Skip to content Skip to navigation


SPARQ mission

Stanford SPARQ is a “do tank” that partners with industry leaders and changemakers to reduce societal disparities and bridge social divides using insights from behavioral science. We work in criminal justice, economic mobility, education, and health. Learn more about our approach and our work.

Our story

Nalini Ambady

When Nalini Ambady joined the Stanford University Department of Psychology in 2011, she successfully lobbied for seed funding to start a new center. She wanted not just a think tank, but a “do tank” that would help policymakers, educators, and nonprofit leaders apply social psychology’s insights and methods to their work. She enlisted social psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Jennifer Eberhardt as her associate directors, and hired Alana Conner to guide strategy and communications.

For a year, we worked with Stanford’s Social Area faculty to hone our mission, vision, and goals and to prototype our programs. We initially called the project The Lewin Center, after social psychology pioneer Kurt Lewin, but then crafted a more straightforward moniker: Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions, or SPARQ.

And then, tragedy struck. After 8 years in remission from leukemia, Nalini was diagnosed with a recurrence of the blood cancer. As she struggled with her treatments, though, she did not waver in her commitment to SPARQ. She cooked curries for our meetings in her office. When she could no longer travel to Stanford, she hosted us in her home. And when she was confined to the hospital, she met with us via Skype, generating idea after idea for how social psychologists could improve the experiences of all cancer patients.

On October 28, 2013, we lost Nalini. Although we are still devastated by the passing of our leader, colleague, and friend, we pressed ahead with the official launch of SPARQ on February 10, 2014. SPARQ will continue to honor Nalini’s legacy by pursuing our mission of creating and sharing social psychological innovations with people working to improve society.

“Many social psychologists join the field because they want to address issues like racism, poverty, and war,” notes Eberhardt, now SPARQ faculty co-director. “But then they discover that most of social psychology’s insights remain locked in journals and conferences. SPARQ is figuring out how to get those insights into the hands of the people who need them most.”

SPARQ also aims to increase the flow of information from practitioners to social psychologists. “Many social psychologists do not have firsthand experience working in the fields whose problems they are trying to solve,” says SPARQ faculty co-director Markus. “SPARQ fosters meaningful collaborations between social psychologists and practitioners, to the benefit of both.”

Read more: Article from the APS Observer, by Alana Conner (founding executive director of SPARQ)