As we strive for a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us, research into prosociality has brought about ground-breaking implications in psychology.
A term that is also used in sociology and evolutionary biology, prosociality refers to behaviours that benefit other individuals or society as a whole. This includes altruism (giving voluntary assistance without any expectation of reward), cooperation (collaborative behaviour through joint activity) and helping behaviour (providing assistance in response to another's need).
SMU Assistant Professor of Psychology Kimin Eom’s findings in prosociality, particularly concerning issues such as climate change and pandemics, are remarkably well-timed, given the significant crises currently facing our society. By studying societal challenges and how people work together to solve critical problems, his work has the potential to uncover new pathways to understanding and addressing the issues caused by global disruptions.
In fact, Assistant Prof Eom has recently been awarded the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Rising Star designation. The prestigious honour recognises early career researchers who have made innovative contributions to the field of psychology and show great potential for furthering their respective works.
“My research on culture and sustainability played an important role, I believe,” shares Asst Prof Eom.
“There is a significant body of research on the psychology of sustainability behaviour, but still a dearth of research has considered culture and diversity.”
Understanding behaviour for far-reaching impact
We all have our own unique cultures and beliefs that shape who we are. But what if our culture also influences how we behave? As it turns out, this is exactly the case when it comes to psychology – our behaviour is often shaped by our culture as well as the people around us.
Asst Prof Eom doesn't shy away from difficult questions — examining how culture shapes us and others influence our behaviour — and is keenly aware of the need to maintain sensitivity when questioning sensitive topics.
“My research has identified cultural differences in determinants of pro-environmental motivation and behaviour,” he elaborates.
“These findings inform what psychological factors can be targeted for different cultural groups. They also suggest that we need to apply different assumptions when approaching people with different backgrounds, which should be informed by data and research.”
In the five years since he joined the faculty of SMU School of Social Sciences, Asst Prof Eom's performance has been impressive — he has received over $60,000 in funding from the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) Tier 1 Academic Research Fund and the SMU Start-up Research Grant.
His mentors, Professors Heejung Kim and David Sherman, whom he had met during his PhD in Social Psychology Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recognised his potential and nominated him for the Rising Star designation. And Asst Prof Eom has certainly excelled within the criteria set by the award: he had significant publications, recognitions, and discoveries under his belt, demonstrating a commitment to diversity in science. Furthermore, he has shown independence from his mentors and has set an admirable example of excellence in research.
Through his research, Asst Prof Eom has utilised a multi-faceted approach that included an exploration into the various forms of culture, including nationality, social class, and religion. His comprehensive investigation helps gain greater insight into how people with different cultural backgrounds respond to sustainability issues and what motivates their corresponding actions.
More recently, the Korean-born scholar has also shed new light on the power of social norms and how they can be used as tools of great influence. His studies delve into how people perceive and respond to them, with a primary focus on their potential to foster positive attitude shifts and behaviour change in various settings, such as workplaces, schools, and even cultural communities.
Bold in his pursuit to unravel the fabric of human behaviour, Asst Prof Eom’s research can be harnessed for impactful interventions, policymaking and more to achieve positive social change.
Moving forward, he says “I would like to continue to develop and expand my research on culture, norms, and sustainability and offer new knowledge and insights towards greater sustainability and collective well-being.