How do legislators use science? It’s not an easy question for scientists to answer. Many are hard pressed to identify even one concrete example of an evidence-based legislative action. So, we sat down with policymakers to ask them the same question. What we heard will surprise those who are pessimistic that science is used at all in policymaking. We now can identify several ways that research flows, much like a river, through the policy landscape.
First, we reached out to 123 state legislators in Indiana and Wisconsin. These legislators then nominated an additional 32 colleagues who they felt were exemplary research users. We also supplemented our sample with 13 key policy players (such as governors, heads of lobbying firms, former legislators). Confidence in our findings can be inspired by the high response rates in the hard-to-access population of policymakers (60%, 84%, and 100% respectively).
When Research is a Hard Sell
We learned there are policies and people and places that can frustrate and facilitate research use. First, regarding policies, research was less likely to hold sway on polarized moral issues, such as reproductive rights. Research was generally less influential on issues driven by ideology, such as beliefs about whether government is the problem or the solution. There was little room for research on issues driven by passion, such as tragic personal stories. As one Republican relayed, “If a bill is named after somebody . . . like Sarah’s Bill, then you know research is screwed.”
Where Research Can Have an Impact
Policymakers turned to research more frequently on emerging issues such as opioid use, concussions, and rural Internet availability. Research also was more likely to influence issues where policymakers did not have established positions or where consensus had been reached, such as with the need for criminal justice reform. Research also appeared to flow more freely on the “million . . . technical issues . . . that’s really the majority of the [legislature’s] work.” One Republican, who worked on property tax assessment and land annexation, said technical issues don’t get a lot of media attention but still comprise about 80% of the policy agenda:
“There’s no quote ‘Republican or Democratic’ theory about them and there’s no big contributor to your campaign who cares. . . It’s just like you’re stripping it down to the essence of good government. . . I think you have . . . much more ability to govern in sort of an evidence-based way.”
Who Seeks Science
However, research use varies by people. Some legislators told us they rely on intuition or gut instinct, whereas others factor in research. As an example, legislators face hundreds of bills each session, which makes it literally impossible to read and study each one. So, legislators specialize and develop expertise on a particular issue. They become known as the “go-to” legislator, whom colleagues turn to for advice on what positions to take. To attain and maintain a reputation as an issue expert, they often use in-depth research. Also, members of the minority party more often turn to research evidence; the “minority party has to win more of its arguments based upon facts” because it lacks access to other levers of power.
Right Place, Right Time
Timing also mattered. Research more often is used early on in the policy process when the issue is still a work in progress and policymakers have not yet staked out a position. Where the research was introduced also mattered. The most expertise on specific issues lies in committees, where bills are developed before hitting the floor.
Regardless of the time or place, research is used in a political sphere where decisions are reached through negotiation. So, for policy purposes, the utility of research depends not only on its credibility to allies, but also to adversaries. Policymakers screen the credibility of research less by the methods and more by the source, particularly the source’s reputation as reliable and nonpartisan. Despite its value, policymakers believe that nonpartisan research is difficult to find.
To understand research use in policymaking, we must think like a river. Policy issues infused with morality, ideology, or passion flow through narrow, nonnegotiable routes that restrict research use. However, research can navigate the policy landscape on issues that are new, technical, or open to consensus. Research use is facilitated when it enters through the port of a committee and frustrated when it enters downstream where it hits the rapids of unrelenting time pressures. To guide next steps, policymakers provided practical advice to those interested in communicating research to them. Legislators also identified multiple ways that research contributes to their effectiveness as policymakers and to the policy process. See the works listed below for more about these recommendations.
- By Karen Bogenschneider & Bret N. Bogenschneider
Karen Bogenschneider is a Rothermel-Bascom professor emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her expertise is the study, teaching, and practice of evidence-based family policy. She is known for her work on the Family Impact Seminars, and is co-author of a forthcoming second edition of Evidence Based Policymaking: Envisioning a New Era of Theory, Research, and Practice.
Bret N. Bogenschneider is an assistant professor of business law in the Luter School of Business at Christopher Newport University. His expertise is in tax law and policy, and he is author of the recently released How America was Tricked on Tax Policy.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
Bogenschneider, K., & Bogenschneider, B. N. (2020). Empirical evidence from state legislators: How, when, and who uses research. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 26(4) 413-424. https://doi.org/10.1037/law0000232
Bogenschneider, K., Day, E., & Parrott, E. (2019). Revisiting theory on research use: Turning to policymakers for fresh insights. American Psychologist, 74(7), 778–793. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000460
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).
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.
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.
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,
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
Disruptive protests gain media attention. For many people, this media attention might be the first time they learn of a particular social or environmental movement.
This tactic and resulting media coverage often prompt predictable responses from the public and officials. Why, some ask, are protestors blocking roads instead of standing on the pavement educating people? Why protest if they don’t have a solution?
But herein lurks a pervasive misconception of what activism actually is. Acts of civil disobedience enable awareness of a movement to bubble to the surface of daily life because they are newsworthy. However, this media attention can mask the years of relentless campaigning which builds the scaffolding to sustain these moments of shock. This scaffold is the groundwork done by the foot soldiers of a movement. Work done day after day, year after year, labouring at the often unseen toil that is the bread and butter of activism: recruiting volunteers, educating people and creating solutions.
These tactics aren’t newsworthy. And sometimes to activists, they may feel like failure, creating the justification for the emergence of radical action. Does that mean that this toil was futile? Or, as argued by Extinction Rebellion, that tactics are now only just beginning?
