John Tawa

John Tawa, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Name: John Tawa

Title: Assistant Professor

Department: Psychology and Education

Areas of study: race relations and behavioral methods

Research focus: John Tawa explores the role of race in intergroup interactions. For example, some of his research demonstrates that people who think of races as biologically distinct from one another tend to experience less comfort when interacting with racial outgroup members. However, his research also suggests that educational approaches that encourage critical thinking about concepts such as race can improve comfort levels when interacting across racial groups. Methodologically, Tawa is particularly interested in directly assessing real-time behavior, rather than relying primarily on self-reported behavior. For instance, he is currently developing a study using virtual reality to examine racial bias in police decisions to use lethal force.

What drew you to your area of study: As a multiracial Asian American, the majority of my day-to-day interactions are intergroup interactions. Thus, as a way of understanding my personal experience, I was always interested in what gives rise to prejudices, what causes people to draw boundaries around themselves and others, and mostly, how people create positive, healthy relationships across group boundaries.

What do you like about teaching: Going to college was a transformative experience for me.  It's where I developed a strong understanding of myself and developed for the first time a sense of agency in being able to confront the challenges I was facing personally, and also for addressing problems at a societal level such as racism. As a teacher, I hope I can offer this experience to students.

What are your proudest accomplishments, academic or other: I am proud of the work I have done on race relations using virtual-world technology. In one study I had participants create self-resembling avatars in the virtual world Second Life and interact in social events. When the social events were structured to create a sense of competition for resources, black and Asian participants collectively moved further away from each other. When there was no pressure to compete for resources, black and Asian participants gradually moved towards one another. One of the things I love about research is the opportunity to be creative and develop new ways of asking questions.

What do you like to do when you are not working: In addition to spending time with family and friends, I’m an avid fisherman and I practice martial arts. I love catching and cooking fish. I have been practicing aikido, a traditional Japanese martial art, for about 15 years.

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