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 beliefs about the self that are inconsistent with explicit beliefs about the self. We examine the extent to which individuals who hold discrepant implicit and explicit self-beliefs possess relatively strong self-image concerns, which may result in exhibiting irrational 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., children, college students, adults).