This section includes papers mostly focused on racial-ethnic identity. Papers are intended for educational use.


Abstract: American culture highlights the power of individuals to steer their own course and be masters of their own destiny. In American cultural context, low place in social hierarchy due to low socio- economic status is taken to imply some deficiency in the persons who occupy this place –lack of prestige, power, status, or success is negatively marked, stigmatizing. The association between low place and stigma seems bidirectional, low place is stigmatizing and membership in a negatively marked or stigmatized group – e.g., social class, racial-ethnic, or sexual orientation, implies low place in social hierarchy. Low place in social hierarchy matters; it limits individuals’ choice and experienced control. In this chapter, we use identity-based motivation theory to examine the health consequences of the interplay between the stigmatizing and choice-limiting aspects of place in social hierarchy. We use health behavior and health outcomes research to articulate the three components of identity-based motivation (dynamic construction of identity, action-readiness, and procedural-readiness), concluding with implications for intervention. Dynamic construction of identity refers to the importance of context for which identities come to mind and what these identities imply. Reminders of low place in social hierarchy can bring to mind social identities – e.g., social class, racial-ethnic, or sexual orientation, which can be experienced as including healthy or unhealthy preferences, habits, and behaviors depending on contextual cues. Action- and procedural-readiness highlight the motivational power of accessible identities. As documented in the studies we summarize, accessible identities can elicit health-promoting or health-undermining habits and interpretations of experienced difficulty.

Oyserman, D. & Lewis, Jr. N.  (2017). Seeing the destination AND the path: Using identity-based motivation to understand racial disparities in achievement and what we can do about them. Social Issues and Policy Review.

Abstract: African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans aspire to do well in school but often fall short of this goal. We use identity-based motivation theory (Oyserman, 2007, 2015) as an organizing framework to understand how macro-level social stratification factors including racial-ethnic group membership and socioeconomic position (e.g. parental education, income) and the stigma they carry, matter.  Macro-level social stratification differentially exposes students to contexts in which choice and control are limited and stigma is evoked, shaping identity-based motivation in three ways. Stratification influences which behaviors likely feel congruent with important identities, undermines belief that one’s actions and effort matter, and skews chronic interpretation of one’s experienced difficulties with schoolwork from interpreting experienced difficulty as implying importance (e.g., “it’s for me”) toward implying “impossibility.” Because minority students have high aspirations, policies should invest in de-stigmatizing, scalable, universal, identity-based motivation-bolstering institutions and interventions.

Oyserman, D (2017). Culture three ways: culture and subcultures within countries. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 15.1–15.29.DOI 10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033617 

Abstract: Culture can be thought of as a set of everyday practices and a core theme— individualism, collectivism, or honor—as well as the capacity to understand each of these themes. In one’s own culture, it is easy to fail to see that a cultural lens exists and instead to think that there is no lens at all, just reality. Hence, studying culture requires stepping out of it. There are two main methods to do so, the first involves using cross-group comparisons to highlight differences and the second involves using experimental methods to test the consequences of disruption to implicit cultural frames. These methods highlight three ways that culture organizes experience: (a) It shields reflexive processing by making everyday life feel predictable, (b) it scaffolds which cognitive procedure (connect, separate, or order) will be the default in ambiguous situations, and (c) it facilitates situation-specific accessibility of alternate cognitive procedures. Modern societal social-demographic trends reduce predictability and increase collectivism and honor- based go-to cognitive procedures.


Oyserman, D., Smith, G., E., Elmore, K. (2014). Identity-based motivation: Implications for health and health disparities. Journal of Social Issue, 70(2), 206-225. 

Abstract: People aspire to be healthy but often fall short of this goal. Poor health is associated with macro-level factors — social stratification and low socioeconomic position, including low education, low income, and low status racial-ethnic group membership. These social determinants differentially expose people to health-promoting (or undermining) contexts and to having (not having) choice and control over their lives. But social determinants cannot cause individual action directly. Identity-based motivation theory (Oyserman, 2007, 2009a, 2009b) addresses this gap, articulating how social determinants operate at the micro-level to influence whether or not a behavior or choice feels congruent with important identities and how such identity-congruence, in turn, influences which strategies are chosen and how difficulty is interpreted. Lack of choice and control make an interpretation of difficulty as meaning that effort is pointless and “not for people like me” (rather than important) more likely, reducing belief that one’s action and effort matter.


