Lai receives Templeton World Charity Foundation grant to develop anti-bias intervention strategies

Calvin Lai

Calvin Lai, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, has been awarded a $230,000 grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation. With an interdisciplinary team of researchers, Lai will examine the long-term efficacy of a new intervention program that will use empathy to promote social justice. The team includes Micah J. Wonjoon Kessel, a design strategist, Lisa Feldman Barrett, president of the Association for Psychological Science, Jennifer Beatty, a doctoral student in Lai's lab, and Ashley Tudder, a postdoctoral research associate in Lai's lab.

Existing programs to combat prejudice are often limited in their effectiveness. Lai and his collaborators hope to change that trend by using evidence-based practices to engage with participants’ emotional and cognitive understanding. They have created a series of cinematic-quality films in which people from marginalized communities share their experiences with discrimination and inequality. The goal is not to change participants’ viewpoints to a particular position, but instead to give them the tools to understand the perspectives of others with more empathy.

“I’m thrilled to start this project because it will synthesize three areas of expertise concerned with changing minds – prejudice reduction, immersive design, and the science of emotions – to develop better interventions for combatting discrimination,” Lai said.

Lai posits that immersive narratives portraying detailed emotional responses to social exclusion will be more effective at helping participants to develop empathy than previous interventions.