In a class of his own
Social psychologist Dr Mark Rubin looks at the way in which individuals act in groups, and the way those groups interact in society, in order to understand the motivations behind choices and action.
Mark’s research focuses on the social psychological processes that underpin social identity, stereotyping, prejudice, and social exclusion. He has authored over 50 major research publications in this area.
“I began by looking at broader issues such as stereotyping and prejudice, like why are people racist, why are they prejudiced,” Mark explains.
“More recently, I have been looking at social psychology in education, at social class differences in higher education, as well as applying social psychology to risk taking and urban planning.”
His research in areas such as intergroup contact, social exclusion, migration, and stereotyping have provided insight on the cognitive and motivational factors influencing the choices of many Australians.
Mark’s work on prejudice has identified cognitive and motivational factors that predict bias. He explains that one of the triggers for prejudice can be low self-esteem.
“When people say they don’t like a member of another group, it makes them feel that their own group is better, and this makes them feel good about themselves,” he says.
An extension of this work is looking at stereotyping, or why people from one group see members of their group as heterogeneous, while also seeing members of another group as all the same.
Mark has a specific interest in prejudice against migrants. Interestingly, he does not believe this prejudice comes from not liking a person because of their country of origin, but instead may be a reflection of a more base instinct in humans to ease anxiety by creating order through keeping everything in neat categories.
“People have a need for categories to be neat and orderly with everything in its right place. If things get untidy and categories are mixed up because, for example, people are migrating from one country to another, then it can create anxiety in some people, which can be expressed in prejudice,” he explains.
SOCIAL INTEGRATION AT UNI
Mark, who has generated a great body of work looking at social class differences in higher education, speculates that location, the availability of enabling courses and perceptions on the part of working-class students dictate the choice of where to study. But his research is more focused on what happens when working-class students get to university.
Despite the support put in place by institutions such as the UON to redress class-generated inequities, working-class students may still struggle to integrate.
“We find that these students often don't feel like they ‘fit in’, which is problematic for a number of reasons,” Mark says.
“Having friends at university helps, because they’ll tell you when the deadline is, teach you what you may have missed, or be a shoulder to cry on when you don’t do so well.”
Mark and a professional doctorate student have found that parenting style acts as a mediator variable between social class and social integration at university. Students who self-reported being smacked and disciplined harshly were less likely to integrate at university than those who reported their parents being less authoritarian.
“Perhaps students who are disciplined harshly do not develop the interpersonal skills that allow you to mix in with other people as well, skills that facilitate social integration at university,” Mark speculates.
CLASS DIFFERENCES IN HEALTH
Together with his current postgraduate students, Mark is exploring the relationship between social class and mental and physical health.
“Usually you find there is a positive relationship between social class and mental health. The higher your social class, the better your mental and physical health,” Mark explains.
Mark’s students are investigating social class differences in social integration and even sleep patterns as potential explanations for these mental and physical health differences.
Mark has recently commenced a major project with UON colleagues Dr Anna Giacomini and Professor Brian Kelly on risk taking by Australian miners. Surveying more than 1,000 open-cut and underground miners from Queensland and New South Wales will hopefully shed light on factors that predict conscious and unconscious risk taking at work.
The second phase of the project will involve the design and implementation of interventions aimed at preventing workplace injury.
Another applied project Mark is working on, with Dr Tessa Morrison from the School of Architecture and Built Environment, is looking at people’s evaluation of cities. Data is being collected from Newcastle, Sydney, Paris and Istanbul to inform future urban planning.
Mark completed his undergraduate degree in psychology at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. A Masters degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics followed. Accepting a position as a research assistant at the University of Wales in Cardiff ultimately resulted in a scholarship to complete his PhD under eminent social psychology scholar Professor Miles Hewstone.
Mark came to the University of Newcastle in 2001 and immersed himself in campus life, undertaking many extra duties within his faculty and others, from International Student Liaison Officer through to Student Academic Conduct Officer.
His passion for enabling students to succeed and work hard has won him several teaching awards.
He has prepared and posted several online student guides on how to do everything from critically analysing an academic paper to making a research poster. Mark is constantly receiving positive feedback about his student guides.
“People swear by them. They always send me nice emails saying thank you for this, you’ve been a big help, which is really great,” he says, smiling.