Members of the University of Queensland Social Change Lab posed for our annual end of year photo. In the COVID era, many lab members were Zooming in…. From left to right in person: Morgana, Zahra, Hema, and Winnifred. From left to right in the Zoom: Top row: Mai, Susilo, and Eunike; middle row Robyn, Kiara, and Ruby; last row: Madeleine, Zoe, and Leila.
I want to start, as usual, by acknowledging our group’s successes:
In 2020, the lab saw Robyn Gulliver and Gi Chonu awarded their PhD theses - whoohoo! Susilo Wibisono, Zahra Mirnajafi, and Kiara Minto also submitted their theses for review, so woohoo! in advance. J Well done everyone!
For their next steps, Susilo and Kiara are still canvassing their options; Robyn is about to start a post doc on collective action at HKU with Christian Chan; Zahra is going to take up a one year post doc on volunteer organisations in Iran with Jolanda Jetten; and Gi has secured a stats teaching gig at the Singapore campus of James Cook Uni, after moving to Singapore with her family (in the middle of a pandemic!). Well done all round!
While we are sorry to see her go, we are delighted to say that Morgana Lizzio-Wilson, who has been a post doc on the collective action grant and voluntary assisted dying grants in 2020, has been offered a two year post doc at Flinders with Emma Thomas. What a wonderful opportunity! Well done Morgana! She will be moving to Adelaide in March.
Meanwhile, we also welcomed to the lab (virtually) Leila Eisner, who secured a post doc from the Swiss government to work with me on norms and collective action. She has unfortunately been prevented from moving to Brisbane in person due to COVID. Here is hoping that the development of vaccines will re-permit international travel and scholarship later this year … but in the mean time, we welcome Leila to our meetings when the time difference permits!
2020 also saw many other students working through their other milestones, including Gi, Zahra, Kiara, Susilo, and Robyn who finished their thesis reviews (and in fact, as mentioned above, submitted!). Eunike Mutiara was confirmed successfully after her first year on a project in genocide studies with Annie Pohlman in the School of Languages and Cultures at UQ and me. Hannibal, Liberty and Robin are moving into their final year, and so is Tulsi (who has a final two years due to working part time).
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteers and visitors for the social change lab in 2019, including Ruby Green, Hema Selvanathan, Jo Brown, Mai Tanjitpiyanond, Lily Davidson, Celeste Walsh, Raine Vickers-Jones, and Peter Benton, along with our summer scholars Mina Fu, Madeleine Hersey, and Zoe Gath. Thank you everyone! And here’s hoping that 2021 is equally fun and social, as well as healthy, happy and productive for us and for the group!
Other news of 2020 engagement and impact
We had our normal collective plethora of journal articles (see our publications page) but of course conferences this year were greatly affected by COVID. Due to COVID, I missed out on my sabbatical visits to Indonesia, Chile, New Zealand, and the USA, and I have now restarted teaching. However, I did get to participate in and listen to a variety of fun Zoom forums. The lab organised an interesting symposium online on The Social Psychology of Violence and I gave an online keynote address to the International Zoo Educators’ (IZE) annual conference in October 2020.
As part of the COVID pandemic, I developed some new resources online (listed here). I also joined an immense research project, https://psycorona.org/ . It was an incredible lesson in the possibilities for collaboration and agile research, and I am sure that the harvest will be reaped by scholars for many years to come.
In regards to pubs, I was excited in 2020 by finally getting this theory piece out, which in addition to other very fun riffing, at last published the DIME model formally. The first empirical paper was also finally accepted in Psychological Science – whoohoo! It is still not out though, and the other major DIME paper is still working its way through the process of being rejected excruciatingly slowly by all the best journals. :)
In other news, our lab has continued to work to develop open science practices in 2020 and to establish consistency in pre-registration, online data sharing, transparency regarding analyses, and commitment to open access. I think for us as for the field, progress is steady!
Socialchangelab.net in 2021
Within the lab, Kiara Minto has been working to solicit, edit, and publish the blog posts, and to encourage creation and updating of our pages. Thank you Kiara for all your great work last year with our inhouse writers, our guest bloggers, and the site!
We continue to welcome each new reader of the blogs and the lab with enthusiasm, and if you have ideas for guest blogging, by all means contact me to discuss them.
I also am still active for work on Twitter, and I hope that you will follow @WlouisUQ and @socialchangelab if you are on Twitter yourself. In 2020 we also started a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-Social-Change-Lab-research-by-Winnifred-Louis-and-team-109966340687649/ . I am still getting the hang of it, but I invite those of you who are still on fb to consider following the page.
Looking ahead, I am working with the IZE association to develop some cool online content around my ‘effective environmental communication’ talks. Although this may end up being behind a pay wall for zoo educators, I look forward to seeing how the professionals do it. This is because I am also working (particularly with the assistance of Robyn Gulliver) to develop some new content that will be available to all, in a project to download my brain to the internet. What could go wrong? ;)
What the new year holds:
In 2021, at the moment I have no plans for actual travel, and so it’s all online meetings all the time. However, I do frivol around with zoom a lot and I hope that people will contact me for meetings and talks if interested.
I will be participating online at the SPSP conference with a data blitz sessions and in a symposium led by Ana Leal. At UQ, I’ll be teaching third year stats and Applied Social Psychology (a fourth year elective) in S1 and S2 respectively, which I really look forward to. I am also presently trying to develop new lines of work and grant apps on trajectories of stalemates, gridlock and polarisation. I welcome new riffing and contacts on any of these. I have some big grant apps out with colleagues but who knows if any can proceed.
This year I also am open to new expressions of interest from honours students and PhD students. While my primary focus is still on writing and working through my backlog of data, I’ll be considering new students in 2021. There is some info on working with me here.
A list of our 2020 papers is given below, and if you are interested in a copy of any of these, please do just ask.
All the best from our team,
Asún, R. A., Rdz-Navarro, K., Zúñiga, C. & Louis, W. (2020). Modelling the mediating effect of multiple emotions in a cycle of territorial protests. Social Movement Studies, DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2020.1867093 . Published online 30 December 2020.
Amiot, C. E., Lizzio-Wilson, M., Louis, W. R., & Thomas, E. F. (2020). Bringing together humanistic and intergroup perspectives to build a model of internalisation of normative social harm-doing. European Journal of Social Psychology, 50(3), 485-504. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2659.
Chapman, C. M., Masser, B. M., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Identity motives in charitable giving: Explanations for charity preferences from a global donor survey. Psychology & Marketing, 37, 1277-1291. DOI: 10.1002/mar.21362.
Fielding, K. S., & Louis, W. R. (2020). The role of social norms in communicating about climate change. In D. C. Holmes & L. M. Richardson (Eds.), Research Handbook on Communicating Climate Change, pp. 106-115. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.
González, R., Álvarez, B., Manzi, J., Varela, M., Frigolett, C., Livingstone, A., Louis, W., Carvacho, H., Castro, D., Cheyre, M., Cornejo, M., Jiménez-Moya, G., Rocha, C., Valdenegro, D. (2020). The role of family in the intergenerational transmission of collective action. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Published online 19/8/20 https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550620949378 .
Hornsey, M. J., Chapman, C. M., Mangan, H., La Macchia, S., & Gillespie, N. (2020). The moral disillusionment model of organizational transgressions: Ethical transgressions trigger more negative reactions from consumers when committed by nonprofits. Journal of Business Ethics. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-020-04492-7
Kahdim, N., Amiot, C., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Applying the Self-Determination Theory continuum to unhealthy eating: Consequences on well-being and behavioral frequency. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50(7), 381-393. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12667 .
Lantos, D., Lau, Y. H., Louis, W., & Molenberghs, P. (2020). The neural mechanisms of threat and reconciliation efforts between Muslims and Non-Muslims. Social Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2020.1754287
Louis, W. R., Thomas, E. F., McGarty, C., Lizzio-Wilson, M., Amiot, C., & Moghaddam, F. M. (2020). The volatility of collective action: Theoretical analysis and empirical data. Political Psychology. Published online 23 June 2020 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/pops.12671?af=R .
Minto, K., Masser, B. M., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Identifying non-physical intimate partner violence in relationships: the role of beliefs and schemas. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Published online 10/7/20. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520938505
Selvanathan, H. P., Lickel, B., & Dasgupta, N. (2020). An integrative framework on the impact of allies: How identity‐based needs influence intergroup solidarity and social movements. European Journal of Social Psychology. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.2697
Collective action is a key process through which people try to achieve social change (e.g., School Strike 4 Climate, Black Lives Matter) or to defend the status quo. Members of social movements use a range of conventional tactics (like petitions and rallies) and radical tactics (like blockades and violence) in pursuit of their goals. In this blog post, we’re writing to introduce DIME, which seeks to model activists’ divergence in tactics. The theoretical model is published in an article on “The volatility of collective action: Theoretical analysis and empirical data”, published online here in Advances in Political Psychology.
The model is named after a dime, which is a small ten cent coin in some Western currencies. In English the expressions to “stop on a dime” and “turn on a dime” both communicate an abrupt change of direction or speed. With the DIME model (Figure 1; adapted from Louis et al., 2020, p. 60), our goal was to consider the volatility of collective action, and to put forward the idea that failure diversifies social movements because the collective actors diverge onto distinct and mutually contradictory trajectories.
Specifically, the DIME model proposes that after success collective actors generally persist in the original tactics. After failure, however, some actors would Disidentify (losing commitment and ultimately leaving a group). Others would seek to Innovate, leading to trajectories away from the failing tactics that could include radicalisation and deradicalisation. And a third group might double down on their pre-existing attitudes and actions, showing Moralisation, greater moral urgency and conviction, and Energisation, a desire to ramp up the pace and intensity of the existing tactics.
We think these responses can all co-occur, but since they are to some extent contradictory (particularly disidentification and moralization/energization), the patterns are often masked within any one sample. They can be teased apart using person-centered analyses that look for groups of respondents with different associations among variables. Another approach could be comparing different types of participants (like people who are more and less committed to a cause) where based on past work we would expect that all three of the responses might emerge as distinct.
The disidentification trajectory – getting demotivated and dropping out – has been understudied in collective action, and for groups more broadly (but see Blackwood & Louis, 2012; Becker & Tausch, 2014). A major task for leaders and committed activists is to try to reduce the likelihood of others’ disidentification by creating narratives that sustain commitment to the group in the face of failure. Inexperienced activists, those with high expectations of efficacy, and those with lower levels of identification with the cause may all be more likely to follow a disidentification or exit path. Some that drop out, furthermore, may develop hostility towards the cause they left behind. A challenge for the movement therefore is to manage the bitterness and burnout of former members.
The moralization/energization path is likely to be the default path for those who were more committed to the group. In the face of obstacles, these group members will ramp up their commitment. But for how long? Attributions regarding the reason for the failure of the initial action are likely to influence the duration of persistence, we suspect: those with beliefs that the movement can grow and would be more effective if it grew may stay committed for a longer time, for example. In contrast, attributions that failures are due to decision-makers’ corruption or opponents’ intractability may lay the groundwork for taking an innovation pathway. A challenge for the leadership and movement is to understand the reasons for the movement failures as they occur, and to communicate accurate and motivating theories of change that sustain mobilisation.
Finally, the innovation path as we conceive it may lead from conventional to radical action (radicalisation), or from radical back to conventional (deradicalisation). It may also lead away from political action altogether, towards more internally focused solidarity and support for ingroup members, or towards movements of creative truth-telling and art. There may be individual difference factors that promote this pathway, but it is also a direction where leadership and contestation of the group’s norms would normally take place, as group members dispute whether the innovation is called for and what new forms of action the group should support.
The DIME model aims to answer the call to theorise about the volatility of collective action and the dynamic changes that so clearly occur. It also contributes to a growing body of work that is exploring the nature of radicalisation and deradicalisation. We look forward to engaging with other scholars who have a vision of work in this space.
- By Professor Winnifred Louis
Recently, some states in Australia have begun considering the implementation of a law criminalising coercive control. Similar laws were recently introduced in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. So what should you know about the criminalisation of coercive control?
1. What is coercive control?
Although the behaviours that constitute coercive control have long been recognised by researchers in domestic abuse, the term coercive control was first coined by Evan Stark in 2007. Coercive control covers a wide range of behaviours used to dominate and control the victim including:
2. Why do supporters want to criminalise coercive control?
Given the pervasive nature of these sorts of abuse, it is perhaps unsurprising that many would like to see these behaviours criminalised. As the law in Australia currently stands, many coercive control behaviours can be very difficult to prosecute. Because the system currently takes an episodic approach to domestic violence and abuse, and relies on an intent to cause harm, individual incidents need to be viewed as intentionally harmful criminal events in order for the court system to charge the offender. However, this approach has limitations.