Coordinated acts of civil disobedience do not emerge spontaneously from an empty well.
Take the American civil rights movement. Yes, Rosa Park’s determination to hold her bus seat created an iconic moment which helped galvanise the movement towards its goals. However, Rosa Parks was a long-term activist who, for decades, fought relentlessly against school segregation, wrongful convictions of black men, and anti-voter registration practices. Many other people had, in fact, held bus seats before her. She was one of thousands, many of whom, like her, were on the verge of exhaustion after perceiving that their years of activism had produced little change.
We could look at any moment of newsworthy radical action and find parallels. Take the Salt March, an iconic moment of disobedience is now inextricably linked to the success of the Indian Independence movement. Organised as a defiant act against British rule in India, it was however, just one of the many tactics used in the 90 long years of struggle.
Here in Australia, recent acts of civil disobedience for climate change action have emerged from a rich and vibrant foundation of environmentalism. Thousands of groups have been running thousands of campaigns across an array of issues. Activists have engaged in radical action against mining, logging and other destructive environmental practices for many years, using a diverse range of tactics for their cause. What were these tactics? Building groups, training volunteers, handing out flyers, organising workshops, visiting politicians, contacting polluting companies, developing policy frameworks.
These tactics can successfully generate change. Almost half of the campaigns focussed on climate change achieved their goals, without the use of civil disobedience.
As social change researchers we look to understand the potential of tactics to generate change. But when we research activism, it is important to look beyond the headlines.
Civil disobedience is not where ‘tactics begin’. As a movement works to raise awareness, create sympathy, motivate intentions to act, and ensure implementation, civil disobedience may instead be the end of the beginning.
- By Robin Gulliver
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), one-third of women globally have experienced some form of domestic abuse at some point in their lives. Domestic violence has become a global epidemic, and it’s not just a problem for women. Men too can be victims of domestic abuse.
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to combating domestic violence is that a significant majority of the victims are afraid to speak out — with less than 40 percent of survivors seeking help of any kind. Domestic violence can take many forms but at its core, it’s all about power and control.
Tech abuse, a new breed of domestic abuse enabled by technology, is on the rise as exhibited by the increase of news stories and articles focusing on how abusers use technology to coerce and control their victims. However, while technology can be used by abusers to violate, exploit, monitor, coerce, threaten, and harass their victims, it can also be a helpful resource for survivors of domestic violence.
Technology has the potential to be a double-edged sword for those experiencing domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence can use tech solutions to protect themselves from tech-facilitated domestic abuse. In this article, we’ll look at how technology can be used to facilitate abuse and how survivors of domestic violence can leverage it to regain control of their lives. Read on to find out more.
Five Examples of Tech-Enabled Domestic Violence
Let’s start with examples of how technology can be used to facilitate domestic abuse. It is not surprising that technology now plays a major part in domestic violence given the ubiquity of digital communications. Some of the most common instances of tech-facilitated domestic abuse include:
The act of harassment, tracking, and monitoring through technological devices can heighten the victim’s sense of isolation and imprisonment in the relationship. Even after the relationship has ended, technology-enabled domestic violence can make a victim feel as though the abuser is omnipresent in his or her life. So, what can survivors of tech-enabled domestic violence do to regain control over their lives?
Five Ways to Regain Control From Tech-Enabled Domestic Violence
1. Ensure That There Are No Bugs in Your Device
Often, abusers install surveillance apps and spyware onto their victims’ devices (smartphones and computers) so that they can track their whereabouts and know what they are up to at all times. If you are in suspicion that someone has installed tracking software or spyware on your device, restore factory settings to get rid of it.
2. Sweep for GPS Trackers in Your Car
If you are not a car expert, it may be hard to detect any physical modifications to your car. Hire a professional (a mechanic, for instance) to sweep for bugs and GPS trackers in your vehicle.
3. Encrypt Your Communications
Always use encrypted communication platforms when possible. A majority of messaging apps such as Viber, Telegram, and WhatsApp have encryption features that make it impossible for stalkers and abusers to access your messages even if they take control of your phone.
4. Secure Your Online Accounts
This includes your email, online banking, and social media accounts. Perpetrators of domestic violence often use social media to stalk their victims. Use two-factor authentication to prevent the intrusion of your online accounts.
5. Secure Your Bank Account
As stated earlier in the article, domestic violence is all about exerting tyrannical power and control over others. When an abuser takes control of your finances, it's easy for them to keep you under their control. That’s why survivors of domestic violence should strive to secure their bank accounts and maintain financial independence.
Domestic violence is a global epidemic affecting millions of people in different parts of the world. Domestic violence ruins lives and, in some cases, it takes them. Today’s technology gives abusers a myriad of ways to stalk, isolate, and control their victims. The good news is that survivors of domestic violence can use the same tech to fight back and regain control of their lives.
- By Ophelia Johnson @https://www.techwarn.com/
Note – Techwarn reached out to socialchangelab.net about publicising some of the problems and solutions available for technology facilitated abuse. We don’t know Ophelia personally, but we are excited to support awareness-raising in this important area. Thanks for your contribution Ophelia and Techwarn!
In the early stage of my career, I attended an evening social event arranged as part of an annual meeting of a flagship society in social psychology. Along with a couple of hundred social psychologists and many non-psychologists (if I recall correctly, we shared the event with insurance conference attendees), I sat down to enjoy what promised to be roaring, hilarious comedy show. However, first came the warm-up comedian.
