Psychology honors research assistant Cheskie Rosenzweig’s road to understanding prejudice
As soon-to-be LCM grad Cheskie Rosenzweig astutely observes, racism and prejudice in America have become relatively subtler to detect, but are far from eliminated in our consciousness. “It’s more about the smaller social biases that people have that they’re sometimes not even aware of,” he says.
For nearly a year, the Psychology honors student has stood alongside department professor Dr. Lieb Litman as his research assistant. The pair, along with a small team of peers, has been exploring the modern-day prevalence of prejudice through a method known as conjoined analysis, which utilizes marketing tactics and classic subliminal psychology to arrive at a better understanding of peoples’ attitudes toward race.
Concurrently, he completed an internship at the Brooklyn and Queens County Courthouses with Dr. Alan Perry, a clinical Assistant Professor at Downstate Medical Center and staff member for the Forensic Psychiatry Service at Kings County Hospital Center. Rosenzweig attests that his experience observing the diagnostic process under Dr. Perry, coupled with his research with Dr. Litman, “definitely made me more interested in psychology as a whole.” After earning his degree, Rosenzweig plans to spend a year continuing this research as a springboard to hopeful acceptance in a Clinical Psychology Ph.D program. But as he knows all too well, the admissions process can be determined as much by cultivated prejudice as academic merit. So for now, the lifelong Brooklynite is focused on finishing what he, Dr. Litman and his classmates have started. In between conjoined trials, Rosenzweig spoke with us about the art of analysis, finding his personal path and affecting change one step at a time.
What have you and Dr. Litman been working on?
Uncovering racial discrimination using an advanced marketing method called conjoined analysis. We’ve been trying to apply it to psychology in various ways.
What, specifically, does that entail?
It’s hard to get people to tell you that they have racial preferences. So in this conjoined analysis, instead of asking people a single question, you present them with a profile that has several different characteristics presented at once. In our case, we ask people how likely they were to befriend a particular person, and we asked them several characteristics, like: the person is fun and he’s smart and he’s not very well-educated and he’s a black male. So basically, with conjoined analysis, we were trying to get people to rate each profile slightly more or less dependent on the race as one of the factors.
What kind of results have you generated so far?
We found that peoples’ explicit answers to how important race was were very different from the answers that we were able to get through this semi-implicit use of conjoined analysis, where people de-emphasized the importance of race when they were asked explicitly about it. From the conjoined part of the study, we were able to tease out that race was a bigger factor than people were leading us to believe.
Is there a long-term goal for applying your findings?
We feel like if we’re able to find and have some access to peoples’ true belief systems, instead of what they’re actually telling us they believe, that ultimately that will lead us to a path where we can make people aware of these implicit prejudices or at least understand to some degree where it’s coming from and be able to attack it on that level. One step at a time.
How did your Dr. Perry’s mentorship at the courthouses complement your work with Dr. Litman?
It was a great experience, and provided me with first-hand exposure to a wide range of psychopathy. You can't really understand real psychological problems without being exposed to them personally, and in that sense, the experience was eye opening. I also felt like I was allowed to be a part of a team of forensic psychologists who worked together almost as a family, learned about the way diagnoses are made and was privy to see the many skills that experienced psychologists have in their arsenals to try and uncover underlying diseases and fight their way to the truth about where the patient is at.
Did you always know this would be your area of study?
It took me a long time to get my path, actually. I don’t think I declared my major till maybe after about a year and a half. I took two semesters of biology, I took some political science. I was really all over the place until I settled down for psychology. It grabbed me.
What was it about psychology that grabbed you?
It’s sort of the way I was raised to always think about what people are thinking about and our minds in general. To be able to study the brain and whether it’s unconscious or conscious function that we all experience and go through on a daily basis was very exciting.
Is part of the challenge reconciling how unsolvable the human brain can be?
Absolutely. It is a big mystery. From a philosophical view, I think it’s important to at least do your best to think about and understand these things, because they’re so inherent. To resign yourself to not knowing is not the right way to go. Even if you can’t figure everything out, you can’t just give up.
And have these conjoined-analysis experiments led you to any personal introspection?
The psych classes in general, especially with Dr. Litman, a lot of them are kind of philosophical, and they really get your creative juices flowing. You start thinking about things in a different way. And especially running so many different experiments, you’re sitting in a class and you’re listening to a lecture and something strikes you, you start to think about how you can run that idea in a study and get some results out of it. In that sense, it’s really led me to explore.