Effective Altruism is a global movement to promote efficient philanthropy.
Propelled by Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save and William MacAskill’s 80,000 hours, the movement argues that individuals have a moral obligation to give as much as they can. Effective altruists urge donors to use science and evaluation to determine which action is morally best—defined as helping the largest number of people possible.
Effective altruism is increasingly popular with scientists, philosophers, and donors around the globe. Yet the movement has been criticised by many activists and aid workers.
Is effective altruism just?
The desire to maximise good may lead some effective altruists to overlook those with the greatest need. The extremely poor, disabled people, and those who are disadvantaged in multiple ways are comparatively costly to help because their problems tend to be complex.
Further, some effective altruists may endorse actions that benefit many but carry a heavy cost for a few. For example, they may perceive sweat shops to be morally defensible because they provide cheap and abundant goods to many around the world, even though they are harmful to workers.
Some critics consider effective altruism to be unjust when it overlooks severe need and endorses projects that benefit many at the expense of a few.
Is the measurement of effectiveness appropriate?
Effective altruists seek an evidence-base for the impact of their giving. They generally favour data that is quantifiable and measureable in the short term.
This sounds great, but actually presents some challenges.
Effective altruists put special stock in randomised, controlled trials, a famously robust method of scientific investigation. These trials, however, are costly. Many charities cannot afford to run them. This has lead effective altruists to disproportionately endorse medical interventions, where funding for such trials has been forthcoming.
These trials work best on small, containable solutions. Mosquito nets, for example, can be randomly allocated to some individuals, and infection rates are easy to measure. However, many of the world’s greatest problems—like education, food production, water quality, and human rights—cannot be solved with a simple product.
Important solutions may be overlooked by effective altruists because they are harder to evaluate with preferred quantifiable methods.
Does effective altruism help people in the long-term?
Critics claim that effective altruists focus disproportionately on tangible solutions but fail to consider the wider socio-political landscape that creates and perpetuates human suffering.
First, focusing on personal charity as the solution to systemic inequality may lead some effective altruists to overlook their privilege and the benefits they receive from the political and economic systems that oppress the global poor.
Campaigning and sustained advocacy are required to change many of the systems that oppress people. Effective altruism, with its focus on doing the most good, is cause-neutral. This means that effective altruists may be less likely to sustain focus on a given issue long enough for real change to occur.
Focusing on technical approaches and cost-benefit analyses, effective altruists may prefer to send dependency-oriented help (a total solution to a problem) rather than autonomy-oriented help (the tools and skills people need to help themselves). Rather than lifting people out of poverty and hardship, dependency-oriented help may actually perpetuate a reliance on aid in the long-term.
When beneficiaries take charge, they develop self-esteem and a sense of control over their lives. Communities that develop their own solutions also care more about maintaining change over time. Unfortunately, it is much more expensive and time-consuming to up-skill local community members to drive solutions forward than to provide outside experts who are already trained.
Taken together, these concerns suggest effective altruists may be less likely to recognise the systemic sources of suffering. They may also be less willing to offer aid that brings about sustainable change.
So, is effective altruism effective?
The effective altruism movement has been inspiring to many and has motivated a groundswell of generosity that is wonderful to see. Yet, some claim that effective altruism is unjust, methodologically flawed, and fails to address systemic sources of poverty and oppression.
As a comparatively young movement, effective altruism is still finding its feet. Once the movement considers and responds to such suggestions for improvement, its momentum could make a huge positive impact in the world. Three ways effective altruism could change for the better are: considering the degree of need; broadening the sources of evidence; and seeking to build capacity within beneficiary groups to respond to future crises.
What are the causes and conditions of global inequality? How can I best help? What can I do with my resources and privilege to create a better world?
As concerned humans—whether we be effective altruists, traditional philanthropists, activists, or volunteers—the more we ask ourselves these questions, the better the world will become.
- Cassandra Chapman
The content of this blog post is based on the following article:
Gabriel, I. (2017). Effective Altruism and its Critics. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 34(4), 457-473. DOI: 10.1111/japp.12176
When I had first moved to Australia from India, a friend of mine was growing out his hair and we were having an elaborate discussion about how his hair could be styled. He was looking for some advice from me (I give great hair and skincare advice in general). I suggested a look and he wasn’t convinced at first. So I said to him that I’d google it for him and show him how it could look on someone like him. When I typed the style descriptor in, I added “White male” into the search terms. He found it hilarious and said that just adding “male” would have done the job. He later joked that I was being super racist towards him! I had to explain to him that while in his world, “man” just meant men who looked like him (i.e., White), my world consisted of both White men and other men of colour. In describing him as a White man, I was being specific and descriptive.