Firstly, unlike most crimes (e.g., theft) domestic abuse is cumulative. This means that a seemingly minor individual incident might be harmful when experienced as part of a pattern of ongoing behaviours. Often it is the repeated victimisation that causes lasting harm. Additionally, some abusers may not intend to cause harm but simply believe that their victim’s behaviour needs to be altered. This belief does not however, negate the harm caused.
Secondly, there are cases where a victim of abuse may resist their abuser in a verbal or physical altercation. In these cases, the incident-based approach can lead to charges being brought against the victim. Supporters of the new law argue that criminalising coercive control would allow evidence from outside of the specific incident to be brought forward, potentially protecting victims against being miscategorised as perpetrators.
Recognising what is and is not abuse is often challenging and contested. New coercive control laws would help to send a clear message that these behaviours are abusive and therefore, unacceptable.
3. Why do detractors have concerns?
If criminalising coercive control has the potential to do so much good, why are some people against this proposed law? Those opposed to criminalising coercive control have several key concerns. However, opposition generally reflects concerns regarding the implementation and application of the law rather than the spirit in which it is intended.
Firstly, there needs to be a concrete way to inform victim/survivors of the existence of the coercive control law, and how it might be of use to them. There must also be education for law enforcement officers and first responders. Many are concerned that even if victims/survivors wish to use this law, if the offence is implemented without accompanying shifts in perspective from the first responders, law enforcement, and all others involved in the legal system, then outcomes will not change optimally for victim/survivors.
Further, without victim supportive attitudes from all those involved in the legal system, some worry that a coercive control offense will become another avenue for abusers to use the courts and the law to further their abuse. Legal cases can be a public platform for perpetrators to undermine and humiliate their victim, attacking their character, every decision they have made, and every aspect of their life. Additionally, trauma can impact memory and recall. Because of this, the person who presents the most coherent story may often be the abuser, someone typically practised in the art of manipulation. Some believe that this law runs the risk of being diverted to the prosecution of victims, particularly if the victim has resisted their abuser on several occasions.
Finally, it is important to note that the legal system is not right for everyone. Some victim/survivors may not feel that bringing a legal case against their abuser is worth the risk of possible retaliation, whilst others may simply not want to go through a court case where they will be forced to relive their trauma. It is essential that implementation of a coercive control law does not detract from other responses to abuse such as counselling programs for victims and perpetrators (whether they separate or remain together), housing assistance for victim/survivors, and support for survivors and their families to help them escape their abusers.
Criminalising coercive control has potential to be a step in the right direction. However, any attempts to implement such a law should be carefully considered, with every effort made that the implementation of criminalising coercive control benefits victims.
To learn more about coercive control, you can access resources here and here.
- By Kiara Minto
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that there is a crisis of confidence in the charity sector. In recent years a series of high-profile scandals have rocked the sector, including the Oxfam sexual exploitation scandal and the suicide of an elderly British donor Olive Cooke, who had received an estimated 3,000 charity appeals in the year before her death.
Scholars, practitioners, and the media have lamented falling trust in charities and worried about the ramifications for the nonprofit sector. Trust is known to be an essential ingredient for fundraising success. Drops in charity confidence could therefore threaten the survival of the sector as a whole.
My colleagues and I study charity scandals and trust in nonprofits. Through a series of experiments, we have demonstrated that scandals emerging within nonprofits have dire consequences for transgressing organizations. In fact, nonprofits lose trust and consumer support at faster rates after a scandal than commercial organizations do.
It’s clear that scandals damage trust in particular organizations. But do highly publicized scandals also damage trust in the sector as a whole?
To answer this question, we accessed global data collected as part of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Each year, Edelman survey people around the word and ask, among other things, how much they “trust NGOs in general to do what is right”. Edelman shared data from 294,176 people in 31 countries over a period of 9 consecutive years.
We analyzed these data in a way that had not been done before. Specifically, we looked at trust trends after taking into account individual differences (i.e., the fact that some kinds of people are more or less trusting) and country differences (i.e. the fact that some countries are generally more or less trusting and that different countries may show different trust trends over time).
Spoiler: There is no global crisis of trust in nonprofits
Our analysis shows no significant decrease in trust over time. In fact, once we accounted for individual and country differences, trust in NGOs has actually increased slightly around the globe between 2011 and 2019.
It’s true that some people and countries show different trends. For example, the increase in trust was sharper among men, people aged under 40 years, and people with higher education, income, and media consumption. Although some countries showed small increases and some showed small decreases in trust, none of these trends was substantial in size. In other words, there is no was no evidence that trust in NGOs has changed meaningfully in any of the 31 countries over the last decade.
So why do the public still trust nonprofits despite the scandals?
The short answer is we don’t know. The data allowed us to identify if trust was changing over time but not why.
We have some ideas about what might be going on though. Charities, generally speaking, have reputations for being moral. We suspect that this good reputation functions as a kind of “trust bank” that buffers charities from the effects of scandals. Perhaps over time the sector makes deposits in the community trust bank through their good works in society. When scandals emerge within individual organizations, this may draw down some of the community trust that has built up over time but have very little impact on reserves of trust in the overall sector.
What does this mean for nonprofit managers?
If the good deeds of charities cultivate trust banks from which they can safely draw on in times of crisis—an idea that has not yet been evidenced—then a key strategy will be to ensure all successes are communicated both to the supporter base and to the wider public. Nonprofit leaders should also encourage other organizations within the sector to do the same. When the nonprofit sector works together to highlight their good works, the entire sector may benefit in the future when unexpected scandals erupt within the community.
- Dr Cassandra Chapman
This article was reposted with permission from the NVSQ Blog.
Read the full article:
Chapman, C. M., Hornsey, M. J., & Gillespie, N. (2020). No global crisis of trust: A longitudinal and multinational examination of public trust in nonprofits. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. doi: 10.1177/0899764020962221
Which charity is most important to you? Why?
These are the questions we asked 1,849 people in 117 countries. We analysed their responses to note themes and trends. And we learned a lot about how identities influence charitable giving. Here are four key takeaways:
1. Self vs Other: people can be egoistic or altruistic
Some donors (45% of our sample) explained their giving in relation to their ‘self’, talking about their social identities (groups they belong to), values and beliefs, suffering they had experienced, or benefits they had received from the charity as motives for giving. Other donors (59%) explained their giving in relation to ‘others’, talking about the beneficiary’s identities, power, importance, or neediness.
2. Identities influence giving; but which ones?
People commonly named both their own identities and beneficiaries’ identities when explaining their charity preferences.
Content analyses of beneficiary identities revealed a strong preference for helping children, animals, and sick people. Other types of beneficiaries (e.g., the LGBTIQ community, ex-offenders) were rarely mentioned as the reason for preferring a charity. This suggests that some needy groups are more likely to be helped than others.
We were also able to create an inventory of the identities that donors say influence their giving choices. These were different from the identities that fundraisers may assume. The identities most commonly named by donors were based on family, geography, specific charity organisations, religion, friendship groups, and being a human. Charities may wish to make explicit connections with these kinds of identities in their fundraising appeals to help donors see a connection between the cause and one of these important identities.
3. Shared identities are powerful motives for giving
A significant minority of donors (around 8%) explicitly mentioned shared identities—the fact that they and the beneficiary both belonged to a group that was important to the donor. This suggests that charities that can highlight a shared identity between potential donors and the organisation’s beneficiaries will be more successful in their fundraising.
4. Motives depend on the beneficiary
By analysing the frequency of different motives across different types of charities, we found that donors’ motives are influenced by the beneficiaries in question. Donors were more likely to use self-oriented motives to explain their giving to medical research and religious charities. For these kinds of charities, fundraisers may wish to emphasise relevant identities, personal experiences, and benefits for the donor. On the other hand, donors were more likely to use other-oriented motives to explain giving to social welfare, animal, and international charities. For these kinds of charities, fundraisers may find more traditional empathy-based appeals to be most effective.
In sum, this study shows that donors have diverse motives for giving. In particular, both donor and beneficiary identities influence charity preferences. Charities must understand the identities that motivate donors to give to their particular cause or beneficiary, in order to write powerful and effective fundraising campaigns.
- Dr Cassandra Chapman
Read the full article:
Chapman, C. M., Masser, B. M., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Identity motives in charitable giving: Explanations for charity preferences from a global donor survey. Psychology & Marketing, 37(9), 1277-1291. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.2136 (or email Cassandra at email@example.com to request a copy of the article)
When someone helps us, gives us a gift, or wishes us well, saying “thanks” probably seems like an indisputably positive and appropriate response. In fact, research suggests that expressing gratitude has a variety of benefits. Beyond promoting positive social interactions, expressing thanks can increase people’s well-being, strengthen relationships, and lead the thankful person to focus on their benefactor’s needs and come up with ways to return the favor. These findings have led self-help authors to strongly encourage people to cultivate gratitude on a daily basis.
However, when we turn to the role that gratitude has played in the relations between social groups, the picture is different. For example, women who protested for their right to vote and Black people who fought for racial equity in the Civil Rights era in the United States were often accused of ingratitude. Today in Europe, refugees who engage in protests are called ungrateful, and immigrants who have gained citizenship are sometimes still expected to show gratitude to the nation who receives them. These examples illustrate that disadvantaged groups have faced explicit demands to express gratitude, especially when they tried to challenge injustice. In fact, insisting that disadvantaged groups show gratitude might have served as a way to calm down protest, ensure that the groups cooperate, or make disadvantaged people acknowledge appreciation for the benefits they received—even when those “benefits” were basic human rights.
Julia Becker and I wondered whether expressing gratitude to socially-advantaged group members does, in fact, reduce disadvantaged groups’ protests against injustice. We thought that, when someone who belongs to a socially disadvantaged group—such as a lesbian woman or a black man—expresses thanks toward someone who belongs to a socially advantaged group (such as a heterosexual woman or a white man), saying “thanks” might prevent them from confronting potential discriminatory behavior from the advantaged group member. In other words, expressions of thanks might “pacify” members of socially disadvantaged groups.
We tested this idea in a series of studies conducted in Germany and the United States. The participants in these studies were members of low-power groups in various contexts. For example, some participants were employees who interacted with a manager, some were students interacting with a professor, and some were women interacting with men. In all studies, we constructed the experimental situation so that the low-power participant was treated in an unfair or offensive way by the higher power person, for example, by making a disparaging remark. Later, the high-power group member provided some kind of benefit to the participant, for example, by giving the participants the reward that he had received for participating in the study.
In some studies, participants could decide whether to express gratitude to the high-power group member, while in other studies, they were either required to express gratitude or were not allowed to express gratitude. Next, we measured how much the participants were willing to protest or object to the high-power person’s unjust behavior or the extent they actually protested (for example, by complaining about the person or confronting them directly).
Overall, low-power participants who had expressed gratitude to the high-power group member protested less than participants who had not expressed thanks. Merely expressing gratitude to an unfair high-power group member reduced participants’ willingness to stand up for themselves.
Additional analyses suggested that this “pacifying” effect occurred because expressing gratitude led the participants to forgive the higher-power person. And because forgiveness can create the impression that justice has been restored, the participants may have felt less need to protest.
So, although expressing gratitude can lead to positive effects in situations where people have more-or-less equal power, our research suggests that expressing thanks can lead to harmful effects when people are not socially equal. The positive, other-oriented, and reciprocal nature of gratitude expressions can encourage disadvantaged group members to censor their objection or criticism of the injustice they experience.
How can this problem be avoided? One possible way for disadvantaged groups to avoid this pacifying effect may be to refrain from expressing gratitude in certain situations. Of course, this does not mean that disadvantaged group members should stop thanking people, because then they would be denied the benefits of expressing gratitude. However, our research suggests that, if you are a member of a socially disadvantaged group, you might want to be selective about who and when you thank.
In addition, by learning that it might sometimes be protective for disadvantaged group members to not express gratitude, advantaged group members could lower their expectations that they will be thanked (for example, when doing volunteer work). In that way, they can avoid frustration if they feel like they don’t receive as much gratitude as they think they deserve.
This research is only a first step in studying gratitude in situations that involve social inequality. The social norms that encourage members of disadvantaged groups to express gratitude in unfair situations certainly deserve more critical reflection, both by researchers and in our everyday lives as well.
