4 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 PSYCHOLOGY THE POWER OF US Researchers Dominic Packer, professor of psychology, and Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, are interested in social groups, identity, how they impact us and how they transform society. They explore the topic in a new book, The Power of Us: Harnessing Our Shared Identities to Improve Performance, Increase Cooperation, and Promote Social Harmony. The book explores how the dynamics of those shared, social identities can divide a world into “us” and “them,” produce conflict and cost lives—as well as foster cooperation, boost organizational performance and promote social harmony. It examines the power within that feeling of “us.” It’s the power of exploring the role of identity in knowing not only who you are, but understanding how that identity is shaped and transformed by the social groups in your world— and how you influence the identities of those around you. With chapters on individual and shared identities, biases, echo chambers, dissent and leadership, the researchers explore: “What causes people to develop a social identity? What happens to people when they define themselves in terms of group memberships?” Whether based on religious affiliation, sports team fandom or political ideology, people often approach identities as if they’re immutable and believe biases favoring their own group over others are inevitable. But that isn’t true, Packer says. What is hardwired as humans is our readiness to affiliate with groups and to join up with others, he says. Affiliations can be long standing and formative or arise with the slightest prompting. The idea that “we are in this together” or “we are joining for a common cause or in a shared interest” creates a common identity. Identity dynamics can also be used to address issues of bias. All biases THE HUMANITIES DANIEL HERTZBERG / THEISPOT.COM, COURTESY OF EUGENE ALBULESCU and disparities can’t be overcome through group dynamics, however, as many forms of inequity and discrimination exist on institutional and structural, not personal, levels. But the disparate voices within a group, in the form of dissent and new ideas, can mobilize an institution toward greater equity and representation. Social identities will likely play a role in addressing the most significant issues humankind faces, from COVID-19 and future pandemics to economic equality, democracy and climate change, the authors conclude. “Social identities provide lenses through which we perceive events and how they influence some of our most important beliefs,” Packer and Van Bavel say. “But, they can also misdirect our attention and bias our judgments.” Identities play a vital role in the most personal and pressing concerns of our lifetimes. For that reason, the authors say, knowing how identities work is empowering— they both do and don’t define us, and taking charge of them can change us and our groups for the better. MUSIC CONCERTOS NOS. 1 AND 5 Performing any Beethoven concerto is challenging for any seasoned artist, but pianist Eugene Albulescu has raised the bar with his latest release, a recording of the classical maestro’s BRIEFS Eugene Albulescu conducts from the keyboard during rehearsal.