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Emerging Scholars Column


 Investigating Intergroup Relations, Well-being, and Health Disparities

 by Lisa MolixTulane University





We live in increasingly diverse societies in which more and more people are forced to interact with members of different social groups on a daily basis. These interactions can be positive or negative and are likely to influence not only intergroup attitudes and behaviors but also overall health and well-being. At the same time, pervasive inequalities exist between members of different social groups in areas such as access to education and financial resources. Possibly the most pernicious disparities are those that pertain to physical and psychological health. The aim of much of my research is to better understand how to improve intergroup attitudes, behaviors, and interactions as well as to how to improve health and well-being among members of marginalized groups. Increasingly, in my work I also aim to integrate these areas by examining the relationship between intergroup interactions and overall health and well-being.


Research from several disciplines employing a variety of methodologies has shown that having members of different social groups engage in positive interactions leads to a reduction in prejudice toward outgroup members in that setting. Much less research has examined the processes underlying the successful generalization of positive intergroup attitudes to other settings, to entire social groups, to social groups different from those represented in the contact setting, and over time. In some of my research I am currently investigating when and why intergroup attitudes engendered from positive intergroup interactions generalize beyond the initial setting. For example, some of this work investigates the relationship between intergroup interaction, intergroup emotion, and the generalization of positive intergroup attitudes via a series of experiments and community-based daily diary studies.

I am also very interested in improving the overall health and well-being of members of marginalized groups. While recent decades have seen notable progress toward improvement of health and reduction of mortality generally, members of certain ethnic minority groups continue to disproportionately suffer the burdens of physical and psychological illness. This inequitable situation exists in the United States as well as in countries with substantially different healthcare systems. In an attempt to combat this dire situation, another focus of my research program is on examining social psychological factors that may be contributing (either individually or in interaction with structural inequalities) to the existence of ethnic minority health disparities. For example, some of this work currently examines the relationship between perceptions of psychosocial adversities, empowerment, and overall health and well-being via a series of experiments and a community-based longitudinal study. The primary aim of this work is to determine when and why some efforts to manage stigma are more successful than others. 


Most recently, my interests in intergroup relations and overall health and well-being have led me to investigate some of the intersections between these areas. For example, some of this work examines the relationship between perceptions of psychosocial adversities, intergroup interactions, and overall health and well-being over time in school, workplace, and healthcare settings.  Of note, I recently designed an undergraduate service learning course focused on intergroup relations with this research in mind. The students in this course will assist healthcare providers at community clinics in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana in collecting data from ethnic minority and low income patients. Additionally they will be proposing, in groups, a cultural competency training plan designed to aid specific types of health care providers (e.g., nurses or physicians to have more positive interactions with patients from low status social groups. I believe that combining learning objectives with service objectives will make the theoretical and empirical literature covered in this course come alive for the students, hopefully enriching the students’ sense of engaged citizenship in a pluralistic society.


Ultimately, my hope is that my work may someday aid in improving intergroup attitudes and reducing health disparities by achieving a more comprehensive understanding of moderators and mediators of the relationships between intergroup interaction, intergroup attitudes, and overall health and well-being. In addition, I hope this work will contribute to the creation of interventions and curricula that can be implemented in real world settings (e.g., schools, workplaces, healthcare centers).


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