Mind Matters — Psychological Research: Stigmas and Beyond

Stigma, false confessions, ethnicity, geography, employee health. What’s the connection? Possibly the only connection is that when my American Psychological Association Monitor arrived recently, I gleaned from its pages little chewy nuggets of ongoing psychological research on these themes.

Although I remain a clinician and am not a researcher, I applaud the scientists that give foundation to my face to face encounters in my work and that give us all a better understanding of human nature.

Stigma in the Workplace

While we may think that flexible workplace policies have become widely accepted as a good deal for both employer and employee, we may be disappointed. In the Journal of Social Issues (June 12, 2013), it is reported that employees fear stigma that use of such policies may engender. Both men and women worry about lower wages, fewer promotions, less favorable performance evaluations if they do opt for time for family. Unfortunately, their fears are not unfounded. In the various research studies reported, indeed it was found that women were “mommy tracked”—in essence, often detoured from their career path, and men were “feminized,” judged as “weaker” and “less dominant.”

Joan Williams, J.D., edited the journal’s workplace theme with Jennifer Glass, Ph.D., Shelley Carnell, Ph.D. and Jennifer Berdahl, Ph.D. They further report that lower income mothers are penalized when they have child care difficulties.

Distilled to its essence, it appears that stigma remains in the workplace for both men and women when it comes to balancing work with family and children.

Stress and False Confessions

Researchers at Iowa State conducted a study in which the researchers found that 43% of innocent participants accused of “misconduct” in the experiment could, due to raising stress levels, be pressured to “confess.” This is something to ponder, given the stories of innocent people convicted for crimes they didn’t do.


Geography has a personality profile? Psychologists at the University of Cambridge studied the personality traits of over 1.5 million people across the U.S., excluding Hawaii and Alaska. They concluded, after collecting data for twelve years, that people of the North Central Plains and the south tend toward “conventional and friendly;” people of the Western and Eastern Seacoasts seem “more relaxed and creative;” and New England and Mid-Atlantic residents seem “more temperamental and uninhibited.” Hmmm… . What happens when people who grew up in one area move to another? What changes? What stays the same?

Cross-Ethnic Friendships

Let’s hear it for diversity. In a study conducted jointly by UCLA and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, it was found that cross-ethnic friendships increased as diversity in the classroom increased. The students who made friends across groups reported feeling safer, less lonely, less victimized.

Employee Health

We began with workplace, so let’s end with the workplace. According to research conducted by HealthNEXT, companies who have commendable approaches to employee health and safety happen to have healthy performances in the stock market. What would happen if the researchers for this study combined efforts with the researchers on stigma about family caregiving in the workplace? Would they be able to convince employers that there is economic benefit to caring about their employees balancing act between work and home?

For further information see APA Monitor on Psychology, December, 2013, Briefs by Amy Novotney.