How do we conceptualize social groups and how do our concepts guide how we perceive and evaluate individuals? Broadly, my research centers around themes of group-based boundaries and hierarchies, among both children and adults.

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Academic Appointments

Honors & Awards

  • Research Fellowship, Ford Foundation (2013)
  • Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation (2013)

Professional Education

  • AA, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Liberal Arts (2009)
  • BS, New York University, Applied Psychology (2012)
  • MS, University of Michigan, Psychology (2014)
  • PhD, University of Michigan, Psychology (2017)

2020-21 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • The psychology of American racism. The American psychologist Roberts, S. O., Rizzo, M. T. 2020


    American racism is alive and well. In this essay, we amass a large body of classic and contemporary research across multiple areas of psychology (e.g., cognitive, developmental, social), as well as the broader social sciences (e.g., sociology, communication studies, public policy), and humanities (e.g., critical race studies, history, philosophy), to outline seven factors that contribute to American racism: (a) Categories, which organize people into distinct groups by promoting essentialist and normative reasoning; (b) Factions, which trigger ingroup loyalty and intergroup competition and threat; (c) Segregation, which hardens racist perceptions, preferences, and beliefs through the denial of intergroup contact; (d) Hierarchy, which emboldens people to think, feel, and behave in racist ways; (e) Power, which legislates racism on both micro and macro levels; (f) Media, which legitimize overrepresented and idealized representations of White Americans while marginalizing and minimizing people of color; and (g) Passivism, such that overlooking or denying the existence of racism obscures this reality, encouraging others to do the same and allowing racism to fester and persist. We argue that these and other factors support American racism, and we conclude with suggestions for future research, particularly in the domain of identifying ways to promote antiracism. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

    View details for DOI 10.1037/amp0000642

    View details for PubMedID 32584061

  • God as a White man: A psychological barrier to conceptualizing Black people and women as leadership worthy. Journal of personality and social psychology Roberts, S. O., Weisman, K., Lane, J. D., Williams, A., Camp, N. P., Wang, M., Robison, M., Sanchez, K., Griffiths, C. 2020


    In the United States, God is commonly conceptualized as the omnipotent and omniscient entity that created the universe, and as a White man. We questioned whether the extent to which God is conceptualized as a White man predicts the extent to which White men are perceived as particularly fit for leadership. We found support for this across 7 studies. In Study 1, we created 2 measures to examine the extent to which U.S. Christians conceptualized God as a White man, and in Study 2 we found that, controlling for multiple covariates (e.g., racist and sexist attitudes, religiosity, political attitudes), responses on these measures predicted perceiving White male job candidates as particularly fit for leadership, among both Black and White, male and female, Christians. In Study 3, we found that U.S. Christian children, both White and racial minority, conceptualized God as more White than Black (and more male than female), which predicted perceiving White people as particularly boss-like. We next found evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is rooted in broader intuitions that extend beyond Christianity. That is, in a novel context with novel groups and a novel god, U.S. Christian adults (Studies 4 and 6), atheist adults (Study 5), and agnostic preschoolers (Study 7), used a god's identity to infer which groups were best fit for leadership. Collectively, our data reveal a clear and consistent pattern: Attributing a social identity to God predicts perceiving individuals who share that identity as more fit for leadership. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

    View details for DOI 10.1037/pspi0000233

    View details for PubMedID 31999155

  • Racial Inequality in Psychological Research: Trends of the Past and Recommendations for the Future. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science Roberts, S. O., Bareket-Shavit, C. n., Dollins, F. A., Goldie, P. D., Mortenson, E. n. 2020: 1745691620927709


    Race plays an important role in how people think, develop, and behave. In the current article, we queried more than 26,000 empirical articles published between 1974 and 2018 in top-tier cognitive, developmental, and social psychology journals to document how often psychological research acknowledges this reality and to examine whether people who edit, write, and participate in the research are systematically connected. We note several findings. First, across the past five decades, psychological publications that highlight race have been rare, and although they have increased in developmental and social psychology, they have remained virtually nonexistent in cognitive psychology. Second, most publications have been edited by White editors, under which there have been significantly fewer publications that highlight race. Third, many of the publications that highlight race have been written by White authors who employed significantly fewer participants of color. In many cases, we document variation as a function of area and decade. We argue that systemic inequality exists within psychological research and that systemic changes are needed to ensure that psychological research benefits from diversity in editing, writing, and participation. To this end, and in the spirit of the field's recent emphasis on metascience, we offer recommendations for journals and authors.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/1745691620927709

