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NSF Award from the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

Collaborative Research: Individual Differences in Executive Functions and Expressions of Racial Biases

  • Principal Investigator: Joshua Correll, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
  • Start Date: July 15, 2009
  • Total Award Amount: $154,563

Project Description

This collaborative project outlines a series of studies investigating the role of individual differences in executive functions (EFs) in expression of implicit racial bias. Executive functions refer to higher-order control processes that regulate thought and action. Although an individual’s performance on laboratory-based implicit bias tasks is typically interpreted as a straightforward manifestation of his/her underlying automatic bias, recent preliminary evidence suggests that performance on all such tasks implicates executive control processes, such as the overriding of dominant or pre-potent responses.

According to the team of researchers involved in this project, racial bias, as assessed by implicit bias tasks, is a complex construct jointly affected by automatic bias and individual differences in EF abilities. The research they will carry out seeks to vigorously test this emerging theoretical view by conducting a large-scale individual differences study of the relationship between EF abilities and expressions of racial bias. The aim of this research is threefold: to investigate the extent to which behavioral manifestations of race bias are associated with individual differences in related but separable EF abilities; to investigate several neurocognitive processes associated with cognitive control as mechanisms through which EF abilities affect expression of race bias; and to determine whether individual differences in EF abilities moderate the impact of manipulations that temporarily deplete executive functioning.

The work will involve 5 collaborators and include nearly 500 research participants at three geographic locations. What sets this project apart theoretically from existing work is that rather than treating EF as a unitary ability, the current research adopts a multi-component view of EF that suggest it can be decomposed into correlated yet separable subcomponents, such as inhibition, updating, and shifting. By examining both behavioral and neurocognitive (ERP) indices of implicit bias, this project has the potential to provide the first-ever systematic and comprehensive analysis of the EF-bias relationship.

This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, NSF Award number: 0847841