Sharon Kao (BS14) Wins Psychological Association’s Student Research Award

Sharon Kao (BS14) Wins Psychological Association’s Student Research Award

Sharon Kao

Recent SESP graduate Sharon Kao (BS14) was the 2014 recipient of the Asian American Psychological Association’s Undergraduate Research Award. The award was presented at the association’s annual conference on August 6.

As a senior honors student in human development and psychological services, Kao researched the topic “Reducing Mental Illness Stigma through Perspective Taking in the Asian Population.” Her study examined “perspective-taking,” the active contemplation of others’ psychological experiences, as a way to reduce stigma against mental illness, particularly in the Asian population.

The study indicated that perspective-taking had no impact on attitudes towards mental illness. However, it showed that personal distress and empathic concern are predictive of stigma across races, perhaps due to the discomfort these feelings cause, according to Kao.

Kao maintains that her research on stigma against mental illness represents an extremely important topic. Despite the fact that about 25 percent of Americans have mental illnesses, she notes, “there has not been much research done on reducing prejudice against mental illness, unlike the ample research done in reducing racial bias.”

“Furthermore, there is more stigma associated in the Asian culture because mental illness is often associated with shame and more deficiency. This could discourage people from seeking treatment and thus is a social problem,” Kao says. She hopes that her research indicates a way to successfully reduce the prejudice.

At Northwestern, Kao also was awarded an Undergraduate Research Grant by the Northwestern University Office of the Provost during fall quarter of her senior year for pursuing her research.

Currently, Kao is in Hong Kong, where she will be working in a University of Hong Kong psychiatry lab that studies early psychosis. In the future, she hopes to pursue clinical psychology either in Hong Kong or the United States.

Founded in 1972, the Asian American Psychological Association seeks to advance the mental health and well-being of Asian American communities through research, professional practice, education and policy. The organization's 2014 convention was held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 8/5/14