Brenda Major

Brenda Major

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Research Area

Social Psychology


Dr. Brenda Major is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a past Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She the international expert in the psychology of stigma and how people perceive and cope with stigma and discrimination. A core theme of her work is psychological resilience – how people maintain their sense of self-esteem, psychological well-being and physical health despite exposure to discrimination, negative life events, and adversity. She has authored more than 200 articles and book chapters, and edited two books: The Psychology of Legitimacy, and the Oxford Handbook of Stigma, Discrimination and Health. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Russell Sage Foundation, the American Philosophical Foundation, and the Cattell Foundation.

Dr. Major is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is Past President of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP) and of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). Awards she has received include the 2020 Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Self and Identity, the 2015 Donald T. Campbell Award from SPSP, the 2014 Scientific Impact Prize from SESP, the 2012 Kurt Lewin Prize from the Society of Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and a 2014 Heritage Award from the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology. She also received the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize from SPSSI in 2014, 1988, and 1986 for the best paper published on intergroup relations in those years, as well as the 1985 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association of Women in Psychology. Dr. Major was named a California Distinguished Wellness Lecturer in 1997 and chaired the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion from 2006-2008.


Dr. Major's research addresses how people cope with prejudice, discrimination, devalued social identities, and stressful life events. She is particularly interested in psychological resilience and how cultural ideologies, such as the American Dream, shape people's likelihood of perceiving discrimination as well as their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to perceived discrimination against themselves or others.  Her current research examines the impact of perceived ethnic, gender, and weight-based stigma and discrimination on psychological stress, health behaviors, and interpersonal relationships, and the impact of diversity policies and anti-bias norms on intergroup relations.

Selected Publications

Major, B., Dovidio, J. & Link, B. (Eds.) (2017). Handbook of Discrimination and Health.  Oxford University Press.

Major, B. & Kaiser, C. R. (2017). Ideology and the maintenance of group inequality. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. 20. 582–592. 

Major, B., Blodorn, A., & Blascovich, G. M. (2016). The threat of increasing diversity: Why many White Americans support Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 

Dover, T., Kaiser, C.R. & Major, B. (2016, January 4). Diversity policies don’t make organizations fairer and they threaten white men.  Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from 

Major, B., Kunstman, J., Sawyer, P., Townsend, S. & Mendes, W. B. (2016). Suspicion of motives predicts minorities’ responses to positive feedback in interracial interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,62, 75-88..

Kaiser, C. R., Major, B., Jurcevic, I., Dover, T., Brady, L. M., & Shapiro, J. R. (2013). Presumed fair: Ironic effects of organizational diversity structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104 (3) 504-519. 

Major, B., Hunger, J., Bunyan, D & Miller, C.T. (2014). The ironic effects of weight stigma. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 51, 74-80. 

Major, B., Mendes, W.B. & Dovidio, J. (2013). Intergroup relations and health disparities: A social psychological perspective.  Health Psychology, 32, 514–524. 

Major, B., Sawyer, P.J. & Kunstman, J.W. (2013). Minority perceptions of Whites’ motives for responding without prejudice: The perceived internal and external motivation to avoid prejudice scales.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 401-414. 

Major, B., Eliezer, D. & Rieck, H. (2012). The psychological weight of weight stigma.  Social Psychological and Personality Science. 3, 651-658. 

Townsend, S.S.M., Major, B., Gangi, C. E. & Mendes W.B. (2011). From “in the air” to “under the skin”: Cortisol responses to social identity threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,37, 151-164. 

Mendes, W.B., Major, B., McCoy, S. & Blascovich, J. (2008). How attributional ambiguity shapes physiological and emotional responses to social rejection and acceptance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 278-291. 

McCoy, S. K. & Major, B. (2007). Priming meritocracy and the psychological justification of inequality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 341-351. 

Major, B., Kaiser, C.R, O’Brien, L. & McCoy, S. (2007). Perceived discrimination as worldview threat or worldview confirmation: Implications for self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1068-1086. 

Major, B. & O’Brien, L.T. (2005). The social psychology of stigma.  Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 393-421. 

Major, B., Quinton, W. & McCoy, S (2002). Antecedents and consequences of attributions to discrimination: Theoretical and empirical advances.  Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 251-329. 

Major, B., Gramzow, R., McCoy, S., Levin, S., Schmader, T., Sidanius, J. (2002). Attributions to discrimination: The role of group status and legitimizing ideology.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 82, 269-282. 

Jost, J. & Major, B. (Eds.) (2001).  The Psychology of Legitimacy:  Emerging Perspectives on Ideology, Power, and Intergroup Relations.  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Major, B., Cozzarelli, C., Cooper, M. L., Zubek, J., Richards, C., Wilhite, M., & Gramzow, R. (2000).  Psychological responses of women following first trimester abortion. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 777-784. 

Major, B. & Gramzow, R. (1999).  Abortion as stigma: Cognitive and emotional implications of concealment.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 735-746. 

Major, B., Spencer, S., Schmader, T., Wolfe, C. & Crocker, J. (1998). Coping with negative stereotypes about intellectual performance:  The role of psychological disengagement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 34-50. 

Major, B. (1994). From social inequality to personal entitlement:  The role of social comparisons, legitimacy appraisals, and group membership.  In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, (Vol. 26, pp. 293-355). 

Crocker, J., & Major, B. (1989).  Social stigma and self-esteem: The self-protective properties of stigma. Psychological Review, 96, 608-630. 

Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987).  Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior.  Psychological Review, 94, 369-389. 

Major, B., McFarlin, D., & Gagnon, D. (1984).  Overworked and underpaid: On the nature of gender differences in personal entitlement.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1399-1412.