- intergroup dynamics
- natural language processing
Dr. Collins is available to supervise graduate students in the 2021-2022 academic year.
As a social psychologist, I believe it is of vital importance to conduct research that is relevant to, and can inform, socio-cultural issues. In line with this, I have studied how stereotypes might become widely shared despite the existence of prohibitive norms that act to suppress their explicit expression. I am especially interested in the issues of language, culture, and identity.
Language is a system of symbols and their related meanings as well as the rules for how they can be combined to make meaning. It is complex; tiny changes can lead to big differences in meaning – a single letter can indicate plurality, for example, and two might make the difference between past and present. Yet communication itself is easy. We are so adept with language that we can form and decode messages with ease - and so quickly that it seems instantaneous.
Language is more than a tool for communication though; it is also inextricably linked to culture. By making certain concepts and links more accessible than others, language drives attention to what is considered relevant in any given situation. It affects the way we think and our experience of the world. People who share a language thus also share a frame of reference – the same accessible concepts, referent groups, inner representations of the world, and so on.
Language is also a marker of identity - it defines a group of people who share a way of thinking about the world and who they are. The way we speak reflects our culture, region, locale, and even who our family and friends are. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, bilinguals will report different patterns of implicit bias, personality traits, and mood depending on the language they are tested in. The language we speak and how we speak it also tells others who we are - it signals either that we are the same or that we are not.
Together, language, culture, and identity construct a significant part our social and inner worlds. I am interested in the coherence of these worlds and how we make sense of them.