- By Inna Ksenofontov
Inna Ksenofontov is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Osnabrueck and the University of Hagen in Germany. She studies how seemingly prosocial relations between social groups can solidify social hierarchies and how disadvantaged group members’ attitudes and behaviors might be involved in the maintenance of social inequality.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
Ksenofontov, I., & Becker, J. C. (2019). The Harmful Side of Thanks: Thankful Responses to High-Power Group Help Undermine Low-Power Groups’ Protest. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219879125
The Amazon is the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, home to roughly 10% of the world species. It’s also the world’s largest terrestrial carbon dioxide sink and plays a significant role in mitigating global warming. While forest fires in this region are frequent occurrences, and typically happen in dry seasons due to illegal slash-and-burn methods that are used to clear forest for agriculture, livestock, logging and mining, the 2019 wildfires season was particularly devastating. In 2019 alone, estimates suggest over 10 000 km2 of forest within the Amazon biome was lost to the fires with August fires reaching record levels. Destruction of the Amazon doesn’t just threaten increasingly endangered species and the local indigenous populations. As the amount of carbon stored in the Amazon is 70 times greater than the annual US output of greenhouse gases, releasing that amount of extra carbon into the atmosphere would undo everything society has been doing to reduce emissions.
Satellite image of forest fires burning in the Amazon (Image from Earth Observatory: NASA)
Deforestation of the Amazon fluctuates alongside the political landscape of Brazil. Between 1970 and 2005, almost one-fifth of the Brazilian Amazon was deforested. In the 2000s, President Lula da Silva implemented programs to control deforestation, which reduced deforestation by 80% by 2012. Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, scaling back the Amazon protections and regulations in hope of stimulating economic growth, which led to a 30% increase in deforestation over the previous year. The international community was understandably displeased; verbal condemnations were made and aid payments to Brazil were cut. However, for the poor populations living in and around the Amazon, it’s about survival. Clearing land gives an immediate economic benefit in the form of cattle ranching, even if it’s an inefficient place to farm cattle due to its distance from potential markets and poor soil quality.
If money is the driver of deforestation, perhaps money will offer the solution. The landholders in Brazil could be compensated to forego the profits from converting forests to cattle. There are precedents for such environmental programs, a notable example was China’s Grain for Green program in 1999 – the world’s biggest reforestation program – in which120 million households were paid what amounted to about $150 billion over a decade to protect existing forest or restore forest. In 1996, the Costa Rica government introduced the Payments for Environmental Service (PES) to pay landowners to protect or restore rainforest on their property. With a payment of $50 per hectare, it was enough to slow and reverse deforestation rates. By 2005, Costa Rica’s forest cover has increased by 42% from when the program began.
Brazil is also warming up to this idea. One such initiative is the “Adopt a Park” program, announced last month in Brazil, which will allow national and international funds, banks and companies to pay to preserve areas equivalent to 15% of Brazil’s portion of the Amazon – an area larger than Chile. However, for such programs to succeed and attract international support, the Brazilian government would need to demonstrate their ability to stop illegal loggers and wildcat miners from decimating the landscape.
There already exists an appetite for these conservation schemes among world leaders. Norway was willing to provide roughly $100 million per year over a decade to support a non-profit dedicated to reducing Amazon deforestation. In a debate with Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president expressed similar sentiment:
I would be right now organizing the hemisphere and the world to provide $20 billion for the Amazon, for Brazil no longer to burn the Amazon.
These cash-for-conservation schemes might seem like handouts, but it is high time the world’s biggest polluters pay their dues. The Western bloc is responsible for around half of the global historical emissions (the US – 25%, the EU – 22%). Those who will suffer the most acutely from the consequences of climate change are also the least responsible – the poorest of the poor and those living in island states: around 1 billion people in 100 countries. There is a significant ecological debt owed to low-income nations from industrialized first-world nations for the disproportionate emissions of greenhouse gases. Now that the impacts of climate change are unavoidable and worsening, investment in adaptation to rising temperatures and extreme weather is more important than ever. In the drive to better humankind and amass wealth for a few, we’ve wreaked havoc on the world’s environment and put the lives and livelihoods of many in jeopardy. Now it is time for those of us in the West to use our plenitude of wealth, knowledge and technology to help those in need, and to mitigate and prepare for the consequences of our actions.
- By Hannibal Thai
Most of us eat junk foods such as donuts, french fries, and soda. Consuming these types of food is associated with adverse health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. So, what motivates us to eat junk food?
The answer, of course, is that our reasons for eating any food vary. For example, we might sometimes eat a chocolate cake for pure pleasure. Yet, at other times we might eat it just to please our friend who is celebrating their birthday.
The many types of motivations for unhealthy eating
According to self-determination theory, our reasons or motivations for engaging in any behavior differ along a continuum. At one end of the continuum, we find the self-determined motivations, which refer to behaviors motivated by inherent pleasure (e.g., enjoying the taste), important values and lifestyle (e.g., a lifestyle of low physical activity) as well as personal goals (e.g., eating to help social connection). At the other end, we have the non-self-determined motivations indicating behaviors pursued because of an internal sense of pressure (e.g., eating comfort food to reduce stress), external pressures (e.g., pressure to eat birthday cake) or unclear and ambiguous reasons (e.g., no clear reason).
Our reasons for eating junk food change during the holidays
In our study, we examined these types of motivations in relation to eating unhealthy and junk food. Understanding these motivations for unhealthy eating is important, because when individuals feel self-determined to engage in a behavior, they are more likely to persist in it.
Since eating junk food is common and normalized during the Christmas holiday period, this time of the year was chosen for the study. Participants from the United States were followed across time and filled out our questionnaires one month before, during, and one month after the Christmas holidays.
Interestingly, we found that some types of motivations for unhealthy eating fluctuated over time, while others stayed stable. During the holiday period, individuals ate unhealthy food because they thought it was important, they wanted to avoid feeling guilty, and they felt pressured by other eating partners. They were also less confused about what motivates them to eat unhealthy food compared to before and after Christmas. So it seems like unhealthy eating was highly salient during the holiday season, and external pressures were playing a strong role. These results show that the social context in which we eat has a strong impact on our reasons for eating unhealthy food.
Unhealthy eating is more persistent when it is part of our habits
We also looked at how each type of motivation predicted the amount of unhealthy food individuals consumed. We found that four types of motivations (i.e., values and lifestyle, internal sense of pressure, external pressures and ambiguous reasons) were linked to higher levels of unhealthy food consumption. However, only important values and lifestyle consistent with junk food consumption predicted more unhealthy eating at all times (i.e., before, during and after the holiday period). So, although both self-determined and non-self-determined motivations are associated with eating more junk food, it is when unhealthy eating is part of a person’s important values and lifestyle, that junk food consumption is consistently higher.
How do we feel about our motivations for unhealthy eating?
These motivations refer to internal thoughts and feelings. So what’s their relationship with psychological well-being?
We found that when individuals ate unhealthy food because they found it personally relevant and necessary in a given context, they felt good psychologically. However, if they ate junk food for an unpleasant reason such as a pressure they put on themselves, or if they really couldn’t find a good reason for doing so, they experienced lower psychological well-being. That is consistent with the self-determination approach. But intriguingly, even when feeling that unhealthy eating was part of one’s habits and values increased junk food consumption, eating junk food for this reason was associated with lower well-being.
- By Nada Kadhim
Full reference: Kadhim, N., Amiot, C. E., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Applying the self‐determination theory continuum to unhealthy eating: Consequences on well‐being and behavioral frequency. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50, 381-393. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12667
Words always matter—so much so that they sometimes represent a battleground for competing interests and ideologies. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has become something of a cultural dividing line, like wearing a face mask or a MAGA hat. But why?
After all, it is difficult to argue with the proposition that “Black Lives Matter,” just as it is difficult to argue with the common rejoinder to it, “All Lives Matter.” The interpretations of these phrases become problematic, however, when they are taken out of context. We cannot determine what a speaker intends to convey with an utterance without considering the context in which the statement occurs.
This is something of a truism in the field of pragmatics—the branch of linguistics that deals with how people use language—and is a foundational principle in many pragmatic theories of meaning: The meaning a speaker intends to convey is often not clear-cut but must be inferred by the listener. Experts disagree regarding how we infer what other people mean from what they say, but almost no one questions that we regularly use contextual information to figure out what other people’s utterances mean.
The importance of context is particularly clear for understanding words such as “him” or “here” in which listeners must draw inferences about what the speaker means. To whom does ”him” refer? Where is “here?” More relevant, though, is how the meaning of an utterance can be entirely context dependent. Compare, for example, the likely meaning intended by a speaker who says “It’s hard to give a good presentation” in response to the question “What did you think of my presentation?” compared to the same utterance in response to the question “Don’t you think it’s hard to give a good presentation?” In the former context the utterance, “It’s hard to give a good presentation,” is a criticism; in the latter, it’s a confirmation.
So, what is the context for “Black Lives Matter” and the various rejoinders to it? The phrase seems to have originated in 2013 as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin a year earlier. The phrase was first used by a loosely organized, decentralized movement focused on protesting police violence against African Americans. The context of the phrase, and the intention behind its use, was to call attention to the police killing of African Americans, in effect, a reminder that black lives matter too.
Of course, “too” was not and is not part of the phrase. But it was clearly implied in the context in which the phrase initially occurred. In other words, in an alternative universe in which police killings of African Americans did not occur, uttering the phrase, “Blacks Lives Matter,” would be somewhat nonsensical, in effect, a non sequitur. But that’s not the universe we live in. And so in the context of our current world, the intended meaning of the phrase is something along the lines of “the lives of black people matter too, just as much as the lives of other people.”
Shortly after the phrase became popular, the rebuttals “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” began to circulate on social media. So how should “All Lives Matter” be interpreted? What is the intended meaning of this phrase? In isolation, “All Lives Matter” is a truism. Of course, all lives matter. But this phrase did not arise in isolation and was instead a direct response to the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” As a response to “Black Lives Matter,” the phrase functions as a corrective statement meaning something like “No, all lives matter.” But, the intention behind “Black Lives Matter” was not to say that only black lives matter, and so “All Lives Matter” is a response to an unintended meaning of that assertion. It is in this way that “All Lives Matter” is often an attempt to undermine or refute the intended meaning of “Black Lives Matter.”
The field of pragmatics teaches us that context is critical for understanding the meaning of an utterance, whether that utterance occurs in a face-to-face conversation or as a hashtag on social media. The battle of the “Black Lives Matter” phrase continues and can be seen in Vice-President Pence’s recent refusal to even say the words Black Lives Matter. Pragmatics provides us with a deeper understanding of what people are intending to communicate with their words and helps us to understand situations in which people argue about the meaning of what they say.
- By Thomas Holtgraves
Thomas Holtgraves is a professor of Psychological Science at Ball State University where he conducts research on various aspects of language use.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
Holtgraves, Thomas. (2001) Language as social action: Social psychology and language use. Erlbaum
Pinker, S. (2007). The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature . New York, NY: Viking
Peace and Conflict Researcher Spotlight From Online to Offline Peace: Exploring Digital Interventions in Postconflict Societies
In today’s digital era, it can be difficult sometimes to think of the internet as anything but a source of polarization and conflict. Social scientists have highlighted extensive issues with how online spaces enclose individuals in echo chambers and filter bubbles, distorting our perceptions of reality to fit our worldviews and those of our ingroups. Meanwhile, when encounters with those different from ourselves do take place, such interactions often end in heated incivility, belying the vision of greater interconnection social media had promised in its early days.
But findings in peace psychology and allied fields have suggested the importance of intergroup contact to bring about peaceful outcomes. In postconflict societies, past studies showed that dialogue between formerly opposed groups can help bring about reconciliation and reduced prejudice. Would it be possible, then, to utilize online spaces—with their vast, unprecedented capacity to bring people together unhindered by geographical boundaries—to facilitate the same positive impacts?
This Spring, the Peace Psychologist had the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Hema Preya Selvanathan, a recent PhD graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a current postdoctoral fellow at the University of Queensland. In her recently published work in Peace and Conflict, she tackles precisely such questions of how online spaces, instead of exacerbating societal tensions, might promote discourses of justice or harmony in former Yugoslavia. Past studies had shown that the two discourses do not necessarily co-occur; that is, justice does not always follow discourses of harmony in postconflict contexts.
Drawing on a 4-week field test on a website called Wedialog.net, Dr. Selvanathan and colleagues found that sustained contact between Bosniaks and Serbs resulted greater group identification and demands for justice, suggesting that hostility over past atrocities may have reduced as a result of the intervention. Exploratory analyses on the content of dialogue showed that over the 4-week period, participants expressed lower levels of anger and anxiety, as well as increased focus on the present over time.
