Undergraduate Research

Emma Hart ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Emma Hart ’23

Emma Hart
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Emma Hart (she/her) is majoring in psychology. She conducts research under the mentorship of Assistant Professor of Psychology Christine Wu. Her project is titled “Vicarious Dissonance: Impacts on Group Identification and Ingroup Member Likability.”

Please describe your project:

Vicarious dissonance is the experience of watching a member of your ingroup behave in a way that is inconsistent with the values or opinions that they say they care about. When witnessing this misalignment, discomfort often arises. The unpleasantness of this experience regularly leads to a behavior change to cope. This study examines whether the experience of vicarious dissonance leads us to think more highly of the inconsistent ingroup member or think more negatively of this group member. Also, this study looks at whether we change our identification with our ingroup after watching a member of that group behave inconsistently.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

This project is about vicarious dissonance, the experience of watching a member of your ingroup (a friend, teammate, family member, etc.) behave in a way that is counter to the attitudes they hold. Specifically, this study examines whether we decide we like that ingroup member more or less following this experience, and whether it causes us to distance ourselves from the social group that we share with the ingroup member.

Why is your research important?

While cognitive dissonance is one of the most highly researched topics in psychology, vicarious dissonance is less studied, and this research adds to that academic conversation. The study is confirmatory in its investigation of the impact of vicarious dissonance on ingroup member likability, and exploratory in the examination of its impact on social identification. This study sheds light on the behaviors of people who are socially connected with people who cause harm. By understanding the experience of the friends and loved ones of perpetrators of harm, we have more information about how to address the ways that harm becomes normalized in social groups and change these dynamics.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

My honors research idea is rooted in independent research I did on the use of passive voice in relation to victim-blaming biases. I wanted to know more about the process of victim-blaming within social groups, which led me seek further understanding about the basic experience of watching a member of your own social group behave in an ethical way. After the (long) exploratory phase of settling upon vicarious dissonance, I designed a quantitative study, analyzed the data from that study, and am currently in the writing phase of communicating the findings to my honors committee.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

My research contributes greater insight into the ways that people’s social identification changes based on their experience of vicarious dissonance, which has not been deeply investigated in the field of psychological research. Also, my study provides support for a model called Black Sheep Effect, which is when we react more negatively towards a member of our social group who behaves in deviant way than we react towards a member of the outgroup (a group to which we don’t belong) behaving in a deviant way.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

So far, I have presented my study idea through a research proposal meeting with my Honors Committee. I will present the findings from my study in April to this same committee.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college? 

During SOAR my sophomore year, I was a part of the social sciences cohort. We were encouraged to seek out research opportunities, and the only psychology class I had taken up until that point was introductory psychology with Holly Shablack. So, I decided to ask her if she was in need of a research assistant, and I ended up joining her team.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process ?

I really enjoy the analysis phase of the research process. I have always enjoyed math, and analyzing data encapsulates the topic and involves so much excitement with what I might find in the numbers. My project is really applicable to interactions I constantly see around me, with individuals trying to navigate ways to unethical actions on the part of their ingroup member(s).

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

Working with Professor Wu has really informed the ethics of my research process. While conducting Honors research, I took her Advanced Methods in Diversity Science class, which led me to be more thoughtful and sensitive to how I ask about demographic questions in my study and how I report that data. She also has helped immensely in always rooting my choices during the research process in the ultimate goals of my study and the questions I want to answer.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

My research has always been connected to the advocacy work I do with gender-based violence and has helped me understand some of the dynamics within instances of harm and the ways that systems of power respond to that harm. This knowledge is really valuable in thinking about my future hopes to become involved in law and policy surrounding sexual violence.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field? 

I would advise a younger student to go to professor’s office hours and ask them about their research, regardless of whether you want to become a part of their projects or not. It is important to engage with all of the incredible opportunities Oberlin has to offer and learn what all of your options are. If a professor is not taking research assistants right now, find another study you can work in and check back in another time. Be diligent about following up and showing interest.