I want to start by acknowledging our group’s successes in 2017:
Nita Lauren submitting her PhD thesis (whoohoo!); Sam Popple, Syasya Goh, and Zoe McMaster completing their honours with flying colours; and many students smoothly passing their milestones, from confirmation (Susilo, Robyn, Tulsi) to mid-candidature (Cass, Lucy) and thesis review (Kathy). There were also those taking well-deserved leave (Gi, Anna).
A huge joy for me personally in 2017 was being promoted to professor – such a long journey, and a great honour. I plan to revel all year long.
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteer students! I particularly acknowledge the contributions of Josh and Kane to multiple projects and to my own work. Thank you, and congratulations everyone!
2017 was a year of big steps in impact
As well as the normal dissemination through keynotes and journal articles (17 papers! A personal record!), I had great fun with engagement opportunities.
I presented at two Senate inquiries, gave a talk to an overflow audience at the Department of the Environment in Canberra, and co-hosted a sold out workshop on social cohesion in Sydney (slides from the talks can be found here).
If I had to summarise the key lesson I have learned it is that people are hungry for knowledge about the group processes that underlie polarisation, and hungry to learn how to break through conflict and stalemates.
I’m eager to pass on and grow this knowledge, so I look forward to more of these events in 2018. I also hope that I can hear more from people who used the information I gave out last year, both regarding successes in implementation and regarding barriers that need to be overcome.
Thanks to Cassandra Chapman, our group also started the social change lab site and blog series. I have been very pleasantly surprised by the prolific activity of our team, the generosity of guest writers, as well as the take-up of our posts by the community. Normal blog posts attract 200 readers within a month, with popular posts double or triple that – much more than I expected in our first year of operation.
The blog series has also led to fun outreach opportunities, such as a video-conference talk on peace psychology in Iran – how awesome!
Another crazed net breakthrough was my March post at The Conversation, with Cass, on the ‘seven deadly sins of statistical interpretation’ which was read by 135,000 readers, and shared more than 10000 times on Facebook alone. Eventually some colleagues in sports medicine even turned it into a peer-reviewed paper at a high impact journal! Thrilling stuff!
In my wildest dreams I would never have guessed that this piece would attract such an audience. The lesson that I take from these last two points is that using the internet to give away teaching and research is going to lead to immense positive engagement and unexpected opportunities.
I realise that some of you already knew that, but I’m a fresh convert as of this year :)
What the new year holds:
In 2018 I’m excited to continue connecting with social change colleagues. For face to face networking, I’ll be at ICAP in Montreal in June as well as possibly SPSSI (the same weekend! Why!) as well as SASP in Wellington in April. Please email me if you’d like to meet up.
Going into the new year, I welcome several new students as associate advisor – Robin Banks, at UTas, doing a PhD with Margaret Otlowski on bringing the law and psychology of discrimination closer together; and Hayley Kimball and Hannibal Thai, at UQ, who will be working with Kelly Fielding on environmental psychology.
Another exciting commitment in 2018 is that I will be organising and co-hosting a small group meeting on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation in August at the University of Queensland. We have a wonderful line up of scholars, and I am looking forward to learning heaps. Keep an eye out, as I’ll be putting out a call for volunteers.
And there are lots of other projects on the go throughout the lab – I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings for us all!
- Winnifred Louis
As societies have developed, technological advances and medical discoveries have increased life expectancy and made our lives seemingly easier.
But this development is not experienced equally by all people.
In general, industrialised nations have a high quality of life. Yet stark differences remain in how wealth and benefits are spread across society. This is called income inequality.
Sadly, income inequality is a global phenomenon. The distribution of wealth across the globe shows that 71% of the world’s population hold just 3% of the global wealth. On the other hand, 8% of the population hold over 84% of the world’s wealth.
Income inequality is especially pronounced in the United States, where the income gap is twice that of the rest of the industrial world.
So you might be thinking, why is this important? Here are 3 reasons why you should care about income inequality:
1. Less happiness and life satisfaction
The more wealth a society has the happier that society will be, right?
Well, not quite.
In 1974, Economist Richard Easterlin showed that Americans were not happier during periods of high economic growth.
Some countries, however, do show increased happiness with increased economic growth.
What can explain this difference? Income inequality.
In a study of 34 countries, researchers found that when income inequality is high, increased economic growth is not associated with increased happiness.
When economic inequality is high and people can see the wealth of others, it may make their relative lack of economic prosperity more obvious.
We become aware of the differences in our own economic gains, and the difference in our lifestyles. This, in turn, can reduce our sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Reflecting on how we consume social media, platforms such as Instagram give us daily access to the life of the rich, through accounts like the rich kids of instagram, which boasts “They have more money than you and this is what they do.”
2. More obesity and related health problems
When thinking about how income inequality affects health, it’s reasonable to think that your personal wealth would be the main determinant of your personal health.
You may conclude that income inequality only affects the health of the poor, but you’d be wrong.
Higher obesity and related health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are present amongst all social classes in societies with higher income inequality.
Regardless of personal wealth, people living in countries with greater income inequality experience poorer health outcomes than their counterparts in more equal societies.
People in a laboratory setting, who were made to feel relatively poor, ate 54% more calories, rated the high calorie food as more enjoyable, and were more likely to want to buy higher calorie food in the future that those who were made to feel rich.
Outside of the laboratory we also find that the more income inequality, the higher rates of obesity in a society.
This shows us that inequality has a direct effect on our lifestyles.
3. Less generosity and trust
Higher income inequality makes the wealthy less generous and breeds a sense of entitlement—the belief that one is more important and deserving than others. However, in more equal societies, the wealthy are just as generous as the poor.
People in areas with high income inequality also trust each other less. When there is less trust in society, people are more likely to only look out for themselves, and their families.
We’ve established that inequality has detrimental effects for all. Yet it is not always communicated as something that is bad.
Politicians often frame inequality in a way that hides the full picture. They highlight economic mobility—the sense that everyone can move up the wealth ladder—and related concepts such as the American Dream.
For example, Rick Santorum recently said: "There is income inequality in America, there always has been, and hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be. Why? Because people rise to different levels of success based on what they contribute to society.”
Be aware that this framing has profound effects on our psychology. People become more tolerant of income inequality the more they perceive economic mobility. In truth, economic mobility is not as widespread as people think.
So next time you hear politicians praise inequality, remember the burden falls not just on the poor, but on all of society.
- Zahra Mirnajafi
Why do people do things that harm others?
Socially harmful behaviours, like discrimination and hate speech, are still common in modern society. But where do these behaviours come from?
According to self-determination theory, pro-social behaviours (like tolerance and fairness) come from within, because we have a personal desire to engage in them. In contrast, harmful acts are normally motivated by an external source, such as social pressure to conform.
