This Hawk has an eye for investigating social interactions

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If Devon Carter thinks you’re a head case, know this:

It ain’t personal.

“I try not to bring the psychology work together with my teammates,” Lehigh’s senior guard said with a laugh. “I try to stay even-keeled and (not) think about those things.”

Still, it’s hard not to take mental notes, out of habit. The 6-foot-4 Cleveland native is as cerebral as he is instinctive, a psychology major whose senior thesis is focused on stereotypes.

“I’ll use a basketball example,” said Carter, whose Hawks visit Bucknell Wednesday night on ASN. “Let’s just say a black guy was guarding a white guy. So the white guy comes off a screen and shoots the 3. The black guy is going to assume — or at least we believe that he gets that idea or stereotype — that white guys can shoot. Other black guys might be attuned to challenging his shot a little (more) than he would if that same basketball player was a black guy, because black guys stereotypically seem to be more athletic. He’s more scared of getting dunked on (by the African-American player).”

For his part, the swingman isn’t afraid of going deep, whether it’s on the wing (34.2% from beyond the arc) or conducting research. The Ohioan spent this past summer helping professors on two different studies: One on examining of the “geography of bias” and another analyzing the subject of “time perception” among people of different ethnic backgrounds.

We’ll let him explain.

“The geography of bias?” Carter said. “What we did with that, (was) we (accumulated a) ton of research and just put things together to solidify what we all thought was the case: Different subgroups within the country, depending on their region, interact with people differently than they would in another region.”

And “time perception,” in layman’s terms?

“The one for the time perception is totally different,” Carter said. “That looks more at racial perceptions, perceptions regarding different races (interacting). So the best example I would give is when a black person goes in for an interview, and let’s just say the interviewer, he’s a Caucasian guy. What time perception is looking at is: If that interview lasts for 15 minutes, how much longer does that feel for the African-American guy rather than the white guy who’s doing the interviewing?

“So what we believe the case is a racial group, when interacting with another racial group, kind of has that slower perception. They might get anxious and it might affect their ability to speak and not say what they want to say or get what they want out there. And it might affect whether or not they get the job or not.”

Carter’s time perception work developed in coordination with psychology professor Gordon Moskowitz, who’s also his adviser/mentor. The geography of bias study was of a group project spearheaded by another professor, Dominic Packer.

“I’ll also be doing a thesis on something totally different,” Carter said.

The long game is a PhD in social psychology — a calling the senior found after his freshman year, having initially majored in marketing.

“I was in the business school at Lehigh and I was struggling a lot, both academically and with studying,” Carter recalled. “And it wasn’t until I talked to my father — I didn’t know this before I talked to him — I am a psychology type of person.”

Carter grew up in urban Cleveland, garnering a 4.0 GPA at John Jay High School. The contrast of the student population on Lehigh’s Bethlehem, Pa., campus came as a minor culture shock, but one that also piqued his curiosity.

“I was used to talking to one group,” the Ohioan said, “and had to kind of switch and figure out, ‘How do I say what I want to say, but say it a little differently?’ And so all of that just kind of got the ball rolling.”

He switched gears, hooked on with Moskowitz as an adviser, and never looked back. Sports psychology would seem to be a natural progression, but the Hawks guard has broader horizons to chase.

“To be honest, I don’t want to just single out one specific field,” Carter said. “I feel like social psychology kind of deals with a variety of different aspects and people. I don’t want to do ‘just sports,’ or people who play sports. I want to deal with everyone, not just that (subset).”

Which isn’t to say the games haven’t provided case studies of interest. Carter compared Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault allegations in 2004 to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s five years later, and found that if “you look at Kobe’s performance after 2004, and we can say that he’s gotten older and that he’s got a lot of miles in his tank, but his performance kind of regressed. Whereas I think Roethlisberger’s kind of remained the same throughout his career, even after that.

“That’s something down the road that (I’d) look at. That seems interesting to me.”

The cure for boredom is curiosity. If there’s a cure for curiosity, Carter hasn’t found it yet.

“It gives me a different perspective, depending on the team we face, which is kind of funny,” Carter cracked. “When we play more athletic teams, I see a different — what’s the word I’m looking for — a different kind of motivating (factor) when we play those guys (than) when we play a team full of shooters or something like that. I try not to go too deep into it. We’re out there having fun.”

Above: Curiosity led Lehigh’s Devon Carter to switch from marketing to social psychology major and into some deep research. (Courtesy Justin Casterline/Lehigh Athletics)

Sean Keeler

Follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler