Gerald (he/him) is currently a doctoral candidate in Psychology (Social area) at the University of California, Los Angeles. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, he received his B.A. in Psychology with honors and distinction from Stanford University in 2014 and his M.A. in Psychology from UCLA in 2017. As important as—if not more important than—his “formal” education, Gerald owes his current research perspectives to his family, friends, and life experiences that have provided innumerable learning opportunities, insights, and constant challenges to his worldview. Throughout his path, he has been fortunate to work among and live in diverse cultural contexts, including diversity of political orientation (conservative, liberal), language (Spanish-speaking, AAVE), socioeconomic status and industry (working class, tech, supply chain operations, teaching), and racial/ethnic make-up (racially homogenous, racially dichotomous, and racially diverse). These experiences all serve as the foundation for his research perspective, backed by his extensive and rigorous training in experimental methods, psychological theory, and statistics.
Brannon, T. N., Carter, E. R., Murdock-Perriera, L. A., Higginbotham, G. D. (2018). From backlash to inclusion for all: Instituting diversity efforts to maximize benefits across group lines. Social Issues and Policy Review, 12(1), 57-90.
Brannon, T. N., Higginbotham, G. D., & Henderson, K. (2017). Class advantages and disadvantages are not so Black and White: Intersectionality impacts rank and selves. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 117-122.
Brannon, T. N., Taylor, V. J., Higginbotham, G. D., & Henderson, K. (2017). Selves in contact: How integrating perspectives on sociocultural selves and intergroup contact can inform theory and application on reducing inequality. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(7)
Higginbotham, G. D., Shropshire, J., & Johnson, K. L. (Invited Resubmission). You play a sport, right?: A persistent and pernicious bias in categorization of students vs. student-athletes.
Higginbotham, G. D. (Invited Resubmission). Can I belong in school and sports? The intersectional value of athletic identity in high school and across the college transition.
Higginbotham, G. D., Sears, D. O., & Goldstein, L. When an irresistible prejudice meets immovable politics: Pitting anti-Black attitudes against gun rights advocacy among White Americans. [In Prep: 3 of 3 studies collected and analyzed]
Kerner, L., Losee, J., Higginbotham, G. D., & Shepperd, J. Examining the relationship between COVID-19 pandemic-related fears and interest in purchasing a gun. [In Prep: 1 of 1 study collected and analyzed]
Higginbotham, G. D., & Does, S. The role of culture and identity in the perception of critical American histories of oppression. [In Prep: theory paper]
Higginbotham, G. D., Zheng, Z., & Uhls, Y. (2020). Beyond checking a box: A lack of authentically inclusive representation has costs at the box office. UCLA Center for Scholars and Storytellers. View
Current trends and patterns of social life in the U.S., including racial inequality, are rooted in a historical trajectory. My research integrates social and cultural psychology to explore the role of history as critical contextual information that shapes identity, identity-based biases, and, at times, also becomes the focus of perception itself. Specifically, I have explored history’s influence on how dominant and marginalized group members perceive themselves, the groups they value, and members of other groups. In current research, I test how cognitive representations of oppressive histories shift as a function of group membership, revealing systematic and motivated biases. To that end, in three interrelated lines of research, I examine:
“Black” and “Athletic” as Culturally Valued and a Source of Prejudice
Beginning in the 1950s, sports were increasingly viewed as a pathway for Black men to obtain access to educational and occupational opportunities that provided financial success and civil rights in the face of systemic discrimination. Stemming from this history, among young Black boys today, both admiring Black athletes and identifying oneself as an athlete can engender a strong sense of cultural pride due to the substantive, positive representation of successful Black male athletes. I’ve employed cross-sectional and longitudinal methods to explore this current cultural value of athletic identity. In current research, I find that for some Black male high school students (e.g., those who are academically identified) identifying as athletic can protect their sense of social fit among peers generally and identification as a young Black man specifically with positive adjustment implications across the transition to college (Higginbotham, 2020. Invited Resubmission at CDEMP).
