Psychology students explore tattoo bias, conduct extensive academic research

Psychology majors junior Sarah Harrington and senior Rachel Rapoza (pictured above) have been conducting research under the supervision of professor of psychology Colin Zestcott throughout the past two semesters. Their study is centered on testing whether people exhibit implicit bias towards individuals with tattoos. (Udeshi Seneviratne/Photo Editor).

 Senior Rachel Rapoza and junior Sarah Harrington are psychology majors who occupy assistant research positions for assistant professor of psychology Colin Zestcott. Their work this semester focuses on research of implicit biases toward individuals with tattoos and whether these people encounter discrimination in healthcare and workplace settings.

Rapoza and Harrington run their interviews with participants from the SONA system, in which students get extra credit to participate in Geneseo research studies. They currently have over 100 participants in the study.

In the study, students come in, go onto a computer and view individuals with and without tattoos. They then respond to questions and are tested to see whether they have implicit bias toward people with tattoos.

Rapoza and Harrington emphasized their passion for their research, which is not a major requirement. They participate in the research for credit and to receive real world experience in the field they hope to pursue upon finishing their education.

Rapoza hopes to pursue a career as a marriage and family therapist, while Harrington aims to be a school counselor for middle school or high school students.

Current research has found that despite tattoos becoming more socially accepted among many groups of people, people still exhibit implicit bias when viewing an individual with a tattoo. Explicit biases are biases we are aware of and know we can control, while implicit biases are unconscious attitudes we have that we form involuntarily. Even after becoming aware of one’s implicit biases, a person may not be able to control them.

“I think it’s interesting how you can be aware of having implicit bias but still display it yourself,” Harrington said.

Rapoza and Harrington hope to publish the results of their study at some point. As of now, however, it is not peer-reviewed. The students won’t analyze the data until they obtain a larger sample.

Both students emphasize the practical implications and importance of their research, which will help them figure out ways to reduce implicit bias.

“I love learning about the way people think,” Harrington said. “I’m fascinated by how the mind works.”

Rapoza and Harrington are part of a research lab of six people, and each week they meet for an hour and go over what each person is studying. Zestcott will discuss psychological findings with the students and teach new methods of testing participants or explain statistical programs.

“It’s great to get experience in the field and see how you can apply things to the real world,” Rapoza said. “Our research has real-life implications.”