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Working to fill the empathy gap

Brittany Wright '19 poses for a photograph in Plyler Hall
Brittany Wright '19 poses in Furman's Plyler Hall. She'll talk about the research she did at the University of South Carolina last summer during Furman Engaged!

Brittany Wright ’19 wanted to get experience doing research outside of Furman. Thanks to a grant from The Furman Advantage she was able to do just that at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health last summer.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with professors on Furman’s campus a lot, so I kind of wanted to expand my network and get some more connections,” she said. “With that money I was able to get an internship no problem, because my professor didn’t have to pay me.”

That would be assistant professor Rachel Davis, who oversaw a study titled “Using Tailored Narratives to Increase Cross-Racial Empathy and Reduce Implicit Racial Bias: A Preliminary Study Toward Eliminating Racial Health Disparities.” In it, the empathy responses of white volunteer participants toward a black protagonist are tracked in a series of hypothetical scenarios.

“We were measuring study participants’ implicit racial bias as they read the story,” Wright said. “My job was to use participants’ demographic information … to try to explain their implicit racial biases and their empathy scores toward the main character.”

Wright will discuss the experience at the 11th annual Furman Engaged! on April 9.

“I’ve never been on a panel before, so it’s a little nerve-racking. But I hope students come, I really do, because I think it could help them a lot to figure out how many internships are out there,” she said. “It’s really easy to explore and find one on your own. Furman is very supportive.”

A public health major from the Columbia, South Carolina, area, Wright hopes to stay in the state after graduation to address systemic problems in the healthcare system.

“I’m interested in health equity and health disparities among Americans, so I thought this research was right up my alley, because it relates a lot to how there’s implicit biases we face among each other in society but also implicit biases doctors can have with their patients in the hospital room,” she said, adding that a doctor’s biases can affect how well patients respond to care.

“There’s a lot of inequality in the area where my parents are from, and that’s where a lot of my family still lives. I’d like to be an advocate for those people and help them and Americans like them.”

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