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Pitt-Bradford psychology researchers presented findings on how prejudice impacts students

A bobcat statue on Pitt-Bradford's campus

Two University of Pittsburgh at Bradford researchers presented their findings on how witnesses or being the target of prejudice affects high school and college students at the Eastern Psychological Association’s annual meeting in March.

Alexandra Asp, a senior psychology major, and Associate Professor Rebecca McHugh found such incidents are fairly common among the pilot sample. Thirty high-school participants reported on 32 codable targeted incidents, particularly sexual harassment or witnessing incidents of racist, anti-LGBTQ and sexual harassment. In college settings, 18 participants reported on 23 targeted incidents, predominantly sexism, and 13 participants reported witnessing 24 incidents, particularly racism and ableism.

Many people chose to react with outreach, contacting someone in authority for help. Some responded that they didn’t react, however, because (especially in high school) they were naïve to the situation’s implications or (in college settings) they were shocked it happened at all. A number also reported they did not respond because they did not believe it would do any good.

McHugh said Asp came to her with the topic, and the two designed a directed study project. The pair plans to continue this research even after Asp graduates this spring.

“It’s been a lot more work than I expected it to be,” said Asp, adding that she now has a better understanding of what goes into such research.

McHugh also made a separate presentation at the conference on using students’ desire to seek justice to inspire them to conduct research.

“Many students in psychology are hesitant to conduct research because they find statistics and research in general intimidating or uninteresting,” McHugh said. “Encouraging student research is vital. Capitalizing on moments when students are frustrated with an observed injustice can be used to launch research projects.”

In addition to Asp, six members of the University’s Psychology Club attended the conference to learn more about current research and practices.