We examine the self and identity processes underlying health, especially among those who are stigmatized. The hypothesis that the self and identity influences health has a long history in psychological theories. Our initial work on the role of the self in health is based on the notion that the self is not a unitary, stagnant, and inflexible psychological construct, but rather functional, active, and malleable. Moreover, and from an implicit social cognition perspective, this dynamism of the self can manifest in implicit attitudes toward the self that are inconsistent with explicit attitudes toward the self. We examine the extent to which individuals who hold discrepant implicit and explicit self-attitudes possess relatively strong self-image concerns, which may result in exhibiting irrational sexual health attitudes and behaviors.
Our current and main work examines the self and identity processes unique to stigmatized individuals’ health. Systematic differences in the burden of chronic health conditions between stigmatized and non-stigmatized groups are referred to as health disparities. Because health disparities are reliably predicted by group membership, our research examines if they are explained (at least in part) by the self-stereotyping and identity processes. Self-stereotyping processes can be activated in the memories of individuals who categorize themselves with stigmatized identities. Because stereotypes, especially negative ones, are a source of stress and threat, one downside to self-stereotyping is that it may leave stigmatized individuals especially vulnerable to poor physical and mental health outcomes. Our research examines these issues using multiple methods (e.g., longitudinal, experimental) and different groups (e.g., Muslim Americans, Hispanics) at varying developmental stages (e.g., African American children).
The Rutgers Implicit Social Cognition lab is working on several interrelated studies to identify ways to combat barriers underrepresented minorities (URMs) face in STEM disciplines. Our primary goal is to promote social psychological change among URMs including STEM identity, interest, and belonging with the ultimate aim of increasing recruitment and retention of URMs in STEM disciplines. To reach these research goals, we teamed up with Garden State – Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. Funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation (HRD 1909824).
In Year 1, Dr. Rivera recruited a research team that includes Sophie Kuchynka, Ph.D., who was hired as the postdoctoral scholar. Dr. Kuchynka is primarily responsible for implementing studies, analyzing data, and writing manuscripts. The research is also assisted by a Ph.D. student, a lab coordinator, and multiple undergraduate research assistants. Also, the IRB application was submitted and approved. The team has focused on four interrelated empirical studies that examine the role of underrepresent minority (URM) professionals and URM mentor-mentee relationships in STEM-related cognitive, motivational, and psychological factors and in STEM recruitment, retention, and success in academic and industry careers. Data collection is complete for one longitudinal study and underway for three studies. Our efforts have led to one paper (under review) that reviews the STEM intervention literature and presents an original framework for understanding URM STEM integration and identity formation that can be applied to institutions across the United States. In addition, two empirical manuscripts are in preparation and three conference talks were given. In sum, we have met Year 1’s goals.