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Linda Tropp


Kurt Lewin Awardee: Linda Tropp

Linda Tropp, Professor of Social Psychology
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Since its early beginnings, the field of psychology has stressed the value of using academic research to address pressing social issues and contribute to the public good (see Clark et al., 2004; Pettigrew, 1988), and as an organization, SPSSI has been at the forefront of these efforts (Pettigrew, 1967; Morawski, 1986). Yet within each generation of academic psychologists, perennial, soul-searching questions continue to emerge regarding whether and how we can make our research matter in the “real world.” 

Admittedly, as a discipline, we have not always done the best job of making our work accessible to the public, or relevant and useful to the policymakers, organizations, practitioners, and community members we seek to reach (Miller, 1969; Schalet, Tropp, & Troy, 2020). As academic researchers, we are trained to focus on the scientific enterprise, with greater premiums placed on new theoretical insights and novel research findings than on how user-friendly or practical those insights or findings might be. We have carefully honed our skills in framing and testing hypotheses using rigorous research methods and advanced statistical procedures, yet most of us have never received training in how to translate academic research for the public, or how to cultivate collaborations with practitioners and organizations, which are the very skills we need to enhance the broader impacts of our work (Kaslow, 2015; Lewis & Wai, 2021; Tropp, 2018).

Fortunately, the norms and values of our field appear to have shifted in recent years. There is now more space for academic psychologists to be valued both for conducting rigorous research in pursuit of novel theoretical and empirical advancements, and for seeking to enhance the social relevance of their scholarship. Granted, reward structures at academic institutions remain varied and are often lacking in offering tangible support for public impact; still, recent trends suggest that there is growing appreciation for and acknowledgement of the many ways in which academic researchers can and do contribute to the public good.

Collectively, as a discipline, we have only begun to cultivate the presence and influence we could potentially have in the public sphere, speaking to the broader relevance of psychological research for people’s lives and society at large. Growing numbers of academic psychologists now actively maintain a dual commitment to psychological science and its relevance outside of academia, at the same time as we witness greater value being granted to impactful research within the mainstream of our field. As such, the time is ripe for academic psychologists to renew our commitment to conducting rigorous scientific research and identifying ways in which we can support many segments of society in putting our research to good use.


Clark, K. B., Chein, I., & Cook, S.W. (2004). The effects of segregation and the consequences of desegregation: A social science statement. American Psychologist, 59, 495–501.

Kaslow, N. J. (2015). Translating psychological science to the public. American Psychologist, 70, 361-371.

Lewis, N. A., & Wai, J. (2021). Communicating what we know and what isn’t so: Science communication in psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16, 1242-1254.

Miller, G. A. (1969). Psychology as a means of promoting human welfare. American Psychologist, 24(12), 1063–1075.

Morawski, J. G. (1986). Psychologists for society and societies for psychologists: SPSSI’s place among professional organizations. Journal of Social Issues, 42, 111-126.

Pettigrew, T. F. (1967). SPSSI as honest broker. SPSSI Newsletter, 117.

Pettigrew, T. F. (1988). Influencing policy with social psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 44205-219.

Schalet, A. T., Tropp, L. R., & Troy, L. M. (2020). Making research usable beyond academic circles: A relational model of public engagement. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 20, 336–356.

Tropp, L. R. (Ed.) (2018).  Making research matter: A psychologist’s guide to public engagement.  Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

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