Robb Willer

Professor of Sociology, Psychology (by courtesy), and Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business (by courtesy); Director, Polarization and Social Change Lab; Co-Director, Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society
Ph.D., Cornell University, 2006
M.A., Cornell University, 2004
B.A., University of Iowa, 1999
Robb Willer

Personal Website

Polarization and Social Change Lab Website


Robb Willer is a Professor in the Departments of Sociology, Psychology (by courtesy), and the Graduate School of Business (by courtesy) at Stanford University. He is the Director of the Polarization and Social Change Lab and the Co-Director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. 
Professor Willer’s teaching and research focus on social forces that bring people together (e.g., morality, altruism), forces that divide them (e.g., fear, prejudice), and domains of social life that feature the complex interplay of the two (e.g., hierarchies, politics). 
The primary area of his research looks at the social and psychological forces shaping Americans’ political attitudes. He has a particular interest in techniques for overcoming polarization to build political consensus. He studies how political psychology findings can be applied to construct persuasive political messages. 
Much of his political research suggests that attitudes and ideology are, in part, products of individuals' efforts to manage the threats they face in everyday life. For example, he has found that masculinity threats can influence men's attitudes towards war and gay rights. In other research, he finds a link between white Americans' views of welfare programs and the Tea Party and their perception that white advantage in the U.S. is declining.   
The other main area of his research looks at how altruism, morality, and reputation systems promote cooperation and generosity. In this research he finds that many aspects of social life that are often seen as antisocial or malicious - such as gossip, moral judgments, and status hierarchies - are fundamental to social order. He also studies the dynamics of status and prestige, with a focus on the social psychological forces that stabilize hierarchies of rank. Recently, he has studied the role that emotions play in the moral judgments people form about one another, and how those judgments in turn can promote cooperation and solidarity in groups.  
In his work he employs whatever research method offers the most leverage on a given research question. As a result, he has used a variety of methods, including laboratory and field experiments, surveys, archival research, social network analysis, physiological measurement, agent-based modeling, and direct observation of behavior.  
His research has appeared primarily in general science, sociology, psychology, and organizations journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Human Behaviour, American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Administrative Science Quarterly, and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences
His research has also received widespread media coverage including from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, Science, Nature, Time, U.S. News and World Report, Scientific American, Harper’s, Slate, CNN, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and National Public Radio. 
Willer was the 2009 recipient of the Golden Apple Teaching award, the only teaching award given by UC-Berkeley's student body. 

Latest Publications

Journal Articles & Book Chapters

Druckman, J. N., Kang, S., Chu, J., Stagnaro, M. N., Voelkel, J. G., Mernyk, J. S., Pink, S. L., Redekopp, C., Rand, D. G., & Willer, R. (2023). Correcting exaggerated meta-perceptions reduces American legislators’ support for undemocratic practices. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 120(23), e2301836120. doi:10.1073/pnas.2301836120

Voelkel, J. G., Chu, J., Stagnaro, M. N., Mernyk, J., Pink, S., Redekopp, C., Druckman, J., Rand, D., & Willer, R. (2023). Interventions reducing affective polarization do not improve anti-democratic attitudes. Nature Human Behaviour, 7(1), 55-64. doi:10.1038/s41562-022-01466-9

Pink, S. L., Stagnaro, M. N., Chu, J., Mernyk, J. S., Voelkel, J. G., & Willer, R. (2023). The effects of short messages encouraging prevention behaviors early in the COVID-19 pandemic. PLOS ONE, 18(4), e0284354. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0284354

Santos, L. A., Voelkel, J. G., Willer, R., & Zaki, J. (2022). Belief in Empathy as a Political Resource Reduces Partisan Animosity and Facilitates Persuasion. Psychological Science, 33(9), 1557-1573. doi:10.1177/09567976221098594

Voelkel, J. G., Malik, M., Redekopp, C., & Willer, R. (2022). Changing Americans’ attitudes about immigration: Using moral framing to bolster factual arguments. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 700(1), 73-85. doi: 10.1177/00027162221083877

Corbett, Christianne*, Jan Voelkel*, Marianne Cooper, and Robb Willer. 2022. “Pragmatic Bias Impedes Women’s Access to Political Leadership.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 119(6) (*equal authorship)

Sophia L. Pink, James Chu, James Druckman, David G. Rand, and Robb Willer. 2021. "Elite Party Cues Increase Vaccination Intentions among Republicans."  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Yuan Chang Leong, Janice Chen, Robb Willer, Jamil Zaki. 2020. "Conservative and liberal attitudes drive polarized neural responses to political content." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, and Chloe Kovacheff. 2020. "The Activist's Dilemma: Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Jennifer Stellar and Robb Willer. 2018 "Unethical and Inept? The Influence of Moral Information on Perceived Competence." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 114: 195-210.

Stephane Cote, Julian House, and Robb Willer. 2015. "High Economic Inequality Leads Higher Income Individuals to be Less Generous." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, and Michael Schultz. 2014. "Gossip and Ostracism Solve the Cooperation Problem." Psychological Science. In press.

Jennifer Stellar and Robb Willer. 2014. "The Corruption of Value: Negative Moral Associations Diminish the Value of Money." Social Psychological and Personality Science. In press.

Stéphane Côté, Paul Piff, and Robb Willer. 2013. "For Whom Do the Ends Justify the Means? Social Class and Utilitarian Moral Judgment." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 104:490-503.

