Associate Professor Stefania Paolini

Associate Professor Stefania Paolini - Psychology Researcher
Research Program:
Research Topics:

What are your research interests?

I am interested in finding out why some people have prejudices against and hold stereotypes about the 'other' - those who are different from us on the ground of their ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical health status.

I am interested in figuring out how social stigma has an adverse impact on health and performance to ultimately alleviate such impact towards increased health, productivity, and happiness. 

Why did you get into research?

Many people around me, including loved ones, suffer and are possibly discriminated because of the colour of their skin, ethnicity, or nationality, because of their religious beliefs, their gender, age, sexual orientation, because they have a mental illness, a physical disability, because English is not their first language or just because they look different from others.

Because of such stigma, stereotyping, and prejudices, they feel rejected, suffer loneliness, they experience anxiety in interactions with others. This anxiety and worries about their worth in society and in relationships with others ultimately impacts on their health and on their performance, including their ability to do well at school or university and finding good jobs.

I am interested in finding ways to reduce stigma and its adverse impact on health and performance because I believe that it is possible to live in a socially more integrated and happy society where differences are sought, celebrated and capitalised on, rather than feared, crushed or belittled.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

To get closer to a more tolerant, peaceful and equitable society, I study both what leads us to be prejudiced and stereotyped in the first place and what intervention is most likely effective in reducing prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination in society. 

Diversity in society is nowadays a matter of fact and will be most likely unavoidable in the globalised future. I hope to contribute to evidence-based research on best diversity practices and diversity policy making for local community as well as global communities.       

Biography

Associate Professor Stefania Paolini’s research and teaching at the University of Newcastle focuses on the social psychological bases of intergroup prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. Her research investigates their cognitive, affective, and behavioural underpinnings.

Associate Professor Paolini's work uses experimentation as well as field methods to identify the causes and psychological processes that are responsible for the establishment and maintenance of these biases (including among others intergroup anxiety and threat, disproportionate attention paid to us-them categorisation divide, individuals' unique history of contact with 'otherness', exposure to pro- or against-diversity family, peers, and authorities).

A mixed-method approach also characterises Associate Professor Paolini's investigation of experiences and interventions capable of lessening the presentation of these biases; these include among others friendships across the group boundaries, exposure to positive modeling, story telling, and the media. Her research spans through a variety of intergroup settings in peaceful as well as conflict-ridden societies. 

Associate Professor Paolini did her undergraduate training in social psychology in Italy at the University of Padova; she then completed her PhD at the University of Cardiff in the UK, in a strong research laboratory led by a world expert in prejudice psychology and there studied the intergroup dynamics in segregated Northern Ireland.

Associate Professor Paolini is a senior lecturer and has been working in the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle since 2001. She has been awarded an Australian Research Council's research fellowship to continue her research on the impact of positive and negative contact between members of opposing groups. Stefania has received research funds to study both the consequences of intergroup contact, as well as the motivational bases of people active approach and avoidance of 'otherness'.

Associate Professor Paolini has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in the field and has presented at many prestigious national and international conferences. Her research is widely cited by experts and has contributed to official reports of UK government's Equality and Human Rights Commission and UK Labour party's policy reports.

Future focus

Associate Professor Paolini is currently working towards understanding ways to encourage people to engage in interactions with otherness and diffuse people's frequent aversion of diversity towards increased health, productivity, and social integration in society. 

Specialised / Technical Skills

Associate Professor Paolini teaches social, intergroup, cross-cultural, and Aboriginal psychology at the undergraduate levels. Her research expertise sets at the interface of individual-level psychological processes and group-level/societal-levels of analyses (i.e. social psychology). Her methodology is eclectic, spanning from lab-based experimentation, questionnaire-based field work, and web-based studies with global internet communities. Her measurement methods also vary from paper-and-pen questionnaire, through computerised tasks, to psychophysiological markers of arousal, anxiety, and bias.

Her approach is typically quantitative in nature and heavily relies on multivariate statistics and data modelling, but she has more recently integrated this approach with some qualitative analyses. Associate Professor Paolini typically collects data from a variety of intergroup settings in Australia and abroad, in peaceful as well as conflict ridden societies.

Affiliations

  • Chair of the UON School of Psychology's Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group 
  • Priority Research Centre on Translational Mental Health and Brain Research.
  • UON Aboriginal Research Cluster
  • Chair of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues internationalisation committee