Robb Willer has the best twitter handle of any academic ever: @GhostFaceWiller. Yes, he’s a Professor of Sociology and Psychology and Business at Stanford…but he also has an amazing twitter handle. All of these things matter. What’s most important? That’s not for me to say. I think that really the whole is greater than the sum of any of these parts. As the Germans say, it’s the gestalt of Robb Willer that makes him especially cool.
He’s also done some incredibly cool studies. He darkens Obama’s face to see if that makes white folk more anxious. He studies how testosterone affects people’s tendency to react to potential perceived threats to their masculinity. And, most awesomely, he studies how the work of Jon Haidt can be applied to help groups be better at recruiting people from different tribes/cultures/cults/political parties/religions to their point of view.
Of course, one of the big questions for the college-educated crowd is what is up with Trump’s supporters. Part of that story is racism. But a big part of that story is also the Hillbilly Honor Culture that has been passed down for ages from the Scots-Irish. It’s a culture that made sense in a herding context. It’s not a culture that serves the needs of people in the Information Age. That’s not a comfortable thing for humanity to talk about but that’s the moment in history we’ve reached. It’s time we became more reflective and each took a look at what we’ve picked up from our families and why. The science is all there. Now, it’s time to put it all together. It’s time for Mixed Mental Arts.
GUEST NAME: Rob Willer
I am a professor of sociology, psychology (by courtesy), and organizational behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford University. Previous to this, I was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley from 2006 to 2013. 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).
One area of my research looks at how altruism, morality, and reputation systems produce cooperation and generosity. In this research I find that many aspects of social life that we often view as antisocial or malicious – gossip, moral judgments, status hierarchies – are in fact fundamental to social order.
I have studied how people’s reputational concerns can motivate and sustain pro-group behaviors, and the important role gossip plays in heightening those concerns. I also study the dynamics of status and prestige, with a focus on the social psychological forces that stabilize hierarchies of rank. Most 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.
My other main area of research looks at the forces shaping Americans’ political attitudes. I view political attitudes and ideology as, 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’ support the Tea Party and their perception that white advantage in the U.S. is declining. I also study how political psychology findings can be applied to construct persuasive political messages, and I occasionally consult in this area.
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 Sociology, American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Administrative Science Quarterly, Proceedings 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, 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.