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Virtual interracial contact: Leveraging the possibilities of VR to improve interracial interactions

Virtual interracial contact: Leveraging the possibilities of VR to improve interracial interactions

Dr. Valerie Jones Taylor
Assistant Professor of Psychology and Africana Studies
Lehigh University

Abstract: Much research has documented that interracial encounters among strangers can be awkward and uncomfortable, increase anxiety, disrupt cognitive functioning, and derail interactions. However, given that the U.S. landscape is simultaneously increasing in racial diversity and hostility, investigating ways to motivate positive and open engagement in interracial interactions is imperative. In this talk, I theorize about how we might leverage the potential of virtual reality (VR) to mitigate the challenges that arise in interracial encounters. Extending previous research and providing evidence of VR’s efficacy in interracial interactions, I provide preliminary evidence that, similar to in-person interracial interactions, VR interracial interactions increase adverse interpersonal outcomes. This preliminary evidence begins to lay the groundwork for testing the repeated VR interracial contact hypothesis. Broadly defined, this hypothesis asserts that repeated VR interracial contact can provide people with opportunities to “practice” engaging in interracial interactions, which can, over time, minimize people’s vigilance and anxiety, and help them build “interracial competence muscles.” Ultimately, this research program aims to create a theory-driven tool for practitioners across fields (e.g., education, healthcare, business) to enhance cultural competence and achieve the long-lasting benefits of positive interracial contact.

Biography: Dr. Valerie Jones Taylor is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Africana Studies at Lehigh University. She earned a doctorate in social psychology at Stanford University and a B.A. in psychology and ethnic studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining Lehigh’s faculty, Taylor served as an assistant professor at Spelman College and was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. Her research areas include intergroup relations, social identity threat, stereotyping and discrimination, and cultural psychology. Specifically, she investigates how stereotyping and prejudice affect underrepresented groups' academic performance, interracial interactions, and the treatment of racialized physical spaces. Her work also examines ways to improve interracial encounters in educational and social contexts using virtual reality. She has been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and published and presented her work widely.

Dial-In Information

Zoom link

Friday, October 16, 2020 at 2:15pm to 3:30pm

Virtual Event
Event Type

Lectures & Presentations


Humanities & Social Sciences, Science, Diversity & Inclusion


Current Students, Faculty & Staff, Alumni


Contact Name

Jeff Larsen

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