Societies Research Area

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The Societies research area within the ARU Centre for Societies and Groups (ARU-CSG) is an interdisciplinary group that leads research and debate on community change, public policy, and psychological well-being in societal contexts.

Topics currently being researched by members of the group include gendered issues in advertising, determinants of food choice, victimisation and injustice, driving behaviour, and the development of resilience, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our work illuminates and challenges social behaviour to benefit local, national, and international communities, and influences public policy.

Find out more about our Psychology PhD. We have also identified a range of innovative research project opportunities for postgraduate researchers.

Academic staff

Discover more about our members on their profile pages.

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PhD Researchers

21 February 2022: Sarah Gradidge and Dr Magdalena Zawisza have written for the Vegan Society on the psychology of vegetarianism and veganism (collectively known as veg*nism), exploring why people go veg*n, why and how they stay veg*n (or not), and how we can encourage others to go veg*n.

13 February 2022: The National Post interviewed Sarah Gradidge about the ‘meat paradox’, following her published ‘meat paradox’ review co-authored with Societies Research Hub members Dr Magdalena Zawisza and Dr Annelie Harvey, alongside Prof Daragh McDermott from Nottingham Trent University.

11 February 2022: Sarah Gradidge and Dr Magdalena Zawisza have had an article published at The Conversation on the meat paradox – why we care about animals and yet also eat them.

23 January 2022: Doctoral candidate Sarah Gradidge was featured on the Psychology of Human-Animal Intergroup Relations (PHAIR) Society blog in a student showcase article.

30 November 2021: Technology Networks interviewed Sarah Gradidge about the ‘meat paradox’, following a published review on the same topic authored by Societies Research Hub members Sarah Gradidge, Dr Magdalena Zawisza and Dr Annelie Harvey, alongside Prof Daragh McDermott from Nottingham Trent University. The interview feature accrued more than 181,000 pageviews in the first week.

18 November 2021: Dr Magdalena Zawisza and Sarah Gradidge's talk from the British Science Festival was featured by the British Science Association for International Men’s Day. The feature explores how performative masculinity affected responses to COVID-19.

October 2021: An experiment on how species and identifiability of animal victims affects perceptions of them, led by Sarah Gradidge in collaboration with Societies Hub members Dr Annelie Harvey and Dr Magdalena Zawisza, alongside Prof Daragh McDermott from Nottingham Trent University, has been accepted for publication in Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin. This experiment found that people typically view dog victims more positively than pig victims. Yet, contradicting previous research on the ‘identifiable victim effect’, identifiability of animal victims did not inform perceptions of them.

23 September 2021: A structured literature review, led by Sarah Gradidge in collaboration with Societies hub members Dr Magdalena Zawisza and Dr Annelie Harvey, alongside Prof Daragh McDermott from Nottingham Trent University, has been published in Social Psychological Bulletin. The literature review explored the ‘meat paradox’ – the conflict between eating meat and yet simultaneously caring for animals.

9 September 2021: Dr Magdalena Zawisza and Sarah Gradidge presented at the British Science Festival in Chelmsford. The talk informed the public of how gender has informed responses to the pandemic (e.g., through gender roles) and implications of how gender has been represented within advertising during COVID-19. The talk also presented original research findings from some of Dr Magdalena Zawisza’s students: Ellie Cornwell, Louise Kelly, Pietro Stefanello and Isaac Volpicelli. Reference - Zawisza, M., Gradidge, S., Cornwell, E., Kelly, L., Stefanello, P. & Volpicelli, I., (2021, Sep 9). How Gender is Shaping the Pandemic. Paper presented at British Science Festival, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK.

19 May 2021: Dr Magdalena Zawisza chaired a panel talk webinar that sold out at 300 registrations - Zawisza-Riley, M., Gradidge, S., Roeloffs, S., Keyes, H., Harvey, A. & Gibson, N., (2021, May 19). Society going viral! The hidden psychology of pandemics across time and contexts. Panel talk webinar, Open Cambridge, ARU Public Engagement, ARU, Cambridge, UK.

24 July 2020: Men 'less supportive' in more egalitarian nations. A new 42-country study, co-authored and co-designed by Dr Magdalena Zawisza, has found that the more gender egalitarian the country, the less likely men are to support women's causes.

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Stimulating collective climate action

Three Societies Hub members, Dr Magdalena Zawisza, Dr Annelie Harvey and Sarah Gradidge, are collaborating on an international 70+ country project to test effective interventions to encourage collective climate action (project leads: Dr Madalina Vlasceanu, Dr Kimberly Doell & Prof Jay J. Van Bavel). This topic is increasingly important in light of worsening climate change and is a highly ambitious project to test climate action interventions which work on a global scale.

Body image in nature

Two of our Societies Hub members, Dr Magdalena Zawisza and Sarah Gradidge, are part of a 63-country project to explore if exposure to nature has implications for body image. The international project is led by Prof Viren Swami, Dr Ulrich Tran, Prof Stefan Stieger and Prof Martin Voracek and aims to collect the richest dataset on this topic to date. The protocol for the project can be viewed at

Towards Gender Harmony

Towards Gender Harmony is a three-year cross-cultural project investigating a potential key barrier to gender equality progress globally: masculinity threat. The ambition of the project is to collect data from at least 40 countries and updates our knowledge on contemporary cross-national understanding of femininity, masculinity, gender stereotypes, attitudes and related behaviours as they link to gender (in)equality.

The project is worth £136k awarded by the Polish National Science Centre, and Dr Magdalena Zawisza is a co-applicant together with Dr Natasza Kosakowska (principal investigator, University of Gdansk, Poland), Prof Joseph Vandello and Prof Jennifer Bosson (University of South Florida, USA) and a team of six researchers.

Improving workers' health and safety in the road maintenance industry

This interdisciplinary project applies expertise from cognitive psychology (Dr David Pearson, lead) and consumer psychology (Dr Magdalena Zawisza) together with built environment (Dr Fred Sherratt) research to understand and improve health and safety practices across different structures in a road maintenance company.

It is conducted in partnership with Ringway Jacobs, a large highway service provider, and it worth £194,375, including a 50% grant from Innovate UK.

Pet playfulness and wellbeing in COVID-19 context

Two of our members, Dr Nicola Gibson (lead) and Sarah Gradidge, are investigating links between viewing playfulness in pet animals and greater wellbeing and reduced anxiety regarding COVID-19. Links between pets' playfulness and wellbeing have not yet been explored, nor has this relationship been investigated in the context of a global pandemic.

Collaborating cross-disciplinarily with animal behaviourists (Dr Claudia Wascher and Dr Andrew Smith) and across institutions with a psychologist from the University of Edinburgh (Dr Steve Loughnan) and an animal behaviourist from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Dr Raoul Schwing), the researchers foresee positive implications of this project for reducing loneliness and improving wellbeing both during and after COVID-19, especially among people who live only with pets.

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