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Northwestern Faculty Member Named MacArthur Fellow

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September 19, 2006 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Jennifer Richeson was at busy downtown Chicago intersection last week when she answered her cell phone to learn she had been named a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, an honor that carries a $500,000 “no strings attached” award.

It was Richeson’s 34th birthday and the Northwestern University associate professor of psychology said she “had taken the day off and was shopping and doing all kinds of frivolous things” when she received the call from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Richeson -- one of 25 MacArthur Fellows named today (Sept. 19) by the MacArthur Foundation for “creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future” -- is a social psychologist whose research looks at the experiences of members of minority and majority groups in their interactions with one another.  A key finding of her work is that these interactions often require heightened self-control to combat expressions of prejudice.

“People today generally understand that prejudice is a bad thing, but still don’t quite know how to converse or behave with people different from themselves,” Richeson said. Intergroup interactions can be awkward, less effective or even avoided “because ‘good people’ don’t want to offend or appear prejudiced,” she added.

Using functional brain imaging, survey techniques, self-reporting and other empirical methods, Richeson’s work provides new ways to understand and, she hopes, improve intergroup dynamics. A faculty fellow of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research and affiliate professor of its African American Studies department, Richeson also has studied motivational and contextual variables that influence how racial cues are used in categorizing other people.

By bringing new life to the topic of intergroup relations, Richeson, according to the MacArthur Foundation, is a leader in “highlighting and analyzing major challenges facing all races in America and (in) the continuing role played by prejudice and stereotyping in our lives.”

Three other Northwestern faculty members have previously received MacArthur Fellowships: Mary Zimmerman, professor of performance studies, in 1998; Amy Rosenzweig, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology, in 2003; and Aleksandar Hemon (G96), an instructor of creative writing in the School of Continuing Studies, in 2004.