Dr. Jennifer LaCosse
Undergraduate Degree: B.A. Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2009
Graduate Degree: Ph.D. Social Psychology, Florida State University, 2018
Postdoc in the Mind and Identity in Context Lab: 2018-present
The world is rapidly becoming more racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse. Worldwide, it is projected that in the next 30 years, White people will become a racial minority, nearly half of school-aged children will speak more than one language, and migrants will account for up to 7% of the world population. This rapid increase in diversity necessitates increased institutional flexibility in schools, workplaces, public policies, etc. to ensure equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Increased diversity will also lead to more contact between people from many different backgrounds (i.e., intergroup contact). Whether it be classmates, neighbors, community members, or coworkers, people will have to navigate the complexities of intergroup contact at an exponential rate. Importantly, although individuals from disadvantaged groups (e.g., racial minorities & women) will be less of a numeric minority as diversity increases, this does not guarantee that they will no longer be disadvantaged. Stereotypes and prejudice toward disadvantaged groups —which are interwoven in the very fabric of society—will not just disappear and existing power structures that favor advantaged groups (e.g., White people and men) will still be in place. Therefore, understanding the psychology behind the creation of positive intergroup contact experiences, institutional inequality, and ways of reducing inequality may be key to ensuring that increased diversity makes society more productive and harmonious rather than dysfunctional and divided. My research meets this need by focusing on two building blocks of human behavior: motivation and perception.
Central to my identity as a researcher is an acknowledgement that the psychological processes at play in each of these domains are actually a complicated set of interrelated processes that can differ significantly based on group membership. In both institutional and interpersonal contexts, the privilege bestowed upon individuals from advantaged groups often makes their psychological experiences in those contexts quite different from the experiences of individuals from disadvantaged groups who have to contend with the potential of being stereotyped or discriminated against. Therefore, my research assesses the psychological experiences of both advantaged and disadvantaged individuals to understand when the types of motivations and perceptions they have converge and when they diverge in a variety of contexts. Specifically, I examine how the motivations and perceptions of advantaged and disadvantaged individuals influence other psychological experiences (e.g., concerns in interracial interactions, feelings of belonging) and the downstream behavioral consequences of these experiences (e.g., showing respect, earning higher grades). Studying the experiences of both advantaged and disadvantaged individuals is important because it provides a fuller picture of the overall phenomena being studied and provides data from disadvantaged individuals, which is substantially lacking in the literature.