Matthew Feinberg, Olga Antonenko, Robb Willer, E.J. Horberg, and Oliver P. John. 2013. "Gut Check: Reappraisal of Disgust Helps Explain Liberal-Conservative Differences on Issues of Purity." Emotion. In press.

Brent Simpson, Ashley Harrell, and Robb Willer. 2013. "Hidden Paths from Morality to Social Order: Moral Judgments Promote Prosocial Behavior." Social Forces. 91:1529-1548.

Laura Saslow, Robb Willer, Matthew Feinberg, Paul K. Piff, Katharine Clark, Dacher Keltner, and Sarina R. Saturn. 2013. "My Brother's Keeper? Compassion Predicts Generosity More Among Less Religious Individuals." Social Psychological and Personality Science. 4:31-38.

Robb Willer, Christabel Rogalin, Bridget Conlon, and Michael T. Wojnowicz. 2013. “Overdoing Gender: A Test of the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis.” American Journal of Sociology. 118:980-1022.

Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer. 2013. "The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes." Psychological Science. 24:56-62.

Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, and Dacher Keltner. 2012. "Flustered and Faithful: Embarrassment as a Signal of Prosociality." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 102:81-97.

Robb Willer, Reef Youngreen, Lisa Troyer, and Michael Lovaglia. 2012. "How Do the Powerful Attain Status? The Roots of Legitimate Power Inequalities." Managerial and Decision Economics. 33:355-367.

Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Olga Antonenko, and Oliver John. 2012. "Liberating Reason from the Passions: Overriding Intuitionist Moral Judgments through Emotional Reappraisal." Psychological Science. 23:788-795.

Brent Simpson, Robb Willer, and Cecilia L. Ridgeway. “Status Hierarchies and the Organization of Collective Action.”  Sociological Theory, 2012, 30(Sept): 149-166.

Robb Willer, Francis J. Flynn, and Sonya Zak. 2012. “Structure, Identity and Solidarity: A Comparative Field Study of Generalized and Direct Exchange.” Administrative Science Quarterly. 57:119-155.

Cameron Anderson, Robb Willer, Gavin Kilduff, and Courtney Brown. 2012. "The Origins of Deference: When do People Prefer Lower Status?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 102:1077-1088.

Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner. 2012. "The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 102:1015-1030.

Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer. 2011. “Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just World Beliefs.” Psychological Science. 22:34-38.

Robb Willer, Matthew Feinberg, Kyle Irwin, Michael Schultz, and Brent Simpson. 2010. "The Trouble with Invisible Men: How Reputational Concerns Motivate Generosity." Pp. 315-330 in The Handbook of the Sociology of Morality. Eds. Steve Hitlin and Stephen Vaisey. New York: Springer.

Robb Willer. 2009. "A Status Theory of Collective Action." Pp. 133-63 in Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 26. Eds. Shane R. Thye and Edward J. Lawler. London: Emerald.

Robb Willer. 2009. “Groups Reward Individual Sacrifice: The Status Solution to the Collective Action Problem.” American Sociological Review. 74:23-43.

Robb Willer. 2009. "No Atheists in Foxholes: Motivated Reasoning and Religious Ideology." Pp. 241-264 in Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification. Eds. John T. Jost, Aaron C. Kay, and Hulda Thorisdottir. Oxford University Press.

Robb Willer, Ko Kuwabara, and Michael W. Macy. 2009. “The False Enforcement of Unpopular Norms.” American Journal of Sociology. 115:451-90.

Brent Simpson and Robb Willer. 2008. “Altruism and Indirect Reciprocity:  The Interaction of Person and Situation in Prosocial Behavior.” Social Psychology Quarterly. 71: 37-52.

Robb Willer and Nick Adams. 2008. "The Threat of Terrorism and Support for the 2008 Presidential Candidates: Results of a National Field Experiment." Current Research in Social Psychology. 14(1):1-22.

Stephen Benard and Robb Willer. 2007. "A Wealth and Status-Based Model of Residential Segregation."Journal of Mathematical Sociology. 31:149-174.

Ko Kuwabara, Robb Willer, Michael W. Macy, Rie Mashima, Shigeru Terai, and Toshio Yamagishi. 2007. "Culture, Identity, and Structure in Social Exchange: A Web-based Trust Experiment in the U.S. and Japan." Social Psychology Quarterly. 70:461-79.

Pat Barclay and Robb Willer. 2007. “Partner Choice Creates Competitive Altruism in Humans.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 274: 749-753.

Robb Willer. 2007. "The Role of Metanetworks in Network Evolution." Journal of Mathematical Sociology. 31:101-119.

Robb Willer, Lisa Troyer, and Michael J. Lovaglia. 2005. "Influence Over Observers of Structural Power: An Experimental Investigation." The Sociological Quarterly. 46:263-77.

Damon Centola, Robb Willer, and Michael W. Macy. 2005. “The Emperor’s Dilemma: A Computational Model of Self-Enforcing Norms.” American Journal of Sociology. 110(4):1009-40.

Robb Willer. 2004. “The Effects of Government-Issued Terror Warnings on Presidential Approval Ratings.”  Current Research in Social Psychology.10(1): 1-12.

Michael W. Macy and Robb Willer. 2002. "From Factors to Actors: Computational Sociology and Agent-Based Modeling." Annual Review of Sociology. 28:143-66.


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