Yet, the observed success of Black men in sports through history has also made a more pernicious impact. In a separate review paper, my coauthors and I argued that understanding the mechanisms by which sociocultural contexts and histories shape both in- and out-group members’ experiences and perspectives is an important, yet understudied, area in intergroup contact research. In particular, we posited that reliance on stereotypes devoid of cultural/historical knowledge about relevant sociocultural contexts can negatively impact the experiences of those individuals in intergroup contact situations (Brannon, Taylor-Jones, Higginbotham, Henderson, 2017). From an intergroup perspective, racial prejudice and the dominance of Black athletes gave rise to the culturally-embedded stereotype that all Black people, and Black men in particular, are naturally athletic. In college contexts, the Black cultural understanding of athletics can be lost and is often subsumed by a common stereotype: the incorrect assumption that Black male students are student-athletes. Using Social Vision methods, we examined the bias of perceiving Black males as student-athletes rather than non-athlete students. In this research, Black men were uniquely prone to be categorized as athletes, a tendency that was driven by miscategorizations of Black male students as athletes. Notably, being categorized as an athlete was associated with being judged as less academically able (Higginbotham, Shropshire, & Johnson, Invited Resubmission at PSPB).
Managing Threats to a Culturally Valued Identity–Legal Gun Ownership
My second line of research investigates how individuals react to and manage perceived threats to culturally valued social groups. Here, I have tested how a perceived threat to one’s culturally valued group may motivate attitudes and actions that might otherwise appear antithetical to typical group norms. Among a subset of White Americans, legal gun ownership is a valued identity—one that generally leads to strong support of gun rights. Among these individuals, I find that racial prejudice toward Black Americans who exercise their legal rights to own guns has an ironic effect. It actually reduces White Americans’ support for gun rights. This psychological prediction originated from actual U.S. history. In the 1960s, Black Americans, including Black Panthers, made the case for exercising their legal rights to bear arms to protect themselves from racial terrorism. In response, conservative gun rights organizations joined arms with Republican officials to pass sweeping gun control legislation (Winkler, 2011).
In current research, I developed a novel Implicit Association Task to test associations of gun rights (vs. gun control) with White (vs. Black) Americans among White Democrats and Republicans. Overall, participants more strongly associated gun rights with White than Black Americans. However, this overall association was driven by White participants who exhibited high levels of racially resentful attitudes and remained even after controlling for political party identification. This study provided initial evidence that among White Americans who hold strong anti-Black attitudes, gun rights are reserved for White Americans. Given that racially resentful White Americans associated gun rights with White people, I next tested whether information about Black gun ownership reduced their support for gun rights. In two studies, including a nationally representative sample of White partisans, White participants were told that either Black or White Americans (experimental condition) recently showed the highest increase in concealed carry permit obtainment. Participants then reported their support for concealed carry rights and general gun rights and answered a measure of racial resentment. In both studies, support for general gun rights did not differ as a function of racial resentment and condition. However, in both studies, we found an interaction regarding support for concealed carry rights; racially resentful White Americans reported less support for concealed carry rights after reading about increases in Black (compared to White) permit obtainment (Higginbotham, Sears & Goldstein, in prep).
Race, Culture, and Motivated History Representations
In my third research line, I examine a potential psychological mechanism that underlies how Black and White Americans contextualize past racial wrong-doing in relation to current inequities. Discourse on the present-day impact of White American’s past oppression of Black Americans—or critical Black history—seems to be informed by different perspectives on and knowledge about this history. Black Americans often emphasize the close proximity of past racism (e.g., Jim Crow era) and feel connected to people who lived then (e.g., we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors). In contrast, White Americans often emphasize how identical histories are distant and draw a distinction between people who lived then versus now (e.g., why should I be responsible for others’ actions?).
In my dissertation, I integrate research on culture, identity, and cognition to examine how the U.S. cultural orientation of individualism affects the perception of interconnections between the past and the present. Although all Americans are the descendants of parents, grandparents, and ancestors, a focus on individualism and individual work-ethic may facilitate a sense of separation from the influence of the past and these past actors. Thus, I explore how feeling more (versus less) connected to close others (e.g., older family members) may affect, and be affected by, representations of critical Black history. Critically, I propose that feeling more connected to (i.e., interdependent) versus separate from (i.e., independent) close others while engaging with critical Black history differs as a function of race. Specifically, I predict that Black Americans (relative to White Americans) will represent the self more interdependently when engaging with critical Black histories, such as the prosperity of Black Wallstreet and its violent destruction by White Americans in 1921, and this mediate racial differences in cognitive representations of history in relation to the present.
I take a multi-method, collaborative approach to examine these processes from both the target and perceiver perspectives. My work has theoretical and practical implications for meaningful societal contexts, including, but not limited to, higher education, public policy, and the workplace.