context on cognition. In my research, I’m showing that when we incorporate theories and findings from social psychology into our cognitive neuroscience research, some of the previous findings on racial bias change.”

When asked why her work is important, she replies that, “In today’s world, many people ask themselves why racially biased behavior occurs and how we can reduce this behavior. Often times people aren’t aware that racial biases can also occur in basic cognitive processes like attention and memory, which has consequences for behavior (e.g., failure to accurately remember people from other races). Regarding my particular research, by understanding the underlying factors that drive racially biased behavior in different contexts, we may be able to better predict when people may exhibit racially biased behavior. My hope is that we will eventually be able to develop new interventions to reduce racial biases by tailoring them to specific contexts.”

Graduate School and UT

Lupita loves graduate school and that her “job” is to learn about the topics that interest her the most. “I’m a first-generation college student and even though obtaining a Ph.D. is extremely challenging, I try to remind myself that researching topics that I’m passionate about is a privilege that others don’t have… I think that these (two) identities have been crucial to my experiences as a graduate student. Importantly, I think this may help other students from underrepresented groups know that it’s possible for them to get a Ph.D. in psychology or any other field they choose, since we’re often exposed to information and messages that tell us that you have to come from a certain background to be a researcher.” She adds, “I also enjoy that graduate school allowed me to make lifelong friends with whom I share similar passions and interests and I can rely on when graduate school gets tough.”

Graduate Student Diversity Committee

Lupita became involved with the Graduate Student Diversity Committee during her first semester at UT. She had participated in diversity related programs and initiatives as an undergrad at Bethel and wanted to continue that work at UT. “I joined the committee when it was relatively new, so I got to meet the graduate students who founded the committee and I really identified with their goals of increasing diversity in our psychology department and academia as a whole. One of the reasons I have always been passionate about increasing diversity in academia is because being a Latina and first-generation college student made me see that there is a huge need for diversity in academia. Some of the things we do throughout the school year include hosting a booth at Explore UT where we teach teenagers and children about the field of psychology through activities and experiments.

“Our committee also hosts workshops for undergraduates on topics, such as getting involved in research and applying to graduate school. I have also served as a liaison between the graduate students and faculty, which was a great experience because I saw that faculty and staff also want to help us with our goal of increasing diversity in our department. Last year, I was also involved in helping re-structure the mission and goals of the SURE program. Finally, one of the things I really love about the committee is that I’ve been able to make great friends who have become a great support system. For example, at the end of each meeting we always set aside time to talk about issues that we may be struggling with so it’s nice to know that I always have people I can talk to.”

Internships and Off-Campus Activities

Lupita has held an internship at local non-profit, MEASURE, since Spring 2019. The organization focuses on addressing social justice issues by using data to inform the community. She describes her experience there: as “one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had here in Austin! Interning at MEASURE also provided me with the opportunity to learn about ways to apply my skills and experience to help the community. One of my main projects included creating an infographic using publicly available data to examine racial and ethnic health disparities across Travis County. After using the data to identify several areas of concern, MEASURE organized an event to inform community about the health disparities. I served as the “data expert” during the event at Huston-Tillotson and I had the opportunity to hear from community members about their needs and their ideas for addressing these issues. I’m still participating in this project and MEASURE currently launched the #SickOfIt campaign that goes door-to-door to ask community members about their healthcare challenges.”

Publications

Lupita’s research on the effects of racially heterogeneous contexts was published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Psychology, the largest journal in its field. She also collaborated on a research project with Dr. Christopher Beevers’ lab and together recently submitted a manuscript for review on this research. Throughout graduate school, she has presented her research in various conferences, such as: the 2016 Conference of Ford Fellows; the 2017 Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) Conference; the 2018 Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Conference; the 2018 APA Division 45 Conference on Culture, Ethnicity, and Race; and the 2018 ARMADILLO Conference. This year, she presented her latest research at the 2019 SPSP Social Cognition Pre-Conference in Portland, Oregon, and in June 2019, received a travel award and presented her research at the 2019 NEURAL conference at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. She has also presented her research at local universities, such as when she was invited last year to present her research at St. Edward’s Psi Chi induction ceremony.

Post Graduation

After completing her degree at UT in May 2020, Lupita will begin a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Psychology at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. She had hoped to teach at a small liberal arts college, as she had attended one as an undergraduate and really loved her experience there. She has also enjoyed mentoring and working with undergraduates from diverse backgrounds while at UT, and is passionate about increasing diversity in academia. She says a smaller liberal arts college will be "a great place for me to continue my efforts to increase diversity.”

 

 

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