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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Report on the SISPP 2015 (SPSP summer school)

04.11.2015, by Kai Sassenberg in meeting report

July 19 - August 1, 2015 -- Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts

Summer School 2015
Summer School 2015

This year’s Summer Institute in Social and Personality Psychology (SISPP), a biannual 2-week workshop organized by the SPSP, took place at Northeastern University in Boston. The five lucky Europeans of 2015 were Jens Bender (University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany), Natalia Frankowska (University of Warsaw, Poland), Aurélien Graton (University of Bordeaux, France), Elena Martinescu (University of Groningen, Netherlands) and Claudia Roscini (University of Greenwich, UK). SISPP 2015 offered five different courses: Emotion/Affect (Lisa Feldman Barrett & Batja Mesquita), Intergroup Relations and Disparities (Jim Sidanius & Linda Tropp), Morality (David Pizarro & Benoit Monin), Personality Development (Brent Donnellan & Rebecca Shiner), and Evolutionary Processes (Debra Lieberman, Jon Maner, & Josh Ackerman). Moreover, there were also two one-day workshops: Dyadic Data Analysis (Tessa West) and Best Research Practices: an Error Balance Perpsective (Eli Finkel).

Aurélien and Jens attended the Morality course. Although deliberately not exhaustive, this course addressed several broad and recent questions related to this emerging topic in social psychology (e.g., link between morality and self-affirmation, differences between morality and ”purity”, social moral regulation through self-blame etc.). The two weeks were divided in two parts. While the first week focused on a first-person perspective on morality, the second week addressed third-person perspective (i.e., judging others, character, blame and responsibility). Each day, we read several papers in preparation for class and discussed them with regard to their implications for moral psychology. During the second week, we had the chance to meet in smaller groups to discuss our own research interests in the domain of morality and to work on a new research project. Within these working groups, we developed our theoretical ideas, designed studies to test our hypotheses, and presented our group projects in class to receive valuable feedback from the rest of the class. We also benefited from outside guests presentations (Mike Norton, University of Harvard, and Liane Young, Boston College) as well as mentoring sessions on how to teach ethics and interact with philosophers. We would like to thank David and Benoît for sharing their valuable knowledge and insights, and for their great sense of humor and open-mindedness during this inspiring course. The course overview as well as participants and paper references can be found on the following website: http://www.moralpsych.net/

Elena participated in the Personality Development course, led by Rebecca Shiner and Brent Donnellan. Before the start of the course we received a generous list of articles and Dan McAdams’ recent book – The Art and Science of Personality Development. I was happy to discover two passionate teachers who shared their knowledge and experience on the topic with students coming from other areas of psychology. During our two weeks together we had daily lectures and lively presentations and discussions that gave me a broad overview of essential aspects of personality structure and development, from traits and behavior genetics to goals and values, personal narratives, social context, culture and psychopathology. We also had a lot of fun and insightful discussions watching the episodes 28 Up and 56 Up, from a documentary series that interviews a group of British children throughout their lives. At the end we used our new knowledge on personality development when we presented and discussed case studies on the lives of people like Bruce/Caitlin Jenner, Lars von Trier, Ted Bundy or Ellen DeGeneres. We were also very lucky that Brent and Rebecca shared with us their very valuable insights on topics like publishing, getting a job after finishing the PhD program, or conducting longitudinal studies. A big thank you to Rebecca and Brent and my amazing colleagues!

Claudia and Natalia took part in the course on Intergroup Relations and Disparities, managed by the extraordinary Professor Linda Tropp. In two weeks the main topics in the field of social psychology such as discrimination, prejudice, stereotype, racism, sexism, implicit and explicit attitudes, intergroup contact, multiculturalism and acculturation, social dominance and authoritarianism, have been covered thanks to the great contributions of leading scholars. We had the great opportunity to learn and discuss with remarkable guests speakers: Professor Mahzarin Banaji (University of Harvard), Professor Jack Dovidio (Yale University), Professor Keith Maddox (Tufts University) and Professor Jim Sidanius (University of Harvard; he was also involved in the organization of the summer school). In addition, the relevance of social psychology and its applicability to real and current events was underlined by watching two documentaries, ”Two town of Jaspers” and ”The colors of fear”, and sharing our experiences and thoughts on contemporary social issues. Linda also gave us the opportunity to create our own project, individually or in collaboration with other members of the class, and to receive interesting feedback and suggestions from her and from the other postgraduates. A special thank goes to Linda, for being a great model and for dreaming and fighting for a better world, and to our colleagues, such inspiring minds! And also thanks to all for creating a very comfortable space of an interesting transfer of knowledge.

No European student attended the courses on Emotion / Affect and Evolutionary Processes. The former aimed at presenting new scientific approach to the study of emotions. Participants for instance discussed about the implication of recent neuroscientific, psychological, social, cultural, and evolutionary theories of emotions. The latter focused on theoretical and empirical tools used by evolutionary social psychologists. Participants discussed empirical research related to human mating, social affiliation, hierarchy, intergroup psychology, self-protective processes, kinship, and emotion.

To conclude, we think that SISPP 2015 has been a great opportunity of growth for us, both as academics and as persons. We met incredible friends, colleagues and inspiring academics. We want to thank EASP for selecting us and for the support and we strongly suggest other postgraduates to apply!


Jens Bender (University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany), Natalia Frankowska (University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland), Aurélien Graton (University of Bordeaux, France), Elena Martinescu (University of Groningen, Netherlands) and Claudia Roscini (University of Greenwich, UK)