Spill the T: Psychology Research Into Anti-Trans Attitudes

Image courtesy of TransEDU

My name is Sarah Lapean, and I am a rising junior English and psychology major. I am spending part of my summer working remotely with Professor Rebecca Totton of the psychology department as a research assistant. Professor Totton has several ongoing studies within her research into anti-trans attitudes. This is my first research experience outside of the classroom, and I am excited to divide my time among a few different projects this summer while I am at home in Vermont.

The first is an anti-trans content analysis study in which SURF participants will be doing the heavy lifting of coding Facebook comments on articles about transgender topics. They will be looking at how people respond to these issues, and what perceptions commenters have of transgender individuals. My role will be helping out with some organizational tasks and being an outside opinion if the coders disagree about a comment’s intentions. This study is being done in collaboration with Dr. Ashley Hopkins, who has a PhD in journalism. This connection was a pleasant surprise, as I get to see how my two areas of interest can come together.

The second study is still in its early stages, but it will examine whether transgender individuals are perceived as deceptive in situations strictly related to their bodies (think bathroom debate or locker rooms), or whether this perception extends to more neutral areas, such as academic dishonesty. Along with the SURF participants and a fellow research assistant, my first step in this study will be data cleaning and analysis. This is the kind of nitty-gritty aspect of research that is mentioned in class, or is question five on a test, but I haven’t had the chance to actually put it into practice yet. Once I get to cleaning some good old data, I’ll be able to say whether it’s as fun as it sounds.

The third study focuses on the psychological effects of anti-trans legislation on transgender youth. With 2021 only half over, already there has been an unprecedented number of bills proposed and even passed against the LGBTQ community. In collaboration with Dr. Lindsay Dhanani, an industrial and organizational (IO) psychologist, we will be reaching out to transgender youth across the country to evaluate how proposed or passed anti-trans laws have affected their feelings of safety and well-being. My current role in this study is identifying and gathering sources that will allow us to contact as many participants as possible. This study has a particular sense of urgency, as it is an attempt to push back against dangerous and discriminatory legislation taking effect in our country as you read this.

I’m excited to be taking part in such timely and interesting research this summer, and these projects seem like they will have a genuine impact on the world around us. Of course, research has no impact unless it can be effectively communicated to the public. By being a summer reporter, I will get to practice communicating research as it develops to show its importance to others. Hopefully over these next few weeks, I will be able to take you all into the lab with me as we change the world of tomorrow.