His entire act consisted of jokes about gay and lesbian people. He played on stereotypes, tugged at emotions like disgust, and flamboyantly acted out stereotypic caricatures. My fellow social psychologists and I sat with stunned expressions. I decided to leave, and my route out took me past the stage. Without forethought and in front of everyone, I caught the attention of the comedian and asked, “Do you have a different act? This one is awful! Don’t you have something that isn’t offensive, that doesn’t play on stereotypes?” He responded, “Oh, are you a lesbian?” I stormed out of the room. Others told me that he hobbled to a finish, and the main act that followed was great.
Meanwhile, I was shook. I did not regret speaking up. In addition to being personally committed to egalitarianism and non-prejudice, I knew that research had shown repeatedly that disparaging humor about groups creates, maintains, and perpetuates bias and discrimination. However, what would people think of me? Would I be branded a troublemaker, overly sensitive, and overemotional?
No doubt, part of what spurred me to confront the comedian derived from the fact that I had recently embarked on research concerning the power of confrontation for curbing group-based biases. I have continued this line of research, along with many other researchers, across the past 15 years or so. We now know a good deal about how to navigate successful confrontations.
Confrontation of stereotypes and prejudice is important for two reasons. First, confrontation can help people become aware of their own biases. Often people may not realize they have said or done something that reflects stereotyping or prejudice, and they may be personally motivated to change when a confrontation helps them to become aware of their biases. Second, confrontation makes social norms against bias salient. Even if someone personally has no problem with their biases, a confrontation can signal that such biases are neither socially acceptable nor tolerated. For “the average person” (e.g., excluding extremist hate groups), note is taken of the norms, and the desire to fit in can encourage less biased responding.
The bottom line from confrontation research is that confrontation curbs people’s expressions of bias. For instance, studies have shown that participants who are confronted about their stereotypic inferences (for example, assuming a Black man who is described as being around drugs a lot is a “drug addict” or “criminal” rather than as a “pharmacist” or “doctor”) feel disappointed with themselves and guilty. These emotions motivate them to recognize situations in which they may respond in biased ways later and to redirect to respond in non-biased ways.
However, findings also suggest that some confrontations are more effective at curbing bias than others. When Blacks confront racism, or when women confront sexism, people may dismiss the confronters as overreacting. However, when Whites confront racism, or men confront sexism, they are taken more seriously and are ultimately more effective at curbing others’ bias. This research underscores the critical role that allies can play. People may think, “What would my saying something actually do?” Studies show that speaking up can do much good.
We also find that confrontations of racism curb bias more readily than do confrontations of sexism. Whereas social norms against race bias are very strong, many people (men and women alike) assume they cannot possibly be biased against women (“But I LOVE women!”). Consequently, studies indicate that providing people with evidence that their inferences, judgments, or behaviors actually are unfair and discriminatory is critical to the effectiveness of confrontation in the case of sexism. In my lab, we think of this as a greater burden of proof being required for effective confrontations of sexism.
Finally, studies have revealed one should be assertive in confrontations, and that confrontations with a motivational framing are more effective than simply pointing out bias. For instance, saying, “That’s prejudiced” may even backfire, because people react poorly to having their non-prejudiced self-image impugned. However, what does work is framing a confrontation as having the choice to be fair and egalitarian. For instance, if someone says something stereotypic about Latinx people, you might say, “You may not be aware, but that’s just a stereotype of Latinx people that we see in social media. We can treat people equally by not stereotyping Latinx people in that way.” This sort of statement may lead to dialogue in which the stereotype, fairness, and treating people equally can be discussed further.
Knowing about these findings is important because people are more likely to confront bias if they believe that other people can and often do change. Getting a confrontation started can be challenging; perhaps the opportunity slips by while we consider our words. However, confrontations can occur through conversations that start with, “Wait, what did you say?” and then continue with dialogue that unfolds with the use of assertive but non-threatening language. People also can prepare themselves for confrontation by practicing or role-playing confrontation scenarios.
At this point you may ask, “All of this is fine and good, but what about the costs you mentioned earlier? I can’t afford to be thought of as a troublemaker or as oversensitive!” Studies do indicate that people confronted by a stranger evaluate their confronter more negatively and are less desirous of future interactions, relative to someone who did not confront. However, these negative interpersonal outcomes do not interfere in the least with bias reduction. So yes, there are social costs, which means a question remains: is it more important for you to be liked as much as possible or to have a chance to change their behavior?
So if you are seeking change, be a confronter. As American novelist Margaret Halsey wrote in 1946 in relation to racism, “One of the less dismaying aspects of race relations in the United States is that their improvement is not a matter of a few people having a great deal of courage. It is a matter of a great many people having just a little courage.”
- Guest post by Margo Monteith
Margo J. Monteith grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, attended Moorhead State University (B.A.) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ph.D.). Her academic posts have been at Texas Tech University (1992-1994), University of Kentucky (1994-2006) and Purdue University (2006-present).
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
You may have heard that a PhD is hard work. It is hard. But it’s also great fun.
PhD students may have a more flexible and rewarding working life than almost anyone else on the planet. Not many jobs pay you to think about big ideas, research what you’re passionate about, and write and talk about your favourite things.
Doing a PhD should be a joy. Yet often it feels like a burden.
Too many students burn out and drop out before they discover their joy. Through my own PhD journey—now coming to an end—I’ve noticed 3 ways students can make their PhD harder than it needs to be.
1. Expect to know it all
The greatest shock when I started my PhD was just how little I knew. I wasn’t on top of all the theories in my field, best practice of research design, the latest statistical techniques, or how to write engaging research papers and persuasive presentations. My mediocrity felt overwhelming.