For example, school bullying may be encouraged by those classmates that intimidate other students. In order to avoid being bullied, and also to become close to the popular children in school, some kids may also start bullying others.
To summarise, helping other people gives us real pleasure and enjoyment, while harming others only brings recognition from others and helps achieve our goals.
Even though discrimination is not truly motivated by our own values and beliefs, from this perspective, is it possible that harmful behaviour can become a part of our identity and represent who we really are?
Discrimination can be a consequence of social norms
One cause of discrimination are the social norms associated with the groups we belong to.
In an attempt to fit into society, we follow the norms of our own groups. These norms, however, are not always oriented to benefitting the interests of people in other groups.
For example, an organisation with racist norms that dictate choosing job candidates that belong to the Caucasian ethnic group rather than choosing based on qualifications, will motivate the recruiter to follow these norms and to discriminate against certain ethnic groups.
We may follow discriminatory norms in order to feel we fit in with our group, or that doing so promotes our group’s values or goals.
When a behaviour is considered normal in groups we belong to, but is actually inconsistent with what we personally believe in, this creates a sense of conflict within our identity.
Compartmentalisation helps us deal with inner conflict
This feeling of contradiction between our values and our situation reflects an underlying resistance to engage in harmful actions.
For example, a recruiter who personally believes that job candidates should be hired based on their merit will feel an internal conflict when following the firm’s discriminatory norm.
In response to inner conflict, we tend to separate the harmful (e.g., discriminatory) behaviour from other life situations and contexts. This is called compartmentalisation.
Going back to the example where Caucasian candidates are preferred when hiring, this would mean that the conflicted recruiter would restrict ethnic discrimination behaviour only to work situations and would not generalise it to other life contexts.
By using this compartmentalisation strategy, the harmful social behaviour is restricted to a particular life context and does not become representative of the entire person. From the self-determination perspective, compartmentalisation also protects one’s identity from negative evaluation.
People do not enjoy discriminating against others
Many people want to believe that human nature is inherently good, and that no one would willingly harm others and feel good about themselves. The results of our studies confirm that people who discriminate do not necessarily enjoy their actions harming others. Rather, they are more likely to feel an internal conflict when discriminating.
On this positive note, we conclude that harmful behaviors are somewhat more difficult to accept as a part of who we are. Although specific life situations may sometimes dictate discriminatory actions, they generally bring less pleasure and enjoyment. Instead, causing harm to others evokes feelings of internal conflict and dissociation, which the majority of us will try to minimise.
- Guest post by Ksenia Sukhanova and Catherine Amiot, Université du Québec à Montréal
Read full article:
Amiot, C. E., Louis, W. R., Bourdeau, S., & Maalouf, O. (2017). Can harmful intergroup behaviors truly represent the self?: The impact of harmful and prosocial normative behaviors on intra-individual conflict and compartmentalization. Self and Identity, 1-29.
2016 was a year of unexpected political events. Britain decided to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), and Donald Trump became the president of the United States.
People without university degrees strongly favoured Trump and Brexit
Exit polls following both Brexit and Trump votes revealed that University education was one of the strongest predictors of voting patterns.
According to a BBC report, wards where the population had lower numbers of University graduates tended to vote for Britain to leave the European Union. In fact, of the main demographic information collected in the most recent UK census, the proportion of University graduates in a given ward was the best indicator of whether people voted in favour of Brexit.
Similarly, Trump won 44 of the 50 counties with the lowest rates of tertiary education in the US. In contrast, only 10 of the 50 counties with the higest rates of tertiary education voted for Trump.
So why did British and American citizens without a University degree vote in favour of Brexit and Trump?
In the U.S. the disparity in job availability between people with and without University Degrees has risen since the 2008 recession
A prominent complaint among Trump voters was that the previous government had been “out of touch” with the working class. At least one aspect in which this appears to be true is in relation to unemployment numbers following the recession of 2008. In his final State of the Union address President Obama proudly proclaimed that America was in the middle of “the longest streak of private sector job creation in history”, and that anyone claiming America’s economy is in decline was “peddling fiction”.
It is certainly true that America saw significant growth in private sector jobs during Obama’s presidency. Yet there is increasing evidence that these jobs disproportionately went to people with University qualifications. According to a recent study conducted at Georgetown University, U.S. workers with Bachelor’s degrees or higher lost 187,000 jobs in the recession, but then recovered around 8.4 million jobs in the years since. In stark contrast, workers with a high-school diploma or less, lost 5.6 million jobs in the recession, and recovered only 80,000 to date. From the perspective of these Americans, who lost their jobs during the recession and never got them back, it is easy to imagine how Obama’s statements on jobs growth could be perceived as “out of touch”.
Workers with more than a high school education gained almost all of the jobs added in the recovery
(Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, America's Divided Recovery)
The views of university educated people are over-represented in government and the media
One notable aspect of this divided recovery since the recession is that, in both the U.K. and U.S., university educated people are still a minority. In fact, according to census data from both countries, the proportion of all adults holding a University degree is around 33% in the U.S., and 20% in the U.K. If the voices of people without University degrees do indeed represent the majority, how did democratic government policies (which are meant to be influenced by majority opinion) lead to so many falling through the cracks during the years following the recession?
One explanation may be that the under-representation of non-University educated individuals in government and the media meant that these institutions were not properly equipped to understand the needs of non-University graduates. At least 90% of members of parliament in both the U.S. and the U.K. have University degrees. A study in the U.S. also found that over 90% of journalists are University graduates. It is also possible that this over-representation of University educated interests was an underlying driver of one of the key themes in both the Trump and Brexit elections – a desire to overthrow the political establishment.
What does this mean for Australia?
Senator Pauline Hanson (leader of the One-Nation party) has often been compared to Trump. Indeed, a study conducted by the ABC, found that, like in the U.S. and U.K., people living in areas with low tertiary education levels were more likely to vote for One-Nation in the 2016 Federal Election.
Although not as pronounced as the U.K. or U.S., Australia is also experiencing disproportionate job growth for University educated workers. To a certain extent, this disproportionate increase in jobs requiring a University degree may be an unavoidable reality for many modern industrialised nations. As countries get more developed, higher basic wages often mean that it becomes less viable for companies to continue manufacturing goods there. Higher wages also mean that companies are driven to adopt automation in order to cut costs.
However, in the face of such rapid changes, we also need to ensure that our political institutions adapt accordingly, so that they do not become out of touch with the interests of certain sections of our society. As with the U.S. and U.K., the disproportionate increase in jobs requiring tertiary degrees, combined with a lack of representation of the voices non-University graduates in our institutions may lead to the division of our own politics by University education.
