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Prof. dr. R. (Russell) Spears

Core group

Summary of research

Russell Spears is a social psychologist, specializing in social identity. In 2011 he was appointed Faculty Professor of Psychology (Endowed Chair) at the University of Groningen. Key themes in this research are cooperative vs. conflictual relations between groups, and the role of group emotions in regulating these relations. A central premise in this work is that group memberships and group characteristics form an important part of people’s self-views. 

Spears’ research has addressed various factors that impact on the development of cooperation vs. conflict, especially in terms of processes within and between groups. In his research, Spears has connected group identification to group-based emotions on the one hand, and to strategic communication processes on the other - for which he developed the social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE). He is one of the pioneers worldwide of research into the effects of modern communication technology and the Internet on social behavior.

Spears has demonstrated that while groups and group loyalties are potential vehicles for social change, they may also elicit social conflict. His research thus indicates likely obstacles to cooperation and helps provide solutions to overcome them, addressing key themes and solutions to the problems of sustainable cooperation. Key methodological innovations of Spears’ research are the development (with Ellemers, Doosje) of a “bogus pipeline” procedure to investigate the role of group identification processes experimentally, and experimental procedures developed to investigate the role of emotions and strategic identity processes. Spears has successfully introduced implicit measures in his research to manipulate and measure forms of identity threat and examine how such threat can be implicitly resisted. In his chapter on deindividuation in the Oxford Handbook on social influence (2017), he outlines a model showing how both social identity and self-interest processes drive group behavior. This helps resolve the challenge of how cooperation can be sustained.

He applies these insights to understand how individuals who belong to disadvantaged groups in society respond to the threat associated with their plight, and when and why majority groups might support their cause (e.g., Teixeira, Spears & Yzerbyt, 2020). These responses depend on how important the group is to their sense of self and identity, and can range from resilience against threats to radical forms of collective action that undermine social stability. He also examines (with Marko Milovanovic and Linda Steg) how group identification processes that translate individual interests into group concerns can enhance forms of cooperation that contribute to sustainable energy use, and make people resilient against factors (such as surveillance) that would normally undermine their motivation to cooperate. Spears has an ongoing collaboration with SCOOP colleagues from sociology on the intersections between social identity and signaling processes (PhD project jointly supervised with Wittek & Flache) and various collaborations with colleagues from Philosophy (Hindriks and Romeijn & Henderson).

International visibility, activities, prizes, scholarships etc.

Russell Spears has published 215 English language and 34 Dutch language journal articles, 70+ book chapters, and has (co-)edited 6 books. The importance of his work is widely acknowledged, and his publications are highly cited (47k citations; H-factor of 99, source: Google Scholar; 60 WoS). The endowed chair at Groningen University was awarded to him for his exceptional scholarship and excellent reputation. He also held a prestigious ESRC Professorial Research Fellowship (2009-2011) at Cardiff University.

Russell Spears has an unequalled international network. He has held (visiting) positions at prestigious institutions around the world, including Murdoch University (2015-2018). He is regularly invited to give keynote addresses and has ongoing consultancies/collaborations inter alia in the UK (Cardiff, Exeter, St Andrews), Australia (Murdoch, Flinders, University of Queensland, ANU), Spain (Granada), and Italy (Padova).

Spears has received numerous prestigious grants and awards for his work, including the Kurt Lewin Award for distinguished mid-career contribution by EASP in 2011. His research has received regular funding from NWO, the EU, and the ESRC (including a Professorial Research Fellowship), amounting to a total of 5M€ in grant money acquired. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the field, Russell Spears was elected Fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP, 1995), the Association for Psychological Science (APS, 2012), and the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP, 2006). The international visibility and academic stature of Russell Spears led him to be elected as member of the Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP 2002-2008), which runs its own journal (EJSP), review (ERSP), and monograph series, and organizes the most important social psychology conference in Europe (about 1,100 participants). Spears has been appointed as Chief Editor of major journals in the field, including the European Journal of Social Psychology (2009-2011), the British Journal of Social Psychology (1994-1995), and Associate Editor of Self and Identity (2000-2003). He has served on the Research Grants Board of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK) and was a member of the steering committee of the International Society for Self and Identity (ISSI, 2003-2009).

Russell Spears has had a huge impact on the development of new generations of researchers. He is regularly invited for graduate teaching and has been an instructor at international summer schools (EASP, Groningen 2004; Local Organizer, Cardiff 2008; Jena postgraduate Summer School (Germany), Villa Vigoni, 2006; SocDoc (Germany) Cologne, 2007; SASP (Australia) Queensland, 2010). He has supervised 25 PhD’s to completion, and many ongoing. Many of these have received awards, including an American Psychological Association dissertation award, best paper award (e.g., Otto Klineberg award), a VENI, a VIDI, and two KNAW Postdoctoral grants; six former students have now become full professors themselves.

5 key publications

Spears, R. 2020. Social Influence and Group Identity. Annual Review of Psychology 72(1): 367-390..

Teixeira, C. P., Spears, R., & Yzerbyt, V. Y. 2019. Is Martin Luther King or Malcolm X the more acceptable face of protest? High-status groups’ reactions to low-status groups’ collective action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 118(5): 919–944. 

Spears, R. 2017. Deindividuation. In S. Harkins, K. Williams, & J. Burger (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Social Influence (279-297). Oxford University Press.

Spears, R. 2010. Group rationale, collective sense: Beyond intergroup bias. Invited position paper. British Journal of Social Psychology 49(1): 1-20.

Spears, R., Oakes, P. J., Ellemers, N., & Haslam, S. A. (Eds.). 1997. The social psychology of stereotyping and group life. Blackwell.

Personal website


11.2 Group Norms, Intrinsic Motivation and Sustainable Energy Consumption

11.3 Identity Signaling and Sustainable Cooperation

11.4 and 11.5 Resilience at a Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Coping with Social Devaluation (shared postdoc position)

12. PD Addressing Intergroup Inequality by Invoking the Moral Responsibility of the Powerful: Co-option and Sus-tainable Cooperation in Response to Collective Action