Interdisciplinary in analysis and international in scope, this research was conducted with Dr. Bernhard Leidner also of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, software developer Ivan Ivanek of Wedialog.net based in California, and an international team of colleagues including Dr. Nebojša Petrovic and Dr. Jovana Bjekic of the University of Belgrade in Serbia, Nedim Prelic of the University of Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and computer scientist Dr. Johannes Krugel of the Technical University of Munich in Germany.
In the interview that follows, we discuss with Dr. Selvanathan some of the motivations and challenges she encountered for this project. Questions and responses have been slightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
PP: In the introduction to your paper, you note that "there are numerous calls for dialogue on contentious issues" of our time. While extensive research appears to concentrate on how digital spaces fuel polarization among groups, your work examines how an online platform can facilitate discourses of justice and harmony. What would you say led you to pursue this line of inquiry?
HS: I think a lot of research has shown both sides of the coin. On the one hand, online platforms can help promote solidarity and a sense of togetherness in confronting injustice and inequality (e.g., the role of social media in mobilising protests). On the other hand, it can also be echo chambers where we seek to engage with others who share our views, which can lead to radicalisation (e.g., how white nationalist extremism gain adherents online). So it was sort of an open question of whether an online platform that brought together two groups with a history of conflict, would promote positive intergroup outcomes or lead to negative ones.
PP: Unlike much of traditional psychological research which involves laboratory control or strict survey procedures, you and your colleagues conduct a field test in this paper. What novel challenges—and conversely, what benefits—do you think this approach conferred on your work?
HS: We faced several challenges. It was difficult to recruit participants for a project like this, since we were asking for quite a bit of time commitment on their end. Participants had to create and log in using an account on Wedialog.net (like you would do on a social media site) and we had no control over whether participants actually engaged in the dialogue during their free time. We also faced technical glitches and complications in terms of linking up participants online posts with their survey responses. To resolve this, we worked closely with our collaborator Ivan Ivanek, a software developer who created the Wedialog.net platform, and also worked with a computer scientist, Johannes Krugel, who helped us extract the data from the platform and convert it to a format that we could then analyse.
In terms of benefits, I believe that by conducting an intervention study, participants were very engaged in the study. They got a chance to voice how they feel about the conflict, the relations between groups, and their hopes for the future. We saw that the dialogue was quite personally meaningful to them and many provided rich content. This richness does not really come through with the traditional survey measures in the pre and post surveys. This is why we ended up doing exploratory analyses on the content of the dialogue using LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count) because we were hoping to capture that richness in some way.
PP: Another way this work valuably departs from the mainstream is by working with non-Western samples. In recent scholarship, psychologists have discussed the problem of how so much of psychology is based on WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) populations, whereas your work explicitly engages the contexts of postconflict societies in Bosnia and Serbia. How do you see this dynamic informing or complicating your research, and do you have thoughts on the WEIRD-ness of psychology more broadly?
HS: I think a lot of social psychological research is American-centric and this has limited the kind of research questions we ask, and the applications of our work more broadly. Since we focused on the post-conflict context of former Yugoslavia, it drove us to develop specific dialogue topics that tapped into the experiences of Bosniak and Serb communities. These topics and intervention itself may not be directly transferable or applicable to other post-conflict contexts, but we should always be aware of the constraints of our work. It appears as though when the samples are from the US, people rarely talk about or consider the constraints of their research. I think working with non-WEIRD samples makes you really aware how many unanswered questions there are and how inequality can be reproduced in the scientific enterprise (e.g., privileging certain regions/groups over others).
PP: How do you think the findings of your work will "inform future interventions in postconflict societies"? Is translational or action research something you are engaged or interested in?
HS: I think one concrete way we inform future interventions in post-conflict societies is by providing a pilot test of an online dialogue platform that others can use and adapt for their purposes. I know that Ivan Ivanek, the creator of Wedialog.net, has intentions of engaging multiple communities on the platform for a wide-scale intervention. Our study was just a first step towards making this a reality. Having Wedialog.net accessible to multiple users would require more collaboration and partnerships with practitioners and community organizations, and this takes a lot of time and leg work before it can take off.
I am very much interested in doing more translational and community-oriented research. However, getting direct access to communities is difficult, especially if you are not a member of the group. This project for example was only possible because of our collaborators in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
PP: Where do you see this particular project fitting in with your career as a psychologist? Would you say there are broader themes which animate and shape the way you formulate and engage research questions? Any dream projects you'd like to someday pursue?
HS: This project has helped me become a more internationally-engaged scholar. We got to work together as a team even though I have not met many of my collaborators in person. From this I learned so much about doing culturally sensitive research. I gravitate towards research questions and topics on justice and inequality, and I hope that my research will be able to contribute to social change. I think it would be a dream to be able to collaborate with an organization on the ground to do a larger-scale field intervention in conflict-ridden societies.
- Interview of Dr. Hema Selvanathan by Joshua Uyheng
Dr. Selvanathan and her colleagues’ work may be read online or in print in Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. Full bibliographic information is provided below.
Each issue of the Peace Psychologist presents a spotlight feature on recently published work in Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, the flagship journal of APA’s Division 48. This section aims to promote exciting peace psychological scholarship among the Division readership as well as bring to the surface the often lesser-known, human side to academic research in peace psychology. We are especially interested in highlighting the work of early career scholars. If you would like to volunteer your work or any other recently published article for a feature, kindly contact Joshua Uyheng <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Selvanathan, H. P., Leidner, B., Petrović, N., Prelić, N., Ivanek, I., Krugel, J., & Bjekić, J. (2019). Wedialog.Net: A quantitative field test of the effects of online intergroup dialogue in promoting justice- versus harmony-oriented outcomes in Bosnia and Serbia. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 25(4), 287–299. https://doi.org/10.1037/pac0000395
This article and interview was originally posted in The Peace Psychologist:
Uyheng, J. (2020, Summer). From online to offline peace: Exploring digital interventions in post-conflict societies. The Peace Psychologist. http://peacepsychology.org/the-peace-psychologist
We all know that domestic abuse exists, but do we all have the same idea of what domestic abuse is? In witnessing the same behaviours would we all make the same judgements? Probably not. But why does this matter? Whilst many people might like to think they would easily recognise abuse, the accuracy of this belief might depend on what behaviours they consider to be abusive, or perhaps more importantly, what behaviours they don’t consider to be abusive. When abusive behaviours first occur in a romantic relationship, they can be easy to miss. The earliest abusive behaviours are often subtle, controlling, and without physical violence.
Whilst some people might recognise non-physical abuse, others might only recognise physical abuse, whilst others still might require evidence of injury before identifying behaviour as abusive rather than just problematic. But why might people’s concepts of what abuse looks like vary? One possible explanation is that people have pre-existing beliefs about gender and relationships which colour the way in which they view interactions in relationships.
For example, if a person believes that jealousy is evidence of passion and love, and therefore a good sign in romantic relationships, controlling behaviours attributable to jealousy may be seen as consistent with a healthy relationship rather than indicative of abuse. Alternatively, if they endorse benevolently sexist ideals that men are dominant protectors and women are submissive, chaste, caregivers, they may view an unequal power dynamic with a male abuser and female victim as expected, rather than evidence of the man controlling and dis-empowering his female partner, and therefore be less supportive of victims.
In my research I wanted to explore the content of people’s schemas of abuse and the beliefs that might influence this content.
In our first study, we had participants describe a relationship with abuse. The vast majority of participants’ descriptions of abusive relationships included mentions of control and power imbalances. Although nearly half of participants mentioned physical abuse indicating that recognition of physical abuse was strongly linked to people’s ideas of what abuse looks like, the recognition of control and power imbalance seemed promising. Perhaps our participants did have an awareness that abuses comprises controlling non-physical behaviours that are vital to achieving power imbalances in abusive relationships.
But one point giving rise to concern was that most of our participants failed to describe specific abusive behaviours. Instead they used descriptive labels, that the relationship would be controlling, physically abusive, emotionally abusive, etc.. Consequently, we could not determine if participants had only an abstract awareness of the importance of control, or a more detailed understanding which would allow for the recognition of specific controlling non-physical behaviours.
In our second study, we wanted to test participants recognition of specific behaviours as abusive as it is behaviours that are witnessed, experienced and perpetrated. We also wanted to determine if identification of abuse was linked to participants’ agreement with traditional gender roles in which men are dominant protectors and women are submissive caregivers, their belief in traditional romantic values (e.g., that there is one true love and love conquers all), and the extent to which they view jealousy as good for romantic relationships.
Participants were presented with a list including non-abusive behaviours (A shows they care about B), non-physically abusive behaviours (A checks B’s texts and emails), and physically abusive behaviours (A pushes or shoves B). They were asked to rate whether these behaviours were definitely, maybe, or never abusive. Although participants’ endorsement of benevolently sexist traditional gender roles, traditional romantic beliefs, and jealousy were associated with viewing all behaviours as less abusive, the belief that jealousy is good was associated with reduced identification of non-physical forms of abuse in particular.
Collectively these findings suggest that challenging the belief that jealousy is good is crucial for early identification of abusive behaviours.
- By Kiara Minto
Minto, K., Masser, B. M., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Identifying Nonphysical Intimate Partner Violence in Relationships: The Role of Beliefs and Schemas. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 088626052093850. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520938505
From reduced air pollution to cleaner water, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a vision of hope: evidence that we are capable of rapidly changing our behaviours to build a cleaner, healthier environment. However, what is less clear is whether this vision can be translated into reality. To help investigate this question, the Network of Social Scientists convened an online workshop in late May. The group of around 30 academics and environmental professionals pooled their expertise to explore the effects of the pandemic on the environment. Through investigating the following three questions they identified a range of impacts and barriers to change, as well as techniques for sustaining positive outcomes as the lock downs ease.
What have been the environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A diverse range of positive and negative environmental effects were highlighted by NESS experts. Many enforced changes from the lock downs led to environmental benefits: more cycling, gardening and engagement in green spaces, a reduction in food waste and greater support for local businesses and food chains were all suggested. In the workplace, a remarkable transition to an online world challenged the dominance of in-person meetings and international travel, both reducing environmental impacts and increasing accessibility and connectivity.
Attitudes may have also changed. Trust in experts was enhanced by the centrality of health experts on daily news reports and other media. Some workshop participants believed more positive attitudes towards our ability to create change had emerged, which could flow onto increased mobilization against climate change. Our ability to collectively shoulder immense economic risks to safeguard our health proved that politics can produce results in times of crisis. Some argued that this has shown that the ‘behaviour change barrier’ can be broken.
However, as many social scientists noted, behavioral changes are likely to slide as we slowly return to past habits. As well as this concern, NESS experts highlighted the range of negative environmental impacts which were resulting from the pandemic. The drowning out of attention on bushfires and climate change, the continued practice of ‘ghost flights’, a surge in internet and energy use, and the quadrupling of medical waste indicated a high level of doubt about whether any longer term positive environmental benefits will be sustained.
What barriers may prevent our ability to sustain positive environmental effects?
The UN Secretary General António Guterres hoped that 2020 would be a pivotal year for addressing climate change. Yet despite the horror of the 2019/20 Australian bushfires, media and political attention swiftly re-focused on the pandemic. As the economic and social costs of the pandemic built, NESS experts noted how political barriers resisting change may once again reassert themselves. The renewed focus on development and jobs might serve as a reason or excuse to cut environmental funding, projects and regulations aiming to protect the environment as has happened in previous economic downturns. The prioritization of a gas led recovery indicates limited political support for a fast transition to clean energy. While calls for an Australian ‘green new deal’ are growing, countering the desire to strip back environmental regulation will require a sustained and powerful collective response.
As work and holidays returns to pre-pandemic habits, emissions and other negative environmental impacts resulting from commuting and travel may rapidly rise. Turning changed attitudes and behaviours into habits will likely be difficult. A 50% increase in household waste managed by Australian Councils were foreseen by NESS experts. Pivoting back to eco-friendly behaviours such as public transportation use will be likely be discouraged. The surge in use of public green spaces in wealthier nations could be offset by increased deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Global South as newly unemployed migrant workers return to villages to survive. The economic shock of a recession may reduce public support for implementing environmentally beneficial policies. There are myriad localized and personal barriers which may make sustaining environmental positive behaviours much harder to maintain.
What insights from social science can help leverage COVID-19 to achieve positive outcomes for the environment?
NESS experts suggested three techniques which could be used to overcome the barriers which will drive a return to ‘business as usual’ as our communities emerge from lock down.
First, there is evidence from past pandemics that highlighting the positive personal benefits of changed behaviours can spur lasting change. Past pandemics using this frame drove the development of more green spaces, enabling healthier urban environments alongside increased access to nature. Organisations seeking to advocate for permanent post-pandemic changes could seek to frame their messages referencing the personal benefits of clean air and quieter cities, the benefits to health and personal safety, and the financial and time savings to people and firms from reduced travel costs.
