Abington professor's team awarded $325K National Science Foundation grant

ABINGTON, Pa. — A National Science Foundation grant to fund a Penn State Abington faculty member’s investigation into social exclusion and bullying could lead to new strategies to help prevent tragedies such as school shootings, while providing Abington undergraduates with valuable research experience.

Michael Bernstein, assistant professor of psychology, and his co-primary investigator at Miami University were awarded a combined three-year $325,000 grant for their collaborative research on social exclusion as a factor in individuation — discriminating the individual from the rest of their group — and stereotyping.  

The study is investigating whether excluded individuals who evaluate others carefully, rather than lumping them with a group such as “bullies,” may cope more positively and therefore may be less likely to lash out. The research could help scientists identify positive coping skills and could prove especially useful in schools where incidents of bullying and exclusion are common.

“Abington has a different pedagogical model than at many other colleges. Our students don’t have to wait until graduate school to contribute to research on this level.”

— Michael Bernstein,
assistant professor of psychology, Penn State Abington

Bernstein’s project may help researchers understand how individuals handle exclusion and, ultimately, could provide strategies to deploy in schools and other relevant settings to defend against exclusion's potentially damaging consequences.

Bernstein said Abington students are involved at all levels of the project. Eleven undergraduates participating in the Abington Social Sciences Laboratory this semester are working on grant research in addition to his thesis, independent study and Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA) students.

“I anticipate 15 students a year working on data collection, analysis, and generally theorizing about the grant in any given year,” he said. “Abington has a different pedagogical model than at many other colleges. Our students don’t have to wait until graduate school to contribute to research.”

A portion of the money has been set aside to help pay for student travel to professional conferences where they may be able to present their findings. In addition, more than 100 Abington students have participated in studies for the grant.

“I would imagine over the course of the grant more than a thousand students will play a role in advancing the science in this area,” he said.

The grant also will fund an undergraduate research assistant and a post-baccalaureate research position, which will be offered to a recent Abington alumna who plans to attend graduate school in psychology and the social sciences.

The project broadens participation of underrepresented groups in science. Many of the students who will aid in conducting, analyzing, and disseminating the research are women, racial minorities, and those from less affluent backgrounds.

Norah Shultz, associate dean for academic affairs at Abington, said the award positively impacts the college as a whole.

“A grant of this type is only awarded to a researcher of the highest reputation amongst his or her peers and within his or her area of expertise,” Shultz said. “It brings recognition to the faculty member and to the college, and, in this case, opens up an array of research opportunities for our current undergraduate students and recent graduates.”

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Last Updated October 11, 2013