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A Sneak Peek Inside the Destin Lab

April 21, 2021

Destin Lab studentsNorthwestern University social psychologist Mesmin Destin explores how the presumed “disadvantages” related to students’ backgrounds can carry unrecognized strengths, Kirsten Weir wrote in “Finding Strength in Hardship.

In a recent installment of the Monitor on Psychology series “Lab Work”, Weir detailed how Destin and his team study the effects of messages that students encounter about their identities. They also design studies that recast student disadvantages as strengths and explore the links between socioeconomic mobility and physical health.

“The standard message is that students’ backgrounds are part of why they struggle,” said Destin, associate professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy, who was recently named a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. “When you shift that narrative, it has direct positive effects for well-being and achievement.”

Helping teachers recognize students’ unique strengths is an important part of rewriting that story, he added. ““When teachers give students a message that’s based on this strength-based approach, we see immediate positive effects on the ways they plan to engage with students,” he said.

Destin’s work involves creating and maintaining ongoing relationships with schools and children in the community and connecting social psychology to education and schools, Weir wrote. His project on racial/ethnic identity and future goals, for example, included middle, high school, and college students. The study built on an approach called the Pathways to Success program, which has been shown to increase engagement by helping students imagine a route to their future goals.

When Destin’s team incorporated a connection to racial/ethnic identity, it  strengthened students’ pursuit of school goals even more, according to preliminary data.

In addition to the Guggenheim,Destin was honored in 2020 with the International Society for Self and Identity Outstanding Early Career Award. In 2019, he received the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution and the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence Award. He is a fellow of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

Destin's multidisciplinary research lab includes graduate students from Northwestern’s Department of Psychology as well as the School of Education and Social Policy. Straddling two departments benefits both sides and creates rich discussions, he said.

“By offering a better understanding of the psychological process, we can really help advance some of the findings in other fields, such as education and public policy,” he said.

Destin's team (pictured above) from left includes Tess Brieva, Jhadin Beaco, Régine Debrosse, Mesmin Destin, Lynn Meissner, Josiah Rosario, David Silverman, and Ivan Hernandez.

Read the entire story “Finding Strength in Hardship.

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