Second, NESS experts highlighted the value of capitalising on the momentum we have already built in achieving short term changes. Research on dynamic or change norms highlights that the mere knowledge that a growing number of others have been doing a certain behaviour will increase intentions to adopt that behaviour.
Third, NESS experts recommended the use of trusted messengers to communicate about environmental change. Celebrate local businesses cementing in more sustainable post-COVID-19 practices. Capitalize on the increased profile of health experts by amplifying messages from groups such as Doctors for the Environment. Work from within organisations to accelerate change and demonstrate the value of a cleaner and healthier world. COVID-19 has powerfully demonstrated the differences in the power of trusted leaders and voices to mobilise, compared to contested or outsider voices.
Already the environmental effects of the pandemic have begun to be documented through a range of academic papers and opinion pieces. Whether for good or ill, the pandemic has shown us that we do have the power to change the impact we have on the world. The challenge is now to build a new reality from this brief moment of hope.
The summary report from the workshop is available here.
- By Dr. Robyn Gulliver
This article was originally posted by NESSAUSTRALIA (Network of Environmental Social Scientists).
How can people become more environmentally sustainable? One theory that describes how human behaviour may be influenced is behavioural spillover. Spillover is the notion that doing one behaviour triggers adoption of other behaviours. It’s the idea that engaging in certain behaviours can put you on a ‘virtuous escalator’, where you keep doing more and more. Spillover has grabbed the attention of researchers and policy makers since it offers a cost-efficient, self-sustaining form of behaviour change that when understood properly could be harnessed for fostering the adoption of desirable behaviour. Spillover as a concept is intuitive, since it ‘makes sense’ that one behaviour may influence another. Yet spillover as a phenomenon is far more elusive than intuitive, since there are a growing number of studies with mixed findings about whether or not spillover occurs.
The important question within spillover research these days is “how can spillover be encouraged?” We were interested in one particular mechanism: self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that you are capable enough to be able to do a certain behaviour. We were interested in self-efficacy as a spillover mechanism since it is theorised to have a bi-directional relationship with behaviour. Self-efficacy is influenced by what you have done in the past and self-efficacy influences what you choose to do in the future (known as reciprocal determinism).
Across 2 studies with Australian participants, we explored whether self-efficacy may be a potential mechanism for fostering behavioural spillover.
In the first study, information was gathered on participants’ past engagement and intended engagement in 10 water-related behaviours (i.e., behaviours that influence water use, such as water conservation/efficiency and water quality protection behaviours). A pilot study showed that 6 of these behaviours were considered ‘easy’ to do and 4 were considered ‘difficult’ to do. We also measured participants’ sense of self-efficacy towards protecting water quality and conserving water (e.g., I feel confident I can engage in ways to protect water quality). We found that the easy behaviours people have done in the past were related to their sense of self-efficacy, and this greater sense of confidence was associated with increased intentions for more difficult behaviour in the future.
These findings were exciting, but two questions remained: 1) is self-efficacy a consistent spillover mechanism? E.g., can we find the effect again? And 2) can this effect lead to actual behaviour? To answers these questions, we used data collected over two occasions with Australian householders that reported whether they were participating in certain water-reducing behaviours and had installed water efficiency devices (e.g., water tank, water efficient washer).
Similar to the findings of Study 1, we found that the more water reduction behaviours (i.e., easy behaviours) householders had adopted, the greater their self-efficacy, and the greater their intentions for installing water efficiency devices (i.e., difficult behaviours), in turn, the more of these water efficient devices were actually installed. In lay peoples’ terms, we found that the easy things people had been doing fed into their self-efficacy, which increased their intentions and actual adoption of more difficult behaviour. Ultimately these findings demonstrate support for the idea that self-efficacy may be a mechanism that encourages spillover.
These two studies demonstrate associations between past behaviour, self-efficacy, and intended and actual future behaviour, shedding some light on a potential mechanism of spillover. Further testing in real-world settings is needed to understand if self-efficacy can be harnessed and used to inspire adoption of more impactful behaviour. What these findings do suggest is that “from little things, big things grow”! The things we do, even if they are easy and simple, help us to gain the confidence to take on more difficult behaviours in the future.
- By Nita Lauren
Lauren, N., Fielding, K. S., Smith, L., & Louis, W. R. (2016). You did, so you can and you will: Self-efficacy as a mediator of spillover from easy to more difficult pro-environmental behaviour. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 48, 191-199. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.10.004
The coronavirus restrictions are slowly being eased but the pressures on families at home still probably lead to many tears of frustration.
It could be tensions about noise and clutter, keeping up with home schooling and mums and dads torn between parenting and their own work duties.
So to make sure our memories of being locked in with our families are as positive as possible, here are some evidence-based tips for calming down, preventing conflict and dealing with any sibling rivalry.
Take a deep breath
If you feel yourself getting angry at something, breathe in while counting to three. Then breathe out slowly counting to six (or any patterns with a slower out breath). If you do this ten times you should notice yourself becoming calmer.
If you’re too agitated to breathe slowly, put your hands on your heart and simply wait until you feel more relaxed. Try counting to ten or 100 before you react.
Leave the room and take a break. Plan to deal with the niggle another time. When you’re on break, do something to distract yourself like make a drink, listen to music, look at a beautiful picture or play a video game that is absorbing.
Call a friend or professional helpline to help you get another perspective, especially if you feel scared or hurt.
Different strategies work for different people, so try them all. Encourage your kids to keep trying if they don’t initially succeed. You need to practise any skill to make it feel natural. For younger children, taking a break may be simpler to master.
Ease the tension before things blow
It’s good to calm down from explosions but it’s even better if you can reduce the build-up in the first place.
Take time to share some of the problems upsetting people and see if as family you can negotiate a solution.
It’s likely everyone in your family is more tense because of the COVID-19 crisis. Many aspects can’t be easily fixed, like lost work or money stress, but others can, such as creating new routines or sharing space, resources or chores.
Work out different ways to get exercise indoors, like games or apps. Plan ahead for the times that need extra care, like when people are tired, or if difficult tasks need finishing. Let others know what to expect.
And importantly, lower expectations for everyone. What used to be easy might now be hard, and that’s okay.
Control the emotions
Help everyone work on managing their emotions. Just because you are experiencing extra distress doesn’t mean you should snap at your loved ones.
You need to grow your toolkit of things that make you feel calmer and happier when you’re under pressure.
It could be spending time talking about what is going right and what is okay, working with your hands, meditation or prayer, time with your partner, reading or learning something new.
Every day, take time do something from your toolkit to chill out.
Talk to each other
When the tension is lower, quiet family conversations can help by naming any stresses. Naming things like “this is a stressful time” or “I’m a bit grumpy about work today” helps children process emotions.
It’s important to actively listen to others and celebrate strengths.
Listening and repeating back what others say makes people feel heard, and so does acknowledging shared feelings (“I miss my friends too”). When parents calmly talk about how some things cannot be easily changed, it builds acceptance.
Over time, the most powerful thing to prevent explosions is to notice when anger is building so you can deal with it before things escalate.
It’s useful to reflect on questions such as “Will this matter in 20 years?” and “Am I taking this too personally?”
You can help children by exploring what might really be bothering them. That argument about a toy might be about feeling sad. Try to listen for the deeper message, so they feel understood.
Calm that sibling rivalry
If sibling rivalry is driving you to distraction, the good news is it does not mean there is something wrong. Low-level sibling bickering is common during times of tension and boredom.
But you should step in when the volume goes up with nasty name-calling or physical contact.
Acknowledge emotions, help the kids express what they feel and encourage empathy. Try to help them decide what’s fair, instead of imposing your view.
More serious incidents require you to stop the interaction. If there is harm, separate the kids, care for the hurt child and consider a consequence. Use time-outs to calm things down, not for punishment.
But like all conflict, prevention is better than punishment. Does one child need more attention, exercise, stimulation or structure? Do certain toys need to be put away, or shared?
Depending on the age of your children, you can help older kids to learn to react gently to provocation. Praise children when they take steps to manage their stress.
Remember, these are stressful times for many families around the world. If we can use this time to stay patient, manage tension and act with goodwill towards our loved ones, our families will be better equipped to weather COVID-19, and many other storms that will follow.
For more help and information see our website or go to 1800Respect and No To Violence.
- By Winnifred Louis, Tori Cooke, Tom Denson, and Peter Streker
Tori Cooke is the Head of Workforce Development at No To Violence.
Tom Denson is a Professor in Psychology at the University of New South Wales who researches anger regulation and aggressive behaviour.
Peter Streker is the Director of Community Stars.
This article was written with help from Carmel O'Brien at PsychRespect, and the University of Queensland’s students Ruby Green and Kiara Minto.
This post was originally published in The Conversation.
Facing COVID-19, communities are trying to strike the balance between locking each other out and keeping each other safe. As government experts and political commentators examine the art of public health messaging for effective behaviour change, lessons could and should be drawn from the most devastating health emergency in recent times: the 2013-2016 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in western Africa. EVD had an incredibly high death rate (50%) and broke out in countries with severely under-resourced healthcare and little public health access. During the EVD epidemic, communities faced similar challenges as with COVID-19, though with even more deadly consequences.
Multiagency reports show that early in 2014, EVD public health messaging was understood, but failed to motivate meaningful behavioural change. For example:
Why comprehension may not result in action
During an emergency, the individual’s ability to shape what is happening to them is severely reduced. This loss of control leads to a perceived reduction in personal efficacy (an inability to produce desired effects and forestall undesired effects by their actions), leaving individuals with little motivation to act. Social psychological researcher Bandura argues that due to an increasingly interdependent world, people will turn to their communities to accomplish what they cannot individually. Perceived collective efficacy will subsequently determine how confident or discouraged they are to tackle bigger societal problems.
In countries with strong emergency infrastructure, however, individuals may turn to state proxies instead of the collective. They may call an ambulance, fire services, or police to assist them in overcoming a challenge they cannot, rather than a neighbour. The proxy replaces the collective. Therefore, it may be argued that collective action during an emergency is made redundant by the state-led initiative. If this were the case with COVID-19, epidemiologists speaking from a government platform via the national broadcaster should command public compliance. Yet, in many cases they do not.
Similar patterns were also borne out during the EVD epidemic. Studies confirm that the disconnect between individual comprehension of public health messaging and meaningful behavioural change, was due to a failure of national and international responders to address community practices. That is, national and international leadership overlooked potential collective solutions at the community level, with fatal consequences for those communities.
In the latter part of 2014 community health workers and local journalists intervened. To confront EVD, these groups translated public health messaging through a community lens, directly addressing rumours and misinformation. Within six months of community interventions, humanitarian agencies reported significant improvements in prevention measures; over 95% of EVD patients presented to health facilities within 24 hours of experiencing symptoms. Emergency response organisations were able to leverage understanding of local explanatory models, history of previous emergencies, beliefs, practices, and politics through community health workers. Contact tracing and education campaigns were undertaken by local volunteers. Together with religious authorities, new burial practices were enacted.
Especially in countries with developed health systems, the COVID-19 response has largely overlooked community responses. The focus on unified top-down policy is important, but the efficacy may be limited as during EVD. Collective efficacy is key to mobilise to save lives and keep each other safe.
- By Siobhán McEvoy & Laura K Taylor
Laura K. Taylor (PhD) is an Assistant Professor, School of Psychology, University College Dublin (Ireland) and Queen's University Belfast (Northern Ireland). Her research integrates peace studies with developmental and social psychology to study how to promote constructive intergroup relations and peacebuilding among children and youth in divided societies.
Siobhan McEvoy is a humanitarian consultant specialising in social mobilisation and community engagement with people displaced due to conflict. Her work has included tackling misinformation during migration of refugees in southern Europe, understanding the use of Rohingya language in responding to health emergencies in refugee camps in Bangladesh and creating strategy for community mobilisation in South Sudan to prevent the spread of Ebola virus disease.
Problems within our global and interconnected food systems can result in outbreaks of infectious disease spread by bacteria, viruses, or parasites from non-human animals to humans. This is also known as zoonosis. The swine flu pandemic of 2009, for example, was caused by a hybrid human/pig/bird flu virus that originated from dense factory farms where pigs and poultry were raised in extremely cramped conditions together. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacteria that results in more deaths in the US than HIV/AIDS, also has strong causal link to factory pig farms.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current COVID19 pandemic, may have developed in bats and later pangolins. Both species are regularly hunted for food and medicinal purposes and are sold in wet markets. Wet markets, where live animals comingle in unsanitary conditions provide the perfect environment for diseases to migrate between animals and people. Zoonosis is just one of the many threats posed by the expansion of our food system to global public health.
