John Tawa

Assistant Professor of Psychology; on leave spring 2021
Race-relations, racial essentialism, behavioral research methods, clinical psychology

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 Blacks and Asians). Some of his research supports the idea that perceived competition for resources (e.g., educational, economic) creates greater distance between Blacks 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.

Selected Publications

Tawa, J. (2017). The beliefs about race scale (BARS): Dimensions of racial essentialism and their psychometric properties. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Tawa, J. (2017). Asymmetric peer selections among Blacks, Asians, and Whites in a virtual environment: Preliminary evidence for triangulated threat theory. The Journal of Social Psychology

Tawa, J. (2017). “Walk a mile in my shoes:” A virtual world exercise in fostering students’ subjective understandings of the experiences of People of Color. In M.E. Ma & A. Oikonomou (Eds.). Serious Games and Edutainment Applications, Vol 2. New York: Springer.

Tawa, J. & Tauriac, J.J. (2017). Teaching power beyond Black and White: Recognizing and working with student resistance in diverse classrooms. In E. Pinderhughes, P. Romney, & V. Jackson (Eds.). Understanding Power: A Human Service Imperative. Washington D.C.: National Association of Social Work Press.

Tawa, J., Ma, R., & Katsumoto, S. (2016). “All lives matter:” The cost of colorblind racial attitudes in diverse social networks. Race and Social Problems, 8 (2), 196 - 208.

Tawa, J., Negrón, R., Suyemoto, K.L. & Carter, A.S. (2015). The effects of resource competition on Blacks’, Asians’, and Whites’ social distances: A virtual world method. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 18 (6), 761 – 777.

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., Negrón, R. & Pfeffer, J. (2020) The measurement of interpersonal interactions with continuous spatiotemporal data: Application to a study of the effects of resource competition on racial group interactions.  Behavior Research Methods, 52(2), 881 – 900.