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Sabine Sczesny

Image of Sabine Sczesny and college campus behind her

Posted on 10/29/2018

Sabine Sczesny has been professor of social psychology at the University of Bern, Switzerland since 2005. She received her diploma in psychology as well as her PhD from the University of Kiel, Germany, and her Habilitation (post-doctoral degree) from the University of Mannheim, Germany. Numerous national and international foundations have supported her research. In 2003, she spent one year at Northwestern University to conduct research in collaboration with Alice Eagly, funded by the German Science Foundation. From 2009 to 2013, Sabine established and coordinated the Marie Curie Innovative Training Network on Language, Cognition & Gender, a large-scale international and interdisciplinary research project funded by the European Commission. Since 2009, she has been a member of the scientific advisory board of EDGE Certified Foundation, which developed a global assessment methodology and a business certification standard for gender equality. Sabine was president of the Swiss Psychological Society from 2011 to 2017. In her research, she focuses on various causes and consequences of stereotypes and prejudice.

What led you to choose a career in social and personality psychology?

When I started studying psychology, research on social phenomena such as violence and prejudice intrigued me. I was fascinated by the theoretical explanations and interventions for these phenomena that psychology has to offer. However, after receiving my diploma I started my professional career outside academia, because I was also interested in clinical psychology. For several years, I worked as a licensed psychotherapist with victims of sexual violence. This work refueled my interest in social psychological research on these issues. Therefore, I devised a research project on sexual aggression and received a grant to pursue this topic as my PhD research. At the same time, I complemented my psychological knowledge by studying sociology and criminology to gain a deeper understanding of the social phenomena involved.

Can you tell us about your current research and any future research interests you plan to pursue?

In general, I am interested in understanding the cognitive, affective, and motivational processes that underlie stereotyping and prejudice, and their consequences. My research examines how people perceive and evaluate members of underrepresented groups using interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives. Currently, I am investigating the content of gender stereotypes across time and across cultures as well as the consequences of stereotyping for personnel selection (e.g., stereotyping as triggered by age cues in faces or by androcentric language). I am also interested in the impact of stereotyping on those persons targeted by stereotypes. Thus, my research examines women’s physiological stress reactions when striving for counterstereotypical leadership positions, and women’s and men’s responses to affirmative action in favor of the underrepresented group. Another line of research I pursue is how the media reflect and transmit stereotypes. Specifically, my research investigates effects of media reports about immigrants on the majority’s attitudes towards immigrants, face-ism effects in social media, and effects of advertisements on women’s (dis-)empowerment. In the future, I intend to expand my work on interventions to reduce stereotyping and prejudice.

What do you enjoy most about the research process?

I really like developing research projects. It is always intriguing to become familiar with the state-of-the-art in a given field and to have inspiring discussions about (alternative) explanations and assumptions. Actually, I enjoy the whole research process, because all phases offer interesting challenges, and it is very gratifying to gain new insights and find solutions to previously unresolved questions.

Do you have a favorite course to teach and why?

I enjoy giving lectures on Applied Social Psychology and on Social Cognition. But among all of the courses I am currently teaching, my favorite is “Critical Thinking about Research.” In this class, we use the book with the same title by Julian Meltzhoff (1997; APA). This book provides an excellent overview of research principles and offers a series of fictitious research articles for training critical thinking. The students learn how to conduct research, to assume a critical attitude towards the whole research process, and to identify strengths and weaknesses of empirical research. At the end of the term, we hold a research symposium in which each student presents a recently published article and the class acts as a critical audience.

When and why did you join SPSP? How has being a member helped you professionally?

I joined SPSP as a postdoc in 2001 because it is one of the most relevant associations in our field. SPSP transmits and shapes the state-of-the-art in personality and social psychology research. I am grateful for its convention, journals, grants etc. and the efforts to advance our field of research by offering various opportunities to collaborate and to discuss topics critically. Moreover, the convention and smaller events have helped me to maintain collaborations and friendships. As a European SPSP member, I also very much appreciate initiatives to increase the collaboration between SPSP and the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP).

What is your most memorable SPSP Annual Convention experience?

My most memorable SPSP Annual Convention was Alice Eagly’s Legacy Symposium in Atlanta, in March 2018. It was wonderful to celebrate Alice’s impressive career with her and to highlight the enormous impact of her research on our contemporary understanding of gender stereotypes and their societal consequences. The symposium also emphasized that research is a collaborative endeavor that can only be accomplished within networks where knowledge and experience are openly shared and younger scholars are supported generously, as they are in Alice’s network.

Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a career in social psychology?

Follow your own interests and ideas, be curious, be independent, ask for advice, build your own network, and do not forget that careers outside academia can be fantastic as well!

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