Ryan Lei Awarded National Science Foundation Grant
The grant will support the assistant professor of psychology’s research on how children overlap race and gender in their representation of social categories.
What do children notice about race and gender? What beliefs do they have about who best represents a given social category? And how are they created? These are just a few of the questions that Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Lei is interested in investigating. A new three-year, $628,630 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program will help support Lei in this work.
“With this research, we hope to highlight how children make sense of the world around them, and how the representations they form can contribute to negative social outcomes—[such as] discrimination, prejudice,” said Lei, whose research participants are generally between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. “In my work, I use an intersectional lens to both understand how these social categories are constructed, as well as how those mental representations can lead to unique biases for people who do not fit what we think of as ‘typical’ for a category.”
For example, Lei’s previous research has shown that when a kid—of any racial background—thinks of a “girl,” they are unlikely to be thinking of a Black girl, which has implications for how Black girls and women are treated. His goal with this research, broadly speaking, is to understand how children construct their beliefs around race and gender to better inform an understanding of how to raise antiracist, equity-minded children.
“The grant is incredibly validating in so many ways—but primarily for the fact that it reinforces to me that the scientific community, and hopefully our society at large, care about these topics,” he said. “It also undoubtedly will increase my capacity to really pursue those larger goals of developing scientifically supported strategies to raise antiracist, empathetic children.”
This work is already underway in Lei’s lab with his summer research assistants Ashley Chun ‘23, Aaron Cohen ‘22, Ian Davis ‘23, Ravenel Davis ‘22, Zoe Frazer-Klotz ‘22, Lizy Szanton ‘22, and Alissa Vandenbark ‘22.
“In particular, Aaron Cohen, who is a rising senior, and Alana Tartaro, who was a 2017 graduate, have been foundational to this work and actually began working with me on some of these ideas a year ago,” he said. “Really though, all my students have been fantastic, and are working and operating as if they're already Ph.D students!”
The NSF RUI grant will help ensure funding for future student research assistants, as well as a lab manager, software, and other possible lab hires. Lei is grateful for the support, both from the NSF and the Haverford Psychology Department.
“I have been so thankful to have wonderfully supportive colleagues, and in particular Laura Been, whose support has been incalculable,” he said. “I love being part of a department where we lift each other up--and I like to think our results speak for themselves!”
Lei’s lab is always looking for participants in its research, which can be conducted either online or in person. If you are a parent of a child between the ages of 4 and 8 and you’re interested in contributing, please be in touch.