'Psychologists have a really important job to do in bringing evidence of how people behave to decision-makers'

Ella Rhodes on a psychologist named as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders.

An expert on moral decision-making and altruism has been named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders of 2017. Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology, Molly Crockett (University of Oxford), joins more than 800 socially-minded young leaders from both the business and academic worlds. 

This year’s leaders, all selected before the age of 40, were chosen for their outstanding contributions to society. The community of Young Global Leaders has a number of aims, including operating as a force for good by turning individual or collective solutions to global or local challenges and building a community of peers with diverse talents. Indeed Crockett has already forged potentially important networks for her own work. She told us: ‘I feel very honoured to be part of that community. I’ve already met several Young Global Leaders whose work could be very complimentary to some of my projects, I hope some of these connections will help to take the research in my lab in a new direction.’ 

The aim of these Young Global Leaders is to affect worldwide change, and social psychology, Crockett said, has huge potential to do this. ‘One piece of evidence that’s recently come to light is that policy-makers have very much listened to economists over the years, designing policy around their theories. But many models in economics aren’t accurate reflections of how humans behave. Psychologists have a really important job to do in bringing evidence of how people behave to decision-makers.’

Crockett’s lab explores social decision-making and how people make decisions and learn about the characters of others in social interactions. A lot of their work focuses on whether people would benefit themselves over someone else and how group membership affects these processes, something which is particularly relevant today, Crockett said. ‘We’re seeing a lot of polarisation in the world between different political groups, the divide between liberals and conservatives is wider than it’s ever been before. We’re trying to understand why this happens and what can be done to stop it.’

Currently Crockett and her team are looking into the brain processes which support moral decision-making and representations of values in the brain and if these are sensitive to moral consequences. ‘We want to see if you get a reward for an ethically dubious action whether this changes those representations in the brain. We’re also looking into how we form beliefs about the trustworthiness of other people. Another early-stage project we’re doing is trying to understand the causes and consequences of moral outrage online – in many ways it seems we’re developing technology faster than we can understand its effects on human behaviour.’

Other Young Global Leaders named this year included Stav Shaffir, the youngest female Knesset member in Israel’s history, who has supported social-justice issues, and Ambarish Mitra from India who ran away from home aged 15 to live in New Delhi’s slums and is now the founder and CEO of Blippar (a mobile phone app business valued at $1.5 billion).

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber