Bio

I am a professor of sociology, psychology (by courtesy), and organizational behavior (by courtesy), the director of the Polarization and Social Change Laboratory at Stanford University, and the co-Director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University. Previously, I was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. I received a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from Cornell University and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Iowa. 

 

In my research I study social forces that bring people together (e.g., morality, altruism), forces that divide them (e.g., fear, prejudice), and domains of social life that feature the complex interplay of the two (e.g., hierarchies, politics).

 

The main area of my research looks at the social and psychological forces shaping Americans’ political attitudes. I have a particular interest in techniques for overcoming polarization to build political consensus. I study how political psychology findings can be applied to construct persuasive political messages, and I occasionally consult in this area.


Much of my political research suggests that attitudes and ideology are, in part, products of individuals' efforts to manage the threats they face in everyday life. For example, I've found that masculinity threats can influence men's attitudes towards war and homosexuality. In other research, I find a link between white Americans' views of welfare programs and the Tea Party and their perception that white advantage in the U.S. is declining.  

The other main area of my research looks at how altruism, morality, and reputation systems promote cooperation and generosity. In this research I find that many aspects of social life that we often view as antisocial or malicious - such as gossip, moral judgments, and status hierarchies - are also fundamental to social order. I also study the dynamics of status and prestige, with a focus on the social psychological forces that stabilize hierarchies of rank. Recently, I have studied the role that emotions play in the moral judgments people form about one another, and how those judgments in turn can promote cooperation and solidarity in groups. 

In my work I try to employ whatever research method offers the most leverage on a given research question. As a result, I've used a variety of methods, including laboratory and field experiments, surveys, archival research, social network analysis, physiological measurement, agent-based modeling, and direct observation of behavior. 

My research has appeared primarily in sociology, psychology, and organizations journals, including the American Journal of SociologyAmerican Sociological ReviewAnnual Review of SociologyJournal of Personality and Social PsychologyPsychological Science, Administrative Science QuarterlyProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences.

 

I occasionally consult on research projects that seem either socially valuable or very interesting to me. I have consulted on projects with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Last Resort Exoneration Project, the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, and Aziz Ansari.

 

Before academic life, I worked as a dishwasher, line cook, pizza delivery man, and construction worker, among other things. I grew up in Kansas and South Carolina. 

 

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© 2016 by Robb Willer.