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Psychology graduate student conducts research on issues of gender bias

Headshot of Hannah Leigh Buie


When Hannah Leigh Buie completed her undergraduate degree in political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she had no idea that her passion for advocacy and interest in institutional bias would lead her to pursue a graduate degree in psychology at Western Carolina University, let alone inspire her to study the relationship between humor, competency and gender. Hannah will present the results of her scholarly work at WCU’s upcoming Research and Scholarship Celebration.

Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, Hannah is set to receive her master’s degree in psychology in May. Before coming to WCU, she spent time in Washington, D.C., working with nonprofits and schools, “ensuring that equitable education was brought to underserved communities” and that city policies were aligned with being able to provide these kinds of opportunities.

It was a combination of her undergraduate career and her work in D.C. that inspired Hannah to shift from political science to social psychology. She always had been interested in the psychology of prejudice and “why we make decisions based on what we see on the surface,” and she had an understanding of institutional bias from her undergraduate work. Upon realizing how often the two overlapped, she decided to focus her research on bias and prejudice within the individual.

Before diving into her current research, Hannah started out researching self-regulation by studying a person’s ability to self-regulate their behavior (whether internally or externally), what strategies work best for self-regulation and whether people are motivated to self-regulate their personal biases and prejudices. Her recent research, however, focused on the individual and gender bias. She wanted to look at individuals who are at a baseline of social competency and how other people view them based on gender.

For example, she said, men who spill coffee on themselves are seen as relatable, while women who spill coffee on themselves are seen as incompetent. She wanted to see whether the use of humor followed the same gendered effect, testing self-deprecating humor, deprecation with no humor and humor without deprecation to see if gender bias played a part in how others view how an individual’s social competence.

Hannah has had several opportunities to present her research, including at a national conference in Portland, Oregon, this past February. The reaction to her research has been positive so far, she said. Hannah said that social psychology has a lot of researchers exploring prejudice. “I feel lucky to be in a field that’s conducting such meaningful research that’s applicable to everything I do,” she said.

While Hannah wants to continue to research for as long as she can, her main goal is to pursue a career in academia; she already has visited several schools and applied for doctoral programs across the country. A current graduate instructor of several introductory psychology classes at WCU, Hannah said that she “is so impressed with the level of intellectual curiosity” her students have, always coming to class with really good questions and the willingness to learn.

Passionate about advocacy and dedicated to her research, Hannah’s exploration of the psychology of prejudice is a bright spot in WCU’s psychology graduate program.

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