Globally, 72% of poultry, and 55% of pork production come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms. For example, chicken CAFOs can hold up over 125,000 chickens. The close quarters and high population inside CAFOs allow the sharing of pathogens between animals with weakened immune systems. Thus, diseases spread rapidly.
To safeguard their stock, CAFOs inject low doses of antibiotics into feed. This is intended to lower chances of infection, and conserve the energy animals expend to fight off bacteria in order to promote growth. This method is not without problems; antibiotics are usually administered to whole herds of animals in feed or water, which makes it impossible to ensure that every single animal receives a sufficient dose of the drug. Additionally, farms rarely use diagnostic tests to check whether they are using the right kind of antibiotic. Thus, every time an antibiotic is administered, there is a chance that bacteria develop resistance to it. Resistant bacteria can then pass from animals to humans via the food chain, or be washed into rivers and lakes. Also, bacteria can interact in the farm or in the environment, exchanging genetic information, thus increasing the pool of bacteria that is resistant to once-powerful antibiotics. Due to global trade of meat and animal products, these resistant bacteria can spread rapidly across the globe.
A study sampling chicken, beef, turkey, and pork meat from 200 US supermarkets found 20% of samples contained Salmonella, with 84% of those resistant to at least one antibiotic. Another study tested 136 beef, poultry and pork samples from 36 US supermarkets and found that 25% tested positive for resistant bacteria MRSA. Fortunately, in both cases these bacteria can be eliminated with thorough cooking. Nevertheless, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S annually, resulting in more than 35 000 deaths.
While antibiotic resistance has been a known issue for some time, policy responses have been mixed. The European Union has prohibited the use of antibiotics to promote growth in animals since 2016. Other parts of the world have been more lax, with nearly 80% of all the antibiotics dispensed in the US fed to livestock, and only 20% on humans. Here at home in Australia, we have one of the most conservative approaches, ranked the 5th lowest for antibiotic use in agriculture among the 29 countries examined.
The factory farm system is a modern answer to a modern problem -the rapid rise in global population and demand for meat. While the economies of scale allow factory farms to be more cost-efficient and more competitive in a very crowded market, these come at the expense of every other living thing involved. Further, as our demand for meat is projected to continue rising, so will the issues associated with factory farms: environmental damage from toxic waste pollution, poor animal welfare, the exacerbation of climate change, and poor working conditions. Last year, US Senator Cory Booker unveiled the US Farm System Reform Act of 2019. One proposal from the Bill is to shut down large industrial animal operations like CAFOs. While the Bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate and White House, it signifies the growing public awareness of the wide-ranging problems associated with our food systems.
Reducing our meat consumption also comes with personal health benefits, and reduces animal suffering, in addition to reducing the demand for factory farming and the associated health risks. That is not to say a change in dietary habit is without its barriers. Factors such as socio-economic status, access to food, and existing health problems will prevent many from drastically reducing their meat consumption. At the end of the day, our best is all we can do, but as more of us begin taking steps, however small, towards changing our diets, we will make a difference.
- By Hannibal Thai
*Special thanks to Ruby Green for her assistance in the writing of this post.
Perhaps there is no worse way of welcoming the new decade of 2020 than the fear and loss caused by the rapid spread of COVID-19. Despite its relatively lower lethality rates (3.4% as of March 3, 2020) compared to previous similar pandemics, such as MERS (34%) and SARS (9.6%), as quickly and widely as the coronavirus has spread across the world, so too has the fear, anxiety, and worries about the virus. Lockdown procedure first took effect in Wuhan, the site where the infection was first identified, followed by Italy, and now countries around the world are enforcing varied levels of lockdown restrictions. After the lockdown in Italy and other places, photos and videos quickly circulated through social media, describing the miserable conditions of cities in lockdown. Some were left traumatised, while some others prepared in case a similar lockdown procedure was enforced by authorities in their country.
Australia is no exception, experiencing the virus and the accompanying social media terror. It took only 64 days since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Australia to record almost 4000 patients on 29th March 2020. Given the rapid escalation of the virus, people immediately began stockpiling items considered essential for survival including: canned foods, cooking oils, diapers, tissues and toilet paper.
Tragedy of the Commons
There is a classical notion called Tragedy of the Commons that perfectly describes the social dilemma experienced in our situation. William Lloyd was the first person to define this issue in 1833 to refer to a situation when shared resources that will be available should individuals use as according to their needs, become less available because people behave contrary to the common good of all users. Such a situation creates a vicious cycle: fear of scarcity encourages people to buy in a large quantity, and by monopolising or stockpiling certain resources, “panic buying” creates a scarcity of various goods that had previously existed only in the imagination of those panic buying. Even when individuals know that under optimal conditions the system can work to deliver the products, once a norm of stockpiling is established, it becomes a rational choice not to let oneself be the one left without critical resources.
The collective buying not only affects the quantity of goods, but can also trigger aggressive behaviour as the resources become scarce.
Why does scarcity stir up aggressiveness?
Scarcity logically occurs when demand outweighs supply, which results in shortages, ignites competition for these resources, and increases their perceived value. Scarcity of the things that people consider essential is a perfect atmosphere for an instrumental aggressive behavior (behaviors intended to harm or injure another person as a means to obtain the resources) to occur.
In performing aggressive action, individuals instinctively evaluate the cost and benefits of their action. In this case, hostile behavior is only performed if and when the fear caused by the absence of the resources outweighs the risk associated with fighting. One factor that is critical is whether there are social norms (rules or standards for behaviour) that regulate the aggression. Humans are more complex than basic survival instincts, and values and identities also contribute in determining individuals’ actions. In this sense, people whose values condemn violence and favor humanity, or whose groups have norms of sharing and cooperation, may never consider aggression as an option regardless of their perceived need for the resource in question.
How to avoid the emergence of aggressive behaviour in a crisis?
In the case of stockpiling happening around us today, aggression is activated by competition for resources that are believed to be scarce. Competition often arises from worries of not being able to survive. These worries can influence us to think of others as a threat, thus providing another reason to behave aggressively. A second, more powerful reason is then created when social media and media magnify the images of aggressive behavior, creating a perceived norm of aggression that is at odds with the reality of every-day cooperation and politeness.
In response to this, I believe trust is the answer, and regaining people’s trust is our main homework. Trusting that suppliers are implementing their best strategies to ensure sustainability and fair distribution of stocks is important, but most importantly, trusting that people around us are just like us, humans with full dignity and values. Highlighting our shared identities is often the bedrock of that trust: focusing on our common faith, nationality, or humanity invokes our common agenda to come together to support each other in difficult times. As soon as we show trust and respect the system by following the advice from the authorised parties, and following what the majority of people do instead of the minority, we could show the world who we actually are: a united human species whose survival is determined by shared dignities, values, and respect more than by violence.
May 2020 be best remembered not by the chaos and fear caused by the COVID-19, but by the true values that defines us as humans, whose compassion, and not aggression, is what maintains our existence.
- By Eunike Mutiara
If you have gone through diversity and inclusion training at your workplace, watched discussions on TV about inequality or disparity of any kind, or come across articles on these issues on your timeline on social media, chances are, you have come across the word “privilege”. Privilege has been researched and written about extensively, with the focus primarily being on perceptions of privilege and separately, on socio-economic and health outcomes associated with certain social groups being privileged compared to others. However, there’s been relatively little research on understanding how it affects all of us psychologically.
What is social privilege?
In the academic literature, there is wide consensus that privilege encompasses 5 core components:
Types of privilege
Privilege was first studied in the race and gender contexts - male privilege or White privilege being the most commonly studied and cited instances. But we now know from extensive social, health, and economic research, that there are many types of social privilege. For example:
It is important to note too, that these types of privileges do not stand alone. One form may exist in conjunction with other forms of privilege (e.g. a White man who is from an upper socio-economic background, who is also able-bodied).
How does social privilege affect us all psychologically?
very far now”).
b) Distancing oneself from the privileged group (“White privilege is a thing, but I grew up really poor
and had more in common with struggling immigrants”).
However, people from socially privileged groups are also known to engage in this third strategy that is positive in nature.
c) Dismantling strategies (“Heteronormative privilege makes people of diverse genders and
sexualities feel marginal, which is why we need to support anti-discrimination laws and marriage
If reckoning with social privilege is associated with all these negative psychological experiences, why bother dealing with it? Can’t we just focus on working towards a better future for all of us?
Difficult as it is to deal with the social privileges we have accrued, it has a range of important social and relational benefits! There is strong research evidence showing that for those of us who push through the discomfort of acknowledging our social privilege and the illegitimacy of it, especially in contexts where inequality and disadvantage are being discussed, we are more likely to accurately perceive instances of discrimination and disparity and forge meaningful and supportive relationships with diverse people who may not come from socially privileged groups. Further, acknowledging our privilege goes a long way in being perceived as trustworthy and supportive on issues of inequality. So it appears, that as with most things in life, effectively confronting the consequences of social privilege, requires sitting through the unpleasantness of it not avoidance of the issue.
- By Tulsi Achia
Every day most of us reap the benefits of collective action undertaken in the past by others. Momentous upheavals play out over centuries as the rights of some and duties of others change in tempo with changing norms and laws.
We have seen this play out through history as legal slavery is abolished, disability rights are protected, and demands for Indigenous sovereignty grow. These changes ebb and flow at the macro level, the viewpoint we use to understand changes in society at large.
But how do we know what the actual forces of social change are? We must understand the meso-level dynamics of groups, communities and institutions, or investigate even deeper into the micro-level influences on social change fueled by individuals and their activities.
Delving into this micro world of activism is how I spent the first year of my PhD.
New technologies have enabled digital humanities researchers to gather large empirical databases to investigate the characteristics of social change at the group and individual level. I used these technologies to capture what environmental movement groups and their members are doing, where they are doing it, and what they are achieving.
Our findings have been published in two journal articles. Our first paper published in Environmental Communication - The Characteristics, Activities and Goals of Environmental Organizations Engaged in Advocacy Within the Australian Environmental Movement - uses data captured through a content analysis of 497 websites to show how active environmental advocates are. With over 900 campaigns and thousands of online and offline events, they have been busy advocating for environmental care for more than a hundred years. Furthermore, most of their efforts are not radical, with activists predominantly working as volunteers in our local communities with the aim to increase awareness and understanding about more pro-environmental behaviors.
But activity is one thing; outcomes are another. We wanted to know whether this activity is successfully effecting change.
To investigate, we went back to the micro level to ascertain the outcomes of climate change campaigns. The causes of climate change are intractable, diffuse, and woven into the fabric of our social, political and economic systems. So how do activist groups try to stop climate change, and is any one way more successful than the others?
Our findings were published in the paper ‘Understanding the outcomes of climate change campaigns in the Australian environmental movement’ in the journal Case Studies in the Environment.
We identified the target and goal of 58 campaigns specifically focusing on climate change and tracked their outcomes over a 2-year period. Some of these campaigns aimed to stop new coal mines. Some of them wanted government to enact new climate policies. Our data showed that almost half of these campaigns either fully or partially achieved their goal. For example, coal mines were delayed, and climate policy was enacted.
In particular, 63% of campaigns asking individuals, businesses and health and education providers to reduce their climate impact were either partially or fully successful. In total 49% of all campaigns achieved full or partial success.
These campaigns each only focus on one small piece of the solution to climate change and we cannot be sure how much campaign activities directly influence outcomes. Yet our research using real-world data shows that these environmental groups are connected to, and likely playing a crucial role in driving meaningful change which will help protect the environment. These activities constitute the incremental successes and failures which together drive social change.
- By Robyn Gulliver
Consider this troubling fact: an analysis of blogs that focus on denying climate change found that 80% of those blogs got their information from a single primary source. Worse, this source—a single individual who claims to be a “polar bear expert”—is no expert at all; they possess no formal qualifications and have conducted no research on polar bears.
No matter what side of the debate you are on, this should concern you. Arguments built on false premises don’t help anyone, regardless of their beliefs or political leanings. But does this sort of widespread misinformation—involving the mere repetition of information across many sources—actually affect people's beliefs?
To find out, we asked research participants to read news articles about topics that involved different governmental policies. In one experiment, participants read an article claiming that Japan’s economy would not improve, as well as one or more articles claiming the economy would improve. Unbeknownst to our participants, they were divided into three groups. The first group read four articles claiming the economy was going to improve—and importantly, each of these articles cited a different source. The second group read the same four articles, except in this case, all of the articles cited the same source (just like the climate-change-denying blogs all cite the same “expert”). And to establish a point of comparison for the other groups, the third group of participants read just one article claiming the economy would continue to improve.
