Alexander K Saeri


This page is now quite long. Here is an index.


If you're just looking for copies of my publications, you can find them below.

Research projects

Collective action: new motives, new actors, and new contexts

As part of my PhD work, I investigated collective action, where people come together to create social change. We know a lot about why people within a context of conflict or inequality might take action. But we know much less about how people outside that context view the conflict, what psychological processes might lead them to "side" with different groups in conflict, and the form that their action might take.

Actions in context – inspiration or alienation?

Who decides which political actions are acceptable (e.g., demonstration) and which are unacceptable (e.g., destruction of property), and how different types of actions can inspire others to join a cause (or alienate others from a cause)?

When disadvantaged group members hear that collective action has been taken on their behalf, does this inspire them to take action? What if the action was radical, disruptive, or violent? In this line of research I am working with my PhD advisors to investigate how different types of collective action influence group members’ motivations to take further action.

Outsiders to conflict – when will they act?

I am investigating how people react to such inequality or conflict when they are structurally and psychologically separate from that context: outsiders. Most existing research has examined the psychology and behaviour of group members within the context, especially people who are members of the disadvantaged group.

Outsiders are an important and historically underexamined group in collective action research, and that empirical work examining any third party (i.e., other than the groups directly engaged in conflict) is scarce. I argue that outsiders may appraise group conflict and inequality differently from insiders, and thus motives for their collective action may differ from those that are well-studied.

Individual and context-independent motivators of collective action

Collective action frameworks tend to describe action as resulting from appraisals about a particular context of conflict or inequality. There is much to be recommended about this approach, especially when seeking to explain the willingness (or not) to take action by people who are part of the conflict. However, I am interested in other, more stable and context-independent motives for collective action. In this line of work I have been investigating how general attitudes, ideologies and values shape appraisals of conflict and inequality, and subsequent collective action

I have investigated personal ideological orientations of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994) and Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA; Altemeyer, 1996) as more distal predictors of collective action, especially for outsiders. I have found that SDO and RWA independently predict how outsiders respond when they encounter novel intergroup conflict. Essentially, outsiders' SDO and RWA will differentially predict their willingness to support each group (advantaged vs. disadvantaged) that is party to a conflict, via context-specific appraisals that support that group:

You can download an electronic version of the poster [pdf, 1MB] I presented at the 2014 European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) meeting for an overview of this work.

  • An outsider who endorses SDO and RWA will identify more with the advantaged group and feel anger at the disadvantaged group, and thus be more likely to take action on behalf of the advantaged group
  • An outsider who rejects SDO and RWA will identify more with the disadvantaged group and feel anger at the advantaged group, and thus be more likely to take action on behalf of the disadvantaged group

I have also adapted and extended work on universal and personal values (Schwartz, 1994) to examine their potential role alongside ideology in shaping outsiders' responses to collective action. So far, I have found that valuing change (encapsulating Schwartz' values of self-determination, and stimulation) but not valuing the status quo (conformity, tradition, and security) uniquely predict context-specific appraisals of a group conflict.

Social behaviour on Facebook

People claim to value their privacy, yet frequently disclose personal information on publically or semi-publically accessible social network services like Facebook. For my honours thesis, I investigated the possible role of group norms alongside perceptions of risk and trust in influencing Facebook users’ privacy protection intentions and behaviour. We found that injunctive social norms (what others think you should do), descriptive social norms (what others actually do), and perceived risk each independently influenced people's willingness to protect their privacy on Facebook. This work was recently published at The Journal of Social Psychology.

Much has been written on the alleged insufficiency of Facebook and other social media to provide a truly authentic social experience that meets the needs of its users. I collaborated on a project led by Stephanie Tobin to investigate how and when using Facebook can satisfy basic psychological needs of belonging. After a two-day intervention, people who were asked to "lurk"—to only watch others participate socially on Facebook—felt as though they belonged less and perceived a less meaningful existence compared with people who participated as normal. This effect extended to a brief laboratory study in which people who did not receive feedback on a Facebook post they reported lower satisfaction of their basic psychological needs. This work was recently published in Social Influence.

Political decision-making

Prejudice and discrimination against people who are overweight has many negative psychological and health consequences, despite being generally socially acceptable. People who are overweight are thought of as lazy, lacking self-control, and unhealthy—and as having control over their weight, and thus "deserving" of stigma. Helena Radke, Andi Alperin and I are interested in how this prejudice may translate in a political context. Is someone like Chris Christie "too fat" to be President? The first two studies have revealed that US voters perceive an overweight politician to be a less effective leader because such a leader is judged to have less self-control and tenacity, key elements in lay perceptions of an effective leader. We are currently conducting a third study to differentially confirm these effects.

Group formation

As part of the SASP Summer School in 2014, I worked with PhD students from around Australia and Europe to develop a project on inductive (bottom-up) and deductive (top-down) social identity routes to group mergers. Inspired by the aSPIRE model and group formation work by Tom Postmes, we seek to understand whether merging groups that negotiate a new identity perform better and are more cohesive than groups that conform to a pre-specified identity.

Research interests

Although I'm not working on any of these questions empirically, I find each of them fascinating. Feel free to drop me a line if you share my interest!

Tools and resources for research

Simple tips for being a better scientist

In August 2015, I gave a presentation to the Centre for Research in Social Psychology (CRiSP) postgraduate student group. In this presentation I described and provided concrete resources for calculating effect sizes and confidence intervals. I've converted the presentation into a Google doc: Simple tips for being a better scientist. The document has links to spreadsheets for calculating effect sizes and confidence intervals for data you already have and the analyses you already conduct.

There is a great deal of soul searching going on about how to improve psychological science, how to uphold the ideals of falsifiability and replicability in research. Every article includes recommendations for a change in research and reporting practices. But who needs to change? Some pieces place the issue on the individual researcher and reviewer (Simmons et al., 2011); others state that the issue is structural and that researchers are merely responding to incentives (Everett & Earp, 2015).

But where does this leave new researchers, especially graduate students? Over the past four years, the tenor of the discussion among those most heavily embedded in the race to improve psychological science has become more and more hard-line. If you fail to pre-specify, you’re a heretic. If you don’t share your data, you must have something to hide. Why aren’t you reporting effect sizes for everything? You should know this by now!

As graduate students, we feel bereft: what we’ve learned in undergraduate studies is no longer acceptable; what we see in the labs around us is often in conflict with the “best practice” argued for in these articles; and we don’t know what we should—or even can—do. This document offers clear, concrete suggestions for disclosure and reporting for new graduate students. Following the suggestions in the linked document is not sufficient to make one a perfect scientist. It is probable that doing everything specified is woefully inadequate, since science is hard and these suggestions are easy to implement. But they are worthwhile because they seek to improve current practice in the direction of the scientific ideals of falsifiability and replicability.