Social networks

President Janet K. Swim, PhD, discusses using the power of social networks to foster both intra- and interdivisional bridges and bonds

By Janet K. Swim

I have become fascinated by social networks. I do not just mean web-based social networks, such as Facebook, but I mean the networks that define the groups to which we belong. These include our friends, families, work groups, and professional organizations, like SEPCP (Society for Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology). Social networks bring together psychology’s focus on attributes about individuals with information about the relationships among individuals. The relationships are the glue that binds us together, the pathways by which we exchange information, and the processes that establish our place and role in groups. Patterns of relationships not only describe how individuals relate to others but also describe qualities of groups. For instance, a network with strong social capital has many bonds within a group and bridges to other groups. Social capital, like financial capital, provides resources for a group to be more effective in its efforts.

Unlike financial capital, however, use of social capital does not deplete resources but can strengthen capital. The more we relate to each other and the more we relate with others outside of our group, the stronger the ties and the greater the capital.


Bonding provides a foundation for group activities by, for instance, providing greater communication and social support among group members. Over the last four months, the executive committee, our other committees, and I, with the help of APA, have been working to set the stage so that we can have stronger bonds within SEPCP and bridges with other organizations. I will first review some of the efforts we have taken to strengthen SEPCP bonds.

First, we have revised our bylaws. These revisions provide greater definition to our committees, provide official mechanisms for our graduate student committee to have influence in SEPCP, allow the president greater ability to enact initiatives, and will help the organization grow. Thank you to all who took the time to vote on these changes. The proposed revisions were accepted by nearly 100 percent of those who voted.

Second, in addition to our public webpage, which I hope you all have visited; our APA supported community website is now available.* The community website will help us all as a group as a whole and help our subgroups as well. The services that the website provides will expand upon those offered by our listserv. Like the listserv, we can use the community website as a place for announcements, discussions, and sharing of information. Unlike the listserv, there will be a record of announcements and discussions that can be made separate from other exchanges, which can facilitate more involvement in the discussions. Further documents and videos can be uploaded on the website which can enhance our ability to share information. Opinion polls can also be posted there which can be used to assess the pulse of the division.

The Website also provides a mechanism to help develop our interest groups and facilitate the operations of our society committees. If you have not yet joined, please take advantage of this website by registering at APA Communities.

Your dues should be up to date or you will not be able to join. You will need your MyAPA username and password that you used to pay for your dues this year. If you need help remembering this password, go to MyAPA.org. If you need further help, contact Stephanie Paidasdukarm. She is assisting us with our use of this Webpage. If you would like to join any of our interest groups, please contact Stephanie.

Third, we have an exciting program for APA this summer. Thomas Doherty has done a marvelous job organizing this event. Elke Weber will be a keynote speaker at APA and we have some great symposia, speakers, and discussions lined up. APA is a place where we can gather together, get to see each other face-to-face, and share our work with each other. As such, it provides a place to strengthen the bonds that tie us together. Please mark the APA convention on your calendar and plan to attend.

Orlando, Florida, August 2 to 5, 2012.


I discussed my thoughts about bridging in my article in the last newsletter. I have now learned more about this as I study social networks. Bridging helps us connect to others, allowing us to influence and be influenced by others. Here I will update you on the progress of the bridges that we are forming.

First, the APA convention not only provides an opportunity for our members to bond but also provides a place to foster bridges with other APA attendees. Elke Weber’s keynote address is a great example of this. Dr. Weber’s research and leadership at CRED—the Center for Research on Environmental Decision Making—is excellent and a great resource for many of us in SEPCP. But her presentation will also be attended by people in other areas. Attendees within SEPCP and within other areas of psychology will learn more about the relevance of our work to their work during this talk. Our other symposia and speakers will not only be of interest to our members but of interest to cognitive, political, and clinical psychologists, with topics that involve perception of climate change, policies, and therapy, to name a few groups.

Second, SEPCP sponsored a well-attended pre-conference session at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in San Diego in January. Amanda Mahaffey from SPSP took the lead on organizing the event. But events such as these do not happen because of one person; several of our graduate students also helped as well. These included Irina Feygina, Beth Karlin, and Kaitlin Toner. Speakers included Jon Krosnick from Stanford, who talked about climate change beliefs; Shannon Arvizu from Frameworks Institute who talked about framing sustainability messages; Mark van Vugt from the University of Amsterdam, who talked about evolutionary approaches for environmental sustainability; Wesley Schultz from California State University San Marcos, who talked about social norm messaging; and Johnny Faser from New Knowledge, and yours truly, Janet

Swim from Penn State, who talked about using informal science learning to teach the public about climate change. There was also an opportunity to learn about much upcoming research through a “data-blitz” session and poster presentations where nine other people gave five-minute presentations of their work. Please go to the SEPCP community website to look for videos of several of these presentations, made possible through Beth Karlin taking the lead on getting these made and accessible to us.

Conversations over breaks and meals help build connections among attendees.

Last but not least were the water bottles that included our SEPCP logo. These bottles were proudly carried by pre-conference attendees during the rest of the conference, noticed by others, and taken home as a reminder of the event and a way to talk to others about the preconference. This event was such a success, it will be offered again next year, and like other successful pre-conferences at SPSP, I anticipate that it will continue for years to come.

Third, we have received a CODOPAR interdivisional grant from APA. SPSSI has been a great supporter of environmental and conservation psychology as evidenced by the dedication of several volumes of the Journal of Social Issues to this topic. The connection between the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and SEPCP is natural given the necessity of attending to both social and environmental issues in order to achieve a sustainable world. The grant will facilitate our ability to carry out a collaborative effort with SPSSI. The grant was written by Susan Clayton, Maureen O’Conner (SPSSI president) and myself. At the preconference for SPSSI, we will participate in a workshop for graduate students and early career psychologists on interdisciplinary research. The symposia will include speakers who have had experience applying their research to environmental, population, and conservation issues. During the conference, we will have guest speakers to talk about environmental justice issues and awards for best research by graduate and early career psychologists for the integration of research on social and environmental justice. SPSSI has generously offered to allow all SEPCP members to the register for conference at SPSSI member prices. This conference is in Charlotte, North Carolina over June 22 to 24, 2012.

Please mark the SPSSI conference, as well the APA convention, on your calendar and plan to attend. Last but not least, we have agreed to join other sponsors of the Social Psychology Network (SPN). SPN is not just for social psychologists. With regard to SEPCP, SPN has made special efforts over the years to attend to environmental and conservation issues. It does this, for instance, by providing a list of resources about climate change, selecting articles from news feeds on environmental issues and posting them on their webpage, and supporting innovative teaching activities that have included recognition of activities done by our members. Take some time to look through this Webpage and consider supporting its efforts.

Thank you for your attention to the activities of SEPCP. I look forward to seeing many of you at the SPSSI conference, the APA convention, or both and interacting SEPCP Website: with you on our community Website!

*Effective Sept. 15, 2015, the APA Communities website is no longer available.