You might expect that when information is corroborated by multiple independent sources, it is much more likely to sway people’s opinions. If this is the case, then people who read four articles that each cited a unique source should be very certain that Japan’s economy will continue to improve. Furthermore, if people pay attention to the original sources of the information they read, then those who read four articles that all cited exactly the same source should be less certain (because that information was repeated but not corroborated). And, finally, people who read only one article claiming Japan’s economy will improve should be the least certain.
Indeed, people were much more likely to believe that Japan’s economy would improve when they heard it from four unique sources than when they read only one article. But, surprisingly, people who read four articles all citing the same source were just as confident in their conclusions. Our participants seemed to pay attention only to the number of times the information was repeated without considering where the information came from. Why?
Perhaps people assume that when one person is cited repeatedly, that person is the one, true expert on that topic. But, in a follow-up study, we asked other participants exactly this question: all else equal, would you rather hear from five independent sources or one single source? Unsurprisingly, most believed that more sources were better. But here's the shocking part: when those same participants then completed the task described above, they still believed the repeated information that all came from the same source just as much as independently sourced information—even for those who had just said they would prefer multiple independent sources.
These results show that as we form opinions, we are influenced by the number of times we hear information repeated. Even when many claims can be traced back to a single source, we do not treat these claims as if we had heard them only once; we act as if multiple people had come to the same conclusion independently. This “illusion of consensus” presumably applies to virtually all the information that we encounter, including debates about major societal issues like gun control, vaccination, and climate change. We need to be aware of how simple biases like these affect our beliefs and behavior so that we can be better community members, make informed voting decisions, and fully participate in debates over the public good.
We wanted to finish this article with a fun fact concerning the massive amount of information that people are exposed to each day. So, we asked Google: "How much information do we take in daily?", and we got a lot of answers. Try it for yourself. You'll see source after source that says you consume about 34 gigabytes of information each day. You may not know exactly how much 34 gigabytes is, but it sure sounds like a lot, and several sources told you so.
What's the problem? All of these sources circle back to a single primary source. And, despite our best efforts, we weren't able to find an original source that was able to back-up these claims at all. If we weren't careful, it would have been easy to step away believing something that might not be true—and only because that information was repeated several times.
So, next time you hear a rumor or watch the news, think about it. Take one moment and ask, simply, "Where is this information coming from?"
- By Sami Yousif, Rosie Aboody, and Frank Keil
Sami Yousif is a graduate student at Yale University. His research primarily focuses on how we see, make sense of, and navigate the space around us. In his spare time, he also studies how we (metaphorically) navigate a world of overabundant information.
Rosie Aboody is a graduate student at Yale University. She studies how we learn from others. Specifically, she’s interested in how children and adults decide what others know, who to learn from, and what to believe.
Frank Keil is a professor of psychology at Yale University and the director of the Cognition and Development lab. At the most general level, he is interested in how we come to make sense of the world around us.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading:
Yousif, S. R., Aboody, R., & Keil, F. C. (2019). The illusion of consensus: a failure to distinguish between true and false consensus. Psychological Science, 30, 1195-1204.
“Women are inferior to men.” “Men and women are constantly battling for power.” “Women are trying to take men’s power away.” Although sexist beliefs such as these are probably less prevalent today than in the past, they are still surprisingly prevalent, even in egalitarian societies.
Researchers have fittingly dubbed such beliefs “hostile sexism”—which involves beliefs that women seek to take power away from men. A great deal of research now shows that hostile sexism is different than “benevolent sexism”—which involves the belief that women are wonderful but fragile and should be put on a pedestal by men. Although both forms of sexism can lead to discrimination against women, research shows that hostile sexism is more likely to influence overt aggression toward women in power, such as hostile derogation of female leaders, politicians, and feminists.
But hostile sexism is not directed only toward female leaders, female politicians, or feminists. The everyday damage of hostile sexism may be even more pervasive in romantic heterosexual relationships. After all, we interact with our romantic partners more than anyone else. Indeed, the more men agree with hostile sexist beliefs, the more they exhibit verbal and physical aggression toward their wives and girlfriends.
Why do attitudes about men’s and women’s power affect intimate relationships? Think about your own present (or past) intimate relationship. You probably depend on your partner more than anyone else for support, closeness, and intimacy, which makes romantic relationships rewarding and fulfilling. But this high level of dependence on your partner also challenges the power and control you have in your life. What your partner does affects you, and you them, and this dependence inevitably means your (and your partner’s) power is limited.
Men who hold hostile sexist attitudes find this challenge to their power in romantic relationships particularly threatening. In recent research, my colleagues I and tested whether these concerns about losing power would mean that men who hold hostile sexist beliefs think they lack power in their relationships. Across four studies, involving almost 300 couples, and more than 500 individuals from the United States and New Zealand, we found that men who score high in hostile sexism think they have less power than less sexist men think they do in their romantic relationships. Moreover, these perceptions were biased in the sense that men who held greater hostile sexist beliefs underestimated the power they had over their partners compared to how much power their partners reported the men actually had. So if Jack is high in hostile sexism, he is likely to believe that Jill has more power over him than Jill reports she has.
Our results suggest that men who more strongly endorse hostile sexism are more sensitive and vigilant about threats to power. This general sensitivity seems to lead men to underestimate the power they have in their own intimate relationships with women. This is important because when people think they lack power, they often behave in aggressive ways to try to restore their sense of power and control. Accordingly, across our studies, men scoring higher in hostile sexism perceived they lacked power in their relationships, which in turn predicted aggression toward their partners. This showed up on several measures of aggression—including derogatory comments, threats, and yelling at a partner during a conflict and both partners’ ratings of aggressive behaviors, such as being hurtful and critical, in their daily lives. It even applied when people recalled how aggressive they acted towards their partner over the last year.
Furthermore, perceiving a lack of power—and not simply desiring to be dominant over women—explained the link between hostile sexism and relationship aggression. This is important because people often assume that sexist men feel powerful and are aggressive to maintain dominance. However, in intimate relationships, neither partner can hold all the power. Power is always shared, and both partners depend on each other. Men who are worried about losing power—that is, those who endorse hostile sexism—should find it particularly hard to navigate the power constraints in intimate relationships.
Social scientists and the public often think about how sexism affects women in politics or the workplace. But hostile attitudes towards women are most routinely expressed in everyday interactions in close relationships. This research shows that sexist attitudes impact our intimate relationships, influence how we perceive our intimate relationships, and affect how we treat our partners.
The aggression associated with men’s hostile sexism is obviously harmful to women, and combatting this aggression to protect women’s health and well-being is important. But this pattern of perception and behavior is also damaging for men. Being involved in relationships in which men think they lack power and behave aggressively in a bid to gain power will inevitably undermine men’s well-being as well. To cite just one example, research in health psychology suggests that experiencing chronic hostility or anger is bad for people’s cardiac health.
The damage that aggression causes to intimate relationships might also reinforce hostile sexism by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Men who endorse hostile sexism are concerned about losing power, which promotes aggression, which then undermines women’s relationship satisfaction and commitment. The more women are dissatisfied, the more likely they are to withdraw from the relationship, express negative feelings, become less committed, and so on. These effects will not only threaten men’s power further but may also reinforce hostile attitudes that depict women as untrustworthy. This potentially damaging cycle highlights another reason why examining the impact of sexist attitudes within relationships is so important.
- By Emily Cross
Emily J. Cross is a postdoctoral fellow at York University in Toronto, Canada, where she studies how sexism functions in romantic heterosexual relationships. The current research was conducted with colleagues at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
Cross, E. J., Overall, N. C., Low, R. S. T., & McNulty, J. K. (2019). An interdependence account of sexism and power: Men’s hostile sexism, biased perceptions of low power, and relationship aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(2), 338-363. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000167
Davidson, K. W., & Mostofsky, E. (2010). Anger expression and risk of coronary heart disease: Evidence from the Nova Scotia Health Survey. American heart journal, 159(2), 199–206. doi:10.1016/j.ahj.2009.11.007
I want to start by acknowledging our group’s successes
In 2019, the lab saw Tracy Schultz and Cassandra Chapman awarded their PhD theses (whoohoo!). Tracy Schultz is working grimly but heroically in the Queensland department of the environment and Cassandra Chapman spent a year as a post doc in UQ’s Business School before securing a continuing T&R position there. Well done to both! It was also great fun welcoming Morgana Lizzio-Wilson as a post doc off our collective action grant (and hopefully continuing to work on the voluntary assisted dying grant in 2020): Morgana brought lots of vital energy to the lab, and I’m very grateful.
2019 also saw many other students working through their other milestones, including Hannibal, Liberty and Robin who were successfully confirmed (huzzah!), and Gi, Zahra, Kiara, Susilo, and Robyn who pushed through mid-candidature reviews and are coming up to thesis reviews. I also welcomed a new PhD student, Eunike Mutiara, who is working with Annie Pohlman in the School of Languages and Cultures at UQ on a project in genocide studies (I am an Associate Advisor). We had big health drama, with me and Tulsi both spending a lot of time away from work due to health concerns. Here’s hoping 2020 is healthy, happy and productive for us and for the group!
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteers and visitors for the social change lab in 2019, including Claudia Zuniga, Vladimir Bojarskich, Hema Selvanathan, Jo Brown, Tarli Young, Sam Popple, Michaels White, Dare, and Thai, Elena Gessau-Kaiser, Lea Hartwich, and Eleanor Glenn. Thank you everyone! And here’s hoping that 2020 is equally fun and social!
Other news of 2019 engagement and impact
With our normal collective plethora of conference presentations and journal articles (see our publications page for the latter), I continued to have great fun this year with engagement.
In the environment space, I gave a few talks to universities but also state environment departments and groups such as the WWF (World Wildlife Fund). The talks argue that environmental scholars, leaders and advocates need to develop an understanding of the group processes underpinning polarisation and stalemates, because this is the new frontier of obstacles that we are facing. I reckon many established tactics of advocacy don’t actually work as desired to create a more sustainable world. We need to focus on those that avoid polarisation and stalemates, and instead grow the centre and empower conservative environmentalists. We should use evidence about effective persuasion in conflict to try to improve the outcomes of our advocacy and activism. As the year turns and the bush fires burn, as the feedback loops become more grimly clear in the oceans, ice caps, and rain forest, and as the global outlook looks worse and worse, I feel there is more appetite for new approaches among those environmental scientists, policy makers, and activists who are not drowning in despair and fury. J To mitigate despair and fury, I draw attention to new work by Robyn Gulliver coming out re what activists are doing and what successes they are obtaining. I also see a continued and increasing need for climate grief and anxiety work and I draw attention to the excellent Australian Psychological Society resources on this topic.
Looking at radicalisation and extremism: thanks to the networks from our conference at UQ last year on Trajectories of Radicalisation and Deradicalisation, I was invited to a groovy conference on online radicalisation at Flinders organised by Claire Smith and others. I reconnected with many scholars there, plus meeting heaps more at the conference and at the DSTO (the defence research group) in Adelaide. I am looking forward to connecting more widely - the interdisciplinary, mixed-methods engagement is exhilarating. It was also excellent at the conference to see the strong representation from Indonesian scholars like Hamdi Muluk, Mirra Milla and their colleagues and students. There is a lot to learn from their experience and wisdom, and I am excited to visit Indonesia this year.
Also on extremism, as part of my sabbatical, I visited the conflict centre at Bielefeld led by Andreas Zwick, with Arin Ayanian and others. It was truly impressive to see their interdisciplinary international assembly of conflict and radicalisation researchers, including refugee scholars sharing their expertise. I wish there were more of a consistent practice of translating the German-language output though eh. (Is it crazy to imagine a crude google translate version posted on ResearchGate, or at a uni page?) J I also visited Harvey Whitehouse’s group at Oxford, and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to give a talk at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion and to meet some of his brilliant students and post docs. And at St Andrews, Ken Mavor and Steve Reicher put together a gripping one day symposium on collective action: it is exciting to see the new Scottish networks that are coming together on this topic.
On the sabbatical so far, I also visited Joanne Smith at Exeter, Linda Steg and Martijn van Zomeren at Groningen, Catherine Amiot at UQAM, Richard Lalonde at York, Jorida Cila and Becky Choma at Ryerson, and earlier Steve Wright and Michael Schmidt at Simon Fraser. It is very fun to spend time with these folks and their students and colleagues, and I look forward to my 2020 trips, which are listed below. Just so people know, right now as well as trying to publish the work from the DIME grant on collective action (cough cough), I am trying to work up new lines of work on norms (of course!), (in)effective advocacy and intergroup persuasion, and religion and the environment. I welcome new riffing and contacts on any of these.
