Our Research

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Our research is committed to understanding the impacts of rejection sensitivity, stigma, language, and other social factors that either encourage successful re-entry or promote recidivism. We are determined to reduce the nation’s reliance on incarceration and seek to employ our research to identify and advance alternative approaches to criminal justice. The lab is interdisciplinary and draws from several fields of psychology to construct collaborative ideas. Please read more about our current research and ongoing studies below!

     Interpersonal rejection sensitivity is a hyper-alertness to the social reactions of others. When someone has rejection sensitivity, they anxiously expect and rapidly perceive and overreact to rejection. Because of their fears and expectations, individuals who are high in rejection sensitivity may misinterpret and distort the actions of others. As a result, social partners may feel confused or develop negative perceptions of the rejection-sensitive individual.

     Individuals who are rejection sensitive often see rejection by others as a statement that they are unacceptable as people. They see rejection as being a judgment about their worth as a person. Unfortunately, those high in rejection sensitivity often experience self-fulfilling prophecies. When you are expecting rejection it is difficult to be satisfied with or feel safe in relationships, as you will see rejection frequently and often even when it isn’t intended. When you aren’t feeling rejected, you are likely to be expecting it.     

     Exploring people’s expectations of rejection and their impact on the perception of other people’s behavior, in anticipation of and following social encounters. Her work has focused on the personality disposition of rejection sensitivity (RS) and on its association with responses to rejection as well as efforts made to prevent it. This line of work has led her to study sensitivity to rejection based on personal, unique characteristics, as well as sensitivity to rejection based on group characteristics such as race and gender. She has sought to investigate the effect of rejection sensitivity on people’s behavior by utilizing various techniques including established social cognition paradigms, experimental studies, physiological recordings, brain-imaging and diary studies. Recently, Dr. Downey has been using the knowledge acquired from her research on rejection to develop models of personality and attachment disorders.

     We are committed to reducing the nation’s reliance on incarceration and advancing alternative approaches to safety and justice through education, research and policy. Its mission is to help transform a criminal justice system from one that is driven by punishment and retribution to one that is centered on prevention and healing. The Center is interdisciplinary and built around community collaboration. It works in partnership with schools, departments, centers and institutes across Columbia, other universities, government agencies, community organizations, advocates and those directly affected by the criminal justice system. Recalibration/deepening interest of criminal justice system on various social relationships. 

     How does language influence how people feel about punishment as it relates to crime? Does having a short statement simply saying "John committed murder" have different outcomes than providing a short story or scenario describing why John committed murder or what his intentions were? How does dehumanizing language, such as calling individuals inmates, felons, convicts, prisoners, or ex-convicts negatively impact their likelihood of successful re-entry? Does certain language promote recidivism? How does this language influence people's opinion of those in prison? How does language affect incarcerated individuals self image and perception? How does dehumanizing language facilitate abusive behavior towards individuals both during their time of imprisonment and the time following their incarceration? Does calling an individual a convict rather than referring to them as a person inspire unjust abuse and violence towards these individuals?

     How does disclosure of criminal record impact the likelihood of individuals hearing back for an interview? Actually filling out the application? Applying to higher education programs? What kind of work can these individual obtain? 

     The application of neuroscience to criminal law and justice has sparked lively debates over the past 20 years. Interdisciplinary disputes surrounding the potential and limitations of neuroscience for legal purposes are still ongoing. While the use of neuroscience to help determine responsibility in court cases has raised a lot of controversies amongst legal scholars, reliance on neuroscientific knowledge to support the dismissal of harsh forms of punishment seems to be more promising and less questionable. As of Roper (2005), neuroscientific research on brain development has given a significant contribution to withdrawing death penalty and life imprisonment without parole for young people before and just over the age of 18. Recently, neuroscientific studies on social isolation and environmental deprivation have started being utilized to challenge the constitutionality of solitary confinement. Altogether, cautious and informed applications of neuroscience to criminal justice can inform effective changes in current punitive models. Ultimately, this body of knowledge has the potential to lend support to the implementation of alternative justice approaches including social rehabilitation and restorative justice.

Coppola F (2018). Valuing emotions in punishment: An argument for social rehabilitation with the aid of social and affective neuroscience. Neuroethics, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-018-9393-4 

This is the link to the article: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12152-018-9393-4 

While the student identity centers on hope, the criminal identity focuses on history – past mistakes and failures. Identities of hope are future oriented and evaluate potential. Identities of history are retrospective, and rather than evaluating ones potential they measure ones mistakes and refuse individuals to progress and grow as a person. Adopting a student identity while inside prison has profound effects on people inside. Education in prison psychologically empowers students by affirming their belief in themselves and provides skills necessary for securing jobs upon release.