The UCSD Rady Ethics and Conflict Lab

Information for prospective PhD students:

Thank you for your interest in joining the lab! I am planning to take on a new advisee for Fall 2023. Deadline to apply is January 4th, 2023. Information can be found here

Below is some hopefully useful information as you decide whether the lab would be a good fit for your interests. At present, research in our lab falls into 3 core themes-

1) Morality and culture- How is it that some people or social groups find a particular action to be righteous and worthy of praise, while others find the same action to be wrong and abhorrent? Our research argues that extreme diversity and disagreement in morality is genuine - people have competing moral values that lead to disagreement even when everyone agrees on the facts at hand. These values are grounded in patterns of social relations that vary across cultures and socio-historical contexts. Current projects focus on the cultural evolution of competing patterns of social relations and moral diversity.

Relevant papers:

Rai, T. S., & Fiske, A. P. (2011). Moral psychology is relationship regulation: moral motives for unity, hierarchy, equality, and proportionality. Psychological review, 118(1), 57-75. link

Nettle, D., Panchanathan, K., Rai, T. S., & Fiske, A. P. (2011). The evolution of giving, sharing, and lotteries. Current Anthropology, 52(5), 747-756. link

Rai, T. S. (2017). Exile of the accidental witch: Character and intention in an uncertain social world. In Moral inferences (pp. 199-213). Psychology Press. link

2) Moralistic aggression- Many psychological approaches assume that when people hurt or even kill each other it must be because something has broken down in the moral psychology of the perpetrator. In contrast, our research argues that much violence occurs because of the activation of our moral psychology. People hurt and kill because they feel they are justified, obligated, and virtuous in doing so. Our ongoing projects ask how the relationships between violence and psychological processes shift once we reconceptualize aggression as emerging from the presence of morality rather than its absence. So for example, we've found that moralistic aggressors may actually humanize their victims , exert more self-control, and respond irrationally to material incentives . Current projects focus on the role of moralistic aggression in cooperation, victims' experiences, social bonding, and the search for a meaningful life.

Relevant papers:

Rai, T. S., Valdesolo, P., & Graham, J. (2017). Dehumanization increases instrumental violence, but not moral violence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(32), 8511- 8516. link

Rai, T. S. (2022). Material benefits crowd out moralistic punishment. Psychological Science, 33, 789-797. link

Rai, T. S. (2019). Higher self-control predicts engagement in undesirable moralistic aggression. Personality and individual differences, 149, 152-156. link

3) Conflict resolution: One approach to conflict resolution is to try to alleviate anger, improve civility, reduce polarization, and find common ground. However, these efforts may dampen motivation to alleviate social injustice. Our lab begins from the assumption that anger is not an impulse to be avoided, but rather a motivation to be harnessed. Drawing on the social change and corporate violence literatures, this future line of research focuses on developing ways to cultivate moralistic anger to promote social justice in conflicts.

What I look for in potential advisees:

1) Have interests in morality, culture, violence, and their evolution. Feel a drive toward social justice and a curiosity about the social structures that lead to injustice. Students can expect to read very widely, drawing on scholarship across the full breadth of social sciences from cognitive science to cultural anthropology

2) Have interest in learning and using multiple, mixed methods (e.g., interviewing, in-lab and online experiments; dyadic/group interaction studies, psychophysiological measurements; experience sampling methods, archival analyses, and more). Stats training, computational skills, etc are all a plus but not required

3) Eagerness to engage in fieldwork! Moving forward, many of our projects will move beyond the lab to study morality "in the wild" across a variety of organizational and cultural settings

4) Diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Academically, I welcome students from non-psychological fields that can complement my expertise (e.g. sociology, economics, etc.). I am also happy to discuss the differences between pursuing a PhD at Rady vs. a more traditional subdiscipline

In your statement of purpose, you are encouraged to:

(1) State a general research question or area that you’re most interested in pursuing, and why you are passionate about the topic

(2) Give a general sense of the reading that you’ve done, (beyond what has been written by Prof Rai) that has inspired you

(3) Communicate your research skill set, and describe some of your key experiences relevant to conducting Ph.D. research in the lab and in the field

(4) Give a sense of the type of questions or projects that you can envision working on with Prof. Rai, and why your skills and interests would make for a great fit. One strategy is to identify a paper written by Prof. Rai that connects well with your interests, and say why (e.g., maybe the topic/research questions align with your interests; maybe the methods would be useful for examining a different research question; maybe the findings spark ideas for pursuing different questions)

(5) Identify 1-2 other Rady faculty (or even UCSD faculty in other departments) who you might also work with—our Ph.D. students are encouraged to work with multiple faculty