I still haven’t perfected those things, but I have learnt to think of my PhD as a training program. Not knowing is an opportunity, not a weakness. Students who expect to know it all may feel overwhelmed and find it hard to stick their PhD out.
2. Work all the time
Precisely because there is so much to learn, it can feel as if you’re constantly on the back foot, fighting to keep up. This can lead to some mad, workaholic hours. And to sickness, sadness, and general breakdown.
Nothing is fun all the time, especially not your research. There’s always more to do but if you don’t take the time to destress, recharge, and socialise you risk losing sight of the reason you do your work. Students who don’t take time off regularly may find themselves taking time off permanently.
3. Avoid feedback
Many students avoid chances to present their work and receive critical feedback. Whether it’s a research talk to the lab or a draft manuscript, some of us actively avoid hearing how we’re doing. Sadly, by avoiding early feedback we actually increase the odds of receiving crushing reviews.
If you present your ideas when they are still being formed, then critical engagement is a boon. It helps to shape your thinking and minimises flaws and oversights. If, on the other hand, you wait until your ideas have crystallised, your studies are conducted, and your manuscript is drafted, the very same critiques can be crushing. Students who fear negative feedback may avoid exposing their work to critique. When they do finally receive it, such feedback may damage them more.
Though certainly challenging, a PhD is an amazing opportunity to have a fulfilling and flexible work life, for a period of years. That said, research life is rife with challenges. By avoiding these three common ways students make their PhD harder than necessary, you can lift the odds of having a positive experience at graduate school.
- Cassandra Chapman
Note: This article was previously published in the SPSSI Forward newsletter
The Social Change Yearly Lab Photo (Front row - left to right: Gi Chonu, Winnifred Louis, Susilo Wibisono, & Ella Cotterell. Back row – left to right: Vlad Bjorskich (visitor), Carly Roberts, Frederik Wermser (visitor), Cassandra Chapman, Kiara Minto, & Robyn Gulliver. Missing: Robin Banks, Zahra Mirnajafi, Tulsi Achia.
I want to start by acknowledging our group’s successes:
For 2018, I have to salute a brilliant group of finishing students - Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Wei-jie (Kathy) Lin, Tracy Schultz, and Cassandra Chapman, who all submitted their PhD theses (whoohoo!). Lucy’s thesis has already been passed (Will Rifkin was the lead advisor), and she was off to the University of Edinburgh on a postdoc from mid-year: well done Lucy! Everyone else is grinding on through the bureaucracy, but this has not stopped them re career launch. Kathy is back with her job as an academic in China (with fresh glory; Shuang Liu was the lead advisor). Tracy Schultz was snapped up by the Queensland Department of the Environment and is making change on the ground (Kelly Fielding was Tracy’s lead advisor). Cassandra Chapman (co-supervised by Barbara Masser) is taking up a postdoc on trust and charities in UQ’s Business school. It’s a pleasure to see everyone doing so well, and we look forward to keeping in touch!
As well as from our fearless PhD completers, we saw Ella Cottrell and Carly Roberts both finish honours with flying colours; well done both! Many other students smoothly passed their other milestones (Gi, Zahra, Kiara, Susilo, Robyn), with Hannibal and Robin are coming up soon for their confirmations, and we wish them well. There were also those taking well-deserved leave this year (Gi, with maternity leave, and Tulsi, who is away for health reasons). We welcome these transitions and pauses and look forward to new accomplishments in 2019.
In other news: As planned, I revelled all year long in my professorship. It is such a luxury and privilege to be a full professor, and I hope I can continue to use my powers for good in 2019 and beyond.
I also have been revelling since the news broke that we succeeded in getting a new Discovery grant for our team, funded for 2019-2021. I’ll be working with Pascal Molenberghs, Emma Thomas, Monique Crane, Catherine Amiot, and Jean Decety, and we will be looking at the transition to Voluntary Assisted Dying in Victoria and more broadly at norms and well-being for practitioners and the community regarding euthanasia or palliative killing. It is a big beast of a grant and I am very excited to launch into it with our group.
Possibly the highlight of the year was when I ran an extraordinarily successful conference in 2018 on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation, with many others – many thanks especially to Susilo Wibisono, Sam Popple, Tarli Young, Jo Brown, and Hannibal Thai. We are moving slowly but inexorably towards having the talks online for speakers, and also slowly and more tentatively towards other publishing projects – We will keep you posted.
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteers and visitors for the social change lab in 2018, including Frederik Wermser, Claudia Zuniga, Taciano Milfont, and Kai Sassenberg. I particularly acknowledge the contributions this year of Vladimir Bojarskich (visiting from Groningen to conduct environmental research) to multiple projects and to my own work. Thank you, and congratulations everyone!
Other news of 2018 engagement and impact
As well as the normal dissemination through keynotes and journal articles (see our publications page), I had great fun this year with engagement. The superb conference on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation was a highlight, but I also want to note the November 2018 Zoos Victoria conference on social science and conservation at which I was lucky enough to give a keynote. My own talk was on avoiding stalemates and polarization, but I feel deeply thrilled about the new work coming through from conservation initiatives that I saw presented there – the scale, the rigorous evaluation, the behavioural measures, the impact! One intervention that we learned about at the conference was delivered to 40,000 school children in Victoria, with 8 focal targets (e.g., around reducing marine plastic pollution), and featured pre, post, and 6-month follow-ups that included counting plastics on beaches and in the bellies of shearwater birds – astonishing! But perhaps most impressive of all to me was the open disclosure of failures and willingness as a community of practice to learn from them. What a great research culture!
