Our Mission

Institute of Personality and Social Research, UC Berkeley

The Institute of Personality and Social Research (IPSR) has always risen to meet the moment.

Founded in 1949, The Institute has been an intellectual hotbed for scholars around the world. The goal of The Institute of Personality and Social Research has always been to harvest insights from personality and social psychological research and use them as tools to understand and practically address some of society’s most pressing phenomena. Because of WWII, The Institute focused on studying high-ranking Air Force officers to uncover some of the most desirable personal and life-history attributes of our nation’s greatest leaders—many path breaking discoveries were made. As the technological, aesthetic, literary, and architectural innovations we benefit from today became a focus of society during the post WWII “boom,” The Institute put its efforts behind understanding the cognitive, personality, interpersonal, and creative processes of some of the most successful creative writers (e.g., Truman Capote) and architects (e.g., George Nelson). When science discovered that human rationality was bounded—and behavioral economics was born—the Institute became the epicenter of research on the role of emotion as a phenomenon and its role in thinking, understanding others, and human health, physiology, and behavior. During that time, under the leadership of Robert Levenson, IPSR played a central role in facilitating and launching the careers of many of today’s most prolific and noteworthy affective scientists.

Today The Institute is meeting the challenges of our current world by focusing on two, sometimes separate and sometimes intertwined topics, the cognitive, personality, interpersonal, and structural causes, consequences and mechanisms underlying: (1) Inequality and (2) Innovation.

The Institute is in the fortunate position to have a constituency of, perhaps, the largest number of scholars at any University investigating the many faces of inequality—from racial bias, policing (in)equity, racism in the education system, systemic racism in organizations, gender inequality, economic inequality, power and status, and the underlying psychological and structural forces that conspire to keep inequality alive. Our mission regarding inequality is simple: to understand it as best we can and then develop interventions to mitigate unjust inequality at every level—from the individual, to groups, families, classrooms, school systems & universities, prisons, police organizations, entertainment industries, and businesses. The Institute is unafraid to ask potentially divisive research questions about white privilege and white supremacy—and how these forces have long conspired against the happiness, health, and prosperity of social groups who are not advantaged or become unjustly disadvantaged.

Consistent with The Institute’s goal of understanding and helping to eradicate racism and other forms of unjust inequality, and also consistent with the history of the importance of creativity in The Institute, a second research focus is on innovation and creativity. What are the personality, cognitive, and social forces that meet in a perfect storm to produce a “creative person” or “innovative idea.” We believe that by understanding creativity and innovation more fully, we may be able to develop interventions to deploy within the United States and to developing countries toward the goal of empowering people to prosper.