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Exploring Psychology’s Contributions to Sustainable Development


by Stephany Below, Communications Manager

More Than 400 Attend 7th Annual UN Psychology Day

Psychology’s contributions to sustainable development were highlighted April 24 at a special event at the United Nations that brought important psychological research to an international audience of UN personnel, ambassadors, students, teachers, and government personnel.

The Seventh Annual Psychology Day at the United Nations in New York City, co-sponsored by The Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the United Nations, focused on Psychology’s Contributions to Sustainable Development: Challenges and Solutions for the Global Agenda. More than 400 people attended the event, including distinguished UN officials and ambassadors.

Cochaired by SIOP Fellow Lori Foster Thompson and Rashmi Jaipal, this Psychology Day focused on three pillars of sustainable development—social, environmental, and economic—with presentations from psychologists and UN representatives addressing how the science and practice of psychology can be used to advance social, environmental, and economic well-being, thus contributing to the United Nations Post-2015 Agenda.

“Psychology Day at the United Nations proved to be a successful and well-attended event, Foster Thompson said. “The audience consisted of several hundred of people – UN staff, ambassadors and diplomats, NGO representatives, business leaders from the private sector, students, and academics – with backgrounds ranging from psychology to economics, and beyond.”

Foster Thompson acknowledged psychology’s important role in the UN’s goals.

“It is through people and an understanding of people that we can eradicate poverty, transform our societies and economies, and form a global partnership,” she explained during her address at the UN. “Psychology is at the very heart of a people-centered agenda.”

To view the entire video from Psychology Day featuring addresses from Lori Foster Thompson, Rashmi Jaipal, and others, click here!

Psychology Day’s 2014 theme around sustainable development was chosen because of its relevance to some of the biggest issues being tackled at the UN today, according to the most recent TIP article from SIOP’s United Nations Team.

“This was a very timely topic, as the focus of the UN starting in 2015 will be on sustainable development,” explained SIOP Fellow John Scott, one of SIOP’s representatives to the United Nations.

Applied areas of psychology, like I-O, have the potential to inform individual, organizational, community, and international well-being and policy in a variety of ways, Foster Thompson explained after the event.

This role for I-O psychology has been recently manifested in the establishment of SIOP's official consultative status at the United Nations and the emergence of humanitarian work psychology, a movement meant to unite the numerous and diverse efforts of I-O psychologists engaging with deliberate and organized efforts to enhance human welfare.

“Psychology Day at the United Nations effectively demonstrated psychology’s relevance, usefulness, and impact to UN decision makers – the very audience we aimed to reach,” she added. “This awareness is critical to ensuring a ‘people-centered’ approach to addressing the universal challenges of the 21st century: promoting sustainable development, supporting job‐creating growth, protecting the environment, and providing peace, security, justice, freedom and equity at all levels. If programs, interventions, and policies are to have their intended effect, they must be based on a solid, scientific understanding people, in their work and nonwork roles.”

Perhaps more than ever before, this year's Psychology Day at the United Nations underscored the relevance of industrial-organizational psychology – and applied psychology more generally – to the global greater good, Foster Thompson added.

“An example includes a presentation by Dr. John Lawrence, an applied psychologist who has worked for decades with organizations like the United Nations Development Programme and who has personally drafted memoranda for the United Nations Secretary General explaining the importance of empirically established human-resource interventions and a scientific study of human individual differences to global development,” she said.

In addition, Dr. Maya Shankar, a senior White House policy advisor with a background in cognitive science, provided compelling examples of how to translate research insights from the social and behavioral sciences into policy designs that are more effective, less costly, and better serve the world by better serving people.

“Some of those examples were specific to workers, such as farmers, showing how an understanding of natural judgment and decision-making processes can guide interventions that encourage farmers to make effective decisions that benefit their work and their livelihoods,” Foster Thompson explained. “Together these presenters, and others including Dr. Saths Cooper who served jail-time alongside South African President Nelson Mandela in their struggle against apartheid, have demonstrated the critical role of applied psychology in promoting global peace and well-being.”

The Inaugural Psychology Day at the United Nations was held in 2007, with subsequent Psychology Days were observed in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

For more information and to view the entire program, visit www.unpsychologyday.org.