Dignity and its relation to poverty and inequality

Dignity–the recognition of a person or a group’s worth and agency–is related to fundamental psychological needs. Yet systems of social inequality regularly deny dignity to people in poverty—through demeaning interpersonal interactions, deficit-focused communications, and stigmatizing societal narratives. What are the psychological and economic consequences of denials of dignity? And how might affirmations of dignity serve as a foundation for economic equity and social inclusion? 


  • Thomas, C.C.*, Otis, N.G.*, Abraham, J.R., Markus, H.R., & Walton, G.M. (2020). Towards a science of delivering dignity in aid: Experimental evidence and forecasts from Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(27), 15546-15553. 1917046117

  • Markus, H. *, Thomas, C. *, Schwalbe, M. *, Garcia, M., & Cohen, G. Inequality in coping and loss: Mostly surviving, some thriving in the COVID-19 crisis. In press, Stanford Pathways Magazine.

Behavioral science in social policy

A rapidly growing body of research suggests that economic development policies, such as unconditional cash transfers and business trainings, can be well-complemented by, and sometimes require, psychosocial programs to have durable and cost-effective impacts on poverty reduction. How might culturally tailored, social psychological interventions enhance the impacts of anti-poverty policies both on recipients' economic mobility as well as their mental health and agency?



  • Bossuroy, T., Goldstein, M., Karlan, D., Kazianga, H., Parienté, W., Premand, P., Thomas, C., Udry, C., Vaillant, J., Wright, K. Pathways out of Extreme Poverty: Tackling psychosocial and capital constraints with a multi-faceted social protection program in Niger. In revision, Nature.

  • Thomas, C. C., & Markus, H.R. Enculturating development science: Beyond the WEIRD independent paradigm. In revision, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Narrative change and prejudice mitigation

Welfare recipients are one of the most negatively viewed social groups in American society, with negative stereotypes of laziness and irresponsibility being entrenched in the American psyche. In turn, these beliefs can undermine political will to address poverty and inequality. How might narratives communicated through social policies reinforce, or alternatively interrupt, this cycle of prejudice and opposition to safety net policies?  


  • Thomas, C. C., Walton, G. M., Reinhart, E., Markus, H. R. Mitigating welfare-related prejudice and partisanship with values-aligned policy communications. Under review, Journal of Experimental Social PsychologyPreprint.


Creating a short documentary film for the Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Program in partnership with the government of Niger, the World Bank, and documentary filmmaker Damel Dieng

Secondary analysis of data from the American National Election Study (ANES) collected between 1964 and 2016 (N = 59,944): Feeling thermometer ratings towards select social groups in the US