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 people and Asians). Some of his research supports the idea that perceived competition for resources (e.g., educational, economic) creates greater distance between Black people and Asians 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. Tawa is also currently in the process of developing a study using virtual reality to examine racial bias in police decisions to use lethal force.