Social Studies

Three Questions with Dr. Mark Snyder

Dr. Mark Snyder describes his work as a blend of social psychology and personality study, aimed at understanding “how individuals create their own social worlds” and how individual motivations translate into social action and altruism. The McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Snyder is the editor of the SPSSI book series Contemporary Social Issues and Interventions. Through his work exploring when and why people help – much of it conducted in the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society – Snyder hopes to invigorate “engaged citizenry.”

How do you explain what you do to people at a dinner party?

When asked what I do in my research, I tell people that I seek answers to the questions: “When and why do people step outside the confines of their own personal self-interest to help other people and to do good for their communities and for society at large, through such pro-social actions as volunteering, philanthropy, and civic participation?”

What’s one thing your research has taught you that average Minnesotans should know?

It is important to understand that helping others and doing good for society is a two-way street – getting involved delivers benefits for those who do so (including increased self-esteem and well-being, learning new skills, and making new friends) at the same time as it improves the quality of life of other people and society at large.

How do you want your research to contribute to society?

With the knowledge generated by our research, individuals will be in a better position to develop their own agendas for getting involved in helping others and working for the common good, and communities and societies will be able to encourage their members to get involved in working to solve the problems and address the challenges facing all of us, thereby fostering a more engaged citizenry.