More broadly I am excited about how the new open science initiatives in 2018 are transforming scholarship, and pleased to report that our lab is now working towards consistency in pre-registration, online data sharing, transparency re analyses, and new commitment to open access. Those of you that follow me from way back know that I tried to create something similar in the 2000s but with little traction. The new wave of #openscience is clearly breaking through to change practices with more success. Paywalls by for-profit journals for tax-payer subsidised research are also ongoing and objectionable, and so it is great to see online repositories like Researchgate make connections to readers more feasible. But I also think that academic publishing is still clearly dominated by pressures for selective reporting and that significant results are much more likely to succeed in running the gauntlet through reviewers and editors. In that context, even more impressive is the leadership by practitioners and scholars who allow others to learn openly from trial and error. This will propel us forward as a field. Well done, Zoos Victoria!
Socialchangelab.net in 2018
Within the lab, Zahra Mirnajafi has been carrying the baton passed on by Cassandra Chapman, who started the blog and website last year – thank you to Zahra for all your great work with our in-house writers, our guest bloggers, and the site!
I continue to be surprised by the generosity of guest writers, and the take-up of our posts by the community. We are now seeing about 600 readers for each blog post within a week - last year it was 200 within a month! Part of the story has certainly been our lab’s activity on Twitter (and other social media) to promote research, and I hope you will follow @WlouisUQ and @socialchangelab if you are on Twitter yourself. In the meantime, we welcome each fresh bot, family member, academic, or community reader with enthusiasm, and hope to see the trend continue in 2019.
What the new year holds:
In 2019, for face to face networking, if all goes well, I’ll be at SASP in April in Sydney; the post-conference on contact in Newcastle in April/May; at SPSSI in June; at the APA conference in August; a peace conference in Bogota in July; and ICEP in September. Please email me if you’d like to meet up. I’ll also be travelling extensively from July 2019 to June 2020 due to a sabbatical – I plan visits to Europe (probably in September) and Canada/the US (probably in June and again in November-ish). I’ll be around Australia in Melbourne and Sydney as well as Adelaide for the new grant and for my last one, which is grinding on towards awesome publications – stay tuned. I hope people will contact me if interested in meetings and talks.
I also welcome one new student as an associate advisor in 2019 – Mukhamat Surya, who will be working with Adrian Cherney at UQ for a project on de-radicalisation and radicalisation. We also have Claudia Zuniga from the University of Chile as a visitor with us until June, woot!
Due to the sabbatical from 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.
And of course there are lots of other projects on the go throughout the lab with the bigger team – I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for us all!
- Winnifred Louis
‘Who am I? Who are you?’ Kids’ understanding of social categories has implications for conflict resolution. How and when children recognize names, symbols and social cues influences how they understand and identify with relevant social groups. How they identify with one group also affects their attitudes and behaviours toward ‘others.’ This effect can be even stronger in settings with a long history of conflict.
Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Macedonia, for example are rooted in a history of conflict. The two dominant social groups in each setting have remained notably segregated across neighbourhoods and schools. Although the overt conflict has ended, it has left a lasting effect on post-accord generations. Understanding these effects can help research-based reconciliation and peace-building projects. In the long-term, this can build a healthy and cohesive society.
The Helping Kids! project explored how children from five to eleven years old in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Macedonia perceive prevalent social cues – such as names or icons – associated with conflict-related groups. Across all three settings, children readily recognized cues belonging to conflict-related categories. This recognition increased with age. For example, in Northern Ireland, children identified the poppy as belonging to the Protestant/British community, while the shamrock represented the Catholic/Irish community; in Macedonia, children distinguished between celebratory foods as Macedonian or Albanian; and in Kosovo, children recognized various murals and pop artists as either Albanian or Serbian.
The more aware children were of conflict-related group markers, the more they preferred their own groups’ symbols; those who preferring in-group symbols also shared fewer resources (e.g., stickers) with the outgroup. Thus, the way children thought about conflict-related groups had behavioural implications even at early ages. The bright side is that children’s previous experience seems to counteract this pattern. If a child reported more positive experiences with outgroup children, he/she was more likely to share resources with the outgroup.
Previous work in Northern Ireland has identified similar patterns. Children from segregated neighbourhoods in Belfast distributed more resources to ingroup members, especially when they held a strong group identity. Moreover, youth in Belfast who had higher quality and quantity contact with outgroup members had higher peacebuilding attitudes and civic engagement.
From this we know that children know about and have preferences for social cues related to conflict-related groups. This knowledge and preference has influences how resources are shared with others, an important first step in peacebuilding. Fostering more positive outgroup attitudes and opportunities for outgroup helping may have promising, long-term implications for more constructive intergroup relations.
The Helping Kids! lab is working to apply these findings in other contexts. As such, these findings may have implications for the 350 million children living in conflict-affected areas.
- Guest post by Dr. Laura K. Taylor, Dr. Jocelyn Dautel, Risa Rylander MSc, Dr. Ana Tomovska Misoska, and Edona Maloku Berdyna MSc.
*This phase of the Helping Kids! project was funded by the School of Psychology Research Incentivisation Scheme (RIS) and the Department for the Economy (DfE) - Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) Award [DFEGCRF17-18/Taylor].
Many cringe-worthy moments between White people and people of colour come from well-intentioned White folks, not from slur-spewing, Nazi-saluting bigots.