    View details for PubMedID 32578504

  • The Roles of Group Status and Group Membership in the Practice of Hypodescent. Child development Roberts, S. O., Ho, A. K., Gulgoz, S., Berka, J., Gelman, S. A. 2019


    Hypodescent emerged in U.S. history to reinforce racial hierarchy. Research suggests that among contemporary U.S. adults, hypodescent continues to shape social perception. Among U.S. children, however, hypodescent is less likely to be endorsed. Here, we tested for hypodescent by introducing U.S. children (ages 4-9) and adults (N=273) to hierarchically ordered novel groups (one was high status and another was low status) and then to a child who had one parent from each group. In Study 1, we presented the groups in a third-party context. In Study 2, we randomly assigned participants to the high-status or the low-status group. Across both studies, participants did not reliably endorse hypodescent, raising questions as to what elicits this practice.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.13279

    View details for PubMedID 31286497

  • The Role of Group Norms in Evaluating Uncommon and Negative Behaviors JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-GENERAL Roberts, S. O., Ho, A. K., Gelman, S. A. 2019; 148 (2): 374–87


    Children often believe that how a group is reflects how individual group members should be. We provided a strong test of this descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency by examining whether children (Ages 4 to 9) maintained the correctness of group norms even when such norms differed in their prevalence (e.g., drinking juice out of bowls instead of cups; Study 1) or in their valence (e.g., giving people punches instead of flowers; Study 2). In Study 1, disapproval toward nonconformity varied as a function of the norm's prevalence and of participant age. In Study 2, both children and adults approved of conformity to positive norms and disapproved of conformity to negative norms (e.g., "If Glerks make babies cry, an individual Glerk should not"). Nevertheless, across studies, descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning played a role. In Study 1, participants evaluated nonconformity to common norms as worse than conformity to uncommon norms (even though both cases involved uncommon behavior), and they evaluated nonconformity to uncommon norms as worse than conformity to common norms (even though both cases involved common behavior). In Study 2, participants evaluated nonconformity to positive norms as worse than conformity to negative norms (even though both cases involved negative behavior), and they evaluated nonconformity to negative norms as worse than conformity to positive norms (even though both cases involved positive behavior). Together, these data highlight the limits (and scope) of descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning and suggest that when children (and adults) evaluate the appropriateness of someone's behavior, they consider not only the behavior, but also, the norms of the group. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

    View details for DOI 10.1037/xge0000534

    View details for Web of Science ID 000456244600011

    View details for PubMedID 30570328

  • So It Is, So It Shall Be: Group Regularities License Children's Prescriptive Judgments. Cognitive science Roberts, S. O., Gelman, S. A., Ho, A. K. 2017; 41: 576-600


    When do descriptive regularities (what characteristics individuals have) become prescriptive norms (what characteristics individuals should have)? We examined children's (4-13 years) and adults' use of group regularities to make prescriptive judgments, employing novel groups (Hibbles and Glerks) that engaged in morally neutral behaviors (e.g., eating different kinds of berries). Participants were introduced to conforming or non-conforming individuals (e.g., a Hibble who ate berries more typical of a Glerk). Children negatively evaluated non-conformity, with negative evaluations declining with age (Study 1). These effects were replicable across competitive and cooperative intergroup contexts (Study 2) and stemmed from reasoning about group regularities rather than reasoning about individual regularities (Study 3). These data provide new insights into children's group concepts and have important implications for understanding the development of stereotyping and norm enforcement.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cogs.12443

    View details for PubMedID 27914116

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5395313

  • Making boundaries great again: Essentialism and support for boundary-enhancing initiatives Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Roberts, S. O., Ho, A. K., Rhodes, M., Gelman, S. A. 2017

    View details for DOI 10.1177/014616724801

  • Can White Children Grow Up to Be Black? Children's Reasoning About the Stability of Emotion and Race DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY Roberts, S. O., Gelman, S. A. 2016; 52 (6): 887-893


    Recent research questions whether children conceptualize race as stable. We examined participants' beliefs about the relative stability of race and emotion, a temporary feature. Participants were White adults and children ages 5-6 and 9-10 (Study 1) and racial minority children ages 5-6 (Study 2). Participants were presented with target children who were happy or angry and Black or White and were asked to indicate which of 2 adults (a race but not emotion match or an emotion but not race match) each child would grow up to be. White adults, White 9- to 10-year-olds, and racial minority 5- to 6-year-olds selected race matches, whereas White 5- to 6-year-olds selected race and emotion matches equally. These data suggest that beliefs about racial stability vary by age and social group. (PsycINFO Database Record

