Kristin Pauker, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University whose research focuses on children's understanding of race-related knowledge and the impact of this understanding on behavior. Specific to this application, Dr. Pauker plans to study how children's understanding of race- related knowledge (e.g., discrimination) and nonverbal influences in their environment (e.g., nonverbal behavior depicted in the media) affect the emergence of interracial anxiety and racial seggregation in children. Extant research has established links between discrimination and negative mental-health outcomes, particularly for minority children. Interracial friendships may provide one potential buffer against these negative outcomes through decreasing interracial anxiety and the overall prevalence of discrimination. However, despite continued efforts to improve race relations in America, interracial friendships often drastically decline around the 5th grade. The primary goal of this research is to examine what processes underlie this decline and subsequent self-segregation, and to uncover how to motivate children to approach interracial interactions with positive expectations. Dr. Pauker plans to conduct this research at Stanford University where she will work with experts in social development and race perception. Under the mentored phase, she will complete two studies. The first study tests whether children's understanding of discrimination fosters interracial anxiety and declines in interracial friendships in middle childhood. Specifically, it will measure the emergence of interracial anxiety in White and racial minority children ages 8-13 and examine the potential antecedents, behavioral correlates, and consequences of this anxiety as they emerge developmentally. Further, children's na?ve or implicit lay theories about whether personality is fixed or can change should direct children's interaction expectations, behavior, and future motivations. The second study tests whether manipulating children's implicit lay theories can change their expectations, create positive interactions, and increase motivation for interracial contact and friendship formation. In the independent phase, a longitudinal study will be conducted to examine the contribution of discrimination understanding and implicit lay theories to changes in the trajectories of interracial anxiety and interracial friendships over this age-range. Moreover, a series of studies will be conducted to address whether such nonverbal anxiety can be conveyed through patterns of nonverbal behavior represented in children's environment (e.g., media, parents). The results of the entire set of studies will then inform a larger R01 application aimed at developing and testing an intervention to foster positive interracial interactions and increased interracial friendships.
Discrimination-often associated with decreased mental health for particularly racial minorities- becomes increasingly salient in middle childhood. The current research should help uncover how different strategies for coping with the threat of discrimination may (a) shape children's anxiety in interracial interactions and (b) influence the maintenance of interracial friendships, a potentially important buffer against the negative effects of discrimination. Additionally, it will test two potential ways to foster positive interracial interactions and increase interracial friendships, in order to curb negative pathways early on and promote positive development.