Together, the students, faculty, and staff of the Department of Psychology at the University of Manitoba have developed an outstanding learning and research environment. The Department of Psychology at The University of Manitoba intends to maintain and enhance its status as a premier department in the behavioural and social sciences by continuing its excellence in research, teaching, and service. In particular, we will expand on our significant intellectual and practical contributions to the faculty, university, and general community.
Dr. Vorauer is a professor in the Department of Psychology.
The research in Dr. Vorauer’s lab focuses on how concerns about evaluation can disrupt intergroup interaction and pose problems for intergroup relations. Dr. Vorauer typically works together with a number of graduate and undergraduate honours students. Their studies involve staging real or ostensible interactions between members of different groups, and examining the factors that affect the quality of these interactions. Although their studies focus primarily on relations between members of different ethnic groups, on a theoretical level their analysis applies to any kind of group membership (e.g., involving sexual orientation, gender, age). The basic idea guiding their work is that individuals’ worries about how they might be viewed by outgroup members can lead them to be disinclined to fully engage in intergroup interaction (which then contributes to subtle discrimination in the form of exclusion from important employment and social settings), or to behave in an inhibited and difficult-to-read manner when they do (which then contributes to miscommunications across group boundaries). Dr. Vorauer and her students have also tried to identify ways of reducing individuals’ concerns about evaluation in intergroup exchanges. Their research suggests that approaches such as increasing empathy may often backfire when applied in actual interaction situations, by virtue of increasing evaluative concerns (when individuals adopt an outgroup member’s perspective they become preoccupied with how they themselves appear). In contrast, rendering intergroup ideologies such as multiculturalism salient may be helpful, by virtue of diverting individuals away from focusing on themselves toward learning about outgroup members.
Most recently, Dr. Vorauer has been examining how popular interventions (e.g., empathy) and intergroup ideologies (e.g., multiculturalism), which are promoted as ways of improving relations between ethnic groups, effect peoples’ psychological sense of power, goal-directed cognition and willingness to speak up about their opinions (i.e., voice). Her research suggests that being empathized with can be disempowering. In contrast, salient multicultural messages seem to enhance ethnic minority group members’ sense of power and voice.
Dr. Johnson’s research (and clinical supervision) is relevant to human rights insofar as the basic capacity of an individual to pursue her or his interests, and to freely express his or her beliefs and desires is dependent in part on having the psychological security to do so. Dr. Johnson’s current research on means of alleviating feelings of shame can be seen in this light as helping to establish the psychological conditions needed for people to exercise or assert their rights when they have been blocked by feelings of shame. Insofar as the roots of shame often have their basis in cultural beliefs and practices that are discriminatory, there is a social as well as a personal/clinical dimension to this work.
Dr. Montgomery’s main research and clinical focus is autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). She conducts research, does clinical work with, and advocates for individuals with ASDs and other exceptionalities (disabilities). An underlying theme in her research, advocacy (service), and clinical work is directly related to basic human rights. Individuals with ‘exceptionalities’ (or individuals with disabilities) may be marginalized by societies and systems, particularly when their diverse needs and characteristics are misunderstood by the general public. The stigma of diagnostic labels may be an aspect that impacts an individual’s perception of their own abilities and how others perceive the person and their needs. Individuals who are on the ‘autism spectrum’ often encounter discrimination reflecting misunderstandings about their capabilities that impact their: access to education, basic living conditions, safety, and opportunities to contribute to communities in meaningful ways. Moreover, many individuals (particularly adults) with more subtle impairments may not be able to access appropriate health care, such as assessment and diagnostic services and/or direct therapy, which directly impacts their overall quality of life and well-being. While some individuals are able to advocate for themselves, not all are and so it is critical to ensure these individuals have access to appropriate resources, regardless of their own abilities to self advocate. Dr. Montgomery’s service and research work focuses on increasing public awareness of issues encountered by those with ASDs to facilitate acceptance and inclusion, remove barriers, and increase opportunities for individuals to meaningfully contribute to society.
Under the umbrella of “social justice” research, social psychologist Dr. Starzyk’s goal is to understand when people are likely to become concerned about current or past human rights issues, as well as how framing such issues affects intergroup relations. She is currently working on three such projects.
With funding from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) standard research grant, Starzyk and her students are investigating what affects people’s responses to reparations for major intergroup harms, such as Indian Residential Schools.
As a co-investigator on a SSHRC partnership development grant led by Prof. Karen Busby (Law), Starzyk is looking at how First Nations might most effectively advocate for clean, running water. About 39% of water and 14% of wastewater systems on First Nations have major deficiencies (More information).
Finally, as a co-investigator on another SSHRC partnership development grant led by Dr. Andrew Woolford (sociology), Starzyk will investigate whether and how a virtual Indian Residential School affects people’s attitudes and feelings about residential school survivors (see embodyingempathy.ca for more information).