By Bethany Augliere
Stereotypes, such as the idea that women are worse at math compared to men, have the power to impact our lives. Chad Forbes, Ph.D., the new associate director of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, is trying to explain how that happens within the brain.
Forbes, who joined FAU in the Fall of 2021 as an associate professor of psychology in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said he takes an interdisciplinary approach and combines the fields of neuroscience and psychology to understand what’s going on in the brain to cause biases and prejudices, and the consequences of those attitudes.
To do this work, he combines standard psychology methods such as surveys and questionnaires, with neuroscience tools, like examining the brain’s electrical activity using an electroencephalogram test. For instance, he says, it’s well documented in the U.S. that underrepresented ethnic groups are more likely to drop out of academic pursuits compared to white students. Forbes said he believes that a big reason for this discrepancy has to do with society labeling these groups with negative stereotypes indicating they are not expected to do as well in academics compared to people who are positively stereotyped in academics.
“A lot of my research deals with the basics of what it is about the situation and system that might prompt them to have these more negative experiences and how that works over time to push these people out at these disproportionate rates compared to people who are more positively-stereotyped in these areas,” he said.
Forbes, a first-generation college student, said his research interests stem from growing up in a low-income household outside of Los Angeles, in a poor and diverse area. “There’s a lot of negative intelligence-oriented stereotypes exacted on those groups,” he said.
When applying to colleges, he said he initially looked at schools that didn’t base admittance on SAT scores, as his was not high. He began his education at California State Long Beach, paying for tuition and books by working several jobs and living with his grandmother.
Originally, he attended college with the hope of becoming a doctor. Yet, after earning a C in organic chemistry, he said he knew he would never get into medical school. “I really was kind of lost and didn’t know what to do, but I had taken this introduction to psychology class and loved it,” Forbes said.
Eventually, he earned a bachelor’s degree at California State Long Beach in psychology with minors in biology and chemistry. He went on to earn both his master’s and doctorate degrees in social and cognitive neuroscience from the
“We are excited to add Dr. Forbes to our leadership team as his work is fascinating and it adds depth in human neuroscience.”
— Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., Executive Director,
Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute
University of Arizona. Forbes also pursued postdoctoral training in cognitive neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, both based in Maryland. Before joining FAU, he spent a decade as an associate professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware.
In the Brain Institute, Forbes said he hopes his biggest influence is in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and is actively pursuing grants. “I’m super excited about the idea that FAU is one of the most diverse schools in the state school system,” adding he aspires to help assist in hiring more diverse biomedical faculty, so that the faculty represents the student body. FAU is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and more than 50% of the population identifies as Hispanic.
In addition, Forbes said, his research will help create a more diverse learning environment that benefits everyone. “I’m really motivated in trying to make a difference in these classrooms for people who have been stigmatized and negatively stereotyped in these domains for a long time,” he said.