The first step in communicating across this divide is realising that lack of representativeness is a problem. It is also essential to ensure that there are conventional institutional avenues in government and the media by which less well-educated communities can express grievances and needs, and meaningfully participate in public discourse.
Understanding group conflict and moral polarization is a major focus of my PhD.
- Joshua Rhee
Joshua Rhee is a PhD Candidate at The University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences. He completed his Honours research in the Social Change Lab in 2016.
From Indonesia to Australia, many modern States face demands by majority religious groups to have their beliefs institutionally prioritised.
For example, in their submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Melbourne Gospel Assembly stated that the Australian government is obligated to respect the Christian religion as its first and foremost responsibility.
Similar calls have been made by Islamist groups in Muslim majority countries. The poll investigating whether the Sharia (Islamic social order) should be made the official law in Muslim majority countries revealed a widespread support, with 99% in Afghanistan, 83% in Morocco, and 71% in Nigeria.
Followers of a religion may identify with their religious group. Likewise, citizens of a country may identify with their national group.
In many countries, religion plays its role in providing values that delineate nationalism. However, there are also religious movements that utterly reject nationalism and struggle instead for a religion-based state.
So what makes religious and national identities support one other? And what makes them destroy each other? My research points to 3 key factors.
Historical context shapes ideas about the relationship between religion and nation
A state must emerge from the collaboration of many groups who work together.
Indonesian history, for instance, has been constructed by many groups representing various tribes, political ideologies, and religions. Islam, as the religion of the majority in Indonesia, has strongly influenced the establishment of the Republic.
As a result, most Indonesian Muslims today believe that their Islamic faith and Indonesian nationalism are two sides of the same coin, even though Islamic social order does not formally rule the country. This belief stems from the historical consensus that established divine values as the primary foundation of the Indonesian state. Further, most Muslims perceive that the Indonesian state is the outcome of the early Muslims' struggle.
Such historical beliefs strengthen the connection between religious and national identities, meaning an individual’s self-image may be developed based on both religion and nation. This pattern might be found in many countries where religious values supported the struggle to establish the state.
Not all countries, however, show this reciprocal relationship between religious belief and national identity.
A study conducted across thirty European countries showed that nationalism influences religious values only where there is a high concentration of religion. Further, nationalist ideology only affects religious beliefs where a dominant religion exists.
What factors support religious movements to reject their nationality and demand a radical change of the existing state?
Religious fundamentalism may lead to national dis-identification
Religious fundamentalism has been proposed as a factor influencing the relationship between religious and national identities.
Religious identification and religious fundamentalism are not the same.
We define fundamentalism here as one set of cognitive schemas that filters the selection of information to provide a framework for interpretation. This set of schemas promotes beliefs that religious rules allow only one interpretation and must be prioritized over secular laws. It can also lead to bigotry and hostility toward outgroups.
Religious beliefs have been demonstrated to promote national dis-identification among people high in religious identity. People who are high in fundamentalist beliefs about their religion (i.e., belief that God has given humanity a complete, unfailing guide, which must be totally followed) may identify more with their religion but less with their nation. Such people conceive religious norms as God’s rules, while national rules are seen as political outcomes representing particular interests.
Perceived discrimination can promote dis-identification
Some European countries are facing difficulties in integrating the religious and national identities of their immigrants within their national identity.
Low political participation in a general election can be an indicator of dis-identification with the nation. Many efforts have been exerted to improve civic engagement among immigrants, for example through the mobilisation of mosques.
However, societal factors such as perceived discrimination and injustice also play a role in national dis-identification.
Group based discrimination and injustice can be a catalyst for heightening tensions, provoking anger and disappointment. Even when discrimination is not sanctioned by the state and is only promoted by a small group of political actors, the negative feelings can be attributed to the imagined concept of the nation. On a certain scale, group-based anger can be expressed in reluctance to provide political participation.
In this way, immigrants who are highly identified with their religion, and who perceive discrimination based on religion, may become dis-identified with the nation. In contrast, feelings of freedom and inclusion can create a positive association between religiosity and nationalism.
To summarise, the relationship between religious and national identities is complex. Historical contexts may fuse national and religious identities, while fundamentalist beliefs or societal tensions and group discrimination may cause them to diverge.
Exploring the difference between religion as a bridge and religion as a wall is part of the focus in my PhD.
- Susilo Wibisono
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
Every day we see people in need. Often we want to do something to help.
Whether voting to ensure equal rights for others, donating to the latest flood appeal, or giving up our seat on the bus for a stranger, we are constantly presented opportunities to help others.
Helping, however, can be fraught.
From voluntourism and effective altruism to the Syrian refugee crisis and marriage equality reform, people disagree on the best ways to help, or even whether helping is warranted.
Here are three reasons why helping decisions are difficult and some advice for helping better.
1. Too much empathy
Empathy allows us to feel what others feel. It has a focusing effect—drawing our feeling and response towards the individual who we see suffering.
It’s wonderful that we have the capacity to care about others in this way. Yet the psychological qualities of empathy can cause problems.
For example, studies show that people will donate more to an identifiable victim; or to save the life of one child than two children.
When large numbers of people suffer, our empathy doesn’t know how to relate. As Paul Slovic says: “Numbers represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action.”
We can overcome this emotional spotlight by using empathy to guide our care, rather than direct our donation.
For example, when you feel moved by one child’s struggle with cancer, notice how empathy guides your care. Instead of (or in addition to) donating directly to that one family, find a way to give to a hospital or charity that provides that same care to children just like them.
Or when you see images of earthquake devastation that break your heart, consider donating to an emergency relief fund that responds to all disasters, including the one you’ve been moved by.
With this approach, you ensure your empathy moves you to help more people in need, not only the ones you empathise with.
2. Helping can keep others down
Being a helper intrinsically signals power. And how you choose to help can give or take power from others.
People tend to give dependency-oriented help—the total solution to a problem—when they feel the beneficiaries are not highly competent. And people receiving help pick up on this cue.
On the other hand, giving (and receiving) autonomy-oriented help—which helps the beneficiary cultivate skills to help themselves in the long-term—both communicates competence and helps build it.
Consider the best way to help. Sometimes, like after a disaster, it’s important to provide food and shelter directly. Other times, like when communities are trying to build independence in the long-term, it’s better to teach people how to grow more food or build better shelters.
Next time you donate, think about what you can give and what it might communicate in terms of power.
3. Giving what we want to, not what others need
From “Junk for Jesus”, to blood donor preferences, people often give what’s easiest, rather than what makes the biggest difference. This is closely related to the point above—because donors have power to choose what is offered.
