Leveraging the Collective Mind

Issue 25: The 20 statements task; a week of news about The Power of Us; a review in Science Magazine; and an audio teaser

The Power of Us launched seven days ago and we had an exciting first week of interviews, podcasts, and stories about the book. In the event you don’t know what The Power of Us is all about, Lehigh News ran a fantastic in-depth article overviewing the book. Here’s how it begins:

If you completed the sentence, “I am ________” 20 times, what would you say? Would you describe your hair color, gender, frame of mind? Where you earned a degree? What sports team you’re a fan of? Your race, health status, role in your family, or a musical instrument you play?

Social psychologists use this “20 statements” technique to gain insight into various components of people’s identities. Most people’s responses can be sorted into categories: individual levels of the self, like stable personality traits or temporary states of being or feeling; relational levels, defined by your relationship to others; and collective levels that describe the self as a member of a category you feel is important to who you are.

Researchers Dominic Packer, professor of psychology at Lehigh, and Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, are interested in what such answers tell us about social groups, identity, how they impact us and how they transform society…

To read the entire article, which nicely summarizes our book, follow the link below (and please share it with anyone who might be interested):


This newsletter won’t be entirely focused on our book—we promise! But we hope you’ll forgive us mentioning a few highlights in the first few weeks:

We wrote about food and identity for New York Magazine. We gave an interview to Business Insider about the implications of identity leadership for organizations in the era of social distancing. Jay spoke on the Brian Lehrer show (WNYC) about the impact of 9-11 on American's identities and lessons for confronting our current challenges. Dom appeared on his favorite show/podcast, In Lieu of Fun (and in violation of the rules, had fun). We both spoke with Bruce Daisley about building solidarity at work on the Eat Work Sleep Repeat podcast.

And when promoting the same book over and over again got a bit much for us, we got a bit loopy and dreamed up alternate versions of The Power of Us.

Leveraging the Collective Mind—Our book was reviewed in Science Magazine

We are absolutely thrilled that The Power of Us received a positive and generous review in Science from Alex Haslam, one of the world’s leading experts on collective behavior (and one of our own intellectual heroes). When we embarked on this journey, we wanted to write a book for a broad popular audience that was also scientifically rigorous and forward-looking. This review is, for that reason, especially meaningful to us!

Here is an snippet of the review followed by the full review, if you want to read it:

The Power of Us compellingly debunks many of the myths that have arisen not only around social identity research but also around social psychology as a whole. Of these, the most enduring are those that paint groups as inevitable sites for corruption of self and loss of reason. The triumph of this book is how it shows that this framing is not only wholly wrong but also dangerously misleading…if we are to have functional and resilient organizations, institutions, and societies, we must understand and draw from the power of collective mind.

We also wanted the book to resonate with people outside the field. To put this to the test, we gave a copy of our book to Jay’s 11 year-old neighbor, Leo, who wanted to read it. Leo informed us that he is already a subscriber to our newsletter and he promised he’d share his own review with everyone once he’s finished. So watch this space for Leo’s first official book review.

Audio Teaser

Our publisher released a short teaser from the audiobook version of The Power of Us. Here are the two of us recording a version of the preface—describing the very beginning of our collaboration and how we got over an awkward start caused by Jay storing an enormous and rather smelly bag of hockey equipment in our shared sub-basement office.

We had a huge amount of fun recording this. But not to worry, the rest of the book was recorded by the talented voice actor, Terrence Kidd.

Research Round Up

One of the biggest questions we’ve been asked over the past few weeks is how organizations will maintain a collective identity and sense of common purpose during virtual or hybrid work. While we are both fans of virtual work, a massive new study of 61,000 Microsoft employees finds that there are significant consequences for organizations since it tends to leave people in silos and can undercut innovation.
We think that organizations will have to be more conscious of building shared goals and fostering cross-team interactions to sustain innovation and a common in-group identity if they plan to continue hybrid work. Building a “sense of us” may be more important than ever.

Another major challenge facing most organizations--including educational institutions, where we work--is the need to create an inclusive environment for diverse teams. New research by Dorainne Green and colleagues finds that encouraging people to have a learning goal (e.g., approaching interactions as an opportunity to have an enjoyable intercultural exchange) leads them to have more positive interracial interactions.

A new study by Sophie Wohltjen and Thalia Wheatley suggests that eye contact may do two things: 1) signal we are in sync with another person and 2) disrupt synchrony when it gets too high. More synchrony is not always better--people also need to develop independent insights for creative acts!