Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

2013 Action Teaching Award Recipients

SPN Action Teaching Award   

In 2013, the Social Psychology Network Action Teaching Award was won by Elyssa Twedt, Dennis R. Proffitt, and Donna Hearn of the University of Virginia for their entry "Art and Aging: Digital Projects for Individuals with Dementia." The award comes with $1,000 in prize money and a one-year Sustaining Membership in Social Psychology Network.

For details on the winning entry as well as other excellent entries that received Honorable Mention, please see below. Instructors are welcome to use or adapt these teaching ideas for their own classes, provided the use is noncommercial and appropriate credit is given to the individuals below. To see other award-winning entries, please use the pulldown menu below.

Winning Entry
Title: Art and Aging: Digital Projects for People with Dementia
Submitted by:  Elyssa Twedt, Dennis R. Proffitt, and Donna Hearn (University of Virginia)
Category: Student assignment, field experience
For students/learners in: College
Objective(s): (1) Foster values of citizenship and build students' confidence in their abilities to help others; (2) form inter-generational relationships between undergraduate students and the elderly by working towards common goals; (3) develop students' research skills; (4) highlight the reciprocal nature between knowledge learned in the classroom and knowledge acquired through real-world experiences; and, (5) teach students about dementia and how the environment affects individuals' well-being


Jim with his caregiver and three students This service-learning assignment provides students with first-hand experience seeing the positive effects of art, nature, and music on the well-being of individuals diagnosed with dementia. Students begin by attending lectures that cover Alzheimer's disease, dementia, aging, and the restorative effects of art and nature on afflicted individuals. Groups of three students are then paired with an elderly couple, one member of whom has dementia, to create multimedia digital projects (e.g., online scrapbooks, interactive DVDs) involving experiences with art or nature tailored to the needs of their specific couple. Students meet weekly with their assigned couple to discuss the family's interests and goals for the project and to obtain feedback on the evolution and impact of their project on the family's well-being. Finally, students give a class presentation describing their project, the feedback received from their family over the semester, and their overall impressions. Through this field experience, students go beyond traditional lecture learning and develop a customized project that promotes the well-being of someone experiencing dementia.

Honorable Mention
Title: Bringing Organizational Psychology to Life Through Fundraising
Submitted by: Adam M. Grant (University of Pennsylvania)
Category: Classroom activity, student assignment
For students/learners in: Graduate school, College, High school, Work settings
Objective(s): To help students develop knowledge and skills in organizational psychology about (1) leadership, (2) collaboration, (3) networking, (4) negotiation, and (5) prosocial behavior through contributing to a meaningful cause in a cycle of application, feedback, and reflection.


Penn Law students contributing $36,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation Over a three-year period undergraduates, business students, and law students used principles from organizational psychology to raise over $118,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that gives hope, strength, and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Specifically, students deepened their understanding of five key areas of organizational psychology: leadership, collaboration, networking, negotiation, and prosocial behavior. In one iteration of the activity, for example, teams of four MBA students and three undergraduate students were given two days to create and execute a fundraising plan. After selecting a leader and agreeing on a vision and strategy, the team then held raffles, auctioned signed memorabilia, and convinced local restaurants to donate proceeds. In another iteration, business students developed negotiation expertise by bargaining for corporate donations. And in still another iteration, law students took a week-long intensive course with organizational psychology taught in the morning and team fundraising in the afternoon. These team fundraising activities brought organizational psychology alive, benefited a worthy cause, and gave students a memorable opportunity to express what Abraham Lincoln once described as "the better angels of our nature."

Honorable Mention
Title: Building Cross-Cultural Understanding Through Facebook
Submitted by: Carie Forden and Amy Carrillo (Clarion University)
Category: Student assignment, web-based resource
For students/learners in: Graduate school, College, High school
Objective(s): To give students the opportunity to: (1) experience meaningful cross-cultural interaction; (2) apply social psychological principles of prejudice and peacemaking to solving a real world problem; (3) strengthen their critical thinking skills; and (4) deepen their understanding and appreciation of diversity.


