The University of Auckland, New Zealand
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on trying to understand how and why people use ideology to justify social inequality and group hierarchy. I am particularly interested in modeling how individual differences interact with situational factors in society to predict support for different ideologies (i.e. tolerance versus prejudice). I also have a special interest in developing theories tailored specifically to intergroup relations in New Zealand, where I am from.
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
I’ve seen a lot of group hierarchy and discrimination around me growing up. Undergraduate social psychology was a revelation for me because it gave me the vocabulary and theories to talk and think in more detail about a lot of the things that I had experienced and noticed intuitively. This is what I love about research more than anything else — that it can help us to explain and think critically about the things we see around us in our everyday lives and, hopefully, to help change them in the long-run.
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
I was and am incredibly lucky to have close relationships with my PhD supervisor Jim Liu and with my post-doc supervisor, John Duckitt. Jim and John were excellent role models, both as researchers and scholars. They have considerably influenced my thinking over the years, and in very different ways.
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
More than anything, I attribute my success in psychology to my mum and dad for fostering and promoting my general interest in science from a young age, and also — whether or not they always realized it — for continually challenging me to think about issues relating to social inequality and intergroup relations while I was growing up. I was also incredibly lucky to go through graduate school with a group of very close friends, and we continually challenged and supported each other in our very different areas of research.
What’s your future research agenda?
A couple years ago I started a large-scale national longitudinal panel study in New Zealand, the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. I’m hoping to keep the study running for the next 20 years. It is designed to answer a broad range of research questions, but it primarily focuses on answering questions about how socio-structural factors interact with personality over long time-frames to predict ideology and intergroup attitudes in changing environments. Managing the study takes up most of my time these days.
Any advice for even younger psychological scientists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
My advice would be to focus on research that you find interesting and exciting. Intrinsic motivation is absolutely critical. Paired with a passion for what you study (and hopefully contributing to it), I would also advise young scientists to develop as detailed and diverse a set of skills in different methods and analytic techniques as possible. My personal view is that, a lot of the time, we tend to be limited by our methods and ability to analyze data, so being able to apply new analytic techniques is invaluable for answering novel research questions — and the opportunity cost of learning new techniques can become increasingly large as you progress through your career. Develop these skills early on.
What publication are you most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?
The paper I am most proud of was something I developed with James Liu while working on my PhD.
Sibley, C. G., & Liu, J. H. (2010). Social Dominance Orientation: Testing a global individual difference perspective. Political Psychology, 31, 175-207.
The paper looks at the extent to which Social Dominance Orientation can be characterized as a global trait-like construct. It spent an awfully long time in the pipeline (5 years from the initial ideas and data collection to publication), and I’m really happy with the final paper.
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