The best way to overcome this challenge, and closely related to power, is to simply ask people how you can best help.
Whether we’re allies to disadvantaged groups or donating for international development, the best outcomes in terms of long-term social change will be driven by beneficiaries themselves.
People usually know what will make a difference in their lives. Why not ask?
If you’re donating, do a bit of research and find an organisation that develops their programs through local community engagement. Many international NGOs—like Oxfam and ChildFund—take the lead from the people they serve in communities abroad.
It’s wonderful we’re helping. Let’s take the challenge and help better.
We must keep on helping others. After all, that is the way this world will change.
The most important thing is to do something: do what you can. Give what you can. Help where you can.
Let’s also challenge ourselves to help smarter.
If we start with a positive intention and are willing to step back and examine our feelings and actions, we will make a more positive impact in the world.
- Cassandra Chapman
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
Humans are endlessly learning. How to walk, which brand of coffee is tastiest, the best way to calm an angry child – you name it, humans are learning it.
Some learning is informal, while some is institutionalised. The education system – from kindergarten to university – provides a formal learning environment that can shape life-long outcomes, including job opportunities, salary, health and well-being.
Given the importance of learning, we’d better we sure we’re doing it right.
What shapes learning outcomes?
Is it intelligence, effort, genes, or something else that makes a successful learner?
We know that people function better when they feel good about themselves and feel socially connected to others. That’s just common sense, right?
Humans flourish when they feel they belong and when they feel appreciated for who they are.
So, what does this have to do with learning? Well, let’s think for a moment about schools and universities and other learning institutions… classes, friends, crowds, teams, noise – education is always delivered in incredibly social contexts.
If a person’s ability to learn is affected by their sense of belonging and connection to others, are education systems unduly privileging those students who ‘naturally’ fit in?
Unfortunately, the statistics would answer ‘yes’ to that question.
Social class, race, sexuality, and gender are still significant predictors of academic outcomes. And recent international surveys of tens of thousands of high school children revealed that about one fifth of them report feeling that they do not fit in at school.
The irony of education is that when we think of academic achievement, we often make the assumption that it is all about individual intelligence. The question of fit or belonging, rarely enters the equation.
And every week…every semester…and every year, grades, percentages and GPAs, accumulate to create an indelible academic profile, which either opens doors, or quietly but firmly shuts them.
A sense of fit
So, what does it mean to fit in? And how do we help students who feel they don’t fit it?
Fitting in is feeling like to you share something with the people around you, feeling that your sense of who you are – your identity – is positively aligned with the group.
Feeling that being a student is an important part of who you are, and that you identify as a student, is therefore vital for successful learning. So how can we help people claim their student identity, and feel more able to fit within their educational setting?
In a recent book chapter, we investigated this very question. We asked over 300 university students to rate how independent, appreciated and connected to others they felt, and then we asked them about how much they identified as a student, and also how satisfied they were with their academic performance. The data was collected at different time points across the semester.
Results showed exactly what we suspected – when students felt that their life at university promoted a sense of positive autonomy, and feelings of competence and appreciation, both their level of identification as a student and their academic satisfaction was reported to be higher.
Learning, both formal and informal, shapes both who we are now and who we can be in the future. And yet we often assume that learning is an individual endeavour, and we rarely stop to think about learning from a social perspective.
In fact, learning is one of the most social activities that humans do!
Looking at learning in this new way not only allows us to understand why some students get left behind, but will also help us to come up with ways in which we can design educational programs to ensure real learning opportunities for all.
- Sarah Bentley
Read the full article:
Greenaway, K., Amiot, C.E., Louis, W. R., & Bentley, S.V. (2017). The role of psychological need satisfaction in promoting student identification. In K. I. Mavor, M. Platow, & B. Bizumic (Eds.), Self and Social Identity in Educational Contexts, pp. 176-192. Routledge : New York, USA.
The annual cost of domestic abuse in Australia is estimated to be over $12.6 billion. That figure doesn’t account for the physical and psychological toll this abuse takes on victims, their friends and families.
The abuse depicted in domestic violence campaigns and on the news might lead people to believe that domestic abuse is men physically abusing women. While this is true in many cases, it fails to reflect the diverse reality of abusive relationships.
In Australia, non-physical violence (14% men, 25% women) in relationships is experienced at higher rates than physical violence (5% men, 16% women) by both males and females.
What is non-physical domestic abuse and why is it important?
Non-physical domestic abuse is any harm inflicted by a past or present romantic partner that is not physical or sexual.
Behaviours like stalking, threats, emotional assaults, belittling comments, and humiliation of the victim are often used to control what their partner wears, where they go, who they see, where they live, what they can buy, where and whether they work, and many other aspects of daily life.
Like physical and sexual abuse, victims of non-physical domestic abuse have poor physical and mental health outcomes.
What you should know about domestic abuse
Abuse can be subtle, especially in the early stages of a relationship. It’s important to remember that many abusers are master manipulators.
Physical and sexual abuse is almost always preceded by non-physical abuse, and even in cases where the abuse never becomes physical, the non-physical abuse typically escalates in severity and overtness over the course of a relationship.
The earlier people become aware of abuse, the less committed they are to the unhealthy relationship which should reduce some of the barriers victims face is the process of leaving an abusive relationship.
Why some victims do not leave their abusive relationship
Leaving a relationship with abuse can be far more difficult and complex than many imagine. Barriers to leaving vary from victim to victim and it’s necessary to be compassionate towards victims. Two common barriers are explored below.
People may not know they’re being abused
This is particularly true for non-physical abuse. Such behaviours can be subtly manipulative and controlling, appearing to stem from jealousy or protective instincts that are often romanticised in popular culture.
For example, the popular Twilight and 50 Shades series idealise jealousy as an often controlling, ‘all consuming’ romance. It’s important to challenge the ideals that may romanticise some forms of abusive and controlling behaviours.
Victims may feel blamed or shamed
Victims are often judged harshly with many people blaming victims for their abuse, especially when they fail to leave the relationship after the first instance of abuse. When victims take on this blame it becomes another barrier to leaving their abuser.
Victim blame may also be related to sexism. Victims who fail to behave in accordance with the traditional gender ideal of either a strong, dominant man, or a nurturing, submissive woman may be more likely to be blamed for their experience of abuse by those who endorse these ideals.
My PhD aims to explore these topics and themes, aiming to empower survivors and to reduce the prevalence of physical and non-physical intimate partner violence.
- Kiara Minto
In order to survive the potential chaos of our physical and social worlds, humans have developed a tremendous ability to find order in the chaos.
We do this by using the simple strategy of sorting information by looking for similarities and differences.
