April 5, 2018
Deconstructing the “cultural binary”: Multidimensional models of selfhood and the importance of exploratory research
Reflecting a human tendency to structure thought and language in terms of binary oppositions, much social psychological theorising rests on an assumed binary contrast between “personal” and “social”. For example, a binary opposition between Western individualism/independence and Eastern collectivism/interdependence underlies much theorising in cross-cultural social psychology. This risks oversimplifying cultural differences, as well as marginalising in the literature those cultural groups that are not prototypically “Western” or “Eastern”. Recent findings indicate that a simple bipolar contrast does not capture adequately the diverse models of selfhood that prevail in different world regions. Societies promote—and individuals adopt—different ways of being both independent and interdependent, according to prevailing values, beliefs, economic circumstances and religious heritage. I will argue that exploratory research and inductive theorising can help social psychologists to overcome our cultural preconceptions and biases, in order to build more valid, representative and useful theories.
April 6, 2018
Persuasion in the era of high volume and high velocity information: A social psychological look at social media, fake news, and conspiracy theories
In this talk, I will characterize the high velocity, high volume information era we are undergoing, particularly in the context of social media. I will describe selective exposure, selective dissemination, and selective validation as the hallmarks of social media processing in a context that deprives recipients of cognitive capacity to invalidate misinformation. I will then describe research on fake news, other sources of misinformation, and conspiracy theories. One of my experimental findings suggests that evil human actions may be flagged as conspiratorial but are captivating when the audience is transported by the narrative. Another finding indicates that threatening misinformation can escalate because correction attempts intensify the initial uptake of the misinformation. I will then close by discussing how the social media also contain the key to countering the same processes it engenders by organizing social action.
April 7, 2018
The interface between social psychology, economics, and policy domains: Impact, challenges, and new frontiers
Many of the issues humans face as a species (chronic disease, climate adaptation, social conflict and cohesion) are problems that require as part of their solution attitude and behaviour change. Consequently, understanding how to change people’s behaviour is a major concern of any Government. In 2011 in the wake of the book “Nudge” by Thaler and Sunstein, the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee released a report entitled “Behaviour Change”. In 2015 an executive order by President Obama stated “research findings from fields such a behavioral economics and psychology … can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people”. In 2016 Prime Minister Turnbull established a behavioural science team in Prime Minister and Cabinet and there is a Behavioural Insights Team In Wellington, NZ. In all these cases there has been an increased focus on psychology as a discipline and what it contributes to understanding human behavior. There has never been a better time for psychology to grow in its impact and significance. It is timely to take stock of these developments and identify the impact, challenges and new frontiers. There is an existing focus on cognitive heuristics/biases and decision-framing (e.g., loss/gain, opt in/out), social norms and more rigorous methods for determining policy effectiveness. The potential contribution of social psychology, though, is much broader (e.g., fairness, ingroup norms, social change dynamics, identity change, leadership and persuasion). A particular focus of this address will be to outline underexplored areas at the interface between social psychology, economics and policy domains and strategies to better apply key insights.