Discover more from The Power of Us
Using groups to achieve our goals
Issue 6: On the ingredients that make book clubs successful; a new book about self-regulation; what happens if you de-activate your Facebook account; and our offer to visit your classroom
This week we received the final proofs for our book, The Power of Us. This exciting milestone got us reminiscing about how we embarked on the journey of writing a book together in the first place.
Jay remembered that it all began in 2015 when Dom recommended a book to his neighborhood book club and it didn’t go well…
The more we thought about it, the more excited we became about writing our own book about groups and identities. And as we wrote the book we thought about the ingredients that make book clubs—and other groups—successful and allow us to achieve our goals:
The first thing is that human are social animals—we evolved in small groups in which we shared stories with one another. Long before the printing press and even before humans could write, our ancestors developed oral cultures based around narratives and myths, told and retold across generations. A book club feels natural because it harkens back to the social environment in which our brains evolved.
The second ingredient is that book clubs are powerful pre-commitment devices. In the same way that people might sign up for a gym with friends or join a running group as a first step towards getting fit, joining a book club leverages social pressure to actually sit down and read. It’s hard for many people to carve out the time to read—as much as they might want to—and having a group of people who expect you to finish a book is a tool we can use to ensure we actually do the reading.
The third thing is that book clubs establish useful social norms for reading. Seeing other people reading, and hearing them share thoughtful insights, encourages us (even subconsciously) to follow suit. Instead of scrolling through social media before bed, we crack open the dusty book lying on our night table. When we see others nodding at insightful observations or probing questions, we strive to ask similar questions or think deeper about the work ourselves.
We used these principles in our own writing. We found joy in sharing stories. One of the genuine pleasures of writing our book has been the opportunity to find and tell stories that illuminate the science behind identity. We committed our future selves to getting things done. When we found ourselves losing steam, we instituted a series of regular meetings for which we both needed to show up having accomplished something to ensure we didn’t let each other down. And we leveraged social norms, looking to successful friends and colleagues who have written books to solicit their advice and model their habits and resolve.
Acting alone is often incredibly difficult and research suggests that relying on individual willpower to accomplish your goals is highly overrated. The lesson from the science of social identity is that people are often far more effective at achieving their aspirations when they leverage the power of groups to provide the right environment for success. Whether you are trying to read new books, finish your writing, or pursue other goals, groups can be leveraged for success.
What We Are Reading: How to Change
If you want to get a better handle on behavior change, we strongly recommend this new book by Wharton Business School Professor, Katy Milkman. We had a chance to read her book and it is packed with useful insights, including how to modify the social norms in groups to scale behavior change.
Research Round Up
Yale psychologist, Jennifer Richeson, recently leveraged the power of groups as a commitment device. Jennifer is a world leading expert on group dynamics and used these insights to create a Peloton Community of psychologist cyclists who would motivate one another to ride together. (We plan to feature her research in future newsletters so stay tuned!)
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you unplugged from social media for a few weeks? Well, a group of economists paid people to de-activate their Facebook account for 4 weeks to find out. They observed that people without Facebook socialized more with family and friends, exhibited less political polarization, and experienced greater feelings of well-being. Their awareness of what was happening in the news dropped a bit, but that seems a small price to pay.
Jay recently gave this challenge to his own Introduction to Psychology students: They were invited to unplug for social media for a mere 24 hours and report back. Many of them were unwilling to try, but those who did reported a similar increase in well being. Jay did the same thing and has now permanently deleted several social media apps from his phone. Try it yourself and let us know what you experience.
Using “The Power of Us” for Teaching
As college instructors, we often assign trade books for our students to read (in addition to textbooks or articles). If you are teaching a course this fall that grapples with issues like the nature of the self, social identity, cult psychology, the persistence of beliefs, intergroup relations, prejudice and stereotyping, political polarization, crowd behavior, social norms, conformity, dissent, or leadership, you might consider assigning our new book, The Power of Us.
We happy to virtually visit any large class that assigns the book for a live Q&A session with you and your students in the fall 2021 semester. We are also creating a series of short videos to explain and elaborate key stories, studies, and ideas throughout the book. We will share these videos and any relevant slides, along with a short set of test questions you can use for exams.
If this sounds like it might be interesting for your own class, we would be happy to send you a free copy of the book to read and see if it is suitable. For more information, please follow the link below…and please feel free to share with anyone who might find this useful.
Do you belong to a book club? Does it help you to read more? Tell us if you have ever used a group—book club or otherwise—as a pre-commitment device. Tag us @PowerofUsBook on social media and we will share the best examples and may highlight them in future letters.
We hope to use this newsletter to promote exciting new research every week - and we are seeking submissions! We invite anyone who would like to highlight a recent paper, book, or other piece of scholarship to submit a short (< 300 word) write-up of your work.
We welcome submissions from anyone - but we especially want to highlight exciting new research by early career researchers and work from a wide diversity of perspectives, including diverse methods, fields of study, locations, backgrounds of the scientists, scope of the topics, etc!