Bettina Spencer, Ph.D.

Saint Mary's College (IN)

Country: United States (Indiana)

About Me:

I received my PhD in Social Psychology from the New School for Social Research and am currently an Associate Professor of Psychology, and Chair of the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame.   I teach courses in social psychology, cultural psychology, research methods, stereotyping and prejudice, and the psychology of violence.  My main research investigates issues of stereotyping and prejudice as they relate to low-income individuals.  Specifically, I have examined the academic underperformance of low-income college students in testing situations, as well as perceptions of low-income women in the court system.  In my work I also examine issues of dehumanization and police violence, the relation between racism and sexism on election attitudes, and the impact of single-sex and mixed-sex environments on various domains, including body image, and endorsement of hostile and benevolent sexism.

Research Interests

Political Psychology

Experimental Research

Class, Inequality, and Labor Politics

Gender and Politics

Research Methods & Research Design


Journal Articles:

(2017) Nevertheless, she persisted: Mobilization after the Women’s March., Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality & Diversity

The Women’s March in Washington D.C. had a crowd size of approximately 750,000 people, possibly much higher. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and numerous other cities across the United States experienced large and diverse demonstrations. What is particularly noteworthy is both the size of individual demonstrations and the number of demonstrations across the country. With such high levels of participation, and with such an intersectional platform, the Women’s March created an inclusive, large-scale social movement and was an impressive display of political mobilization. We are interested in whether the participants in the Washington D.C. march were likely to continue to participate in other forms of social mobilization as compared to participants who marched elsewhere, or who did not march at all that day. We administered a survey to assess whether people who attended the women’s march in D.C. were indeed influenced to participate in more marches, and importantly, for a greater range of causes, than people who attended smaller marches or who did not march at all. We found that our hypotheses were partially supported in that participants did not differ in their level of protest participation before the women’s march. However, whether participants marched in D.C. or elsewhere did make a significant difference on future intentions; participating in any march that day increased interest in future protests for a wider set of causes.

(2016) The impact of class and sexuality-based stereotyping on rape blame., Sexualization Media and Society

In order to investigate whether stereotypes about sexuality can impact perceptions of sexual assault, participants read a scenario that described a situation in which a woman reported being raped. The woman’s socioeconomic status (SES) was varied, so that she appeared to be of low or high-SES. Following the vignette, participants completed explicit measures that assessed victim blame, attitudes toward rape victims, and perceived promiscuity. Participants also answered an open-ended question that was coded for minimizing and maximizing language. Last, participants completed an “attitude survey” that measured classist attitudes. It was hypothesized that participants who read about the low-SES woman would show more rape blame, display more negative attitudes about rape victims, respond to the open-ended question with more minimizing language, and perceive her as being more promiscuous. It was also predicted that these explicit measures would be positively correlated and that the language measure would be moderated by participants’ classism. Results supported these hypotheses. Participants who read about the low-SES survivor showed more negative attitudes, believed her to be more culpable, and more promiscuous. The explicit measures were positively correlated. Additionally, participants differed in linguistic minimization and maximization, such that participants who were low in classism were more likely to maximize the low-SES target’s experience, whereas participants who were high in classism were more likely to minimize the low-SES target’s experience. Taken together, these results suggest that low-SES women are stereotyped as being promiscuous and that this stereotype affects how they may be blamed after cases of sexual assault. Public Health Significance Statement: The results of this study suggest that low-socioeconomic status (SES) survivors of assault are more likely to be blamed and found culpable for the assault than high-SES women. These attitudes correlate with stereotypes about low-SES women’s sexuality

(2014) Dehumanization and social class: Animality in the stereotypes of 'white trash', 'chavs' and 'bogans., Social Psychology

Three studies examined whether animality is a component of low-SES stereotypes. In Study 1a–c, the content of “white trash” (USA), “chav” (UK), and “bogan” (Australia) stereotypes was found to be highly consistent, and in every culture it correlated positively with the stereotype content of apes. In Studies 2a and 2b, a within-subjects approach replicated this effect and revealed that it did not rely on derogatory labels or was reducible to ingroup favoritism or system justification concerns. In Study 3, the “bogan” stereotype was associated with ape, rat, and dog stereotypes independently of established stereotype content dimensions (warmth, competence, and morality). By implication, stereotypes of low-SES people picture them as primitive, bestial, and incompletely human.

(2011) Ideology, fear of death, and death anxiety, Political Psychology

Ideological beliefs have long attracted the attention of social psychologists, who have investigated their genesis as well as their influence on a host of social phenomena. Conservatism, from the Motivated Social Cognition framework, stems from epistemic and existential needs of the individual, and notably the fear of death. However, Terror Management Theory proposes a view of conservatism and its contrary, liberalism, as equivalent cultural worldviews, equally fit to fulfill such needs. In the present contribution, results are presented from five studies, which test the contrasting hypotheses derived from these two perspectives. A new perspective is considered that accounts for these and previous findings.

(2007) Social class is dead. Long live social class! Stereotype threat among low-socioeconomic status individuals., Social Justice Research

Stereotype threat effects occur when members of a stigmatized group perform poorly on a task because they fear confirming a negative stereotype that is associated with their ingroup. The present study investigates whether the observed achievement gap in standardized testing between high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) American students can be due, in part, to this phenomenon. Participants were placed in one of four conditions that varied in level of “threat” related to socioeconomic status. Results show that when socioeconomic identity is made salient before taking a test, or when the test is presented as diagnostic of intelligence, low-SES students perform significantly worse, and report much lower self-confidence, than low-SES participants in the non-threatening conditions. When threatening conditions converge, performance of low-SES students is at its worst level. These results help us better understand the role stereotyping plays in the academic performance of low-SES students, and may partly explain the disparity on standardized test scores between low- and high-SES students.

Media Appearances:

TV Appearances:

(2016) News Channel

• Interviewed by WSBT on the college’s campus climate results.

(2015) News Channel

• Interviewed by WSBT on the President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault

Radio Appearances:

(2011) Radio Station

• Interviewed by radio station WSBT on the topic of sexual assault and war