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Why We Act

Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels

Catherine A. Sanderson

ISBN 9780674271111

Publication date: 03/08/2022

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A Washington Post Book of the Year

“Makes a powerful argument for building, as early as possible, the ability to stand up for what's right in the face of peer pressure, corrupt authority, and even family apathy.”
Psychology Today

Why do so few of us intervene when we’re needed—and what would it take to make us step up? We are bombarded every day by reports of bad behavior, from the school yard to the boardroom to the halls of Congress. It’s tempting to blame bad acts on bad people, but sometimes good people do bad things. A social psychologist who has done pioneering research on student behavior on college campuses, Catherine Sanderson points to many ways in which our faulty assumptions about what other people think can paralyze us. Moral courage, it turns out, is not innate. But you can train yourself to stand up for what you believe in, and even small acts can make a big difference. Inspiring and potentially life transforming, Why We Act reveals that while the urge to do nothing is deeply ingrained, even the most hesitant would-be bystander can learn to be a moral rebel.

“From bullying on the playground to sexual harassment in the workplace, perfectly nice people often do perfectly awful things. But why? In this thoughtful and beautifully written book, Sanderson shows how basic principles of social psychology explain such behavior—and how they can be used to change it. A smart and practical guide to becoming a better and braver version of ourselves.”
—Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

“Encouraged me to persevere through many moments when it felt far easier to stop trying.”
Washington Post

“Points to steps all of us can take to become ‘moral rebels’ whose voices can change society for the better.”
—Walter V. Robinson, former editor of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team

“Sanderson offers sound advice on how we can become better at doing what we know is right.”
—George Conway, cofounder of The Lincoln Project

Praise

  • From bullying on the playground to sexual harassment in the workplace, perfectly nice people often do perfectly awful things. But why? In this thoughtful and beautifully written book, Sanderson shows how basic principles of social psychology explain such behavior—and how they can be used to change it. A smart and practical guide to becoming a better and braver version of ourselves.

    —Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

Author

  • Catherine A. Sanderson is the Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences at Amherst College and the author of The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity. She has written five college textbooks, including Real World Psychology, and widely-taught middle and high school health textbooks. Sanderson lectures around the country and was chosen by Princeton Review as one of the best college professors in America. Her work has been featured in the Atlantic and Washington Post and on CBS and NBC.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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