In the Disability and Social Interaction Lab (DSIL), directed by Dr. Kathleen Bogart, we study the forgotten “ism,” ableism, or prejudice towards disability. We examine disability from a social psychological perspective, examining others’ attitudes toward disability and the way people with disabilities manage stigma. Nearly 20% of Americans have a disability, making it the largest minority group in the U.S. Our work extends social psychological theories of intergroup prejudice to examine ableism. For example, does "identifying" as a person with a disability lead to greater well being? Does a sense of disability pride protect people from ableism?
Much of our work focuses on the psychosocial implications of facial movement disorders such as facial paralysis and Parkinson’s disease, which affect more than 200,000 Americans per year. One of the most significant consequences of facial paralysis is a face that is inexpressive of one's emotions and unresponsive during social interaction. Half a century’s worth of psychological research suggests that certain basic facial expressions are universally communicated across all cultures. This leaves people with facial paralysis unable to participate in one of the only universal languages. We have found that people with facial movement disorders are often “misread” as unhappy or unfriendly. However, when people with facial paralysis compensate by being more expressive with their bodies and voices, others form more positive impressions of them.
DSIL is working on ways to improve communication for people with facial movement disorders. In one line of research, we are conducting communication skills workshops for people with facial paralysis them to help them compensate. More importantly, we recognize that ableism is a problem of society, not of the person with the disability. In another line of research, we are developing trainings for people likely to encounter people with facial paralysis such as doctors and educators. We train them to override the natural tendency to focus on the face and to look to compensatory expression.