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Mesmin Destin

Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Social Policy and Northwestern Faculty Director of Student Access and Enrichment
Mesmin Destin

Chair of IPR's Program on Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies | IPR Fellow

PhD, Social Psychology, University of Michigan, 2010

Social psychologist Mesmin Destin studies how socioeconomic circumstances influence individual thoughts, identities, and behaviors. Building upon theories of identity and motivation, his research investigates social and psychological factors that contribute to disparities in educational outcomes from middle school through early adulthood. He employs a combination of secondary data analysis, laboratory experiments, and field experiments to uncover effective strategies and supports that guide young people’s perceptions of self, society, and opportunities as they navigate inequality and pursue goals.

Destin’s research has been funded by organizations including the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation. He contributed to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine titled, “The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth”, and he has received awards including the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship Award.

Current Research

Supportive Classrooms Project. In addition to one’s own individual psychological resources, regular sources of outside social support can also increase the likelihood that young students are able to effectively pursue their goals. These forces can be especially consequential for students from backgrounds that have been historically marginalized in educational settings. A series of studies focus on educators' capacity to understand and leverage the identities, experiences, and strengths connected to students' backgrounds. Brief experimental messages from instructors and workshops designed to increase educators' capacity to recognize, value, and connect with students' backgrounds have important effects on student achievement and well-being.

Socioeconomic Status and Success in College. Though a growing number of students from lower SES and first-generation backgrounds are admitted to college, they continue to encounter unique challenges in college contexts that other students are less likely to face. Several lab and field experiments investigate specific social psychological factors in college environments that can support or impair academic motivation and outcomes for students from lower SES backgrounds. These studies are complemented by longitudinal studies that examine how young people understand their own place on the socioeconomic hierarchy, especially during periods of social mobility.

Healthy Pathways to Achievement. It is increasingly important to understand how identity-based efforts can support academic motivation in a manner that simultaneously promotes physical health, for instance by leveraging sources of social support and connection and by helping young people to prepare for the challenges of social mobility. The current research integrates social psychological approaches to improving academic motivation with advances from health psychology related to resilience in the context of health disparities. Experimental studies test the effectiveness of practices designed to promote pathways towards healthy achievement for adolescents in low SES contexts and reduce socioeconomic disparities in health and achievement. 

Selected Publications

Silverman, D. M., Hernandez, I. A., & Destin, M. 2023. Educators’ beliefs about students’ socioeconomic backgrounds as a pathway for supporting motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 49: 215-232 

Destin, M., Rosario, R. J., & Vossoughi, S. 2021. Elevating the objectives of higher education to effectively serve students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8: 59-66.

Destin, M. 2020.  Identity research that engages contextual forces to reduce socioeconomic disparities in education. Current Directions in Psychological Science 29: 161-166.

Destin, M. 2019. Socioeconomic mobility, identity, and health: Experiences that influence immunology and implications for intervention. American Psychologist 74: 207-217.

Destin M. 2017. An open path to the future: Perceived financial resources and school motivation. Journal of Early Adolescence 37: 1004-1031.

Destin, M., M. Rheinschmidt-Same, and J. Richeson. 2017. Status-based identity: A conceptual framework integrating the social psychological study of socioeconomic status and identityPerspectives on Psychological Science 12(2): 270–89.

Browman, A., and M. Destin. 2016. The effects of a warm or chilly climate toward socioeconomic diversity on academic motivation and self-conceptPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin 42: 172-187.