Whether it be the stars in the night sky above us, or the people who live around us, we are constantly grouping things animate or inanimate (a classic example of grouping).
We group others according to markers like species, age, apparent sex, skin colour, weight, facial features, and clothing. When we use these cues, we will perceive another as being similar or different.
Human enterprises such as the media and the social sciences also rely on sorting information according to similarity and difference. 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.”
The problem is that once things are categorised into social groups, there is a bias towards focusing on difference rather than similarity.
Media help propagate the cult of difference
The media, for example, tends to focus on how groups are different rather than similar to each other.
If we use recent media accounts to process information about Americans, we would think that are two basic types – Republicans and Democrats. They even have their own colours – red and blue.
Many media stories lead us to believe that there are huge differences between these two “types” of Americans, because they are focusing on their differences rather than their similarities.
Social scientists also search for differences, often neglecting larger similarities
And what about the social sciences? The science of psychology has developed to favour difference over similarity.
We set up studies to look for differences between experimental and control groups or between people from different existing social groups (e.g., Australian vs. Chinese). We are trained to conduct statistical analyses that involve testing for difference, but not for similarity.
Publications also tend to report studies that found “significant” differences between groups rather than studies that found no differences (i.e., the file drawer problem). The bigger the difference the better and so we often see visual representations of data that make differences appear larger than they are!
How can we focus on similarities?
Our paper concentrates on research and writing strategies that focus on similarities (without ignoring differences). Focusing on similarities is healthy for science and for the promotion of peaceful intergroup relations.
Following are a few research and writing strategies we highlight in our paper. We illustrate these strategies using some of our own cross-cultural data.
- Richard Lalonde
Read full article:
Lalonde, R.N., Cila, J., Lou, E. & Cribbie, R. A. (2015). Are we really that different from each other? The difficulties of focusing on similarities in cross-cultural research. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 21, 525-534.
After the recent US election people on the political left went into a frenzy mulling over all the reasons why Trump won.
Is America just full of racists? Are people scared of their economic prospects for the future? Are people sick of political corruption and want to “drain the swamp”? Has Government regulation gotten out of hand?
You heard all the discussions on the news, between your co-workers, and in your Facebook feed. Everyone had an expert opinion.
But what does the science actually say? Here are three factors that psychological and political science suggest explain Trump’s popularity.
1. Opposition to immigration rises in times of prosperity, not recession
We typically think that countries become more restrictive in their immigration policies when they suffer economically. Yet in the 4 years leading up to the 2016 election, the United States had steady growth in GDP, the job sector, and hourly pay rates.
With the economy doing so well, why did we see anti-immigrant sentiments flaring in this election cycle?
Despite common beliefs, research shows that that societies are actually more likely to oppose immigration when they are doing well economically. From America to Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, we see right-wing parties rising to power during periods of economic prosperity.
2. It’s not just the poor; the rich also oppose immigration
After the election you probably heard that the working poor of America were the ones that supported Trump because of his tough stance on immigration. They thought immigrants would steal their jobs.
But it’s not just the working poor, but also those doing quite well economically that are likely to oppose immigration. The research shows that, indeed, those with higher disposable income are just as likely to oppose immigration as those who have the least disposable income.
It’s suggested that this is partly driven by fear of future deprivation. However, the idea that the poor vote conservatively is not supported by data. In fact we find the median income of Trump supporters was $72,000 (compared to the national median of $56,000).
3. Conservative nostalgia for the ‘good old days’
“Make America great again” was the central slogan of Trump’s campaign. This glorification of the past is a common thread in the rise of right-wing parties.
Right-wing politicians tend to glorify the past and highlight how bad we’re doing in the present (even when it’s not objectively true). This creates a sense of urgency.
When people hear this type of talk they are more likely to support drastic changes and the right-wing parties that propose these changes.
The following clip, from Ava Duverney’s documentary the 13th (available on Netflix), highlights glorification of the past and the need to be tough in Trump’s election campaign (as well as the link to racist policing and crowd violence). Warning: strong language and violence.
So next time you hear your friends, family and media pundits arguing the rise of Trump and the Right, you’ll know at least three factors based on research as to how these parties, and these politicians rise to power!
- Zahra Mirnajafizadeh
“Allyship” has recently become a hot topic in the worlds of social justice agitation and movements for greater equality. Movements and campaigns like support for marriage equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, and men’s support for the Women’s March, have highlighted the role allies can play in social movements.
Who are allies?
Allies are people from privileged groups, working together with or on behalf of socially disadvantaged groups, to improve the status and conditions for the latter. Think of White people protesting side by side with Black Lives Matter protestors, men supporting women in demanding equal pay, and straight people joining marches for marriage equality in support of LGBTIQ groups.
Allyship is not a new phenomenon
Researchers have only started discussing allyship in recent years. Yet allies have been around for as long as social movements have. For instance, the suffrage movement in the United States was a movement that was supported by many influential men of the time. Similarly, White politicians were important allies of the African National Congress in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement.
What influences people to act as allies?
Social research shows that people generally tend to favour their own groups and communities. We are rewarded for actions that favour our own groups—perhaps through acceptance, recognition for being a valuable group member, receiving favours when in need, etc. On the flip side, if we favour the interests of other groups or communities, we risk criticism, rejection, suspicion, and ostracism.
Given this context, how do advantaged group allies come to create and sustain support for disadvantaged groups outside of their own group? We identify 5 factors.
1. Normalising influences early in life
Allies tend to have had normalising influences while growing up, in the form of positive parental influence, contact with relatives or members of the community who probably belonged to these socially disadvantaged groups (like having a gay uncle, or a Black teacher), and exposure through popular culture and entertainment.
2. Feeling empathy for disadvantaged people
Allies report feeling empathy towards people they knew who may have identified as gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans, or been a racial minority, and saw them struggling with their identity. Studies show this can happen because of greater abilities for perspective-taking. This empathy also comes from the ability to relate the experiences of people from disadvantaged groups, to their own experiences of distress from being slighted, excluded or discriminated against in some way.
3. Feeling angry about unjust systems
Allies report feeling anger or a feeling of resistance towards people or systems found to be oppressing or bullying the people they know. Research suggests that when new experiences and information challenge their internalised worldview, allies start to experience resistance and rejection of those systems.
4. Having had opportunities to help
Allies tend to have had opportunities to reflect and help. Some have had the chance to directly help disadvantaged groups. Others encountered information that lead to self-reflection on topics of systemic oppression. Perhaps such opportunities for activism arose during high school or university life. Early experience tends to be an important primer to later engagement in allyship.
