Ravenel Davis smiles for the camera

What They Learned: Ravenel Davis ‘22

The psychology major and neuroscience minor used her thesis to study how children understand social categories.

Ravenel Davis’ interest in social developmental psychology comes from her love of working with children—and her experience teaching at art camps, babysitting, and working in Haverford’s Intersectionality in the Social Mind Lab. “My work demonstrates that children encode information intersectionality; that is, between the ages of 4 and 10, they use both race and gender to remember information,” said Davis.

Davis’s investigation into how children categorize, remember, and apply information about race and gender builds on the work of her thesis advisor, Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Lei. “There are two primary steps of categorical processing: activation and application. Professor Lei had already investigated activation, so I tackled the next step, application,” said Davis. “The project required significant data processing, and Professor Lei’s help with R studio coding provided me with skills I needed for my thesis and for any future lab work I do.”

Her thesis project, titledAnalyzing Whether Children’s Automatic Encoding of Social Categories is Intersectional,” demonstrates that children process and apply the categories of race and gender together. “Expanding research looking at intersectional invisibility can provide valuable insight into how systemic issues such as racism and discrimination can affect different groups in unique ways,” said Davis.

What did you learn from working on your thesis? 

Our findings produced valuable insight into how children use race and gender to parse the social world, even at a very young age. Specifically, we evaluated whether Black women, who are seen as non-prototypical of both their gender and racial groups, are invisibilized during the memory encoding and retrieval process. While further research needs to be done, we did find speculative evidence of a bias against Black girls in young children’s encoding.   

Aside from the direct findings of my work, developing and conducting a research project from start to finish was invaluable. I improved my writing, problem-solving, and ability to execute in-depth psychological research.

 What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do with helping to guide your future career path?

I am moving to D.C., where I will begin work full-time at the Society for Research in Child Development. Taking a step back from actively pursuing research, I will be helping to oversee many of the grants and awards that are given to developmental researchers both nationally and internationally. I plan to go to graduate school in several years, but in the meantime, I will be gaining experience and a unique perspective on the field, interacting with researchers across the world. Following many of the themes behind my research, I will engage in diversity initiatives through SRCD to help enhance the field of child development.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.