I am curious about how and why people develop interest and sustain motivation for specific academic domains, careers, and other lifelong pursuits. More specifically, I am curious about how these motivational experiences and self-regulation processes can be supported or disrupted by the social and cultural context in which interests are sparked, developed, and ultimately integrated (or not) with one’s identity and self-concept. I strive to understand how the development and maintenance of interest is influenced by one’s social identity and social interactions. Grounded in this social-contextual framework of motivation, my recent work primarily addresses aims for broadening of participation and diversity in science education. I aim to identify and remove social-contextual barriers that impede the development of educational and career interests for students from stigmatized and underrepresented backgrounds.

 

I am currently working on several lines of research, including:

How to broaden diversity and increase participation in Science, Technology, Mathematics, & Engineering (STEM) fields.

I am currently working on two grant-supported projects to investigate different aspects of science motivation and how to promote diversity in STEM. In collaboration with Jessi Smith, our NIH-funded Project CURE examines the ways in which perceived levels of cultural connection to research in faculty mentor’s labs (and changes in these levels over time) influence Latino and Native American undergraduate science research assistants’ motivation for and pursuit of biomedical careers and graduate study. Understanding ways to enhance the diversity of the biomedical workforce is paramount to the success and health of the nation and the world.  Second, in collaboration with Paul Buonora and Gino Galvez, our NSF-funded Science IMAGE Study examines how seeing science as fulfilling culturally-connected values shapes the class experiences and interests of students from underrepresented backgrounds. The project will also implement randomized classroom intervention activities to test whether we can help students make these connections through strategically-designed learning activities.

How the experience of stigma or social identity threat can affect students' motivational experiences and constrain regulatory behaviors.

My colleagues and I recently developed the Motivational Experiences Model of Stereotype Threat (Thoman, Smith, Brown, Chase, & Lee, 2013), aiming to integrate several disparate literatures across social and educational psychology. The self-regulatory model framework integrates research on stereotype threat, achievement goals, belonging, and interest to make predictions for how stigmatized students’ motivational experiences are maintained or disrupted, particularly over long periods of time. The model explicates multiple mediating pathways through which the awareness of stigma or negative stereotypes about one’s group can disrupt motivational experiences of interest or belonging during activity engagement and ultimately influence career interest and choices. Further, although individuals may be motivated to self-regulate those motivational experiences, the awareness of stigma or negative stereotypes may constrain perceived options or create barriers for typically effective regulatory efforts. One consequence is that although stereotypes or stigma may disrupt these motivational processes, individuals may not be aware that their feeling of losing interest in certain activities or domains was shaped by social stigma.

The development of interests and integration of interests into identity.

The aim of several ongoing studies within my lab is to understand the relationships between interest, sense of belonging, and identification (with academics, in general, or with specific domains) as they unfold over time. We are investigating how personality characteristics and cultural backgrounds influence the kinds of activities and domains that people choose to pursue, as well as how people manage conflicts that arise when goals associated with some part of one’s social identity is viewed (by oneself and others) as incongruent with personal interests or pursuits.

Understanding social influences on intrinsic motivation and interest development.

Though many models of motivation suggest that intrinsic motivation (or interest) can be indirectly influenced by other people, our recent work, in collaboration with Carol Sansone and Monisha Pasupathi, suggests that interpersonal self-regulation processes influence the maintenance of interest for specific activities and topics. For example, during conversations about interesting activities others’ reactions can directly shape our subsequent interest, regardless of whether or not they were present when we did the activity.

My program of research directly encompasses several literatures including: intrinsic motivation, development of interest, personality and self-regulation, stereotypes and social stigmas, development of self and identity, attributions, and evaluation. Although much of my research occurs in the lab, I am passionate about the applied aspect of this work, as well as how these processes function across cultures. Thus, my training is grounded in social and personality psychology, but my research interests also strongly overlap with developmental and educational psychology.

In addition to my program of research on intrinsic motivation and interest development, I am also interested in the broader methodological and philosophy of science issues that are relevant to social psychology and the study of motivation. I also work frequently as a statistical consultant on a variety of research projects, and I have developed consulting and evaluation relationships with several student training programs to apply what I learn from research to improve services designed to help students from underrepresented backgrounds.