Compared to other racial groups, Native Americans (the Indigenous Peoples of the United States) face disproportionately negative outcomes across many consequential domains of life, including education, income, housing, and criminal justice. Social psychology helps to understand how biases such as stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination contribute to Native Americans’ disparate outcomes. This research team has identified another distinct form of bias that undermines Native Americans’ opportunities and wellbeing: bias of omission. Biases of omission refer to the ways in which Native Americans are written out of public consciousness.

For example, research demonstrates that relative to other groups, mainstream television and news media rarely include Native People or discuss Native issues. Americans are also taught relatively little — and largely inaccurate — information about Native Americas. As one example, the majority of history curricula in American schools discusses Native peoples only in the pre-20th century contexts, rendering invisible the 5.2 million Native Americans currently living in the United States. Even the growing and powerful contemporary social justice movements ofter omit Native Americans, despite the widespread disadvantages that Native communities face.

The current epidemic of murdered and missing Native American women, girls, two-spirited, and trans individuals (MMIWG2ST), for example, has received very little attention from these movements, from society in general, or from the government agencies responsible for investigating sexual assault. The research in this project documents the scope and psychological impact of Native omissions, and explores how non-Native Americans justify those omissions. Studies also example the motivational underpinnings of the relation between justifications of Native omissions and non-Natives’ national esteem, and test the efficacy of interventions that offer potential for improving Native peoples’ wellbeing.

It is therefore hypothesized that Native omissions arise from a desire among non-Native Americans to protect these core cultural narratives and to maintain national esteem — a sense of attachment to and pride in one’s nation. Three lines of studies test the tenets of this theoretical framework using large samples of Native American participants coupled with samples of non-Native adults from across the United States.

The first phase of research documents the scope and psychological impact of Native omissions, including assessments of how and in what domains Native People experience omissions in the U.S. society and the effect of omissions on individual and community wellbeing. Additional studies explore how and to what extent non-Native Americans justify omissions documented by Native participants, and whether justifications of Native omissions play a culturally protective role for non-Natives.

The final phase of research examines the efficacy of acknowledging Native omissions as a means of improving Native peoples’ wellbeing by examining whether acknowledgements (vs. justifications) of Native omissions by mainstream U.S. institutions can enhance Native Americans’ individual and collective wellbeing. The program of research aims to expand the psychological literature by laying the theoretical groundwork for understanding an understudied form of bias and by shedding light on the experiences of Native Americans — people who are vastly underrepresented in psychological theory and research. The project also documents and helps to change the psychological processes that perpetuate social inequalities, particularly those experienced by Native Americans, thereby contributing to the science of broadening participation.