Our relationship with race continues to be a difficult one - true for both White folks and for folks of colour.
Consider this: white folks apparently shouldn’t be seeing colour in anything or anyone – things get pretty awkward the moment race or skin colour is mentioned. Additionally, folks of colour can’t catch a break from “where are you really from?” based on how they look. They are encouraged to become race-blind by the very same people when they’re told “Oh my god, stop seeing race in everything!”. It’s only time before someone gets badly hurt from all this blindness!
The topic of race makes people anxious, and it doesn’t help that talking about race also evokes social disapproval. To protect ourselves from all this angst, we use different strategies such as avoidance, pluralistic ignorance, and denial. One particularly preferred strategy, is called strategic colourblindness.
Strategic colourblindness is the avoidance of putting race on the table. It is the avoidance of talking about race, noting racial factors as influencing anything, or even acknowledging racial difference. The purpose of this is to avoid the appearance of bias, or avoiding potential misunderstanding, or the avoidance of discomfort that comes from considering the issue of race.
It’s the familiar “I don’t see race or skin colour, I see people as people” line. It sounds great, right? It may even seem like a strategy that would make the world an equal place for us all. But as research now shows (see here for a review), it is a strategy and set of beliefs that is linked with several social processes that preserve the racial status quo, and further entrench existing cleavages in inter-racial interactions.
So how is it harmful to suggest that we see people as individuals and not as mere members of groups? Let’s break it down from the start.
“I don’t see colour” – is it really possible for us to not perceive race when we meet someone?
People claim that they don’t see race or skin colour, but on the contrary, research indicates that people are not colourblind perceivers. Of all the dimensions on which people categorise others, race is among the quickest and most automatic categories we process when we see someone.
People see colour, but saying that they do, is not socially acceptable. This gap between perceiving racial categories and the reduced social acknowledgement of it, is often guided by social and interactional motivations. This means that people don’t acknowledge race because they don’t want to appear prejudice, and want to avoid the anxiety of race-based conversations.
Is insisting on a colourblind view of the world actually furthering racial hierarchy, alienating White folks, and silencing racial minorities?
1. Colourblind strategies make White people feel bias-free but they ironically appear biased to folks of colour:
Research shows that whilst avoiding the issue of race is a way of protecting oneself from the anxiety inter-racial interactions for socially dominant groups, most commonly White folks in the inter-racial equation, it actually backfires and is counterproductive. Contrary to seeming non-prejudicial and bias-free, when White people avoid race in race-relevant contexts, folks of colour are quick to pick up on the avoidance, and perceive them as racially biased.
2. The “I don’t see colour” line, may feel like equality, but the consequences associated with such beliefs are far from equal.
Colourblind beliefs are associated with implicit bias, modern racism, and less support for equality initiatives that create opportunities for minorities.
3. Colourblind beliefs makes us particularly prone to ignoring, overlooking, or downplaying instances of inequality and bias.
Ignoring people’s identity groups makes us prone to either ignoring or downplaying instances of bias, discrimination, or inequality (see here and here). So when White folks adopt colourblindness, it can make them blind to the injustices that folks of colour face as a result of the racial groups they belong to, and the unique experiences they come with. Also, colourblind views are seen as maintaining the status quo – keeping the system of racial hierarchy and oppression-justifying beliefs going. System-justifying beliefs can include beliefs that racism is now a thing of the past, and that inequality by race or ethnic group no longer exists. Put together, it keeps the cycle of poor faith and mistrust going between White people and racial minorities.
I’m going to end by going back to the question I asked at the start:
How does something that is actually suggesting that we see people as individuals and not as mere members of groups, harmful?
Try to answer the following questions for yourself now that you have read the research.
When I adopt a colourblind strategy:
Tulsi Achia is a second year PhD student in the social change lab, and works as a researcher for a not-for-profit organisation. Her PhD focuses on advantaged group allyship or solidarity with disadvantaged groups and ways in which it goes wrong. In projects outside her PhD, she is currently exploring the framing of group-blind thinking in the context of expressed progressive values and allyship with disadvantaged groups, and its impact on the uptake or rejection of diversity initiatives.
Australia national gender pay gap sits at 15.3%, and has been hovering between 15% and 19% for the last two decades. It’s a complex issue caused by many factors.