5. Supporting progressive values
Allies tend to have liberal or progressive values and a pluralistic orientation. They are lower on sexual prejudice, and religiosity. Allies typically have a broad orientation towards egalitarianism and fairness, even if they have not had contact with people different from themselves. This orientation is strengthened through exposure to diverse people, new information, and opportunities to help. With time, they are able to integrate or become comfortable with accepting multiple views of the world, and apply that to their understanding of complex concepts of privilege, oppression, and the existence of multiple social identities and realities.
Do you recognise any of these characteristics and themes in your own journey as an ally? Feel free to comment and tell us more. Understanding the nature of allyship is at the heart of my ongoing PhD research.
Humans are social beings. We all belong to social groups - for example family, friends, colleagues, church choir, or even political parties.
When we commit to a group, we act in accordance to the group’s standards for behaviours, and add the group’s identity to our sense of self.
Some groups are more important to us than others, providing meaningful identities and even personal life goals. Religious or faith groups often work like that. Research has found links between religious beliefs and our attitudes towards life or even how we vote for political leaders and choose to support national policies. In general, being part of a religious group or faith is linked to higher well-being.
Life changes can make group memberships toxic
Yet sometimes group memberships can become toxic or undesirable for a person. Faith groups are no exception. For example, one participant in our study was rejected by their local church and congregation after they married their same-sex partner.
More broadly, life events such as migration or marriage, or societal events such as natural disasters or political revolutions, can introduce new environments and motivate changes to attitudes, beliefs and identities. Such changes may mean that our groups no longer ‘fit’ us.
Leaving toxic groups may preserve well-being
We conducted research with Americans who have had different experiences with religions. We asked people aged over 30 about their faith at age 20 and today, and compared people who have left their faith and become non-religious (n = 36) with those who maintained the same faith (n = 96).
Among other things, we were interested in to what extent being rejected by the faith group would affect their well-being today.
Our results show that being rejected at age 20 by people in their faith group was associated with lower well-being in the present (more than 10 years later) for people who continued with their faith. However, for those who left a faith group, the rejection did not do ongoing harm.
Such results affirm one reason why our social identities can be changed or lost. Previous research on identity loss has mostly focused on its harmful effects, such as increased depression and mortality. Here, however, we show that identity loss can sometimes be a buffer to protect our well-being from threats in a toxic group.
When groups become toxic, leaving the group can protect psychological well-being.
On a psychological level, the findings show how losing group membership can be beneficial in certain circumstances, where the benefits of abandoning a particular group membership outweigh the benefits of maintaining it. However, changes in faith have broad and far-reaching consequences. Understanding changes in religious and political affiliation is the topic of my PhD research.
- Gi Chonu
* * *
Chonu, G. K., Louis, W. R., Haslam, S. A., (2017). When groups reject us: Testing buffering effects of identity change and multiple group memberships. Manuscript in preparation.
What makes a movement?
Is it hanging a banner on a coal stack? Flying a drone over a whaling ship? Chants and marches? Or minutes, agendas, and long, repetitive planning meetings?
Who makes a movement?
Are they the paid staff with funds and strategic plans? Your neighbour giving an hour a week in their after work time? The local team planting trees in their reserve on a Saturday afternoon? Or people sitting and sharing links and posts on social media?
Defining the environmental movement: who’s who, and what they do
Research about these questions has tended to focus on the operations of groups that shout the loudest. These groups are frequently those that are skilled at attracting media attention as part of their tactics, are the easiest to study, and have the systems in place to support external research. As a result Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and other large multinational groups feature predominantly in the environmental movement literature.
But is that image of a Greenpeace banner down a coal stack, or a 350.org rally with shouting, placard holding people really representative of what environmentalism in the field actually is? What about what everybody else is doing?
There is a lot more to the environmental movement than its biggest, most vocal players.
A closer look at what’s going on in the environmental movement in Australia quickly uncovers the overwhelming diversity of issues, approaches and actors that together create this movement.
Over 500 groups with websites across Australia are active in some form of environmental advocacy—spanning diverse issues including pesticide use, population growth, climate change, catchment management, feral dog management and species conservation. If we add in those only using social media and word of mouth to promote their cause, then in fact thousands of groups, made up of tens of thousands of members and supporters are active in some way in creating this movement.
What of campaigning, that classic approach to building a movement?
Over 700 active campaigns are being promoted via Australian based websites. These range from local issues against coal mines to complex national campaigns focusing on marine protection, clean energy and land clearing. They involve tree planting, placard waving, wildlife rescue and letter writing. It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot going on.
The vast majority of environmental groups in Australia have no paid staff, do not receive any substantial media attention, and do not use protest techniques or direct action to promote their cause.
While they may not ‘win’ all, or even many, of their causes, clearly there is something special about the environmental movement that has united such a diversity of voices in such a short span of time. I’d like to get a sense of the collective action tactics and strategies used by these campaigning groups and the failures and successes that they are experiencing in the course of their activities. My PhD research aims to look under the surface of the latest protest banner and begin to understand why, what and who actually makes the environmental movement the global phenomenon that it has become today.
- Robyn Gulliver
Eat your five serves of fruit and vegetables! Get your 30 minutes of exercise! Drink responsibly!
There’s no shortage of messages telling us how to be healthy. But do we action them?
Health habits solidify during young adulthood and have knock-on effects for later life. University students may be particularly vulnerable to forming bad habits. Young people are responsible for their diets for the first time, but also under time pressure and economic strain. University students also experience other pressures, such as peer pressure to drink excessively or to engage in other risky behaviours.
So are young people building healthy habits at University?
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Students’ engagement in health behaviours actually declines over the course of their studies. The link between students and excessive drinking is also well-known.
If students are so smart, why do they do so many dumb (unhealthy) things?
When students identify with the student group, they may act in line with the norms of that group. Because student norms tend to favour unhealthy behaviours, students end up engaging in unhealthy behaviours.
In a recent book chapter, we distilled key lessons from social psychology and discussed how these insights could be used to change behaviour.
People engage in behaviours seen to be central or defining of their group
Health behaviours are not simply personal choices but rather reflect habits that are part and parcel of belonging to particular groups. These behaviours can have negative or positive consequences depending on which behaviours have become tied up with group membership. As an example, consider how the central role in the national psyche of the full English breakfast or the meat-laden Australian BBQ determines day-to-day food choices and compare this to the classic Mediterranean diet or the abundance of fresh fish and vegetables in Japan.
Students often describe behaviours with negative implications for health – such as excess alcohol consumption – as ‘normal’ within the university context. Many have expectations about these norms even before they step foot on campus. So, when students are thinking about themselves as a student, being healthy is not at the forefront of their minds – in fact, the opposite is clearly the case.
Efforts to change student behaviour that make student identity salient may backfire because student identity does not promote health behaviour.