    View details for DOI 10.1037/dev0000132

    View details for Web of Science ID 000377958700005

    View details for PubMedID 27148779

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4882227

  • Do Children See in Black and White? Children's and Adults' Categorizations of Multiracial Individuals CHILD DEVELOPMENT Roberts, S. O., Gelman, S. A. 2015; 86 (6): 1830-1847


    Categorizations of multiracial individuals provide insight into the development of racial concepts. Children's (4-13 years) and adults', both White (Study 1) and Black (Study 2; N = 387), categorizations of multiracial individuals were examined. White children (unlike Black children) more often categorized multiracial individuals as Black than as White in the absence of parentage information. White and Black adults (unlike children) more often categorized multiracial individuals as Black than as White, even when knowing the individuals' parentage. Children's rates of in-group contact predicted their categorizations. These data suggest that a tendency to categorize multiracial individuals as Black relative to White emerges early in development and results from perceptual biases in White children but ideological motives in White and Black adults.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.12410

    View details for Web of Science ID 000363903400012

    View details for PubMedID 26315349

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4626305

  • How deep do we dig? Formal explanations as placeholders for inherent explanations COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY Gelman, S. A., Cimpian, A., Roberts, S. O. 2018; 106: 43–59


    Formal explanations (e.g., "Mittens has whiskers because she's a cat") pose an intriguing puzzle in human cognition: they seem like little more than tautologies, yet they are surprisingly commonplace and natural-sounding. To resolve this puzzle, we hypothesized that formal explanations constitute an implicit appeal to a category's inherent features rather than simply to the category itself (as their explicit content would suggest); the latter is just a placeholder. We conducted a series of eight experiments with 951 participants that supported four predictions that followed from this hypothesis: First, formal explanations-though natural-sounding-were not particularly satisfying. Second, for natural kinds, formal explanations were less satisfying than inherent explanations (specifically, ones that appealed to a natural kind's causally powerful "essence"). Third, participants viewed essence-related inherent explanations as more specific versions of the ideas expressed by formal explanations, which were viewed as more general placeholders. Fourth, and finally, formal explanations tended to serve as placeholders for explanations that appealed to inherent features more so than for other types of explanations, such as ones that appealed to external, environmental factors. In addition to supporting our novel claim about the meaning of formal explanations, these data suggest a new way in which explanations do their psychological work: not via their literal content (as assumed by prior work on explanation), but rather via the additional inferences they encourage. We end by discussing the potential heuristic value of formal explanations for causal learning in childhood.

    View details for PubMedID 30189296

  • Group presence, category labels, and generic statements influence children to treat descriptive group regularities as prescriptive JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL CHILD PSYCHOLOGY Roberts, S. O., Ho, A. K., Gelman, S. A. 2017; 158: 19-31


    Children use descriptive regularities of social groups (what is) to generate prescriptive judgments (what should be). We examined whether this tendency held when the regularities were introduced through group presence, category labels, or generic statements. Children (ages 4-9years, N=203) were randomly assigned to one of four conditions that manipulated how descriptive group regularities were presented: group presence (e.g., "These ones [a group of three individuals] eat this kind of berry"), category labels (e.g., "This [individual] Hibble eats this kind of berry"), generic statements (e.g., [showing an individual] "Hibbles eat this kind of berry"), or control (e.g., "This one [individual] eats this kind of berry"). Then, children saw conforming and non-conforming individuals and were asked to evaluate their behavior. As predicted, children evaluated non-conformity negatively in all conditions except the control condition. Together, these results suggest that minimal perceptual and linguistic cues provoke children to treat social groups as having normative force.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jecp.2016.11.013

    View details for Web of Science ID 000396961500002

    View details for PubMedID 28167383

  • Children's descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency replicates (and varies) cross-culturally: Evidence from China. Journal of experimental child psychology Roberts, S. O., Guo, C., Ho, A. K., Gelman, S. A. 2017