It’s not simply that both genders are doing the same work but getting paid differently (although that’s one of the factors). Women tend to have more unpaid caring and domestic chores, they work in jobs that attract less pay, and require more workplace flexibility to accommodate other responsibilities. Taken together, women’s greater time out of the workforce affects their career progression and opportunities.
Would the gender pay gap still exist if women had more flexibility? Let’s take a look at one of world’s most popular ride-sharing services, Uber, as an example.
Is Uber the new example for gender wage gap equality?
Uber seems to offer solutions to some of the issues around the gender pay gap: Their drivers have the freedom to hit the road and start working any time they want; a system of pay based on distance travelled; they also have gender-blind matching of drivers and riders. Theoretically, under those conditions, men and women would earn the same. Perhaps riders would even prefer female drivers?
According to data collected in the United States from January 2015 to March 2017, there was no gender discrimination on the platform - meaning people didn’t show a preference based on the gender of their customers, or their drivers. This is a good start.
However, men were found to make 7% more per hour on average.
So what accounts for this pay difference?
Drivers' decision of when and where to drive accounts for 20% of the wage gap. Men tend to work shifts that have higher pay i.e., late night, early morning shifts. Men also work routes that pay more, such as airport trips. The other reason is that women tend to drive for Uber for shorter periods of time – Men are more much likely to drive for Uber for over 2 years. But how would this affect the hourly pay gap? One word: Experience.
It was found that the more trips a driver does, the more they learn the best ways to make money from the platform. While money earned per trip doesn’t increase, drivers just get better at knowing when and where to drive, how fast to drive, and which ride to strategically accept/cancel. This accounts for 30% of the wage gap.
Need for speed
In general, men drive faster than women, this means that men are completing more trips per hour and thus making more per hour. Faster drivers also attract higher ratings from customers. Driving speed accounts for the remaining 50% of the pay gap.
There is indeed a gender pay gap on the Uber platform, but it is not a structural problem. While gig-work like Uber offers women more flexible work hours, there are still other factors that contribute to the pay difference.
Perhaps over time, the app would improve enough to close the earning gap between new drivers and more experienced ones. Perhaps by putting the spot light on speed as the major determinant of the pay gap, slower drivers (of all walks of life) can step on the pedal and get a bit richer (or die trying).
- Hannibal Thai
Hannibal is a first year PhD student researching how message framing can be used to promote environmentally friendly behaviours.
The right image mage can be a powerful way to capture and engage people on an important issue. Three main tips for selecting the right image are:
Use images that evoke an emotional connection.
Use images that are recognised as relevant to the topic/issue being communicated.
Use images that are personally relevant to the viewer.
In a recent study, I applied these principles in the context of sustainable urban storm-water management.
The Australian government is investing large amounts of money in new, sustainable storm-water management initiatives. These initiatives will help address future challenges associated with increasingly extreme rainfall events like storms, cyclones and flood. But as with any new policy initiative, the government must ensure that the wider community is supportive of this transition away from traditional storm-water management practices. The traditional storm-water systems focus on pipes and sewer systems, and the new systems use more sustainable solutions such as rain-gardens, green-walls and wetlands.
Knowing which images engage or disengage people can help people to better understand this transition.
The Australian government is investing in new “water sensitive” storm-water management like rain-gardens (left) and green-walls (right).
To understand how people engage with pictures related to storm-water management, I showed 70 different images (commonly used in communications about storm-water management) to a group of community members from Brisbane, Queensland. I asked this community which images created the most emotional connection, were perceived to be relevant to the topic of storm-water management, and were considered to be personally relevant to them.
What I found was that images of nature, especially images of oceans and reefs, were very good at creating an emotional connection. These same pictures were thought to be personally relevant, but most people did understand their relevance to storm-water management.
Conversely, everyone indicated that pictures of traditional storm-water infrastructure, such as drains and storm-water outlets, were relevant to the topic, but they evoked disgust. We also found that people thought these pictures were the least personally relevant of all the pictures shown.
Images of familiar environments such as local parks and cityscapes, and images that included people engaging with their natural environment, such as riding a bike or walking in a park, were considered to be highly personally relevant. Unfortunately, people did not feel strong emotional connections to new storm-water management solutions such as rain-gardens and green-walls. These were also not considered relevant to the topic or personally relevant to them. Only images of flooding elicited strong emotional connections for people and were considered both relevant to the topic and personally relevant.
This suggests that images of localised flood events represent the best opportunity to engage community members with the topic of storm-water management.
Overall, the results of our study highlight that it is difficult to find one “perfect” image.
