I am interested in the situated and contextualized nature of identity and self‐concept and the role of identity‐based motivation in cognitive processes and action, including effects on self‐regulation and effective pursuit of important life goals. I investigate these theoretically related issues in a number of domains usually treated as independent areas of research. Please use the menu to navigate to select papers on relating to culture, identity, and situated social cognition.

Cultural differences in cognition, behavior, and focal self-concept

Here I focus on understanding culture and the process by which cultures frame and structure self‐concept, well being, how we think, and the nature of our relationships with others. Initial research in this area resulted in two Journal of Personality and Social Psychology pieces (1993, 1998). I am currently particularly interested in the extent that differences between nations, societies, ‘cultures,’ racial‐ethnic and other groups can be modeled and systematized to make predictions about how the malleability of culture as well as its systematic influence on real, on‐line, and important behavior, cognition, affect and motivation. A key goal of this research is to understand how culture influences how the mind works and to identify cultural contingencies that moderate general processes of human cognition, affect and behavior and how to better understand how these contingencies are cued in everyday situations. This work has resulted in three theoretical and empirical reviews in Psychological Bulletin (2002, 2002, 2008), Annual Review of Psychology (2017), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2009) and a number of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2002, 2002, 2010) papers among other empirical pieces. The experimental work demonstrates that temporarily induced cultural mindset (individual or collective) parallels differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures; i.e., Westerners can be “turned into” Asians through a short priming task, highlighting the crucial role of situated mindsets. Effects are shown for both basic perceptual processes and also for GRE‐like tasks. On‐going research examines the interface between these findings from priming manipulations and effects from priming more chronic social identities to explore the ways these differences may take on real world significance.


A second major research focus is on the self‐concept as a source of motivation and self‐regulation. Initial theoretical conceptualization of this model was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1990, 1993). I am particularly interested in the interface between identities ‐‐ racial‐ethnic and other social identities ‐‐ and possible selves, and the implications of this interface for well being, motivation and pursuit of life goals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1995, 2007; Psychological Science 2009; Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2010). Much of this research has focused on the almost universal finding that minorities are at risk of lower than expected academic performance and are targets of negative stereotypes about their academic abilities. I have developed an identity‐based motivation model integrating research on the future‐oriented aspects of self‐concept (e.g., possible selves) with research on social and personal identities (e.g., research on racial‐ethnic identities and cultural psychological research on cultural mindsets). Various features of situations make certain identities, including racial‐ethnic and cultural identities, come to mind. Once brought to mind, these identities carry with them content (what are people like me like?) as well as action‐readiness to engage in relevant behaviors, and to work toward relevant goals using appropriate strategies and relevant cognitive procedures.

For example, I have used this model to articulate when and how racial‐ethnic identity can provide a buffer from stereotypes and experiences of difficulty or failures. To test this model I have used a combination of experimental and longitudinal methods, showing effects of identity both when identity salience is manipulated in the moment and when effects of identity are tracked for up to four years. In each study, I demonstrate that content of identity, not simply the fact of being a member of a social group matters. Publication outlets are broad, attesting to the broad application of this research for social psychologists (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1990, 1993, 1995, 2006, 2007; Journal of Social Issues 2001, 2001, 2001; Self and Identity, 2010) as well as general psychology audiences (Psychological Science, 2006, 2009), developmental psychologists (Child Development, 2006), personality psychologists (Journal of Research in Personality, 2004, 2008), sociological audiences (Social Psychology Quarterly, 2003, 2008; Race and Social Problems, 2009) as well as its application to consumer fields (Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2009, 2009) to name a few.

Intervention: Self and academic performance

Using my identity‐based motivation model, I developed a brief, low‐cost, school‐based intervention to improve academic outcomes while reducing risk of problem behaviors and poor mental health outcomes with funding from NIH. I developed a small‐group based brief intervention (11 sessions over a 6 week period) and ran a randomized efficacy trial, first as an after school program (Journal of Adolescence, 2002) and then as an in school program in Detroit middle schools (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006; Family Relations, 2007). Students were tracked for a two‐year period, as they moved from three middle schools to seventy high schools, showing significant improvement in academic outcomes including school grades, standardized test scores, attendance and grade retention (all taken from school records), as well as time spent on homework (self‐report), participation in school, and behavior problems (latter two reported by teacher). Moreover, the intervention reduced risk of depressive symptoms at the two‐year follow‐up. Of greater theoretical interest, these academic effects are mediated by change in possible selves and strategies to attain them, as predicted by the conceptual model. In addition, the intervention moderated the relationship between racial‐ethnic identity and possible selves, which was positive for the intervention group, not for the control group. This means that only intervention group youth were able to simultaneously imagine themselves as racial‐ethnic group members and as doing well in school and avoiding school failure. Overall, the intervention results dovetail with the experimental work in highlighting the crucial role of self‐construal in self‐regulation, with real world implications (for a review, Counseling Psychologist, in press). Current research is examining various ways to effectively use identity‐based motivation to cue current and persistent action.

Identity, Stigma, and Coping

Lastly, I am interested in the interplay between identity, stigma and coping responses as they impact individuals at risk. Two NIMH grants focused on mothers with a serious mental illness and their children, resulting papers are published in both developmental and more clinical outlets including Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry and Child Development (2003), American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (1995, 2000), Journal of Marriage and the Family (2002), Journal of Family Psychology (2008), Journal of Adolescence (2002, 2005), Journal of Applied Social Psychology (2004) and Social Service Review (2010). Other research examines how features of contexts may prime cultural mindset or self‐regulatory focus, showing consequences for engagement in healthy behaviors (Psychology & Health, 2007, 2010) feelings of unfair treatment (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2007), and judgments about guilt and punishment (Journal of Applied Social Psychology, in press).