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I graduated in Pedagogy at the University of Florence, Italy, and subsequently I was awarded an MSc in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Exeter. After spending one year as a research fellow at the University of Surrey, in 1996 I became a lecturer at the University of Dundee, where I was eventually promoted to senior lecturer, reader, and finally professor of social and health psychology. I have held visiting positions at the Australian National University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Bari, and the University of Queensland.
I have three broad and interrelated research interests: (i) group processes, (ii) social identity, and (ii) the psycho-social determinants of health. Currently, I am actively involved in a research programme investigating the impact of subjective identification with social groups on health (especially mental health). This programme is summarised below.
Current research: Health in groups
In a number of studies, either cross-sectional or longitudinal, my colleagues and I have found that greater group identification (one’s sense of psychological connectedness to a social group) predicts better health. For instance, in a sample of guards working in an Italian prison we found that stronger identification with the group of prison guards was associated with lower levels of psychiatric disturbance and stress, and higher levels of job satisfaction. I have recently completed a large longitudinal (two-wave) and cross-national ESRC-funded project in collaboration with an Italian medical practice and five Scottish medical practices. This project looked at the effects of group identification on various dimensions of mental and physical health (e.g., depression, satisfaction with life, obesity, blood pressure, health behaviours) in adults from all age-groups and socio-economic statuses. The first wave of data revealed that a greater number of group identifications is associated with lower odds to adopt unhealthy behaviours and to suffer from clinical depression. At present we are analysing the longitudinal data.
In the past, I have been involved in three major research programmes. These programmes are highlighted below.
Perceived collective continuity
Identification with a group often implies a sense that this group has temporal endurance, a sense that the group is an entity that moves through time. What are the dimensions of this 'perceived collective continuity' (PCC)? How does PCC relate to central aspects of social identity? What are the implications of PCC for one’s sense of well-being and mental health? And what are PCC’s psychological functions? I developed a research program aimed at addressing these issues, in collaboration with Mhairi Bowe (University of Nottingham Trent) and Marina Herrera (University of Valencia). We found that PCC comprises two main dimensions - one concerning continuity of beliefs, values, customs and traditions ('cultural' continuity), and one related with the perception that different events and ages in the history of the group are causally interconnected ('historical' continuity). We also found that PCC is positively correlated with group-related cognitions, emotions, and behavioural intentions (e.g., ‘group identification’, ‘collective self-esteem’, and ‘collective action’), and with well-being indicators (especially social integration). Concerning psychological functions, our laboratory produced experimental evidence that death-related thoughts lead people to enhance group identification because this affords a sense of collective continuity, which constitutes a form of symbolic immortality and therefore shields people from death-anxiety.
Schisms in groups
What is the dynamics of schisms within social groups? Put differently, what does lead a subgroup to secede from the parent group and form a new, breakaway group? This was the research question that I began addressing during my PhD - which was supervised by Steve Reicher (then at the University of Exeter and now at the University of St. Andrews – and that I kept investigating during my first decade at Dundee University. My research - which was based on both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of schisms taking place in real groups (e.g., the Italian Communist Party; the Church of England) - revealed that social identity occupies a central role in the dynamics of schisms. More precisely, at the basis of a schism there is an argument about the nature of the relationship between a change - typically the adoption of a new norm - and the group identity. Group members may either feel that the change is consistent with the group identity, or that it implies a denial of its ‘true’, deep, historically grounded essence. Those who perceive identity change tend to experience negative emotions and lose their identification with the group, which in turn may lead these alienated group members to join a schism.
The developmental aspects of social identity
During my first decade at Dundee University I collaborated with Mark Bennett(University of Dundee) in the investigation of the genesis of identification with social groups (e.g., the family, the gender group) in children. We also looked at the contextual variability in children’s understanding of the group identity content. We used a variety of research methods, ranging from controlled laboratory experiments to content analysis of verbal material. Our results showed that subjective identification with particular social groups – operationalized either as self-stereotyping in terms of the normative group behaviours or as cognitive confusion between self and ingroup – is likely to emerge between 5 and 7 years of age. Also, we found that conceptions of ingroup identity vary as a function of the intergroup context. For instance, when describing the ingroup, ‘boys’ are more likely to draw attention to being ‘brave’ and ‘tough’ when the cognitively salient outgroup is ‘girls’, but ‘loud’ and ‘talkative’ when the salient outgroup is ‘grown up men’.
Research grants and Fellowships (research rating is provided when available)
- F. Sani, (principal investigator), M. Norbury & V. Madhok. Health in groups: A longitudinal and cross-national study. ESRC; Ref.: ES/I038349/1. (Start and end dates: 01/11/11 – 31/08/15). £504,000.
- F. Sani. Perceiving collective continuity: Social psychological implications. ESRC Fellowship; Ref. RES-000-27-0185. (Start and end dates: 01/09/05 – 31/08/08). £ 166,530. Research rating: Good.
- F. Sani. Perceived group historical continuity: A cross-cultural investigation. ESRC; Ref.: RES-000-22-0738. (Start and end dates: 30/06/04 – 31/07/05). £ 46,925. Research rating: Outstanding.
- S. Reicher (principal applicant), C. Cassidy, F. Sani & P. Cronin. Social immersion lab for the Tay Social Psychology Group. ESRC; Ref.: RES-474-25-0015. (Start and end dates: 01/11/03 – 31/10/05). £. 150,411. Research rating: Outstanding.
- F. Sani (principal investigator) & M. Bennett. The ingroup becomes part of the self: The genesis of children’s sense of “we”. ESRC; Ref.: RES-000-22-0494. (Start and end dates: 01/08/04 – 31/07/05). £ 35,085. Research rating: Outstanding.
- M. Bennett (principal investigator) & F. Sani. A developmental investigation of stereotype variability. ESRC; Ref.: RES-000-22-0203. (Start and end dates: 01/11/03 – 31/07/04). £ 28,126. Research rating: Good.
- F. Sani. Extending the social psychological model of schisms in social groups. BritishAcademy; Ref.: SG-35625. (Start and end dates: 01/03/03 – 31/08/03). £. 4,890.
- F. Sani (principal investigator) & M. Bennett. Developmental aspects of social identity. ESRC; Ref.: R000223776. (Start and end dates: 01/08/02 – 31/10/03). £ 42,661. Research rating: Outstanding.
- F. Sani. An empirical testing of a social psychological model of schisms within social groups. BritishAcademy; Ref.: SG-30189. (Start and end dates: 01/05/00 – 30/09/00). £ 2,510.
- M. Bennett (principal investigator) & F. Sani. Developmental aspects of the process of social categorization. ESRC; Ref.: R000222801. (Start and end dates: 30/04/99 – 31/05/00). £ 35,296. Research rating: Outstanding.
- M. Barrett (principal investigator) et al. (including Fabio Sani). The Development of national, ethnolinguistic and religious identity in children and adolescents living in the NIS. EC INTAS; Ref.: INTAS 97 – 1363. (Starting and end dates: 01/12/98 – 30/11/01). 80,000 ECUs.
- Social Psychology
- Health Psychology
- Research Methods
University of Dundee Psychology PhD student Amy Malaguti and Psychology Professor Fabio Sani have secured funding from the Scottish Government for a research project