Summer Centered: Alissa Vandenbark ’22 Studies the Development of Prejudices in Children
The psychology major is a research assistant in Assistant Professor Ryan Lei’s Intersectionality in the Social Mind Lab this summer.
Alissa Vandenbark’s summer research, supported by the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, combines her interests in psychology, working with kids, and reducing prejudice. She is one of eight students working in Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Lei’s Intersectionality in the Social Mind Lab this summer. The lab studies how kids understand and react to social categories and their intersection, particularly the development of prejudice in children.
“I have spent a lot of time working with children, and have always found them fascinating,” said the rising senior. “The work Ryan is doing in his lab is particularly interesting to me, since it may also contribute to our understanding of how prejudice develops and what we can do to reduce that prejudice, so it felt like a good fit for me, and so far I've really been enjoying it.”
Vandenbark, a psychology major with Spanish and political science minors, is working with fellow psychology research assistants Ashley Chun '23, Ian Davis '23, Lizy Szanton '22, Ravenel Davis '22, and Zoe Frazer-Klotz '22, computer science student Ryan Trotter '23, and student lab manager Aaron Cohen '22. Their day-to-day work is split between background work in the lab and data collection in the field.
To collect data, the research assistants travel to a playground in Philadelphia where they recruit participants and run the experiments. Their experiments include one on how race influences gender categorization, how kids respond to children with gender non-conforming interests, and how kids evaluate claims of inequality.
“My favorite moments are the ones in which a problem I've been puzzling over is finally resolved, or when talking to someone else in the lab helps me clear up exactly what question I'm asking and how best to do so,” she said. “I also really love the sweet and funny moments with children at the park, such as playing peek-a-boo with a younger kid so their older sibling can focus on being run through a study, or watching kids get super excited about ‘being part of science’.”
Vandenbark is hoping to continue work in Lei’s lab for her thesis this coming year. And she knows that she will be able to take the hands-on research experience she gained this summer to help her in the process.
“I have learned a lot,” she said. “I suppose one thing is just how many re-starts and frustrations happen even before any data starts getting collected. I’ve also learned how cool it is to just come up with an idea and then figure out how to study it.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.