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iTIC Lab Research

There is a long, rich history of research in psychology on racial trauma, racial identity, and coping. Empirical findings show that experiences with racial trauma, intra-group racial identity, and the ways one copes with psychosocial stressors impact emotional, psychological, and physical well-being.  However, not many studies have explored its influence on political outcomes.  Consequently, using interdisciplinary and multimethod approach, the central purpose of the iTIC Lab is to explore the ways racial trauma, racial identity, and coping (individually and collectively) impact political beliefs and behaviors. 

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Racial Trauma

Sixty-three percent of African Americans have experienced some form of “racially charged” trauma (either directly or vicariously) in their lifetime, according to the United States Department of Justice.  Prior research findings have shown that exposure to racial trauma increases the risk for emotional, psychological, and physical problems.  The question the iTIC Lab seeks to answer is: If racial trauma affects general emotional, psychological, and physiological outcomes, why wouldn’t it affect political beliefs and behaviors? However, we know nothing about one’s experiences with racial trauma and its influence on beliefs and actions in politics.  Current study (with Drs. D’Andra Orey (PI), Najja K. Baptist, Camille Burge, Dara Gaines, and Veronica Johnson) explores this important question.  Using Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptoms Scale (RBTS) developed by Robert Carter and his colleagues at Columbia University, we explore experiences with racial trauma on political outcomes.  

Racial Identity

African Americans, like other groups, are not a monolithic group.  Prominent social psychologists William Cross, Robert Sellers, and others show that variation in beliefs and behaviors can be attributed to intragroup racial identity differences.  In the measurement of racial identity, social psychologists show that there is no single way to express racial identity, and therefore, a measure of racial identity needs to account for these various expressions and thus, need to be multidimensional.  Consequently, my research uses the social psychology perspective of racial identity to challenge decades of political science research on the measurement of racial identity, and to see its effect on political beliefs and behaviors.  Political scientists have typically relied on unidimensional measures of racial identity (e.g., primarily, self-identification with a group and linked fate), and in the use of unidimensional measures, researchers have oversimplified the measurement of racial identity, and they may have underestimated its effects on individual attitudes and behavior. Taken together, my research shows that when we account for the multidimensional nature of racial identity, certain identities play more of an important role in some cases, while others do not.  On the other hand, when we do not account for these complexities, not only do we not account for the many iterations of what it means to be “of a particular group”, but we come away with the impression that racial identity is not significant or that only one form of identity is.  The overall implication is that deviations from the perceived “group view” should not come as a surprise to the media, broader American society, or members of the group themselves.

Coping

Psychosocial stressors are a part of the human condition. Individuals experience a myriad of stressors in their everyday lives, and, while many people experience some of the same types of stressors, responses and reactions to stressful life events, interactions, and situations often vary. Research has shown that these stressors often have negative effects on physical and mental health outcomes, among others. Thus, the way one copes with psychosocial stressors is important for explaining human behavior and variations across and within certain groups. For African Americans, there are added stressors that impact daily functioning, due to no fault of their own. These stressors include, but are not limited to, discrimination, microaggressions, and police brutality, as well as income, health, and education inequalities. Inspired by the John Henryism hypothesis and, more broadly, the research on John Henryism (developed by Sherman James), the iTIC Lab explores the influence of coping on African Americans' political attitudes and behaviors.  While political science research controls for experiences with discrimination and economic stressors, it has not considered the ways one copes with psychosocial stressors and its effect on politics.  Taken together, the arguments advanced in this research, as well as the findings that largely support them, come with a range of implications.  Coping plays a role in political outcomes just as it does in social, economic, psychological, and health outcomes. Incorporating coping into political science research strengthens our understanding of the role psychosocial factors play in shaping and explaining human behavior. Lastly, coping offers insight into why some individuals believe and behave in the ways that they do—even in the political sphere.

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