Karen Gonsalkorale

This is a photo of Karen Gonsalkorale.The University of Sydney, Australia


What does your research focus on?

My research interests are in the areas of social cognition, intergroup relations, and stereotyping and prejudice. I’m currently exploring the ways in which people think about their social groups and how these cognitions influence intergroup relations. Other research focuses on intergroup biases that people may not personally endorse or even be aware of having. I’m interested in what causes these biases, whether people can control them, and how they influence behaviour toward members of other groups.

What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?

I guess my interest in prejudice and intergroup relations stemmed from personal experiences. My family migrated to Australia in the late 1970s and we settled in a predominantly white area. By and large I felt accepted, but at times there was an undercurrent of prejudice. I was intrigued that people could have biased views about cultural groups in the abstract, which did not necessarily translate into how they treated individuals at the personal level. The many contradictions of prejudice continue to fascinate me.

Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?

I’ve had great mentors. Bill von Hippel was an incredible PhD supervisor. I learned a lot from him about designing creative and rigorous studies, collaborating, publishing, and teaching. I was very fortunate to have Marilynn Brewer as my co-supervisor. Her expertise and encouragement were invaluable. Jeff Sherman was my wonderful post-doc supervisor at UC Davis. He taught me how to write and present persuasively, juggle multiple projects, and manage a lab. But it was Lisa Zadro who first sparked my interest in psychology. She was my tutor (TA) for intro psych, and now I work alongside her at the University of Sydney. Her infectious enthusiasm is an inspiration.

To what do you attribute your success in the science?

My fantastic mentors, patient husband, and supportive family have motivated me to work hard, persevere, and make the most of opportunities. I also have excellent colleagues at the University of Sydney. It’s an exciting place to be because there are lots of up-and-coming researchers who all support each other.

What’s your future research agenda?

I will keep exploring the factors that determine whether or not members of diverse groups get along. I hope we’ll be able to identify the precursors to positive interethnic interactions and develop ways to cultivate these factors in order to improve intergroup relations.

Any advice for even younger psychological scientist? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?

Surround yourself with supportive people, and immerse yourself in projects that interest and challenge you. Jump on opportunities to collaborate with good researchers and learn new skills. Make time to go to interesting talks, even if they don’t seem directly relevant to your own research. Some of the best ideas can be found lurking in unexpected places.

What publication are you most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?

Gonsalkorale, K., von Hippel, W., Sherman, J. W., & Klauer, K. C. (2009). Bias and regulation of bias in intergroup interactions: Implicit attitudes toward Muslims and interaction quality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 161-166.

In this paper, we demonstrated that the quality of intergroup interactions is influenced by an “upstream” self-regulatory process that opposes activated associations. This suggests that early inhibitory processes may be as important as “downstream” control over behavior in the course of an intergroup interaction.

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