Two basic ideas motivate my research. The first idea is that social psychological theory offers potentially useful tools for changing society in constructive ways. The second idea is that studying attempts to change society is one of the most fruitful ways to develop and assess social psychological theory. Much of my work has focused on prejudice and intergroup conflict reduction, using large-scale field experiments to test theoretically driven interventions.
Through field experiments in Central and Horn of Africa and in the United States, I have examined the impact of the mass media and interpersonal communication on tolerant and cooperative behaviors. I find support for a behavioral change model based on social norms and group influence. To change behavior, I suggest, it may be more fruitful to target citizens’ perceptions of typical or desirable behaviors (i.e. social norms) than their knowledge or beliefs. How do social norms and behaviors shift in real world settings? Some initial suggestions from this research include peer or role model endorsement, narrative communication, and group discussion. My work in post-conflict countries has led to related research on political cultural change and on civic education. I am also interested in social scientific methodology—particularly causal inference and behavioral measurement.