These are people who are your good friends, dating partners, supportive colleagues, or friendly strangers at parties. They’re likely progressive in their views, culturally aware, and well-read. They volunteer where needed, protest when things are dire, and they always recycle.
In short, these are people with good intentions. Yet, they often get it really wrong.
The phenomenon is so recognisable in popular culture, that there are millions of videos on YouTube dedicated to this genre (I’m referring to the “shit White people say” comedy series.)
So how do interactions between White folks and folks of colour become awkward? Social psychological research offers us some understanding.
4 reasons interracial interactions go awry and strategies that help:
1. Anxiety and avoidance
Friendly interactions between groups is known to reduce prejudice and build harmony between these groups.
However, interracial interactions can be a source of some mild forms of stress for both people involved.
For White people, interracial contact brings concerns about appearing prejudiced. They may use avoidance strategies such as over-monitoring themselves to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing. Often times, such interactions can be draining.
For people of colour, interracial contact brings concerns of experiencing prejudice and/or confirming racial stereotypes with their behaviours, especially stereotypes to do with their competence. This leads to a heightened awareness of one’s racial group identity (e.g., I am Keira the Aboriginal woman versus Keira the cute 20-something year old in this party) and over-monitoring of one’s mannerisms or behaviours in an attempt to ensure smooth interactions. This results in them feeling less authentic.
What helps? For White people, it can be useful to try to recognise and accept the awkwardness first – it will pass. And be motivated by the desire to foster equality, mutual understanding, and friendship, rather than trying to avoid appearing prejudiced.
2. Positive stereotyping
We are often guided by multicultural values that encourage not just acknowledgement of racial and ethnic differences, but also appreciation of these differences.
White people motivated by such values might think that they are being appreciative and complimentary to people of colour, when they make remarks such as “Gosh Asians are so good at Math” or “You Indian women are so exotic looking”.
Such positive stereotypes are sometimes considered non-prejudicial by Whites.
However, research shows us that these positive stereotypes are received by minorities with ambivalence at best, and with negativity at its worst: perceiving Whites in such interactions as unlikeable or even prejudiced.
Positive stereotypes negatively affect minorities’ self and community esteem if they feel judged by their group membership rather than individual merits and achievements. Also, they may not self-identify with such descriptors.
What helps? Acknowledging that positive stereotypes are capable of evoking negative responses, and is another form of subtle prejudice, can be a good starting point. Actively engaging in the idea that substantial individual differences exist within groups can be helpful too.
3. Denying others’ identity and putting them in the wrong category
In the spirit of multiculturalism, White people can inadvertently deny a person of colour an identity that they feel strongly about.
Take for instance an unfortunate situation where a White Australian at a party, in an attempt to establish a bond with someone with a turban and brown skin, asks them about a recent event in India, all while the turbaned individual actually identifies as Aussie (born and raised) and has never been to India.
Questions such as “How long have you lived in this country?” or “Where are you really from?” while motivated by genuine interest and curiosity, could imply that the person does not belong here. For example, asking a hijabi Muslim woman living in Australia where she is from can inadvertently communicate that they could not possibly be Australian and that, no matter what, they are considered foreign.
When minorities experience such identity denial, they sense the difference between how they describe themselves and how they are publicly identified. They report disliking their interaction partners, and engage in explicit identity assertion strategies as a way of coping with such interactions.
What helps? Acknowledging that people of colour possess multiple identities without one or the other being particularly apparent on the outside can be a helpful start. Taking the time to understand what they identify with (or how they describe themselves) would make for more accurate understanding and relating. Being curious about someone’s background (as opposed to assuming their identity and background) can be a great way to show appropriate interest in them. Questions can take the form of “hey were you born here in Australia? Where did your folks originally emigrate from?”.
4. Failing to acknowledge inequality and privilege
Another way interracial interactions go awry, is through the denial of inequality or racial privilege in society.
Take for instance a situation where a White colleague might lament the in-custody treatment of Dylan Voller (the Indigenous Australian teenager shown tortured whilst in juvenile custody in a documentary exposé), but disagree about the claim that the justice system is racist towards Aboriginal people.
Where issues of inequality are being discussed, being friendly but denying or expressing ambivalence about inequality and privilege can have negative outcomes for the interaction. People from socially disadvantaged groups are likely to perceive such discussions as less supportive or comforting when structural inequality and privilege is not also acknowledged.
However, people from advantaged groups may feel threatened when they’re reminded about their privilege. They even engage in self-protective strategies to cope with that threat—such as denying their group’s privileged position or distancing themselves from such a position.
So what helps? Understanding the concept of privilege—that individual advantage is different from group advantage—can help ease some of the guilt, discomfort, and defensiveness that acknowledging privilege can evoke. It is important to understand, that we can have and benefit from group-based privilege even if we never asked for it or actively took advantage of it. Explicitly acknowledging inequality and privilege when discussing issues of race or racism, rather than succumbing to the defensiveness, makes for more supportive interactions.
A comedy of cringes
All this cringe-worthy stuff that happens in interracial interactions has been parodied endlessly on YouTube. Because all this awkwardness can sometimes be insanely funny too.
A comedy piece sometimes brings the complexities of social life into sharp focus, in a non-threatening way. So, to end, let’s watch vlogger Jus Reign’s video on…what else? “Shit White people say to brown guys” of course! Click on the image below to watch the hilarious video.
Around the world, people are marching.
They’re marching to overthrow dictators. Some are defending religious viewpoints, or drawing attention to climate change. Others want less immigration, or better working conditions.
