By Anuhita Basavaraju, Class of ’18
July 30, 2017

My research experience this summer has been truly eye opening and rewarding on so many different levels. One of the most important lessons that I learned is that research—especially when it concerns people—is never going to go exactly as you plan for it to. The best thing you can do is put in the effort but ultimately some factors are just out of your control. I was able to complete my project with very interesting findings, but it unfolded in a slightly different manner than I had anticipated.

While I had done independent research studies at Duke, because of access to resources like Duke List it was never hard to get subjects. Moreover, I only ran one subject at a time. For my work this past summer, data was collected at four major event with about 15 attendees per event. Every event required planning and a lot of networking because I didn’t just want university students. One of my favorite ways to network was at a municipality (Fredericksberg) in Copenhagen’s integration day. I went with the other core members from Cnergi (the organization that was kind enough to host me for the summer) and we had a booth at the fair. To attract people to our booth, I made posters that summarized key psychological principles about identity and bias.

Another aspect that I wasn’t expecting was for so much of my time to be spent working out logistics for the social experiment events. From networking to confirming subject attendance to making sure that the venue reservations were in check to even having to download the unconscious bias examination on all of the computers at the venue, I saw how research is a lot more than just the academic content of what you are working with.

With that being said, I really enjoyed being able to apply principles from my cognitive sciences background to answering the social problem of how we can facilitate integration. I think that it is remiss that we traditionally see a divide between these two fields because they are so intertwined. I like to think of cognitive sciences as a sort of hack into understanding human behavior. Not only was I able to apply my cognitive sciences background in designing the unconscious bias metrics I used to measure bias levels before and after the story telling exercise, but I also tapped into it to help make the most effective story-telling procedure possible with the members of Cnergi. I won’t go into much details of the storytelling processes we came up with on this blog post. However, I am happy to say that they did result in a significant decrease in unconscious bias scores.

This study is just a pilot investigation; however, I think it highlights a few key promising ideas that I hope to investigate in the future even after I graduate Duke this May. It was empowering to be able to take a complaint I always had regarding disciplinary divides and to actively try to combat it and promote interdisciplinary pursuits. Moreover, I think my research is a great stepping stone to better understanding how we can budge those traditionally viewed as stubborn unconscious biases that taint our views of other people. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and cannot wait to explore these preliminary findings further.