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SPARQ 2017 Year in Review

It has been a busy year for SPARQ’s network of scientists, practitioners, staff, and students.

It has been a busy year for SPARQ’s network of scientists, practitioners, staff, and students, with more and more organizations embracing our rigorous approach to augmenting their efforts. In 2017, SPARQ created police trainings on racial bias, probed the lack of diversity in financial services, demonstrated how (and how not) to talk about vegetables, discovered the superpowers of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), explored how mindsets promote healing, tested ways to frame aid both in the U.S. and abroad, designed a dozen online toolkits, and trained a couple of dozen students to use science for social change. All in a year’s work, we say.

Before reading more highlights from 2017, please consider being a SPARQ donor. We rely on grants and donations to advance our mission of creating and sharing social psychological insights with people working to improve society. If you like what we do and want to see more of it, we would appreciate your tax-­deductible donation. To keep up with SPARQ's activities, subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Medium.

Happy holidays! And thank you for your support of SPARQ.

With evidence-based hope for the new year,
The SPARQ Team


  • Jennifer Eberhardt, SPARQ faculty co-director and leader of the center’s criminal justice projects, produced trainings for the Oakland Police Department as part of a longstanding relationship between the agency and SPARQ. The trainings include a new video series called Words Matter, which gives officers communication tools for building better relations with community members during traffic stops. The videos build on Eberhardt and colleagues’ findings of racial disparities in the respectfulness of officers' language, which they published in June in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors include SPARQ research scientist Rebecca Hetey, SPARQ doctoral fellows Nick Camp and Camilla Griffiths, and SPARQ faculty affiliate Dan Jurafsky. Stay tuned for additional Words Matter videos in 2018, which will reach law enforcement departments around the country.
  • The Association for Psychological Science named SPARQ faculty co-director Hazel Markus a 2017 William James Fellow. As SPARQ’s economic development director, Markus continued to lead our partnerships with the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies and the Wellspring Group while also beginning a research project with Eberhardt and Illumen Capital examining the lack of gender and racial diversity in the financial services industry.
  • Alia Crum, SPARQ's health director, received grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Stanford Center for Digital Health to continue her work on how people’s mindsets shape health. These funds will supplement her NIH Director's New Innovator Award for her project on Harnessing Mindset in 21st Century. In addition, Crum and Octavia Zahrt published a paper in Health Psychology showing that the more active people perceive themselves to be, the longer they live. Crum summarized her mindset work in an article for the RWJF blog, and TEDMED posted her 2016 talk on placebos.
  • Professor Greg Walton, SPARQ's education director, along with his former doctoral students Jason Okonofua and David Paunesku, will receive the Cialdini Prize at the 2018 SPSP annual conference for their research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They showed that encouraging teachers to take an empathic mindset toward misbehavior halved student suspensions. Walton and doctoral student Gregg Sparkman published a paper in Psychological Science on leveraging changing social norms to promote conservation. The College Transition Collaborative (CTC), which Walton leads with Christine Logel, Mary Murphy, and David Yeager, took many strides forward. The program continued implementing a social-belonging intervention with dozens of college and university partners, released a guide to the intervention, and made the intervention freely available to new institutions through Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS). CTC's post-doctoral fellow Shannon Brady also began a trial of a probation intervention with six new partners.
  • SPARQ faculty affiliate Carol Dweck received the inaugural $3.8 million Yidan Prize for her contributions to education and to support her future research. She discusses growth mindset in this video from the award organization.
  • SPARQ executive director Alana Conner, in addition to fundraising, building partnerships, managing the SPARQ team, and authoring articles, co-authored a paper on restaurants' descriptions of healthy foods with SPARQ affiliates Turnwald, Crum, and Jurafsky.
  • SPARQ senior research scientist MarYam Hamedani led a three-day workshop for California English teachers about using multicultural literature to instruct students about race. She also began facilitating a monthly interdisciplinary workshop on research in the real world for a program through the Stanford Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.
  • In a Health Psychology paper, SPARQ doctoral fellow Brad Turnwald showed that American restaurants portray healthy food as dull and unappealing. And then in a JAMA Internal Medicine article, he demonstrated that just jazzing up the labeling of vegetables can induce undergraduates to eat more of them. SPARQ affiliates Crum and Danielle Boles provided able assists.
  • SPARQ doctoral fellow Catherine Thomas released initial findings from her research into cash transfers, which she discussed at the SPARQ clinic on Universal Basic Income. Her work on the topic will continue through a project with the World Bank to investigate engagement and positive outcomes for women participating in a national social safety net program in Niger.
  • Amedeo Tumolillo began as SPARQ's media director in late September. He worked for roughly 20 years in the journalism industry at outlets including The New York Times, Spectrum Autism Research News, and SupChina.


  • The SPARQ crew presented a symposium on SPARQ’s interventions at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. Alana Conner, Rebecca Hetey, and SPARQ research scientist Sarah Lyons-Padilla shared their findings, as did SPARQ research manager Ellen Reinhart — particularly notable because she's not a doctoral student (though she plans to be one soon).
  • SPARQ research scientist Lyons-Padilla and crew completed our research on the impact of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) on the social and emotional development of its young participants. Lyons-Padilla and Conner presented the findings at the Take a Stand Symposium in L.A.
  • SPARQ's October 30 research clinic on Universal Basic Income produced useful insights— and many questions — for organizations trying to understand, implement, and promote the policy.
  • SPARQ's next research clinic, scheduled for March 2018, will focus on the Center for Employment Opportunity and supporting its mission of finding jobs for people with criminal convictions.


  • With grants from the Stanford Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and the Stanford Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, the SPARQ team is developing online toolkits that help practitioners use social psychological interventions in their own work. Like a Blue Apron for social science, the toolkits include both the directions and the materials for implementing evidence-based solutions in real-world contexts. The first collection will be the Equity Toolbox — toolkits created with the Stanford Diversity and First-Gen Office that aim to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. Stay tuned for their launch in February 2018.
  • Another impressive group of undergraduates completed the fall quarter's SPARQLab, which uses hands-on research and weekly discussions to teach students about solving real-world problems with social psychology.
  • Stanford students who want to turn social psychological research into digital tools that help solve social ills should sign up for the SPARQShop course in the spring.


Image credit: Flickr/miuenski miuenski | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0