USC Dornsife’s Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business and vice dean for social sciences, is the newly elected 2016 president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP).
SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel and interact. With more than 6,000 members, the society is the world’s largest organization of social and personality psychologists.
“I feel honored to have been elected and will do the best I can to lead the organization in exciting new directions,” Wood said.
She believes she was elected for this honor because of her desire to give back to the field — as well as simple longevity. “Recognition in science comes from producing a lot, which itself is tied to a long career,” said Wood, who has a joint appointment at USC Marshall School of Business.
A fellow of SPSP, Wood currently serves as its secretary and treasurer. She has also chaired its publications committee and has served in various editorial roles for SPSP journals.
Wood is a social psychologist, and her research addresses the ways that habits guide behavior — and why habits are so difficult to break, as well as evolutionary models of gender differences in behavior.
“Personality and social psychologists study how people think about, influence and relate to one another,” Wood said. “They evaluate how the forces within a person, such as attitudes and personality traits, and in a situation, such as social norms and incentives, explain prejudice, romantic attraction, persuasion, helping, aggression and group interaction, among many other things.”
SPSP is an organization that helps to produce and disseminate this scientific knowledge, promote the careers of students and professionals in the field and recognize achievements.
“This is a very active society, and there’s lots happening right now in science and policy that is relevant to social psychology,” Wood said, noting that even the traditional ways that scientists communicate with one another are changing.
“In the past, scientific organizations made money from publishing journals, but that’s changing with the new open access publication outlets and the repositories for archiving research articles. Changes in the format of scientific publishing mean changes in the revenue stream for organizations like SPSP, and the changes will hit even university libraries like USC’s. We will need new organizational structures and business models for this new publishing landscape.”
As a president who will lead the society in new directions, Wood will apply social psychology to social policy.
“We all want to believe that our research makes a difference in the world,” she said. “And this is one way to make a difference — to help policymakers be more effective by ensuring that policy is grounded in behavioral science.”
During her term, Wood will encourage closer ties between science and policymakers.
“One way to do so is through a new journal, Behavioral Science & Policy,that I am editing that links science and policymakers. Another is through the Insights Team currently being developed in the United States. Inspired by the U.K.’s Behavioral Insights Team (aka the Nudge Unit), this government organization fashions public policy based on empirical research.”
One example of their work is with retirement plans.
“Surprisingly few new employees choose to “opt-in” and sign up for retirement benefits, in part because the decisions are so complex,” Wood said. “They put it off and think they’ll decide later, but then never get around to it. Obviously, this is a problem because we want people to be financially prepared for retirement.”
A simple policy change alters the presentation of retirement benefits so new employees have to decide to “opt-out” of retirement plans. Thus the default, automatic decision becomes the standard benefits plan, but anyone can decide not to participate if they wish.
“In this way, the decision is structured to encourage beneficial behavior — saving for retirement — while still giving everyone the freedom to say no.”