Williams, D. R., John, D., Oyserman, D., Sonnega, J., Mohammed, S. A., Jackson, J. S.(2012). Research on Discrimination and Health: An Exploratory Study of Unresolved Conceptual and Measurement Issues, American Journal of Public Health, 102, 975-978.

Abstract: We examine important measurement issues in the study of discrimination and health in a community sample of 50 blacks and 50 whites drawn from four neighborhood types defined by racial group and SES. Over 90% of blacks and whites described “unfair treatment” as being about injustice and felt certain about the attribution of their experiences of discrimination. Experiences triggered similar emotional reactions and levels of stress across race, and low SES blacks and whites reported higher levels of discrimination than their moderate SES counterparts.


Oyserman, D. (2009). Identity-based motivation: Implications for action-readiness, procedural-readiness, and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology19(3), 250-260.

Abstract: Choices are often identity-based but the linkage to identity is not necessarily explicit or obvious for a number of reasons. First, identities feel stable but are highly sensitive to situational cues. Second, identities include not only content but also readiness to act and to use procedures congruent with the identity. Third, identities can be subtly cued without conscious awareness. Fourth, what an accessible identity means is dynamically constructed in the particular context in which it is cued. Because identities carry action- and procedural-readiness, the outcome of an identity-based motivation process may be similar to or different from the choices an individual would have made in another setting. Moreover, once an identity is formed, action and procedural readiness can be cued without conscious awareness or systematic processing, resulting in beneficial or iatrogenic outcomes.

Oyserman, D. & Yoon, K-I (2009).Neighborhood effects on racial-ethnic identity: The undermining role of segregation. Race and Social Problems, 1, 67-76.

Abstract: African American and Latino youth experience stereotypes about their group’s academic ability but youth high in three components of racial-ethnic identity Connectedness, Awareness of Racism, and Embedded Achievement are buffered from these stereotypes and are more likely to attain good grades in school, feel efficacious and engaged with academics. In the current study, the effect of neighborhood segregation on these components of racial-ethnic identity was examined. Segregation impairs racial-ethnic identity Connectedness, Awareness of Racism, and Embedded Achievement among African American and Latino youth. Eighth graders (n = 206 African American, n = 131 Latino) living in 100 census tracks filled out racial-ethnic identity scales. A multilevel model demonstrates that segregation is associated with lower racial-ethnic identity.

Oyserman, D. & Oliver, D. (2009). Ethnic and racial identity. In D. Carr (Editor-in-Chief), Encyclopedia of the Life Course and Human Development, vol 2, Adulthood. Vol. 2. (pp. 128-132). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

Abstract: What does the term racial and ethnic identity mean? Briefly, when something is an identity, it is a part of self-concept. When something is part of self-concept, it influences how people make sense of themselves, what their goals are and how they try to achieve them, as well as the interpretations they give to others’ responses to them. Racial and ethnic identity includes three basic components: (1) Membership — Knowledge that one is a member of particular racial and ethnic groups. (2) Beliefs — Beliefs about how the groups one is a member of fit into broader society and how members of these groups act, what they believe in, what their goals and values are, and the strategies they use to attain these goals. (3) Action Readiness — Readiness to act in ways that are congruent with beliefs about group membership.


Oyserman, D. (2008). Racial-ethnic self-schemas: Multi-dimensional identity-based motivation. Journal of Research on Personality, 42, 1186–1198.

Abstract: Prior self-schema research focuses on benefits of being schematic vs. aschematic in stereotyped domains. The current studies build on this work, examining racial-ethnic self-schemas as multi-dimensional, containing multiple, conflicting, and non-integrated images. A multidimensional perspective captures complexity; examining net effects of dimensions predicts within-group differences in academic engagement and well-being. When racial-ethnicity self-schemas focus attention on membership in both in-group and broader society, engagement with school should increase since school is not seen as out-group defining. When racial-ethnicity self-schemas focus attention on inclusion (not obstacles to inclusion) in broader society, risk of depressive symptoms should decrease. Support for these hypotheses was found in two separate samples (8th graders, n = 213, 9th graders followed to 12th grade n = 141).

