University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Current Students

Daniel Chapman

Daniel Chapman received his BA in both Psychology and Government & Political Affairs in 2013 from Millersville University. As an undergraduate, he took part in projects examining topics including the link between death-related cognition and ideologically-motivated decision making, the role of spirituality as a stress-buffer, and the impact of personal control perceptions on endorsement of control-providing structures such as religion and government. In addition to this work, he also served as a research assistant for an initiative in Millersville University’s Center for Disaster Research and Education involving academic institutions in four countries seeking to collaborate on legal, educational, and scientific topics related to natural disaster risk reduction and resiliency.

Daniel’s current research interests focus on a series of topics centered on political conflict and peacemaking. Some of his research aims include understanding the roles of guilt, shame and collective responsibility in the endorsement of punitive international law frameworks, examining the conceptualizations of humanitarian aid/interventions as moral imperatives and charity-based initiatives, and understanding the growing impact of climate change on psychological functioning and social conflict. Ultimately, he hopes to tie these investigations into developing a framework of interactions between individual, group, and system-level psychological processes and contributing to the ongoing process of applying scientific findings to conflict reduction and resolution.  

Manisha Gupta

Manisha obtained a B.S. in Business Administration, and a B.A. in Social Welfare, from the University of California at Berkeley before joining the program at UMass. She has several interests related to the reduction of intergroup prejudice and conflict, and has conducted applied work with several domestic and international non-profits on these issues. She has helped develop evaluations of anti-racism programming in schools and a local community, consulted with cross-cultural exchange programs, and has also worked on reconciliation projects between indigenous and non-indigenous populations.

Most currently, her research has focused on identifying factors that contribute to prejudice between ethnic minority groups, and methods of improving cross-ethnic coalition building, for which she was awarded a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. She also has research interests in the areas of intergroup dialog, cross-cultural exchange, and the intersection of indigenous and non-indigenous identities.

Mengyao Li

Mengyao Li received her BA in Psychology and Human Rights from Bard College.  As part of a study-abroad program, she studied human rights law and international politics at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. She has also worked at Soliya, an international NGO aiming to use new media technologies to promote cross-cultural understanding between Western and predominantly Muslim societies.

Broadly speaking, her research interests include the psychology of social justice, group-based violence, conflict resolution, and intergroup reconciliation. Her most recent research explored the role of retributive and restorative justice in conflict resolution and reconciliation. Currently, she is also interested in disentangling the link between intra-group and inter-group conflict. She hopes to conduct empirical research that will help better understand human rights issues and will contribute to a more peaceful international community.

Thomas O'Brien

Thomas received his AB in Psychology and Islamic and Near Eastern Studies from Washington University in 2009.  He conducted a senior thesis project on how reminders of historical injustice by one’s own nation affect willingness to criticize the nation. In 2008 he travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia to conduct field experiments involving memories of the Rose Revolution.  After college, Thomas interned with the International Center for Journalists in Washington D.C., and he wrote news briefs for the website Palestine Note.

He is now collecting data for a longitudinal project on cross-ethnic friendship among middle schoolers. In addition, he is also interested in framings and perceptions of intergroup conflict, emotions, and public support for different forms of third-party interventions. He is also currently involved in program evaluation for PROOF: Media for Social Justice; their Rescuers Project exhibition, to be shown in Bosnia and Cambodia, showcases examples of individuals who have intervened in times of genocide or mass violence to rescue others. Thomas O'Brien was awarded a National Science Graduate Research Fellowship in 2013 for his purposed research on the effects of social identity and social categorization on persuasion in foreign policy attitudes.

Helen O'Hara

Helen received her Masters in Violence, Terrorism and Security from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her thesis utilized a meta-analysis of approaches to analysing terrorist psychology in order to understand the cognitive evolution of an extremist—from initial experiences of political grievances to committing a violent act. During this time she conducted field research into insurgent tactics in Northern Ireland as part of a partnership with the University of California Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation. She has also worked at the UK’s leading children’s charity, Barnardo’s, policy and research department investigating child exploitation.

Helen’s current interests focus on the nature of morality and political violence, in particular the social and psychological factors which influence engagement with, and justification of, terrorism or alternative nonviolent social change. She is hoping that this research will lead to practical applications for peacebuilding and conflict transformation

Seyyed Nima Orazani

Nima received a Master of Science in Social Psychology in 2010 from Guilan University in Iran. Nima’s master’s thesis was about the relationship between religious style (authoritarian vs non-authoritarian) and sexism. His research with Dr. Chavoshian revealed that authoritarian religious styles lead people to have more sexist beliefs about women. Authoritarian religious people are close-minded to criticisms against their religious beliefs. These people process information concerning their religious belief system from top-down and therefore are either blinded to empirical findings and evidence or distort them in a way that fit into their religious beliefs. On the other hand, non-authoritarian religious people are open-minded to empirical evidence which is against their belief system and are willing to accept that some religious laws need to be changed. 

He is currently a research scholar at The University of Massachusetts Amherst. His current research interests are in collective action, moral disengagement, intergroup processes and related issues. Nima is especially interested in the social psychological aspects of religious violence and any other inhumane or immoral behaviors in which religious people might engage.

Hemapreya Selvanathan

Hema recently received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, majoring in Psychology with a topical minor in Human Functioning from the Biopsychosocial, Philosophical, Spiritual and Sociocultural Dimensions. During her undergraduate career, she served as a research apprentice on student-faculty collaborative projects. She was involved in an exploratory research on the psychological variables of the positive psychology phenomenon of mindfulness in healthy young adults. She also studied the unique patterns of religious orientation in predicting prejudice and prosociality. Following her interest in prejudice and discrimination, she had the opportunity to serve as a student academic apprentice for a course on stigma, prejudice and intergroup relations.

Her personal interest in intergroup contact led her to be involved in the on-campus interfaith organization, Better Together Eau Claire, an extension of the Chicago-based non-profit Interfaith Youth Core, aiming to promote interfaith dialogue, understanding and cooperation between people of different religious and non-religious affiliations.

She is currently interested in studying the importance and implications of building personally meaningful relationships between in-group and out-group members, and to further explore the intergroup contact theory in practice. Inspired by the idea of translating observations of the social context into empirical questions to guide research, she hopes to apply her work to promote peaceful coexistence between social groups across ethnic, religious and racial divide.

Rachel Steele

Rachel holds a Master’s in peace and justice studies from the University of San Diego. Most recently she worked at the United States Institute of Peace for three years addressing governance and legal issues in Iraq and post-conflict justice and reconciliation in a variety of settings. Prior to attending graduate school, she worked with peace activists in Seattle and volunteered in the Philippines with the Mennonite Central Committee working alongside local peace-builders.

To help address gaps in research on the effectiveness of war crimes trials and truth commissions, Rachel is exploring the conditions that can aid in a society’s psychological recovery from armed conflict and wide scale human rights abuses with a particular focus on the roles of reparations and apology. She would also like to investigate the roles of revenge and blame in the breakdown of the reconciliation process, which can lead to renewed conflict.