Facebook page for the Cairo-Clarion Social Psychology Exchange This assignment uses social media to give students a chance to have meaningful cross-cultural interactions while learning about social psychology and ways to promote international dialogue, peace, and social justice. In this particular case, a Facebook page was co-developed by psychology classes in Egypt and the United States, and student groups in each class were asked to design a program that would improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners by using what they had learned about (1) the causes of prejudice and intergroup conflict, and (2) methods for reducing prejudice and making peace. After students designed their programs, they discussed them in class and then posted their ideas to the Facebook page for comments by students from the other country. As a result of this cross-cultural exchange, students often reported that they had not only learned about psychology of prejudice reduction but that their own prejudices had been reduced. As one student summed up the experience in her final Facebook post: "thank you all for teaching so much in such a short period of time! I learned a lot about you and about myself from this project, and I know that the lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life."

Honorable Mention
Title: Using Principles of Social Influence to Create Prosocial Change
Submitted by: Salena Brody (Collin College)
Category: Student assignment, field experience
For students/learners in: College
Objective(s): The main objective of this action teaching project is to show students how knowledge can be used to effect positive social change. Students are challenged to apply principles of persuasion to a social problem in a creative way and to engage, inspire, and motivate members of their campus community to be change agents themselves. Over the years, this project has raised thousands of dollars for people in need and inspired students to pursue leadership roles on our campus.


In this action teaching assignment, students begin by learning about six key principles of social influence from Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion: (1) commitment and consistency, (2) social proof, (3) liking, (4) reciprocation, (5) authority, and (6) scarcity. The class then selects a social problem of concern and develops a "social change project" that applies social influence principles to creatively and effectively address the problem. In one case, for example, students raised over $2,000 for a United Nations anti-malaria program and generated 200 postcards sent to the White House urging the government to stand by its pledge to end malaria by 2015. In another case, students invited a survivor of human trafficking to speak on campus -- an event that drew over 300 students, faculty, staff, and community members and helped raise $540 for anti-trafficking organizations. Other social change projects included raising more than $1,000 to buy prosthetic limbs for landmine victims, soliciting nearly $2,000 for Pakistan flood relief, netting over $1,300 for Japanese tsunami relief, and, closer to home, securing free meals for local senior citizens. These projects served to show students how social influence techniques can be used as prosocial influence techniques.

Honorable Mention
Title: From Wealth to Well-Being: Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness
Submitted by: Lara B. Aknin (Simon Fraser University) and Elizabeth W. Dunn (University of British Columbia)
Category: Classroom activity
For students/learners in: College, High school
Objective(s): To help students (1) learn about cutting edge research on the emotional consequences of spending choices, (2) experience an in-class experiment and discuss experimental design features, and (3) consider how generosity can help the benefactor as well as the recipient.


This classroom activity offers a vivid and memorable way to demonstrate an important lesson from recent research on the psychology of happiness: that spending money on others often leads to greater happiness than spending money on oneself. Indeed, even the act of reflecting on prosocial spending leads to greater happiness than thinking about spending the same amount of money on oneself. To illustrate this finding, the instructor gives students one of two handouts: a blue sheet that asks students to describe the last time they spent approximately $20 on themselves, or a yellow sheet that asks them to describe the last time they spent the same amount on someone else. In both cases, the sheet ends by asking students to rate their current happiness on a 9-point scale. Then, once students have completed the writing assignment and rating, they're asked to crumple the sheet into a ball and throw it at one of three signs in the front of the classroom corresponding to the rating they gave: 1-3 (a relatively low level of happiness), 4-6 (medium happiness), or 7-9 (high happiness). The most common result is that the 7-9 sign draws more yellow balls than blue balls, which sets up a discussion of how helping others can, in turn, help oneself.

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