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Mesmin Destin

Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Social Policy
Mesmin Destin

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

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.

Current Research

PhD, Social Psychology, University of Michigan, 2010

Supporting Student Motivation. 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. This project investigates theory-based strategies to leverage the peers, adults, and institutions that surround students in ways that effectively support their goal-driven school motivation. A series of field experiments investigate the types of supports and messages from these sources that connect with student identities in beneficial ways. Further, studies test the types of approaches that can be beneficial for physical health and well-being in addition to traditional academic outcomes.

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.

Selected Publications

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.

Destin, M., and R. C. Svoboda. 2017. A brief randomized controlled intervention targeting parents improves grades during middle schoolJournal of Adolescence 56: 157–61.

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.

Stephens, N. M., M. G. Hamedani, and M. Destin. 2014. Closing the social class achievement gap: A diversity education intervention improves first-generation students’ academic performance and all students’ college transition. Psychological Science 25: 943–53.

Destin, M. 2013. Integrating resource-based and person-based approaches to understanding wealth effects on school achievementEconomics of Education Review 33: 171-178.

Destin, M., and D. Oyserman. 2010. Incentivizing education: Seeing schoolwork as an investment, not a choreJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 46: 846-849.