Does all this activity really achieve anything? One of the factors that affects movement success is the way that confrontational and moderate groups define themselves and relate to each other, within a broader movement.
When movements define “us” and “them” it affects who wants to join
A movement that garners support from policy makers and the public is in a better position to achieve success.
Movements can grow their supporter base if they pay careful attention to how they position themselves. Framing a movement as aligned with (or opposed to) the broader community’s values and interests has real consequences.
In the short term groups that grow the fastest are often more confrontational. That is to say, they may oppose traditional values or approaches.
We define confrontational groups here as aiming to eliminate a particular behaviour that still has strong support, or to defeat an enemy respected by many. We contrast this with moderate movements, aimed at winning over opponents through persuasion. In both cases, we are referring to non-violent groups aiming for system change – but they don’t always work well together.
A confrontational group grows quickly towards the extremes
Confrontational groups often appeal to people with strong pre-existing views.
A clearly identified problem. A policy strongly condemned. A clearly defined line of attack. These tactics are more likely to appeal to people with strong views. To them, the moderate group may seem waffly or uncommitted.
Clarity of focus often leads to swift success for confrontational groups, because committed activists’ time, energy, and moneys flow to the groups that best express their strong views and values. So they grow quickly.
A confrontational group draws attention to a cause. For many simple problems, this may be enough to achieve social change. But an impasse can be reached when the group needs to reach out to the centre or to opponents to create enough momentum for a breakthrough.
A confrontational group can’t easily compromise
The past strong attacks and views of the confrontational group may have made it unattractive to the unaligned or centre voters, and lead to alienation of their political opponents.
When mistrust and negative views take hold, it is extremely difficult to progress an agenda. Persuasive communication to win over swing voters or opponents may be viewed with scepticism. Genuine attempts to reach out may be seen as insincere or offensive.
Confrontational movements may also be reluctant to entertain the idea of trade-offs with their enemies, because they are defined by their strong, pure rejection of those enemies.
If a conciliatory leader does emerge in a confrontational movement, it may be hard for him or her to gain traction. A conciliatory leader of a confrontational movement sometimes can’t persuade their own group easily to compromise, and they can’t persuade the other group to deal with them either, because of the past history of conflict.
Moderate groups grow slowly toward the centre
With more genuine mutual respect, and less past baggage to carry, the moderates may be both more attractive to uncommitted or centrist members of the public. They are also more able to build trust with political opponents of the cause.
Successful moderates build trust with opponents in part by condemning, tempering, or reining in the savage attacks of more confrontational groups. They also highlight shared values between themselves and their political opponents. These steps create the impression among members of political opponents that moderates are people that can be dealt with.
At the same time, successful moderates have to maintain a clear agenda to make progress towards a stated cause – they have to achieve measurable, clear outcomes. Unless there is both clarity of purpose and progress towards the movement’s ends, moderates may be seen as giving away too much in attempting to obtain leverage.
Confrontational groups should attack the other extreme, not the centre
As moderates achieve frustratingly minute, incremental changes, it is common for moderate groups to attract derision and hostility from confrontational groups for the same cause.
This negativity misunderstands the potential for positive synergies between the two types of groups.
If the confrontational group attacks the moderates, the partisan divide between the sides widens. It is common for stalemates to persist.
Political opponents who are more hostile and polarised can surge to power, dragging the centre away from the movement’s desired change.
The confrontational movement should instead focus its criticism on the other extreme, targeting the most reactionary and hostile members of their political opponents.
By seeking to undermine the most hostile opponents and alienate them from the middle ground, the confrontational movement is well placed to increase the momentum for change.
- Winnifred R. Louis
* * *
This blog builds on some ideas from a chapter that I wrote with some students (Louis, Chapman, Chonu, and Achia, 2017), covering the key themes from a keynote that I gave in Cebu, at the Asian Association of Social Psychology.
Economic growth and environmental degradation: is it possible to have one without the other?
Numerous writers, such as Naomi Klein, have explored the relationship between environmental degradation and capitalism. They often conclude that any economic system requiring continual growth is simply incompatible with living within our environmental limits.
The price our environment is paying in our quest for perpetual economic growth is clear.
Indiscriminate forest clearing for agriculture production. The pollution of our shared climate for private gain. Bulldozing of wetlands for urban expansion. These all show how demands of continual economic growth steadily deplete and degrade the ecosystem services on which we depend.
So should we expect the environmental movement to advocate for a new system of ‘sustainable’ economics?
To answer this question, I studied 510 Australian environmental organisations in early 2017. I looked at a number of features of these groups, including whether they run campaigns on economic issues, or whether they incorporate economic issues in their advocacy. Groups ranged from large transnational foundations to small volunteer action groups, all working on a diverse range of environmental issues.
Results show that few environmental organisations advocate for any significant change in our current economic values.
For example, many organisations undertake grassroots campaigning to influence local policy decisions, such as by campaigning against specific local urban, coastal or resource extraction development. Yet very few organisations advocate for a steady state economy, or implement sustainable economic models such as establishing a not-for-profit social enterprise to support their advocacy activities.
Why might this be so? My work research is uncovering a range of possible reasons:
Despite these barriers, a new way forward has been developing over the last few years.
The dramatic growth of renewable energy cooperatives, community owned enterprises and campaigns such as the international divestment movement offer a beacon of hope.
Such examples of success all share two key features:
(1) They incorporate equitable and environmentally sustainable economic solutions into their campaigns, and
(2) They network and share skills and resources across organisations.
