Active and recent research projects
What leads some group members to fight and die for their group, while others favour peaceful solutions? Identity fusion - commonly described as a ‘oneness’ with one’s group - may hold the answers. Samples come from four continents, including Indonesian fundamentalist Muslims, British football fans, Australian ultras and Brazilian torcidas organizadas (football ‘hooligans’). This research has been conducted as part of a large ERC-funded grant (Ritual Modes: Divergent modes of ritual, social cohesion, prosociality, and conflict), an ESRC-funded grant (Ritual, Community, and Conflict) and an ESRC doctoral scholarship.
Stress & bonding
Collecting scientific data in the field can be challenging, particularly for physiological measures. We collected data at live World Cup events in Brazil from 2014 and at a series of American college basketball events to explore relationships between physiological stress (salivary cortisol, heart rate and respiratory sinus arrhythmia), game outcome, and social bonding. The data, collected in collaboration with researchers at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil) and the University of Connecticut (USA) are currently being analysed and written up.
reducing recidivism via football
Our social identities are clearly important to us; they’re what help us know how to behave around people and give us a sense of belonging and meaning. One particularly intense form of social bonding is identity fusion. For highly fused groups, individuals report feeling like family. This ‘psychological kinship’ means that fused people deeply value the lives of all group members, are committed to the group, and want to stick by them. For ex-convicts a lack of social support, particularly in the form of a stable family, is a major issue with reoffending. We predict that projects which provide a foundational set of personally transformative experiences for re-building this void in social support and belonging are likely to reduce reoffending. This research is being conducted as part of a large ERC-funded grant: Ritual Modes: Divergent modes of ritual, social cohesion, prosociality, and conflict.
How anthropologists can help address the WEIRD problem
Overreliance on Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) participants in psychological experiments is not merely biased, but samples one of the most atypical slices of humanity, both historically and cross-culturally (Heine, 2008; Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010a, 2010b). WEIRD participants appear to be outliers in numerous cognitive and behavioral domains, from visual perception, spatial reasoning, and inferential induction, to moral reasoning, decision-making, and the heritability of IQ.
With experts from psychology, cognitive science, and anthropology, we have identified four fundamental principles that together may aid in solving the WEIRD problem. This is the WILD approach:
Worldwide - samples are selected from every corner of the world, i.e., not just from English-speaking countries;
In situ - the emphasis is on participants behaving independently in natural environments rather than laboratory settings;
Local - research is informed by the relevant local cultures rather than carbon-copy protocols that are developed in a lab and implemented in other cultures, i.e. bottom-up research designs;
Diverse - samples reflect human diversity and are not limited to student populations.
Although not all researchers need to adopt the WILD approach (e.g. those seeking proof of concept might do better working with simpler recruitment strategies), in many fields of cognitive and behavioral research, tools sensitive to cultural complexity and diversity are urgently required.