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Research & Publications

Race & Interpersonal Processes

Race and Interpersonal ProcessesIn an increasingly multicultural society, the question of how race influences social interaction is of great theoretical as well as practical importance. On a daily basis, most Americans encounter people of racial and ethnic backgrounds different than their own; discourse about current events and political issues often turns to race-relevant topics as well. Sometimes these interracial interactions go smoothly and lead to productive collaboration and friendship. Other times these are encounters fraught with anxiety and miscommunication, producing a variety of negative outcomes.

Research in our lab examines the factors that impede and facilitate positive interracial interaction. In some of this work, we ask the question what are the observable effects of racial diversity? "Diversity" has become a ubiquitous word in contemporary America, yet we still know relatively little about the processes through which racial heterogeneity influences groups. Our research has demonstrated that the effects of diversity occur through multiple processes—yes, demographically diverse groups are exposed to a wider range of perspectives than homogeneous groups, but diversity can also lead people to process evidence more thoroughly, to remember complex information more accurately, and to discuss controversial and polarizing issues.

In other research, we have examined issues that complicate interracial interactions. One factor is the practice of many Whites to avoid talking about racial issues or even acknowledging that they notice racial difference, a practice we refer to as "strategic colorblindness." Our research also examines the different ideas that Whites and Blacks often have regarding appropriate behavior during interracial interactions (and concerning what racially bias means in the first place).


Gaither, S. E., Schultz, J. R., Pauker, K., Sommers, S. R., Maddox, K. B., & Ambady, N. (in press). Essentialist thinking predicts decrements in children's memory for racially-ambiguous faces. Developmental Psychology.

Gaither, S. E., & Sommers, S. R. (2013). Living with an other-race roommate shapes Whites' behavior in subsequent diverse settings. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 272-276.

Gaither, S. E., Sommers, S. R., & Ambady, N. (2013). When the half affects the whole: Priming identity for biracial individuals in social interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 368-371.

Apfelbaum, E. P., Norton, M. I., & Sommers, S. R. (2012). Racial colorblindness: Emergence, practice, and implications. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 203-209.

Toosi, N. R., Sommers, S. R., & Ambady, N. (2012). Getting a word in group-wise: Effects of racial diversity on gender dynamics. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Toosi, N. R., Babbitt, L. G., Ambady, N., & Sommers, S. R. (2012). Dyadic interracial interactions: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 1-27.

Babbitt, L. G., & Sommers, S. R. (2011). Framing matters: Contextual influences on interracial interaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1233-1244. View pdf

Norton, M. I., & Sommers, S. R. (2011). Whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 6, 215-218. View pdf

Apfelbaum, E. P., Pauker, K., Sommers, S. R., & Ambady, N. (2010). In blind pursuit of racial equality? Psychological Science, 21, 1587-1592. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., & Babbitt, L. G. (2010). On the perils of misplaced assumptions: Appreciating the need for diversity science. Psychological Inquiry, 21, 164-167. View pdf

Apfelbaum, E. P., & Sommers, S. R. (2009). Liberating effects of losing executive control: When regulatory strategies turn maladaptive. Psychological Science, 20, 139-143. View pdf

Apfelbaum, E. P., Pauker, K., Ambady, N., Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Learning (not) to talk about race: When older children underperform in social categorization. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1513-1518. View pdf

Apfelbaum, E. P., Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Seeing race and seeming racist? Evaluating strategic colorblindness in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 918-932. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., Warp, L. S., & Mahoney, C. C. (2008). Cognitive effects of racial diversity: White individuals' information processing in heterogeneous groups. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1129-1136. View pdf

Sommers. S. R. (2008). Beyond information exchange: New perspectives on the benefits of racial diversity for group performance. In E. A. Mannix, M. A. Neale, & K. W. Phillips (Eds.), Research on Managing Groups and Teams (Volume 11; pp. 195-220). Elsevier Science Press: Oxford, UK.

Norton, M. I., Sommers, S. R., pfelbaum, E. P., Pura, N. & Ariely, D. (2006). Colorblindness and interracial interaction: Playing the political correctness game. Psychological Science, 17, 949-953. View pdf

Sommers, S. R. (2006). On racial diversity and group decision-making: Identifying multiple effects of racial composition on jury deliberations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 597-612. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2006). Lay theories about White racists: What constitutes racism (and what doesn't). Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 9, 117-138. View pdf