In other news, our lab has continued to work to take up open science practices in 2019 and to grapple with the sad reality – not new, but newly salient! – that sooo many hypotheses are disconfirmed and so many findings fail to replicate. We are seeking further consistency in pre-registration, online data sharing, transparency re analyses, and commitment to open access. Looking at articles, though, it still seems extremely rare to see acknowledgement of null findings and unexpected findings permitted, and I think this is still the great target for reviewers and editors to work on in order to propel us forward as a field.
Socialchangelab.net in 2020
Within the lab, Kiara Minto has been carrying the baton passed on by Cassandra Chapman, who started the blog and website in 2018, and Zahra Mirnajafi, who also worked on it in 2019. Thank you to Kiara and Zahra for all your great work last year with our inhouse writers, our guest bloggers, and the site!
I also am still active for work on Twitter, and I hope that you will follow @WlouisUQ and @socialchangelab if you are on Twitter yourself. In the meantime, we welcome each new reader of the blogs and the lab with enthusiasm, and hope to see the trend continue in 2020.
What the new year holds
In 2020, for face to face networking, if all goes well, I’ll be at SASP in April in Auckland, and at SPSSI in June in the USA. Please email me if you’d like to meet up. I’ll also be travelling extensively on the sabbatical – to Chile, Indonesia, New Zealand, and within Australia to Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. I hope people will contact me for meetings and talks if interested.
Due to the sabbatical until July, I won’t be taking on new PhD students or honours students this year, but welcome expressions of interest for volunteer RAs and visitors from July onward. I’m not sure that I have as much energy as normal, what with all the travel and health dramas, but I am focusing almost exclusively on writing, talks and fun riffing until the sabbatical ends in few months, so let’s not let the time go to waste. J In Semester 2 2020, I’ll be teaching Attitudes and Social Cognition, a great third year social psychology elective, so I’m looking forward to that too.
All the best from our team,
In Australia, with the recent failed appeal of Cardinal Pell, the problem of child sex abuse in institutions has again been thrust into the media spotlight. Surprisingly, many continue to stand by Pell. Several prominent figures including former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard publicly supported Pell. In addition, even after the failed appeal, many members of the Catholic Church have continued to argue for Pell’s innocence and the Catholic Church has refused to remove a plaque of Cardinal Pell from St Mary’s Church in Sydney despite protests. This begs the question of how can Pell’s supporters persist in believing in his innocence despite his conviction and failed appeal?
My research into institutional responses to child sexual abuse may provide some insight into the question of why some continue to support Pell. We are all members of various groups and some of these groups are more important to us than others. Our group memberships can influence and bias how we respond to allegations of wrongdoing against other members of our groups. In the instance of Cardinal Pell who is one of the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church, membership in the Catholic Church may influence people’s judgements of the allegations against him and even his conviction.
A theory called the “black sheep effect” suggests that when a person engages in wrongdoing, they will be judged most harshly by members of their own group in order to reject them and their behaviour and protect the reputation of the group. However, this effect is typically found in cases where the guilt is certain. In the case of Cardinal Pell, with some of the evidence withheld from the public, and as Pell maintains his innocence, the guilt cannot truly be considered certain. My research suggests that when there is any uncertainty in the guilt of the alleged offender, we are likely to see the opposite of the “the black sheep effect”. Specifically, Catholics are more likely to be protective of the accused and sceptical of the accuser. This is in line with efforts of the Catholic league to invalidate the allegations against Pell by maligning the character of the accusers.
According to my research findings, the desire to protect Pell and the scepticism of his accusers would be particularly strong amongst those who identify strongly as Catholic, regardless of the quality of the evidence available. As a public figure, and staunch Catholic Tony Abbott may be particularly motivated to maintain Pell’s innocence and disbelieve allegations of child sex abuse as accepting Pell’s guilt would reflect negatively on himself and his religion. Similarly, although John Howard is not a Catholic, he is a Christian and has been personally acquainted with Cardinal Pell for several decades.
Whilst it is likely that many supporters of Pell are unwilling to consider the possibility of his guilt due to subconscious biases motivating their judgements, it is also important to note that when speaking to leaders of the Catholic church, Justice Peter McClellan (head of Australia’s royal commission into child sex abuse) found that some argued that child sex abuse was a moral failure rather than a criminal act. Consequently, accepted allegations were often met with an inadequate response and the offender remained in the ministry.
Recommendations for the future
Given what we now know about child sex abuse in institutions, it’s clear that there has been a systematic failure for decades. My research suggests that allegations would be best dealt with by those not invested in the group of the accused. This is backed up by the recommendations of the royal commission; that those intending to enter the ministry should be subject to external psychological testing and should be removed from the ministry permanently if an allegation of sexual abuse is substantiated. Essentially, organisations should not be solely responsible for policing themselves.
If you have experienced abuse within the Church or elsewhere, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or one of the other help services recommended by the Royal commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
- By Kiara Minto
Protest is a common approach to the pursuit of societal change and a legal and protected procedure under the democratic system. Mobilising people to come together and express their opinion on social issues can, in some cases, push the government to create new policies. It can also attract the broader public to become engaged with particular movements (e.g., animal rights, marriage equality, clean and transparent political processes, etc.).
However, some protests, especially when they involve a huge number of people are seen as a threat to public order. In many countries (e.g., Egypt, Hong Kong, Turkey, Ukraine, and Indonesia), this perceived threat to public order became the justification for handling public protest with a repressive strategy in the hope that people would withdraw their involvement in the protest. Repression is not only about the physical violence, but also the narratives produced by the government against protestors. For example, this September saw massive student protests in Indonesia, against a new act allegedly weakening the Independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). In response to these protests, a repressive approach was employed by the police and authorities, not only against the protestors, but also the ministry of higher education, research, and technology, intimidating university leaders for letting their students join the protest.
Despite being used by several governments, social psychology studies have revealed that repressive approaches in handling public protests are not always effective. Instead of stopping the protest by activating feelings of fear, repressive or even violent strategies employed by the authorities can drive the action to become more sustainable and garner increased participation and support for the movement.
When is repression is not effective?
The repressive approach exploits the power to intimidate, press, threaten or even injure. Authorities may take this approach to deal with protest actions, especially when the protest is focused on responding to political issues and perceived to threaten the interests of the political elites.
Evidence shows that repressive narratives or violence conducted by the authorities can increase perceived risks in a protest’s participation. Other than that, repression can also lead to the feeling of fear and being oppressed.
According to the authority’s perspective, the fear is expected to reduce or even stop the intention to participate in the following protests. Indeed, fear can be a deterrent to protesters, and violence and imprisonment can drive them off the street. However, repressive acts from the authorities are also able to strengthen the participants’ engagement with the action. Violence and repression can undermine the perceived legitimacy of the state, not just in the eyes of protestors, but in the broader community. In addition, the shared experience as victims of oppression can grow the sense of familial ties amongst protestors, as shared anxiety or fear can bring people together and strengthen the bonds of protestors. To put it simply, the previous ties that might be based on the same demands or interests are replaced by a form of kinship ties, adding a new emotional intensity to previous perceptions of solidarity.
This sense of fusion or family ties creates a feeling of agency for the group, manifested in a strong tendency from every individual within the group to do something more significant on behalf of the group.The participants will be more motivated to protect their own, even risking their own life to become a shield for their fellow protestors.
In the more extreme context, when the kinship bond is built amongst the protestors, and the real threats appear from the authority (e.g., police), then the tendency to make a counterattack will rise and the protest might develop into a riot. The riot is caused not just by protestors’ escalation of tactics, but by the mutual radicalisation of the police and security forces, who may cease to see the crowds as citizens worthy of protection.
This pattern can be observed in the protest events in Hong Kong. Following the repressive approaches from the police, the protestors’ solidarity seems to be even greater. The individuals who do not know each other personally, through their participation in repressed protests, even become sau zuk (Cantonese term to express a very strong tie, etymologically means ‘hand and feet’) with each other. It also appears that the broader relationship between the community and the state has become more polarised and oppositional.
In conclusion, activists’ efforts to create an expected social change are of course part of long-term processes. People mobilisating to raise public awareness or to encourage authorities to create more favorable policies often experience a backlash from the government, in the form of stigmatisation or even violence. In many cases, especially in a less democratic country, this repressive approach is employed out of a desire to stabilise the situation. However, an important point to consider is that this approach is often not effective. Instead of stopping their actions, the protestors experiencing collective fear and anxiety may strengthen their feelings of kinship ties and escalate their action’s intensity; the police and state actors may radicalise away from the protection of citizens to commit human rights abuses; and the broader community may come to feel the state itself is less legitimate as an authority. These are not trivial risks for a government to run.
- By Susilo Wibisono
Activists, Insiders, Scholars, Teachers, and Constituents: The Multiple Ways to Be an Effective Change Agent
When reflecting on what social change and social movements look like, images of activists protesting and engaging in other acts of civil resistance likely spring to mind for most people. However, this isn’t the only way to be a change agent. There are a myriad of ways that people can aide social change without engaging in ‘traditional’ forms of activism. In fact, we can only maximise the impact and potency of social movements if we diversify our tactics and have people ‘fighting the good fight’ in different ways. Below, I outline five common change agent roles and their effectiveness in different domains of the social change process to highlight the varied and equally valuable ways we can all contribute.
The term activist can generally be understood as a person participating in collective action to further a cause or issue. Here, I focus on people who operate outside of formal systems or institutions to call public attention to injustice and agitate for social change using conventional and, in some cases, more radical tactics (e.g. Extinction Rebellion protesters blocking off bridges and main roads). When conducted appropriately, these actions can increase public support and discussion of the social issue. However, these approaches can also reinforce stereotypes that activists are ‘extreme’ which, in turn, may deter collective action participation among observers.
Although activists can advocate for change outside the system, oftentimes social change messages are better received from ‘insiders’ or people who belong to the same groups or institutions that activists are trying to influence. As criticisms are trusted more when coming from ingroup members, insiders can make social change messages more palatable to the target group and may, in some cases, be able to communicate activists’ messages and concerns in terms that the ingroup can understand and be swayed by.
The Scholar’s role is twofold: to conduct rigorous and ethical research about social issues (e.g. the prevalence and impact of discrimination, the existence of anthropogenic climate change); and share this knowledge to inform public understanding of and discussions about these issues. Scholars can be academics at universities, members of research organisations (e.g. OurWatch), or, in some cases, organisations that share data about the prevalence and impact of social problems (e.g. Children by Choice publishing reports about the prevalence of Domestic Violence among their clients seeking terminations). Scholars’ ability to uniquely access and share this information can help to inform the general public’s understanding of social problems, fight misinformation, convince relevant stakeholders about the importance of an issue, and proffer evidence-based solutions. Indeed, social justice research can be used to successfully challenge and dismantle institutional prejudice and foster transformative social change by informing public policy and interventions.
An oft-overlooked role in social change is that of the teacher: a person who can foster civic engagement through formal education (e.g. primary, secondary, and/or tertiary education) or informal education (e.g. service-learning opportunities). Formal, classroom based educational interventions promote engagement with political issues and voting, while service-learning increases interest and participation in community-based action. Further, educational interventions can also be used to reduce prejudice toward disadvantaged groups. Thus, taking an active role in shaping people’s understanding of politics and social issues can positively influence their attitudes and political participation.
Constituents, or the general public, are often the numerical majority in social movements. They can include people who are sympathetic to but not committed to participating in actions for social change, or people who disagree with and resist social change messages. Unsurprisingly, constituents can greatly sway the progress of social movements, in that the attitudes and values they choose to adopt or reject influence the outcomes of state and federal elections, the types of laws and policies that governments and industries support, and broader norms in society. Thus, constituents have the power to elect leaders who support social change, call out unfair treatment and subvert anti-egalitarian norms, and support organisations and brands that make ethical choices (e.g. cruelty free cosmetics). Perhaps most importantly, other changes agents must make a considered effort to ensure that constituents have the information and support they need to make informed decisions and use their civic, relational, and economic powers effectively.
Although the number and nature of these roles will likely vary between movements and socio-political contexts, they represent the diverse yet equally important forms of change agent work that can enhance the impact and effectiveness of social movements. The question now is: what role(s) do you play? How can you harness your unique skills and forms of influence to aid social change? Regardless of your answer, remember that just because you haven’t attended a protest or blocked oncoming traffic doesn’t mean that you aren’t a change agent.
- By Morgana Lizzio-Wilson
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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