As a social psychology research lab at San Diego State University, our goal is to understand human motivational processes. Under the direction and supervision of Dr. Dustin Thoman, we study how and why interests are developed and sustained, and how one’s social identity (or social beliefs about that identity) influences these motivational processes. For more information about specific research questions we aim to address, as well as current and past student research assistants, please follow the links on the left of this page.

The Motivation and Social Identity Lab recently transitioned from California State University, Long Beach. For more information about this transition, please refer to this letter .

Lab Questions & Projects

What are undergraduate students’ perceptions of science and science careers, and do these perceptions predict later motivations and interest in science?

In order to better understand science majors’ perceptions of science and what a science career can afford them, we take we take a multi-method approach. We use a longitudinal survey to gauge students’ perceptions when beginning their science major coursework and subsequent changes in these perceptions throughout their undergraduate career. We utilize qualitative interviews and focus groups in order to gain a deeper understanding of the types of experiences and messages that are influencing perceptions of science and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). By using this approach, we are able to see how specific perceptions about science and motivations for pursuing science careers can especially influence different subgroups, including underrepresented minorities and first generation students.

How do students’ interactions with their social networks influence their academic interests and career pursuits, and do other people’s perceptions of science influence student interest?

Previous studies have shown that others can greatly impact a students’ developing interest (e.g. Thoman et al., 2012). We currently examine this link by asking whether talking about interests in science with close others (e.g. family members and close friends) influences students’ engagement and interest in pursuing science careers. Further, we examine the impact that others feedback, when talking about science, can have on developing interest. We also look to the impact of others within research lab structures, lab mates and faculty, in order to see how others beliefs and perceptions of science can impact a students’ own interest in science research and careers.

How can course assignments and materials influence student motivations and interest in foundational science courses?

We investigate how the content of course assignments in foundational science courses can influence students’ motivation and interest. We are currently conducting an analyses of in-class course materials. We are also working on an experimental study which will test strategic ways of enhancing science course textbooks in order to improve student outcomes.

How do sociocultural experiences contribute to identity processes and subsequent motivation for underrepresented minority students?

Research continues to add to our understanding of the important influence of social identity on motivational outcomes, particularly in educational contexts. We examine the important sociocultural factors that might facilitate underrepresented minority students’ task of integrating seemingly conflicting identities within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and subsequent engagement in science.