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Julie Milligan and Celia Gonzalez Receive APA Science Student Council Early Research Awards

The APA Science Student Council sponsors an annual competition for early (i.e., pre-doctoral) research. The purpose of the program is to reward outstanding student research projects completed before the dissertation.

By Margo Noel Gardner and Michael Proulx

In 2004, the APA Science Student Council proudly introduced an annual competition for early (i.e., pre-doctoral) research. The purpose of the program is to reward outstanding student research projects completed before the dissertation. The first two awards were given in October: one $1,000 award was given to Julie Milligan for excellence in applied science and one $1,000 award was given to Celia Gonzalez for excellence in basic science.

Julie Milligan, a third year graduate student in developmental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin received the award in Applied Science and was selected both for the scientific quality of her work and for the important social implications of her findings. In collaboration with Rebecca Bigler, her advisor and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Sheri Levy, assistant professor at SUNY Stony Brook, Milligan examined the extent to which attitudes toward African Americans among European American children (6-11 years) are affected by interventions that 1) either do or do not make explicit reference to race, and 2) either do or do not educate students about the racial injustice experienced by African Americans.

Specifically, Milligan and her collaborators compared the effects of three interventions - a race-blind intervention, a race-based intervention, and an intervention that involved lessons about racism. In all three conditions, teachers presented students with photos and positive biographical sketches of important European and African American historical figures. However, in the race-blind condition, teachers made no explicit reference to the race of the historical figures; in the race-based condition, teachers made explicit verbal reference to race; and in the condition involving lessons about racism, teachers made explicit reference to race and discussed the unjust discrimination experienced by the famous African American figures. Milligan and her colleagues found that children in the condition involving lessons about racism demonstrated attitudes toward African Americans that were more positive and less negative than those demonstrated by children in the other two conditions. According to Milligan, it is also important to note that the positive effects on attitudes toward African Americans did not come at the expense of increased negative feelings toward European Americans. That is, the intervention involving lessons about racism did not result in children's increased negative or decreased positive feelings toward European Americans. Milligan hopes that this finding "encourages some parents and educators of European American children to address matters of racism explicitly with their children or students."

Milligan's work, which has important implications for the development of multicultural curricula in elementary schools is a line of research that she intends to continue. "Every time I look at the data from this study alone," remarks Milligan, "I see a dozen new questions that future studies need to answer. How could I stop now, with all those threads dangling?" Milligan and Bigler are currently working to test the effects of the same interventions on racial attitude development among African American children. In the future, Milligan is also interested in conducting research that would contribute to a "holistic view of how individual racial attitudes develop from childhood to adolescence to adulthood."

Receiving recognition from the APA Science Student Council seems only have bolstered Milligan's commitment to this area of study. "It's hugely encouraging to know that research in this area is valued by a larger community," she explains. "There's so much to be done still that all the unanswered questions can feel burdensome. But with this recognition, I feel as idealistic as I ever have about my field, and about the progress that I may see in it during my career." With this and other accomplishments under her belt, we can look forward to many more important contributions from Julie Milligan.

Celia Gonzalez received the inaugural APA Science Student Council Early Research Award in Basic Science. Gonzalez is a fourth-year graduate student at New York University studying social psychology and has an interest in how people feel connected to the groups in which they belong. Emotions are one way in which people might reassess their association with a group. Her award-winning project focused on how emotional responses impacted judgments of the fairness of decision-making procedures in a group.

"People are more concerned about fairness when they receive a negative outcome," she says, "relative to when they receive a positive outcome." A negative outcome might result in concern about one's connection to a social group. For example, if one lost a promotion, then "the feelings provoked by this type of situation could stimulate an interest in fairness," Gonzalez said. This in turn might lead to a reassessment of one's status in a group.

The project was carried out by inducing negative or positive emotions in participants through multiple methods. Then the participants read about academic situations, such as those involving grading procedures. By analyzing the participants' ratings of the fairness of the procedures, they found that those with induced negative affect paid more attention to fairness. The results were extended by using multiple studies. The range of methods included different manners of inducing emotions as well as using both fictional academic situations and having participants think of personal work experiences. This extensive project was conducted with her advisor, Dr. Tom Tyler, and is currently under review for publication.

When asked what sparked her interest in social psychology, Celia noted that, as an undergraduate, she was intrigued by the topics studied by social psychologists. Fueled by this interest, she pursued undergraduate research on group decision-making and finished with a social psychological honors thesis with faculty at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Now she continues her study of social psychology in New York, and "luckily," she says, "I still think it is exciting."

Visit the APA Science Student Council website for more information.