Our Projects

Other Social Psychology Projects

SIGN researchers are involved in a vast number of research projects, covering many topics. Below is an overview of some such work.

Why and When a Nudge is Not Enough

In recent years, many governments in the Western world have turned to influencing behavior through nudging (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). For instance, one government that has enthusiastically embraced ‘nudging-tactics’ is David Cameron’s Coalition government in the United Kingdom (UK). In 2010, the Cameron government created the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT). The BIT unit, sometimes dubbed ‘the nudge unit’, has since argued for the use of nudges to promote healthier lifestyle choices, to increase tax compliance, and to boost charitable giving.

Members of the SIGN group recently questioned the effectiveness of nudging as a means of bringing about lasting behaviour change. We argue that evidence for its success ignores (a) the fact that many successful nudges are not actually nudges, (b) instances when nudges backfire, and (c) ethical concerns associated with nudges (Mols, Haslam, Jetten, & Steffens, 2014). Instead, and in contrast to nudging, we argue that behaviour change is more likely to be enduring where it involves social identity change and norm internalization. We have conducted a series of experimental studies examining the effectiveness of nudges versus social-identity based social influence techniques.

The Wealth Paradox

The idea that economic downturns provoke tensions and intergroup hostility is remarkably pervasive, and can be found in many different literatures. For example, political scientists often work from the premise that economic crises provide ‘fertile soil’ for populist radical right parties. Intuitively, it appears to make perfect sense to expect that when the economy is booming people will be more tolerant of outsiders, whilst economic decline and hardship give rise to concerns about personal income, wealth and status. This may explain why so many historians, sociologists, political scientists and social psychologists have focused on explaining why hard times produce harsh attitudes towards minorities (and thus why prosperity should be associated with greater tolerance).

However, there is also robust empirical evidence showing that intergroup hostility (and anti-immigration sentiments more specifically) can surge in times of economic prosperity, and among relatively affluent groups. Why would prosperity be associated with hostility towards minorities rather than with greater tolerance? We have conducted a series of studies that shed light on the how, when and why of this so called ‘wealth paradox’ and this work forms the basis of our forthcoming book “The wealth paradox: Economic prosperity and the hardening of attitudes” (Mols & Jetten, Cambridge University Press).