John Tawa


  • Assistant Professor of Psychology
  • on leave spring 2024
John Tawa, Faculty

John Tawa's research, broadly speaking, examines the role of race in intergroup interactions. More specifically, Tawa is particularly interested in relations between minority groups (e.g., relations between Black and Asian communities). Some of his research supports the idea that perceived competition for resources (e.g., educational, economic) creates greater distance between Black and Asian group members relative to both their distances towards the White majority group.

The second line of Tawa’s research examines the ways in which people’s essentialist beliefs about race influence their intergroup behaviors. This research demonstrates that people who think of race as biologically distinct (i.e., racial essentialism) tend to experience less comfort among racial outgroup members. However, Tawa's research also suggests that educational approaches that encourage critical thinking about concepts such as race can improve people's comfort level interacting across racial groups.

While the content of Tawa’s research focuses on intergroup relations, methodologically he is particularly interested in directly assessing people's "real-time" behavior, in lieu of a primary reliance on self-reported behavior. In the study described above, Tawa's participants created self-resembling avatars and interacted in social events in the virtual world Second Life; when a resource competition task was introduced into the social event, Black and Asian participants were found to increase their collective physical distance towards each other. More recently, Tawa has been using immersive virtual reality to examine how physiological stress and visual attention patterns predict police officers’ decisions to use lethal force.

Areas of Expertise

Race-relations, racial essentialism, behavioral research methods, clinical psychology


  • Ph.D., M.A., B.A., University of Massachusetts, Boston


Recent Campus News

Mount Holyoke College President and Professor of Politics Danielle Holley welcomed students, faculty, staff and alums to participate in a virtual session of her 2024 spring course on the Supreme Court as part of the BOOM! Learning Symposium.

As part of the annual Careers in Public Service trip to Washington D.C., Mount Holyoke students met with alums who have forged brilliant public service careers as well as Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Legal scholar and New York Times bestselling novelist Alafair Burke spoke at Mount Holyoke College about how her liberal arts education led to a career as an author of 20 crime novels.

Recent Publications

Tawa, J., LoPresti, A., & Lynch, D. (2020). Deconstructing racial essentialism in the classroom: The impact of social constructionist curricula on student diversity interactions. The Journal for Multicultural Education, 35(2), 101 – 115.

Tawa, J. (2020). Does social constructionist curricula both decrease essentialist and increase nominalist beliefs about race? Science & Education, 29, 1513 – 1540. 

Tawa, J. (2021). Triangulated racialization index (TRI): Incremental and predictive validity of a multidimensional stereotype measure. Social Cognition, 39(5), 608 – 631. 

Tawa, J. & Montoya, A.K. (2019).  Construals of self and group: How racial nominalism can promote adaptive intergroup outcomes for interdependent selves. Group Process & Intergroup Relations, 22(7), 1002 – 1020.

Tawa, J. (2018). Dimensions of racial essentialism and racial nominalism: A mixed method study of beliefs about race. Race and Social Problems10(2), 145 – 157.

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