Aside from images of flooding, no other images successfully created an emotional connection, and were seen to be relevant to the topic as well as personally relevant.
We must be careful to select images that match the goals of our message. For example, if the goal was to have people feel good about a storm-water management policy, then using images of drains and storm-water outlets would be counterproductive. However, this type of image may be helpful to help people recognize the connection to storm-water management. Whereas, including images of familiar landscapes and/or people would be best is to increase the personal relevance of sustainable urban storm-water management.
Ultimately while images can be a powerful way to engage people with pro-environmental messages, some are more effective, and some may even be detrimental. The study highlights the importance of conducting research to improve our understanding of the role of images in pro-environmental campaigns.
You can read more about the results of our study here.
- Tracy Schultz
Ever read something in the media about public outrage when a big, bad mining company steamrolled local community needs? Chances are, if you’ve touched a newspaper or clicked in social media in the past decade, the answer is yes.
Mining can be an issue of great contention and conflict. While an important source of economic revenue, mining can also bring costly social, economic, and environmental impacts to the local areas in which mines are developed.
Calls have frequently been made to make the voices of community members and other relevant stakeholders heard in the processes of mining development. This is done in an effort to mine in a socially sustainable way – with benefits for both companies and local communities.
Social licence to operate
In recent years, the concept of ‘Social Licence to Operate’ (SLO) has gained popularity. SLO aims to ensure social accountability for mining companies in the view of the communities and other stakeholders who are impacted by mining.
The social accountability and social acceptance of mining created by SLO requires engagement and relationship-building efforts by companies with their stakeholders. One form of engagement that is important is two-way dialogue. While a lot discussions around the importance of two dialogue have taken place, less research has examined exactly what that dialogue looks like, and what it can achieve – in the context of social licence.
Understanding meaningful engagement: Dialogue
Recent research by our team proposes two main ways in which dialogue – as a reciprocal process involving diverse stakeholders – is implemented in SLO.
The first is a free-form process of two-way engagement that focusses on both sides learning: this is the ‘learning model of dialogue’. The second is a more structured process of dialogue that has a predetermined goal to serve a specific purpose: this is the ‘strategic model of dialogue’.
Each model comes with its own pros and cons but both are likely to be useful in developing the kind of opportunities that are important for social licence: that is, for community members and other stakeholders to make their voices heard in shaping mining development processes. So what can dialogue actually achieve?
Outcomes of dialogue in mining
Follow up research explored exactly that question by interviewing expert stakeholder engagement professionals in the mining context. Findings indicate that there are two main types of dialogue: informal and formal dialogue – each with different kinds of outcomes.
Informal dialogue – the kind of conversations had over a cup of tea or glass of beer – was seen to result in relational outcomes. These included, for example, the building of meaningful relationships, trust, an understanding of one another, or learning from others’ diverse experiences. This is the kind of dialogue that might best fit under the learning model of dialogue.
Formal dialogue – taking place, for example, in consultations or committee meetings – was seen to have a lot of structure and specific purpose. This resulted in more ‘concrete’ outcomes such as shared decision-making, consensus, or solving problems. This is the kind of dialogue that might best fit under the strategic model of dialogue.
These two types of dialogue are both important and ultimately, best practice would include one to support the other. There is a lot of complexity in this research, but one useful way to apply this information is to ask whether any meaningful dialogue is occurring at all, for a particular community and mining company! If there is no dialogue, how could it start? And if there is a sense of ongoing dialogue being fruitless or stale, leaders and community members can ask whether the balance needs to be adjusted to allow more openness, informal talks, and mutual learning, on the one hand, or to give more structured, formal processes that aim to achieve concrete outcomes, on the other.
It is important for researchers and those involved in mining development to understanding the complex nature of achieving meaningful engagement and social acceptance around mining to ensure that multiple stakeholders groups can make their voices heard – to shape the mining processes that impact their livelihoods.
- Lucy Mercer-Mapstone
A new system of supporting environmental advocacy is urgently needed: Does Universal Basic Income offer a solution?
Over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries recently co-signed the ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, highlighting the continued deterioration of the health and stability of our global environment. Since the first warning was penned twenty five years ago, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as the impact of citizens engaging in advocacy to demand the protection of our biosphere.
Volunteers sustained and formed iconic campaigns in Australia’s environmental history, however building organised grassroots movements requires time, skill, and money.
In Australia there are hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups who together – group by group, person by person – form the backbone of the environmental movement. They have had successes with the Daintree Rainforest blockade and the Franklin Dam occupation, and are mobilising across the country on the modern Stop Adani campaign.