    Research with U.S. samples found that children use descriptive group regularities (characteristics shared by individuals within a group) to generate prescriptive judgments (characteristics that should be shared by individuals within a group). Here, we assessed this descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency in a sample of children (ages 4-13years) and adults (ages 18-40years) from mainland China. Participants were introduced to novel groups (i.e., Hibbles and Glerks) who engaged in contrasting morally neutral behaviors (e.g., listening to different kinds of music) and then to conforming and non-conforming individuals (e.g., a Hibble who listened to music more typical of Glerks). Like U.S. children, Chinese children disapproved of non-conformity and rates of disapproval declined with age. However, compared with U.S. children, younger Chinese children (ages 4-6years) rated non-conformity more disapprovingly, and unlike U.S. adults, Chinese adults rated non-conformity more negatively than conformity. Moreover, compared with U.S. participants, Chinese participants across all age groups appealed more often to norm-based explanations when justifying their disapproval. These data provide a cross-cultural replication of children's descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency but also reveal cross-cultural variation, and they have implications for understanding the mechanisms that underlie stereotyping and normative reasoning.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.03.018

    View details for PubMedID 28552389

  • Multiracial Children's and Adults' Categorizations of Multiracial Individuals JOURNAL OF COGNITION AND DEVELOPMENT Roberts, S. O., Gelman, S. A. 2017; 18 (1): 1-15
  • Now you see race, now you don’t: Verbal cues influence children’s racial stability judgments Cognitive Development Roberts, S. O., Gelman, S. A. 2017; 43: 129-141
  • Children's and Adults' Predictions of Black, White, and Multiracial Friendship Patterns JOURNAL OF COGNITION AND DEVELOPMENT Roberts, S. O., Williams, A. D., Gelman, S. A. 2017; 18 (2): 189-208
  • My Heart Made Me Do It: Children's Essentialist Beliefs About Heart Transplants. Cognitive science Meyer, M., Gelman, S. A., Roberts, S. O., Leslie, S. 2016


    Psychological essentialism is a folk theory characterized by the belief that a causal internal essence or force gives rise to the common outward behaviors or attributes of a category's members. In two studies, we investigated whether 4- to 7-year-old children evidenced essentialist reasoning about heart transplants by asking them to predict whether trading hearts with an individual would cause them to take on the donor's attributes. Control conditions asked children to consider the effects of trading money with an individual. Results indicated that children reasoned according to essentialism, predicting more transfer of attributes in the transplant condition versus the non-bodily money control. Children also endorsed essentialist transfer of attributes even when they did not believe that a transplant would change the recipient's category membership (e.g., endorsing the idea that a recipient of a pig's heart would act pig-like, but denying that the recipient would become a pig). This finding runs counter to predictions from a strong interpretation of the "minimalist" position, an alternative to essentialism.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cogs.12431

    View details for PubMedID 27859571

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5435553

  • Essentialism and Racial Bias Jointly Contribute to the Categorization of Multiracial Individuals PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Ho, A. K., Roberts, S. O., Gelman, S. A. 2015; 26 (10): 1639-1645


    Categorizations of multiracial individuals provide insight into the psychological mechanisms driving social stratification, but few studies have explored the interplay of cognitive and motivational underpinnings of these categorizations. In the present study, we integrated research on racial essentialism (i.e., the belief that race demarcates unobservable and immutable properties) and negativity bias (i.e., the tendency to weigh negative entities more heavily than positive entities) to explain why people might exhibit biases in the categorization of multiracial individuals. As theorized, racial essentialism, both dispositional (Study 1) and experimentally induced (Study 2), led to the categorization of Black-White multiracial individuals as Black, but only among individuals evaluating Black people more negatively than White people. These findings demonstrate how fundamental cognitive and motivational biases interact to influence the categorization of multiracial individuals.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797615596436

    View details for Web of Science ID 000362995700011

    View details for PubMedID 26330456

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4943871

  • Racial identity and autonomic responses to racial discrimination PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY Neblett, E. W., Roberts, S. O. 2013; 50 (10): 943-953


    Several studies identify racial identity-the significance and meaning that individuals attribute to race-as a mitigating factor in the association between racial discrimination and adjustment. In this study, we employed a visual imagery paradigm to examine whether racial identity would moderate autonomic responses to blatant and subtle racial discrimination analogues with Black and White perpetrators. We recruited 105 African American young adults from a public, southeastern university in the United States. The personal significance of race as well as personal feelings about African Americans and feelings about how others view African Americans moderated autonomic responses to the vignettes. We use polyvagal theory and a stress, appraisal, and coping framework to interpret our results with an eye toward elucidating the ways in which racial identity may inform individual differences in physiological responses to racial discrimination.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/psyp.12087

    View details for Web of Science ID 000325080100002

    View details for PubMedID 23889076

  • From Parental Involvement to Children's Mathematical Performance: The Role of Mathematics Anxiety EARLY EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Vukovic, R. K., Roberts, S. O., Wright, L. G. 2013; 24 (4): 446-467