Another cause for hope is in the development of networks such as the New Economy Network Australia. Bringing together research findings from Institutes and Centres with on-the-ground case studies run by small volunteer local groups, these networks will allow the smashing of barriers to create effective economic and environmental change across local, regional, and national boundaries.
The evolution of our first use of currency over 40,000 years ago into the complex and fascinating intricacies of our modern economic system is one of humanity’s crowning achievements. However, this evolution has come at a steep price to our environment.
If you are someone who wants to change our economic values, use this information to join a group or build your own effective campaigns for change. Better yet, join a network and share your findings: be part of the community of change working for a socially, environmentally, and economically just future.
- Robyn Gulliver
Richard Lalonde recently discussed the dangers of focusing on the differences between groups. He says,
“The end result is that we are constantly exposed to information through the lens of social groups, and more often than not, in terms of “us and them.”
Social Identity Theory states that we define ourselves in terms of the different groups that we belong to, for example our nationality, our profession, or our generation. Unfortunately, however, studies exploring Social Identity Theory have shown that we are less accepting of information when it comes from groups of people that we consider to be different to ourselves.
We are less likely to trust information that comes from “them” rather than one of “us”.
This can become a problem when an authority group, like scientists, try to provide information about an important topic, like climate change, to a community group and the community members do not identify with the “scientists”.
Moving from “us” and “them” to “we”
Thankfully, there is way to overcome this bias.
The common in-group identity model proposes that we can ask people to focus on the things that are the same between themselves and others, rather than the things that are different. We can do this by making them aware of a group identity that they share. For example, if “Queenslander” and “Victorian” represent distinct social groups, “Australian” would represent a shared identity.
Essentially, “us” and “them” becomes “we”, which leads to increased trust and more willingness to accept information from the group.
To show how this can work, I conducted a study in 2014 to test the acceptance of information provided by scientists. The information was telling community members from South East Queensland that it is safe to drink water made from recycled waste water. I was trying to see whether the information would be more acceptable when I highlighted that the scientists and the community members shared an identity (i.e., that they all resided in south east Queensland and were therefore all “South East Queenslanders”).
The results showed that it did make the information more effective for those people that identified strongly as “South East Queenslanders”. That is, by making people aware of a shared identity, they were more accepting of the information and were more supportive of the idea of starting a recycled water scheme in south east Queensland.
Create a sense of “we” when communicating information
The take home message? Next time you need to share information with someone, find a social identity that you have in common and make that shared identity obvious in your communications!
By creating more “we” situations, we can help overcome some of the biases to the acceptance of important information.
- Tracy Schultz
Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Often the way science and ideas are communicated affects the response they motivate.
In this interview, I argue climate science communication should be informed by the psychology of persuasion and communication in conflict. I talk through concrete examples of effective and ineffective messaging and the key factors to consider. The ideas I present here are relevant for anyone working in science communication or social change.
Key points include:
Watch the full interview below:
I'd love to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment or a question below and I'll get back to you.
- Winnifred Louis
When was the last time you changed your mind about something? What brought an important issue to your attention? Chances are it was something you saw, rather than something you read.
The right image can be a powerful way capture and engage people with an important issue.
For many of us, the haunting and graphic images of toddler Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish shore focused our attention on the Syrian refugee crisis.
Yet not all images are created equal. Some are better than others. Some may even hurt your cause.
For example, although they grab our attention, familiar and iconic images used in communications about climate change (i.e., smokestacks, polar bears) fail to make us feel like we can do anything about climate change.
So which images are best?
What properties of images increase the likelihood that the reader will engage with your overall message? My research on images used in communications about sustainable urban stormwater management found that images are more likely to engage when they:
1. Evoke an emotional connection
Images are highly emotive and emotions help shape attitudes. Given that images are the first thing people see on a webpage or news article, they can create a connection with your message before a single word has even been read.
Critically, different emotions can give rise to different motivations. For example, to approach or to avoid. For this reason it is important to select images that evoke emotions what psychologists call an ‘approach motivation’. That is, emotions that encourage the reader to pay attention to your message. Positive emotions, like happiness and pride, are known to have an approach motivation. Some negative emotions, like sadness and anger, can also motivate people to engage with your message. However, you should try to avoid images that elicit emotions with strong avoidance motivations, like disgust and fear. Such emotions may encourage the reader to simply switch off and not pay attention to your message.
2. Relevant to the topic
When presenters use images in presentations that are congruent with what they saying, people are more likely to remember the message. This is because images that are not immediately understood as relevant to the topic reduce the ease with which the viewer can process your message. That is, irrelevant images increase the mental effort needed to process the overall message and can become a distraction.
To avoid using irrelevant images, don’t make assumptions about what your target audience does and doesn’t understand about the issue you are communicating. For example, a cleaner ocean is a major goal of improved urban stormwater management initiatives, so images of ocean environments are often used in communications new stormwater initiatives. Unfortunately, our recent image study found that most people did not think that pictures of oceanic environments were relevant to the topic of stormwater management.
3. Personally relevant
If the viewer sees something in an image that is personally relevant to them, they are more likely to engage with the message content.
To increase the personal relevance of your message, choose images of locations that are highly familiar to your viewer (the more local, the better) or choose photographs of people that your target audience are more likely to identify with. For example, using images of melting ice caps to communicate about climate change suggests that the impacts are happening somewhere else to someone else. Conversely, images of extreme weather events (for example, in Australia, flooding is a major concern), highlight a more localised, and personally relevant, impact of climate change.
- Tracy Schultz
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.