Kendall Crispin, '21, and Anna Marston, '22

March 9, 2021
Students research attitudes of blame, prejudice regarding addiction

Think of the aunt who drinks too much at every family get-together. The man shooting up in a city park. The college student who takes uppers to pull an all-nighter and downers to de-stress. In 2017, nearly 20 million Americans struggled with addiction, yet fewer than one in five sought treatment. The stigma associated with addiction discourages some people from seeking the treatment they need.

Since January 2020, Kendall Crispin, ’21, and Anna Marston, ’22, have been working with leadership studies and psychology professor Crystal Hoyt to research the psychology behind addiction stigmatization. Specifically, they have looked at how beliefs about whether people can control their addiction affect the way others view them. This in turn affects the crafting of social policies aimed at addressing addiction.

People with fixed mindsets think individuals cannot control their addictions. They believe addiction is a biological trait. On the other hand, people with growth mindsets think individuals can change their behavior and overcome their addictions.

“We were surprised to find that fixed mindsets predicted greater stigmatization,” Marston said. “People who believe addiction is an innate, unchangeable part of a person are more likely to have negative attitudes about those with substance abuse disorders. Promoting a growth mindset—the idea that someone can go to Alcoholics Anonymous or therapy to learn to control their addiction—can reduce blame and prejudice.”

To prepare for their research, the two students undertook a literature review, developed measurements, sought and received approval from the University of Richmond’s Institutional Review Board, wrote grant applications, launched their research survey, and collected and analyzed the survey data.

The Jepson School of Leadership Studies awarded Crispin and Marston a grant to present their research at last month’s virtual Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) convention. In addition to Hoyt, their co-researchers were Richmond associate professor of psychology Laura Knouse, North Carolina State University associate professor of psychology Jeni Burnette, and North Carolina State University research assistant professor Joseph Billingsley.

“When undergraduate students present their research at national conferences, they show others they are capable of producing excellent research,” Hoyt said. “Our students have the opportunity not only to present their work formally, but also to meet and network with scholars and learn about other exciting research being done in the field.” 

Eager to know more about the influence of mindsets on behavior, Crispin and Marston recently expanded their research to examine the effect of growth mindsets on parenting. They also are working with Hoyt on a study of the effect of fixed versus growth mindsets on obesity and mental illness. They plan to present their findings at next year’s SPSP convention.

“I love figuring out why people think the way they do,” said Crispin, a leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics, and law (PPEL) major. “Our research shows you the why—why these phenomena are happening.”

Marston, who is majoring in leadership studies and psychology, said she is interested in working with people with mental health illnesses and substance use issues to understand how these disorders intersect with the criminal justice system. She interns with REAL LIFE, a Richmond-based nonprofit serving individuals impacted by incarceration, homelessness, or substance use disorder.

“Social science research can sometimes feel disconnected—we forget how it relates to real people,” Marston said. “I want to know how the theories we’re researching affect the people living in the REAL LIFE recovery houses.”

Photo, left to right: Anna Marston, '22, Dr. Crystal Hoyt, and Kendall Crispin, '21