Altschul, I., Oyserman, D., & Bybee, D. (2008). Racial-ethnic self-schemas and segmented assimilation: Identity and the academic achievement of Hispanic youth. Social Psychology Quarterly,71, 302-320.

Abstract: How are racial-ethnic identity and acculturation processes linked, and when do they have positive consequences for academic achievement and assimilation trajectory? To address these issues this study integrates two frameworks – Racial-ethnic Self-schema (Oyserman, Kemmelmeier et al. 2003) and Segmented Assimilation (Portes and Rumbaut 2001) – that focus on how immigrant and minority youth identify with in-group and American society-at-large and link these patterns of racial-ethnic identity with academic outcomes. Segmented assimilation describes how context influences identity and subsequently assimilation trajectory, while racial-ethnic self-schema theory relates differences in identity content to academic achievement. Integration of the two frameworks provides a more robust model of identity influences across contexts. Predicted relationships within inhospitable contexts were tested using structural equation models including generation in U.S., Spanish-use, and identity reported by Hispanic youth (n = 185) living in low-income, urban neighborhoods. “Thick” in-group focused identities, and “thin” aschematic identities were associated with lower achievement; while bridging identities linking connection to one’s in-group with overcoming obstacles in broader society were associated with positive outcomes. Endorsement of aschematic identities increased with generation in the U.S., suggesting that downward mobility is facilitated by “thin” rather than “thick” identities. Content of identity was the most important predictor of achievement.

Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Oyserman, D., & Stone, J. M. (2008). Of warrior chiefs and Indian princesses: The psychological consequences of American Indian mascots. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 208-218.

Abstract: Four studies examined the consequences of American Indian mascots and other prevalent representations of American Indians on aspects of the self-concept for American Indian students. When exposed to Chief Wahoo, Chief Illinwek, Pocahontas, or other common American Indian images, American Indian students generated positive associations (Study 1, high school) but reported depressed state self-esteem(Study 2, high school), and community worth (Study 3, high school), and fewer achievement-related possible selves (Study 4, college). We suggest that American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.


Oyserman, D, Fryberg, S., & Yoder, N. (2007). Identity-based motivation and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1011-1027.

Abstract: People do not always take action to promote health, engaging instead in unhealthy habits and reporting fatalism about health. One important mechanism underlying these patterns involves identity-based motivation (Oyserman, 2007), the process by which content of social identities influences beliefs about in-group goals and strategies. Seven studies show an effect of identity-based motivation on health. Racial-ethnic minority participants view health promotion behaviors as “White, middle class” and unhealthy behaviors as in-group defining (Studies 1-2). Priming race-ethnicity (and low SES) increases health fatalism and reduces access to health knowledge (Studies 3-4). Perceived efficacy of health-promoting activities is undermined when racial-ethnic minority participants who identify unhealthy behavior as in-group defining are asked to consider their similarities to (middle class) Whites (Studies 5-7).

Oyserman, D., Uskul, A., Yoder, N., Nesse, R., & Williams, D (2007). Unfair treatment and self-regulatory focus. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 505-512.

Abstract: Ample correlational evidence exists that perceived unfair treatment is negatively related to well-being, health, and goal striving but the underlying process is unclear. We hypothesized that effects are due in part to contextual priming of prevention focus and the negative consequences of chronic prevention-focused vigilance. Indeed, reasonable responses to unfair treatment – to avoid situations in which it occurs or if this is not possible, confront it head on – fit prevention self-regulatory focus response patterns. Results from three experiments support this notion. Priming stigmatized social category membership heightened students’ prevention (not promotion) focus (n = 117). Priming non-stigmatized social category membership (i.e., white) did not change prevention focus (n = 46). Priming prevention (not promotion) increased perceptions of unfair treatment (and aroused prevention-relevant fight or flight responses) in response to a negative ambiguous job situation among low and moderate income adults (n = 112).

