We are bombarded daily by news reports of bad behavior, from sexual harassment in the workplace to racist attacks on public transportation to bullying in schools. Although it’s easy to blame these acts on evil people, it’s far more complicated to understand why so many people fail to speak up in the presence of such behavior and how significant a role this silence plays in perpetuating the behavior itself. Using empirical research from psychology, biology, neuroscience, and economics, this talk examines the factors that lead most of us to stay silent in the face of bad behavior, and how the tendency to stay silent allows such acts to continue. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Finally, this talk will describe how to overcome the very natural human tendency to remain bystanders in the face of evil and practical strategies for resisting such pressure in their own lives.
Catherine A. Sanderson is The Manwell Family Professor of Life Sciences (Psychology) at Amherst College. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology, with a specialization in Health and Development, from Stanford University, and received both masters and doctoral degrees in psychology from Princeton University.
Her research has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. Professor Sanderson has published over 25 journal articles and book chapters in addition to four college textbooks, middle school and high school health textbooks, and trade books on parenting as well as how mindset influences happiness, health, and even how long we live (The Positive Shift). In 2012, she was named one of the country's top 300 professors by the Princeton Review.
Professor Sanderson speaks regularly for public and corporate audiences on topics such as the science of happiness, the power of emotional intelligence, the mind-body connection, and the psychology of good and evil. These talks have been featured in numerous mainstream media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, CNN, and CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauley. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today - Norms Matter - that examines the power of social influence on virtually all aspects of our lives.
Her latest trade book, published in North America as Why We Act: Turning Bystanders Into Moral Rebels (Harvard University Press) and internationally as The Bystander Effect: The Psychology of Courage and Inaction (HarperCollins), examines why good people so often stay silent or do nothing in the face of wrongdoing (available April 2020). For a preview of the topics addressed in this book, watch Catherine’s TEDx talk on the Psychology of Inaction, which describes the factors that contribute to inaction and provides strategies we all can use to help people act, even when those around them are not.