I use multi-level and cross-national survey analysis and neurological experimental techniques to study social phenomena like ethno-racial inequalities of health and well-being, stress mechanisms and group polarizations.

I primarily focus on ethno-racial disparities of health and well-being with an eye on the buffering mechanisms such as value orientations and social support. For example, in one of my recent research projects, I have developed a new multi-domain stress scale to investigate the disparate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the stress levels and mental health outcomes of different ethnic and racial groups. I have collected national data to test these mechanisms. In some of my other research, I analyze publicly available data (such as the European Social Survey) to examine how factors like discrimination or negative ethnic interactions affect well-being and health and whether or not holding different cognitive frameworks and values might help reduce these negative effects. You can browse my articles to find more about my research.

My research using cross-national data shows that agentic values (prioritizing taking charge and using creative, adaptive strategies) function as a mental resource for members of disadvantaged communities. For example, as I explain in a recent Contexts piece, people who described themselves as members of a group that is discriminated against in their country were less negatively impacted by this stigma and and caught up entirely in their health outcomes showing reduced health problems (such as diabetes, heart problems, etc.). 

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Figure 1. Discrimination, enhancement and odds of reporting health problems (multi-level, logistic regression with random intercepts, N = 36,549, European Social Survey Round 7, 2014) Source: Firat 2020.

Building on this survey research, I have measured neural activity in response to social exclusion in Black and White participants while they were primed with agentic vs communal values. Throughout this virtual ball- tossing (Cyberball)game, participants were either included or excluded from the game via randomly alternating rounds. Before each game, they were primed with agentic or communal values by reading a short paragraph and counting the number of pronouns. What this research found was that Black respondents showed greater activation in their Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) (a brain region that monitors and detects existing or potential errors or conflicts) than their White counterparts during the agentic exclusion (vs. inclusion) rounds (see Figure 2). These results show that Black participants were better able to tune into the problems in their immediate environment when primed with agentic values.

COVID-19, Agency, and Communities of Color

Panel A: Cyberball Game within the fMRI. Panel B: Greater activation in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex in Black vs. White respondents when primed with agentic (vs communal) pronouns during exclusion (vs inclusion) rounds (corrected alpha = 0.05, N = 28, 17 Black, 11 White participants). Source: Firat 2020.

As you can see, much of my research uses innovative quantitative strategies to uncover seemingly intractable mechanisms of social inequalities. I believe rigorous mixed methods and inter-disciplinary research can help advance social sciences and make an impact on improving the health and well-being of our communities. This is the number one goal in my scholarship.