Betsy Levy Paluck is a research psychologist whose studies of social norms and networks are providing new insights into strategies for reducing patterns of discrimination, bullying, and ethnic conflict in contexts ranging from American high schools to post-conflict Rwanda.
By translating theories of social psychology (which are usually developed and tested in laboratory-based experiments) into real-world interventions and randomized controlled field experiments, she has made significant progress in identifying levers for positively influencing individual and group behavior.
Some of her fieldwork includes a year-long experiment on the use of media to promote ethnic tolerance in post-conflict Rwanda. Her results show that to change behavior, it is more important to target individuals' perceptions of social norms than their personal beliefs. As well, her ongoing longitudinal study, which has engaged nearly 25,000 students in nearly 60 schools in New Jersey in a series of investigations around bullying, harassment, and prejudice confirmed the power of peers, rather than adult authority, to spread tolerant behaviors through social networks. Paluck's intervention model led to a significant reduction in harassment and other negative behavior.
Most recently, Paluck has examined the role of institutions in shaping behavior and attitudes. She and colleagues found that after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, there was an increase in perceived social norms supporting gay marriage across the ideological spectrum. Paluck's work has profound implications for the development of policies and tools that can change social behavior for the better and is demonstrating the potential for social psychology principles to address real-world problems on a broad scale.
Paluck received a B.S. (2000) and Ph.D. (2007) from Yale University. She was a scholar at the Harvard Academy for International Affairs (2007–2009) prior to joining the faculty of Princeton University, where she is currently a professor of psychology and public affairs and deputy director of the Kahneman-Treisman Center for Behavioral Science and Policy.
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