However, the high cost to voluntary advocates is overlooked. These costs can include financial instability, unemployment, a criminal record, and in some countries, even death.
Luckily for our communities, and our planet, engaged citizens willingly bear individual costs to fight for our collective rights, equality and power.
With the escalating threat of climate change, we need a substantial percentage of our population dedicated to taking action, whether that’s through planting trees, raising funds for community solar projects, or organising and attending rallies and protests. A crucial factor in increasing the number of advocates is ensuring that current and future environmental advocates have the time, financial stability and equal access opportunities to be the active and engaged citizens we so desperately need.
Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the traditional model of paid advocates to do this work for us. Jobs in the environmental advocacy sector are few and generally unsecure. Advocacy can be silenced because of fears of political, legal or financial retribution against both the advocates themselves and those who fund their salaries or support their voluntary organisations. Furthermore, in Australia, a hostile Federal government has spent years attempting to gag non-profit advocacy work by trying to impose restrictions on their tax deductibility status.
We need a different way of supporting our social and environmental movements.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be the key to enabling more citizens to devote their time and skills to advocating for our environment. With the State providing a set basic income for all citizens to cover their basic needs, those who are able to devote their time to advocacy may finally have the opportunity to do so without risking their livelihood. Additionally, a UBI system increases the ability of citizens to retrain, start businesses and have more time as caregivers. However, a UBI system, is not a panacea. Many philosophical and practical questions still need to be answered about its effect on social and economic systems.
Fortunately, with Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland currently trailing versions of UBI, we are a few steps closer to answering these questions. As a result we may be closer to a system that better supports grassroots and unpaid advocates to continue to speak up for our biosphere and our collective future.
As the World Scientists’ Warning notes, ‘with a groundswell of organised grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing’. We all have an opportunity to contribute to this effort.
One of the best ways of contributing is by better enabling the powerful and persistent voices in our communities the resources to advocate for us and the environment.
It is only through that groundswell of grassroots strength that we have any hope of safeguarding our environment and guaranteeing a healthy future for generations to come.
- Robyn Gulliver
I’ve written before about different types of domestic abuse. New research shows that when people subscribe to traditional social norms about gender and romance, they may be more vulnerable to such abuse.
How traditional gender norms can promote domestic abuse
Gender norms highlight the expected or typical behaviour of a person based on their gender.
Traditional gender norms hold men as strong, dominant protectors and women as kind, nurturing caregivers. Gender norms don’t consider gender diversity or fluidity. Although such norms seem positive—emphasising chivalry towards women, for example—these ideals are restrictive of both men and women. Women’s perceived competence may be lowered, and men may be less able to express their emotions and vulnerability.
Many people who hold traditional views of gender have loving, equal relationships.
For others, gender norms can promote a power imbalance that may manifest as abuse within relationships.
Research has shown that women who endorse traditional gender norms are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in their romantic relationships. The same is true for people who believe in traditional romantic beliefs and norms.
Why subscribing to romantic norms makes some women vulnerable to abuse
Traditional romantic norms emphasise the importance of being in a relationship and promote the ideals of love at first sight, one true love, and love conquers all.
These ideals are ever present in Western cultures. Even in early childhood, Disney movies and fairy tales promote love at first sight and the power of love to triumph over all obstacles to an unrealistic degree. Similar messages persist through teen and adult romance novels and films.
Contrary to intuition, women who accept such romantic norms are actually more likely to experience abuse within their romantic relationships.
When internalised, romantic norms may encourage women, in particular, to view their romantic relationship’s success or failure as a reflection of their own self-worth. That’s when such norms can become dangerous.
Accepting romantic norms may motivate people to ignore or romanticise the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
Possessiveness and jealousy can be easily reframed as romantic rather than controlling.
Popular media Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, for example, both strongly romanticise controlling behaviours as a sign of passion and commitment. Characters in both series express the desire to restrict the behaviour of their love interest for reasons motivated by jealousy and possessiveness.
But acting on jealousy in this way by controlling who your partner spends time with and when, is a form of abuse.
Where do we go from here?
Differences and complementarity can lead to mutual respect and care. Vulnerability can be a part of intimacy. In contrast, abuse in romantic relationships is typically about control. Traditional gender norms, and idealised romantic norms provide a framework that can be used to justify or romanticise control and power imbalances. As we move forward we need to challenge our understanding of romance and gender. We need to focus on trust and equality as the foundations of healthy romantic relationships.
- Kiara Minto
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.
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
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.