Jennifer Richeson

Professor of Psychology and African American Studies


Psychologist Jennifer Richeson's research focuses on psychological phenomena associated with diversity. Her work generally concerns the ways in which social group memberships such as race and gender impact the way people think, feel, and behave. More specifically, her research investigates antecedents and consequences of prejudice and stereotyping from dual perspectives: traditionally stigmatized and dominant groups.

She is currently working on three primary lines of research: the dynamics and consequences of interracial contact and diversity; detecting, confronting, and managing the threats associated with prejudice and discrimination; and social categorization and identity management. Through the development of these research streams, Richeson hopes to contribute to a better understanding of intergroup relations, as well as to elucidate pitfalls in current approaches to prejudice reduction.

Her work has been published in various scholarly journals, including Psychological Science, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nature Neuroscience, and Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, as well as appearing in popular publications such as The Economist and The New York Times. She was a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Research Institute of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity in 2004-05. In 2009 she received the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contributions to Psychology from the American Psychological Association. She was named one of 25 MacArthur Fellows in 2006 for her work as a leader in "highlighting and analyzing major challenges facing all races in America and in the continuing role played by prejudice and stereotyping in our lives."

Current Research

Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Dynamics of Interracial Contact. This work builds upon previous research suggesting that increased contact between members of different racial groups can be accompanied by unintended, negative consequences for both whites and racial minorities. Richeson and her colleagues have found that in addition to being a source of stress, interracial interaction can also undermine cognitive performance. Studies in this line suggest, furthermore, that self-regulation in order to inhibit or modulate behavior, thoughts and urges, seems to play an important role in the effect of contact on the cognitive performance of white individuals. Related projects are investigating other concerns and experiences of interracial contact for both whites and blacks. For instance, how do concerns about being the target of prejudice influence racial minorities' interaction experiences? Richeson and her colleagues are also currently investigating potential interventions that will reduce individuals' deployment of effortful self-regulation during interracial interactions, which should make them less cognitively costly.

Racial Bias Exposure and Health. Past research has shown that contending with issues of racial bias can have a negative effect on the mental and physical health of ethnic minorities. For example, experiences with racial bias over time have a cumulative, negative impact on ethnic minorities' subjective well-being. Many scholars have argued, however, that contemporary racial bias has changed; contemporary bias is thought to be more subtle than more "old-fashioned" and blatant forms of racial bias and is often unintentional and unconscious. Furthermore, most white citizens of the United States are concerned about behaving in nonprejudiced ways. Researchers have only recently begun to consider how these more subtle forms of racial bias and concerns about appearing prejudiced might influence ethnic minorities' well-being. Therefore, a major goal of this project, which is in part funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is to investigate the impact that whites' racial bias, albeit unintentional and nonconscious, and their concerns with appearing racially biased have on ethnic minorities' mental health. The overarching goal of this research is to open the door to understanding how racial stressors promote racial disparities in health.

Psychological and Physiological Implications of Managing a Stigmatized Identity. Research suggests that racial minorities and members of other low-status groups might not benefit as much from intergroup contact and diversity, compared with members of dominant social groups (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005). Given the widespread social, societal, and organizational benefits of increased diversity in educational and employment domains, however, it is important to examine stigmatized individuals' experiences as they attempt to persist and even succeed in the face of token status and negative group stereotypes. This NSF-funded project considers the role of "covering"—a compensatory form of self-regulation in the service of managing a stigmatized identity—in stigmatized group members' persistence in the face of threatening environments. Specifically, this project has two aims: 1) to examine the extent to which racial minority and low-SES students at a predominantly white, private university engage in covering when the value of their group memberships is threatened and/or they are concerned about being the target of prejudice; and 2) to investigate potential intra-personal costs of covering, including physiological stress reactions, feelings of inauthenticity and shame, increased loneliness, and cognitive depletion.

Selected Publications

Johnson, S., J. Richeson, and E. Finkel. 2011. Middle-class and marginal? The influence of socio-economic status at an elite university on executive functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100: 838–52.

Richeson, J., and M. Craig. 2011. Intra-minority intergroup relations in the twenty-first century. Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences 140: 166–75.

Murphy, M., J. Richeson, and D. Molden. 2011. Leveraging motivational mindsets to foster positive interracial interactions. Personality and Social Psychology Compass 5:118–31.

Peery, D., and J. Richeson. 2010. Broadening horizons: Considerations for creating a more complete science of diversity.  Psychological Inquiry 21:146–52.

Richeson, J., and S. Trawalter. 2008. The threat of appearing prejudiced and race-based attentional biases. Psychological Science 19:98–102.  

Richeson, J., and J. Shelton. 2007. Negotiating interracial interactions: Costs, consequences, and possibilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science 16:316–20.

Richeson, J., and S. Trawalter, 2005. Why do interracial interactions impair executive function? A resource depletion account. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88:934–47.

Shelton, J., and J. Richeson, 2005. Pluralistic ignorance and intergroup contact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88:91–107.

Richeson, J., and R. Nussbaum. 2004. The impact of multiculturalism versus color-blindness on racial bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 40:417–23.

Richeson, J., A. Baird, H. Gordon, T. Heatherton, C. Wyland, S. Trawalter, and J. Shelton. 2003. An fMRI examination of the impact of interracial contact on executive function. Nature Neuroscience 6:1323–28.

Richeson, J., and J. Shelton. 2003. When prejudice does not pay: Effects of interracial contact on executive function. Psychological Science 14:287–90.