Those who want to change student behaviour need to encourage students to see themselves in terms of another identity for which healthy behaviour is expected – such as athletic identities – or make health behaviour more central to what it means to be a student.
Changing group norms is no easy task
If unhealthy behaviours are seen as central to what it means to be a group member – such as students and drinking – group members may be very resistant to attempts to change their behaviour, even if such change would improve their health.
Norms themselves are quite complex. They have both a descriptive element (what is commonly done) and a prescriptive element (what should be done). And these two elements don’t always align. For example, students might approve of more responsible drinking but still go out and binge drink anyway!
When these descriptive and prescriptive elements are in conflict, people tend to go along with what their group actually does, rather than what their group thinks should be done. So, if people try to change one element without paying attention to the other, these efforts may be ineffective or even counterproductive.
If you want to encourage health behaviours, you need to communicate that the group both approves of healthy behaviour and actually engages in that behaviour.
Change agents should try to frame identities and norms in ways that communicate that being a student means being healthy. And work with students on health messages to ensure that these are credible and acceptable.
We believe that bringing a stronger understanding of how social factors shape students’ choices about their health allows us to unlock the full potential of groups so that these become a positive – rather than a negative – force for students’ health behaviours. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!
- Joanne Smith (Guest blogger and Social Change Lab collaborator)
Read the full article:
Smith, J. R., Louis, W. R., & Tarrant, M. (2017). University students’ social identity and health behaviours. In K. Mavor, M. J. Platow, & B. Bizumic (Eds.), Self and social identity in educational contexts (pp. 159-174). London: Routledge.
Statistics is a useful tool for understanding the patterns in the world around us. But our intuition often lets us down when it comes to interpreting those patterns. In this series we look at some of the common mistakes we make and how to avoid them when thinking about statistics, probability and risk.
1. Assuming small differences are meaningful
Many of the daily fluctuations in the stock market represent chance rather than anything meaningful. Differences in polls when one party is ahead by a point or two are often just statistical noise.
You can avoid drawing faulty conclusions about the causes of such fluctuations by demanding to see the “margin of error” relating to the numbers.
If the difference is smaller than the margin of error, there is likely no meaningful difference, and the variation is probably just down to random fluctuations.
2. Equating statistical significance with real-world significance
We often hear generalisations about how two groups differ in some way, such as that women are more nurturing while men are physically stronger.
These differences often draw on stereotypes and folk wisdom but often ignore the similarities in people between the two groups, and the variation in people within the groups.
If you pick two men at random, there is likely to be quite a lot of difference in their physical strength. And if you pick one man and one woman, they may end up being very similar in terms of nurturing, or the man may be more nurturing than the woman.
You can avoid this error by asking for the “effect size” of the differences between groups. This is a measure of how much the average of one group differs from the average of another.
If the effect size is small, then the two groups are very similar. Even if the effect size is large, the two groups will still likely have a great deal of variation within them, so not all members of one group will be different from all members of another group.
3. Neglecting to look at extremes
The flipside of effect size is relevant when the thing that you’re focusing on follows a "normal distribution" (sometimes called a “bell curve”). This is where most people are near the average score and only a tiny group is well above or well below average.
When that happens, a small change in performance for the group produces a difference that means nothing for the average person (see point 2) but that changes the character of the extremes more radically.
Avoid this error by reflecting on whether you’re dealing with extremes or not. When you’re dealing with average people, small group differences often don’t matter. When you care a lot about the extremes, small group differences can matter heaps.
4. Trusting coincidence
Did you know there’s a correlation between the number of people who drowned each year in the United States by falling into a swimming pool and number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in?
If you look hard enough you can find interesting patterns and correlations that are merely due to coincidence.
Just because two things happen to change at the same time, or in similar patterns, does not mean they are related.
Avoid this error by asking how reliable the observed association is. Is it a one-off, or has it happened multiple times? Can future associations be predicted? If you have seen it only once, then it is likely to be due to random chance.
5. Getting causation backwards
When two things are correlated – say, unemployment and mental health issues – it might be tempting to see an “obvious” causal path – say that mental health problems lead to unemployment.
But sometimes the causal path goes in the other direction, such as unemployment causing mental health issues.
You can avoid this error by remembering to think about reverse causality when you see an association. Could the influence go in the other direction? Or could it go both ways, creating a feedback loop?
6. Forgetting to consider outside causes
People often fail to evaluate possible “third factors”, or outside causes, that may create an association between two things because both are actually outcomes of the third factor.
For example, there might be an association between eating at restaurants and better cardiovascular health. That might lead you to believe there is a causal connection between the two.
However, it might turn out that those who can afford to eat at restaurants regularly are in a high socioeconomic bracket, and can also afford better health care, and it’s the health care that affords better cardiovascular health.
You can avoid this error by remembering to think about third factors when you see a correlation. If you’re following up on one thing as a possible cause, ask yourself what, in turn, causes that thing? Could that third factor cause both observed outcomes?
7. Deceptive graphs
A lot of mischief occurs in the scaling and labelling of the vertical axis on graphs. The labels should show the full meaningful range of whatever you’re looking at.
But sometimes the graph maker chooses a narrower range to make a small difference or association look more impactful. On a scale from 0 to 100, two columns might look the same height. But if you graph the same data only showing from 52.5 to 56.5, they might look drastically different.
You can avoid this error by taking care to note graph’s labels along the axes. Be especially sceptical of unlabelled graphs.
- Winnifred Louis and Cassandra Chapman
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
For most people, the word “radical” is synonymous with the use of violence in social action. This is, however, not always true.
Radical groups are defined by radical ideas rather than radical methods.
The word “radical” itself is an adjective that means going to the origin and fundamental, especially in regards to change from accepted or traditional forms. Nowhere in the various definitions of “radical” is violence mentioned.
Radical doesn’t only refer to the chosen form of action, but also to the driving idea or aspiration. Radical groups’ expect to change not only social norms or governmental policies, but also the very fundamentals of society. For instance, how best to fight social injustices? Such groups may focus on changing the constitution itself rather than individual government policies.
Who are the radicals? 5 types of radical group defined by motivation
Bertjan Doosje and his colleagues categorise radical groups into five different types based on their main concerns. These are:
The diversity of radical groups both in terms of their focus and in terms of their methods needs to be acknowledged so that we can avoid over-simplification in how we understand them and how we respond.
Radical religious groups in Indonesia seek to change the entire social structure
Indonesia is governed by common law. Nonetheless, polls suggest that the majority of Indonesians would support the implementation of Islamic law. In this context, many of the country’s radical groups are driven by religious motivation – without necessarily supporting violence, they seek to fundamentally alter the state.