Oyserman, D. Brickman, D., & Rhodes, M. (2007). Racial-ethnic identity: Content and consequences for African American, Latino and Latina youth. In A. Fuligni (Ed.), Contesting stereotypes and creating identities: Social categories, social identities and educational participation (pp 91-114). New York: Russell Sage.


Oyserman, D., Brickman, D., Bybee, D. & Celious, A. (2006). Fitting in matters: Markers of in-group belonging and academic outcomes. Psychological Science, 17, 854-861.

Abstract: Minority boys are at risk of academic disengagement. Prior research documents that an aspect of racial-ethnic identity, in-group connection, can buffer against this risk, but that in-group connection is undermined in high-risk neighborhoods. We examined another way that boys may feel connected to the in-group, by looking like in-group members. We hypothesize that physical markers of in-group membership can serve to improve boys’ sense of belongingness, thereby facilitating their engagement in school. We tested our model with low-income, high-risk African American (Study 1, n = 102) and Latino (Study 2, n = 66) teens. Hierarchical regression supported our model; dark skin tone was a protective factor (and light skin ton a risk factor) for African American boys, and feeling that one looks Latino was a protective factor (and feeling that one does not look Latino a risk factor) for Latino boys’ grades, in-class behavior, and school engagement. Mediational analyses suggest that markers of belongness have their impact via peer-group choice.

Altschul, I., Oyserman, D., & Bybee, D. (2006). Racial‐Ethnic Identity in Mid‐Adolescence: Content and Change as Predictors of Academic Achievement.Child development77(5), 1155-1169.

Abstract: Three aspects of racial-ethnic identity (REI) – feeling connected to one’s racial-ethnic group (Connectedness), being aware that others may not value the in-group (Awareness of Racism), and feeling that one’s in-group is characterized by academic attainment (Embedded Achievement) – were hypothesized to promote academic achievement. Youth randomly selected from 3 low-income, urban schools (n = 98 African American, n = 41 Latino) reported predicted REI-grades relationship. Youth high in both REI Connectedness and Embedded Achievement attained better grade point average (GPA) at each point in time; youth high in REI Connectedness and Awareness of Racism at the beginning of 8th grade attained better GPA through 9th grade. Effects are not moderated by race-ethnicity.


Oyserman, D., Kemmelmeier, M., Fryberg, S., Brosh, H., & Hart-Johnson, T. (2003). Racial-ethnic self-schemas. Social Psychology Quarterly, 333-347.

Summary: This paper describes a series of correlational studies and experiments that together show that racial ethnic identity can fruitfully be studied as a self-schema, and that being aschematic or in-group only focused increases vulnerability to stereotypes and withdrawal of effort

Oyserman, D., Bybee, D., & Terry, K. (2003). Gendered racial identity and involvement with school. Self and Identity2(4), 307-324.

Summary: This article documents the interplay between gendered identity and racial identity showing that the collective focus of racial identity is particularly helpful for boys.


Celious, A., & Oyserman, D. (2001). Race from the inside: An emerging heterogeneous race model. Journal of Social Issues57(1), 149-165.

Abstract: Race matters, influencing life experiences. Race is not a simple concept, and it is not a single category. Racial identity theories, however, typically handle race as a simple Black-White dichotomy that overlooks within-group hetereogeneity, substituting a subgroup – young, low socioeconomic status, darker skinned men – for all African Americans. The centrality of this subgroup image reifies what it means to be Black but excludes African Americans who are women, middle class, and so on. We provide an overview of the situation of African Americans, highlighting within-group diversity in everyday experiences related to gender, socioeconomic status, and physical attributes, including skin tone. Understanding the implications of race from an insider’s perspective requires that we view it as a hetereogeneous category.

Oyserman, D., & Swim, J. K. (2001). Stigma: An insider’s view. Journal of Social Issues57(1), 1-14.

