Current Research Projects

The Cues Hypothesis: Reshaping Academic and Organizational Settings to Support Underrepresented Groups

One aspect of our research program focuses on how situational cues in academic, organizational, and group environments affect people’s cognition, motivation, performance, and physiology. For example, many explanations for the under-representation and underperformance of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, and of minorities in academia, focus on biological and socialization factors that may contribute to these phenomena. Our work posits and examines the cues hypothesis, testing how the structure, organization, and situational cues in a setting impact people with stereotyped or stigmatized social identities, making them cognitively and physiologically vigilant, depressing their sense of belonging, and decreasing their desire to continue to participate in the setting (Murphy, Steele & Gross, 2007). 

What Concerns Do People Have in Identity Threatening Settings?

Another aspect of our research examines the concerns that people have when they enter a setting where threatening situational cues may be present. The stereotyping and prejudice literature leads us to believe that targets’ concerns in a setting are primarily about perceivers’ prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. Our research asks whether, in these settings, targets have concerns broader than those of prejudice and discrimination. Termed social identity concerns, data show that both majority and minority group members can experience evaluative, self-presentational, and treatment concerns when certain situational cues are present in the environment. These perceived identity concerns are people’s concerns about how they will have to negotiate the setting; for example, how they will need to behave in order to belong in the setting. We study both the cues that signal threatening identity concerns and the consequences of perceiving identity concerns including people’s  sense of belonging, their motivation to persist in the settings, and their cognitive and physiological functioning. 

Organizational Mindsets: Creating Cultures of Growth and Innovation

Another line of research examines how organizations’ views about intelligence and talent–whether organizations believe these qualities are fixed traits, or instead, are malleable and expandable qualities–are communicated and how they affect workers. Research with Carol Dweck demonstrates that when people apply for membership to an organization that holds a fixed mindset, the company's mindset not only affects applicants’ self-presentations, but also has sticky effects–seeping into the way people conceive of the self, and how they treat and judge other newcomers to the company (Murphy & Dweck, 2010). Current work in this area examines the effects of organizational mindsets in Fortune 1000 companies and Silicon Valley startups and is focused on developing and testing a curriculum to help organizations become growth mindset companies.

Interracial Interaction and Friendship

Another line of research examines situational cues in inter- and intra-racial interactions that affect people’s levels of identity threat, emotional experiences, cognitive performance, and motivation to build friendships. In a series of studies, we have examined how a White interaction partner’s friendship network has important meaning for racial minority students when they anticipate interacting with him/her. If the White partner has diverse friends, the minority student feels that they will be stereotyped less, experience fewer identity concerns, and is more willing to discuss sensitive racial topics with their partner (Wout, Murphy & Steele, 2011). Current work is examining other situational cues–such as interaction goals and diversity messages–in inter- and intra-racial settings that affect minority and majority members’ psychological and physiological outcomes (Murphy, Molden, & Richeson, 2011).

The College Transition Collaborative (CTC): Improving Equity in Higher Education

Dr. Murphy is Co-founder of The College Transition Collaborative (CTC) which is an organization that brings together pioneering social psychologists, education researchers, and higher education practitioners to create learning environments that produce more equitable higher education outcomes. We conduct research with over 30 university partners and are dedicated to implementing and evaluating interventions and research that address racial, gender, and social class achievement gaps in college. We are also dedicated to training and mentoring the next generation of social psychological and education researchers who will bring their innovative ideas and talents to bear on the pressing question of educational inequality. To learn more about the CTC, please go here.

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