In the course of my research, I recently talked with the regional spokesman of one Indonesian religious movement that aims to revive the Islamic State, a borderless state that governs all Muslims in the world and non-Muslims within their territory, and hearkens back to the Caliphate that included parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa during the second millennium. I asked if his movement endorsed the use of physical violence as part of their strategy. “Absolutely Not!”, he replied, “We are a peaceful movement and our orientation is educating Muslims on the vision of Caliphate.”
This group criticises specific governmental policies and social norms, but attributes the root cause of problems to the underlying structure of Indonesian society. In their view, for instance, harmful policies are merely symptoms of a wider problem: the “wrong” constitution and a fundamentally flawed system of managing the nation. So, for radical groups like this one, the solution is changing the structure of rules that influence the whole governmental and social system.
Thus, although such movements never use physical violence as the strategy, we can categorise them as radical due to their ideas and visions.
How do such movements promote change? And how do people respond to peaceful revolutionary or radical movements within their society? These are topics that I hope to pursue in my PhD research.
- Susilo Wibisono
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
In the United States, politicians have been publicly accusing town hall protesters of being paid agitators. For some, the idea of ‘the usual suspects’ at social protests suggests wild-eyed do-gooders who are passionate about a range of causes. For others, an angry mob with no loyalty to any one cause.
Who are ‘the usual suspects’?: Identifying multi-cause protesters
To date, psychological research has largely not grappled with the question of multi-cause protesters. We know people support certain causes because of specific grievances or identities. For example, women exposed to sexism are more likely to be feminist. But it’s not well understood why people engage on multiple fronts of collective action.
Using survey responses from Australians protesting in 2003 anti-Iraq war rallies, we investigated the relationships between an individual’s activist network and their activism across time and causes.
5 reasons people engage in collective action for multiple causes
Our studies highlight five key factors that affect whether an individual would identify as an activist and take action for multiple causes.
When people succeed, or at least believe that success is possible, they feel “we can win, I can help, and we can do this together.” These beliefs transfer across to new causes they believe in.
2. Dispelling the activist myth
People can be critical of activists and some people may be fearful of getting involved in community action because of negative stereotypes. However, unfounded fears fade away after a first experience with community groups. People are ready to do more once they know what they’re signing up for.
3. New knowledge
When taking part in collective action, individuals are exposed to new social and political knowledge and become aware of privilege—something that used to be called “consciousness raising” in the old days. People in one group (e.g., against a local polluter) might teach you about a bigger picture (e.g., the environmental movement), and that will lead to more activism.
4. Growing trust
The mutual trust and respect that people build up as members of one group can transfer to the other groups and causes those activists support. It is therefore valuable for groups to be internally diverse because their message and the trust associated with it spreads farther into more communities and networks.
5. They were asked
Being directly invited by members of one group to become involved in other groups and causes is a factor increasing multi-cause activism. Being asked is one of the strongest predictors of collective action in any cause!
People won’t take action in new causes if their early experiences are negative
Of course, the flip side of the above are also true. Unrealistic expectations and perceived failure can be demoralising and lead to withdrawal. Scary or violent experiences, information that seems to conflict too much with one’s own political views, and hearing one’s own community or side of politics mocked and put down can be off-putting to new activists. Those factors can prevent people who are exposed to one group from taking on board the bigger networks of causes and actions.
In sum, early experiences in activism determine the degree to which a person identifies as an ‘activist’ and the way their social action spreads across multiple domains of collective action.
We continue to work on this question of spreading activism. I’m currently asking what leads people to disengage, up the ante, or radicalise after success or failure of collective action. Tulsi Achia is studying ally activism and Cassandra Chapman investigates how people choose which charities to support and how donors come to support multiple charitable causes. Finally, Nita Lauren asks how you can graduate people from doing easy forms of sustainable action or environmental activism to more difficult ones.
Stay tuned for our latest findings on how people work to change the world for the better.
- Winnifred Louis
Read the full article:
Louis, W. R., Amiot, C. E., Thomas, E. F. & Blackwood, L.M. (2016). The ‘Activist Identity’ and activism across domains: A multiple identities analysis. Journal of Social Issues, 72 (2), 242-263. doi: 10.1111/josi.12165
Evaluating community programs to maximize impact and efficiency
Around the world, thousands of organizations run programs aimed at helping people: development agencies try to lift communities out of poverty; rehabilitation programs aim to support addicts to reclaim control of their lives; youth programs want at-risk kids to get the best start in life.
Whatever the mission, community programs are trying to make a difference.
Money is invested by governments, by foundations, by people like you and I, because we want to see these programs succeed. But do they? Are we sure they work?
For years, across all areas of social work, there has been growing pressure to evaluate community programs and ensure they are effective. Randomized control trials help us to see if positive change is occurring over time by comparing people who participate in programs and those who do not.
Such research tells us if people taking part in the program are, as a result, more able to feed their children, less likely to relapse into drug abuse, or more likely to stay in school.
Evaluations that tell us if a program works are essential. They give donors confidence and ensure people receive help in a way that works. “Black box” evaluations measure variables of interest—like malnutrition rates, drug use, or school attendance—before and after an intervention, to see if it makes any difference. And many of them do.
A new question is therefore arising: how exactly do they work?
Researchers and practitioners now want to measure aspects within an intervention to understand how it works. And to see if it works in the way it should.
With some colleagues in New Zealand, and in partnership with the Graeme Dingle Foundation, we used data from an evaluation of Project K, a youth development program, to ask just this kind of question.
Project K consists of three components over the course of 14 months—an outdoor adventure experience where young people learn skills, teamwork, and leadership; a community service project to address a need within their local community; and a mentoring partnership with a supportive adult. A previous control trial evaluation of Project K showed that participants significantly improve in social resources (connectedness with others, sense of belonging in their community, and their social skills and self-beliefs) because of the program. Now we wanted to know how the program achieved such social gains.
Our analysis showed that adolescents who had positive experiences in the outdoor adventure and the mentoring components of Project K showed the greatest progress. Their experiences in the community service aspect did not contribute to their social development.
Such results highlight the value of evaluating not just if community programs work but how they do. Project K staff gained valuable knowledge from the research that allowed them to change the program to ensure it was as effective as possible for the young people they serve. And as efficient as possible with the resources their funders entrust them with.
This is the value of effective research: knowledge gleaned can help you do more good for more people with less money.
- Cassandra Chapman
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Chapman, C.M., Deane, K.L., Harré, N., Courtney, M.G.R., & Moore, J. (2017). Engagement and mentor support as drivers of social development in the Project K youth development program. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1-12. doi:10.1007/s10964-017-0640-5.
Read the full research report online: http://rdcu.be/oWIW
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.