Abstract: The literature on stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination has typically focused on the ways dominant groups negatively view and respond to minority groups. We suggest an insider’s perspective to focus attention on the stereotyped or stigmatized ingroup’s responses, experiences, and beliefs and the paradox of being both an active constructor of one’s everyday reality and an involuntary target of negative attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that shape this reality. We propose that an insider’s perspective affords a view of stigmatized groups as actively seeking to make sense of their social world and attain positive outcomes, not simply avoid negative outcomes. In this sense, an insider’s perspective acknowledges that stigmatized groups are not simply victims or passive recipients of stereotyping but rather actively attempt to construct a bufferling life space.

Oyserman, D., Harrison, K., & Bybee, D. (2001). Can racial identity be promotive of academic efficacy? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25, 379-385.

Abstract: We hypothesised a gender specific relationship between efficacy and three components of racial identity, feeling that achievement is part of being black, feeling connected to the black community, and sensitivity to, awareness of outgroup barriers and racism. Because male gender socialization downplays relationality, the ‘‘connectedness’’ component of racial identity was posited to be particularly helpful for boys. Because female gender socialisation downplays independent achievement and agency, the ‘‘achievement’’ component of racial identity was posited to be particularly helpful for girls in buffering the negative effects of the ‘ awareness of racism’’ component. Controlling for fall grades and academic efficacy, fal racial identity significantly predicted spring academic efficacy differentially for boys and girls (n = 91 African-American eighth graders), with the lack of the achievement component of racial identity being particularly detrimental to girls.


Oyserman, D., & Harrison, K. (1999). African American Identity in Adolescence. 

This paper reviews the literature on racial identity in adolescence with a focus on the tripartite model of racial identity.


Oyserman, D., & Harrison, K. (1998). Implications of cultural context: African American identity and possible selves. In J. K. Swim & C. Stangor (Eds.), Prejudice: The target’s perspective (pp 281-300). New York: Academic Press.
This chapter outlines the content of racial identity and its interface with academic outcomes and possible selves.


Oyserman, D. & Sakamoto, I. (1997). Being Asian American: Identity, cultural constructs and stereotype perception. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 33, 435-453.

Abstract: The interplay between individualist and collectivist orientations, ethnic identity, and beliefs about stereotypes was explored among Asian Americans. The authors proposed four components of Asian American Identity: feelings of interdependence with family, a sense of connectedness to heritage and tradition, a belief that achievement would reflect well on one’s family and group generally, and an awareness of structural barriers and racism. A sample of 162 Asian American university students perceived stereotpyes about Asian Americans as focusing primarly on school achievement and secondarily on social attributes. Although rarely engagingf in strategies to avoid being academically labeled, students engaged in strategies to avoid labeling in other domains. Students varied in their valuation of the model minority label, with those high in Asian American Identity, collectivism, and work ethic more likely to view the label positively.


Oyserman, D., Gant, L., & Ager, J. (1995). A socially contextualized model of racial identity: Possible selves and school persistence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1216-1232.

Abstract: A series of studies documenting (1) white and black differences in individualism and collectivism, and in the link between their possible selves and strategies to attain them, (2) the promotive effect of racial identity for African American students and (3) gender differences in the tendency for students to assimilate or contrast their possible selves with the outcomes of their failing or succeeding peers, (4) gender differences in the effect of possible selves on academic outcomes. Abstract: Schooling, critical to the transition to adulthood, is particularly problematic for urban and minority youths. To explore predictors of school persistence the authors propose a socially contextualized model of the self. Strategies to attain achievement-related possible selves were differentially predicted for White and Black university students (Study 1, n = 105). For Whites, individualism, the Protestant work ethic, and “balance” in possible selves predicted generation of more achievement-related strategies. For Blacks, collectivism, ethnic identity, and low endorsement of individualism tended to predict strategy generation. In middle school, performance was predicted by “gendered African American identity schema,” particularly for females (Study 2, n = 146), and the effects of social context appeared gendered (Study 3, n = 55). Balance in achievement-related possible selves predicted school achievement, especially for African American males (Study 4, n = 55).


Oyserman, D., & Markus, H. R. (1993). The sociocultural self. In J. Suls (Ed.), The self in social perspective (pp 187-220). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates self.