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Rising political polarization and declining civility in political engagement are critical problems of our time, partly because they stand as barriers to addressing all other social problems. Without addressing entrenched political divisions, effective action on pressing issues like global warming, poverty, immigration, and health care is impossible.

The effects of polarization are worsening and are not obviously self-limiting. There is good reason to expect current trends to continue, with potentially devastating consequences for political, economic, and ecological stability.

The Polarization and Social Change Lab at Stanford conducts cutting-edge research to address key challenges facing society today. Our multidisciplinary team works across the fields of social psychology, political science, sociology, organizational behavior, and cognitive science. We aim to develop practical scientific knowledge and actionable solutions in three main areas: pathways to a healthy democracy, strategies for social change, and rapid response to emerging technologies.

Pathways to a Healthy Democracy

Rising political polarization, declining civility, and the erosion of democratic norms present critical threats to addressing other vital issues. Our research identifies interventions to reduce partisan division, increase political knowledge and voter participation, build consensus around structural reforms, and improve attitudes supporting democracy. Notable projects include the Strengthening Democracy Challenge, studies on using rhetoric to reduce animosity and increase democratic engagement, and crowdsourcing the most viable and impactful democratic reforms.

Strategies for Social Change

We study strategies and techniques used by both elite influencers and grassroots movements that shape public attitudes on pressing social issues like economic inequality, racial and gender bias, and climate change. This includes persuasive techniques for building support for policies and candidates, the impact of activist tactics like protests, and leveraging persuasive techniques—such as moral reframing—to broaden coalitions. Together, this work provides an evidence-based understanding of how to motivate progressive social change.

Computer Programming
Rapid Response and Emerging Technologies

We are committed to the rapid application of cutting-edge social science to address pressing social problems and opportunities as they arise. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our research focused on motivating vaccination through behavioral science insights. Another key area of our work explores how emerging technologies, such as large language models (LLMs), can be leveraged for social good—by enhancing the delivery of public services, improving emotional well-being, evaluating policy impacts, and increasing political knowledge.

Our Approach to Science and Impact

Our research employs a wide range of rigorous methods including field experiments, representative sample survey studies, quantitative analysis, crowdsourcing, formal modeling, and novel applications of artificial intelligence. We actively pursue partnerships with government, civil society organizations, and industry to pilot and scale our interventions.

The lab disseminates its findings through leading academic journals, as well as broader publication in major media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Scientific American, The Los Angeles Times, and Vox, public convenings, and direct engagement with policymakers and practitioners.

Our lab’s core values include the use of open science practices and preregistration as tools to conduct reliable research that can be trusted by practitioners and the scientific community. With sound scientific understanding as our foundation, the Polarization and Social Change Lab aims to positively impact society on issues that matter. We invite you to explore our work and join us in our efforts.

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