UC Santa Cruz psychology Ph.D. graduate wins Fulbright fellowship for research in Israel

UC Santa Cruz Ph.D. psychology graduate Andrew Pilecki, shown here on St. Lucia, will begin a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship in Israel next month.

A recent UC Santa Cruz Ph.D. graduate has won a Fulbright postdoctoral award to support 20 months of research at an Israeli university where he will look at how different groups justify violence on moral terms.

Andrew Pilecki (andrewpilecki.com) is the first postdoctoral Fulbright scholar to study at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a private university near Tel Aviv. Pilecki received his Ph.D. this summer in social psychology and looks at moral stereotypes and how they are used to justify violence against others.

Different groups tend to make judgments about others’ moral behaviors in order to rationalize their own immoral behavior, he says. “The more immoral we think (others) are the more likely we are to accept things that harm them.”

For his next project, Pilecki said, “I want to examine how moral emotions of anger, disgust, and contempt correspond to actions.”

Originally from New Jersey, Pilecki said that after graduating with a masters from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 2007 he was interested in a social identity approach to examining conflict – how people see themselves as members of a particular group.

Searching for graduate programs, he discovered that most social psychology programs did not examine things in that way. Though not initially interested in the Israel/Palestinian conflict he discovered the work of UC Santa Cruz associate professor of psychology Phil Hammack, who has done extensive research with young people from Palestinian and Israeli communities, focusing on attitudes toward conflict.

Pilecki began working with Hammack as his first graduate student and traveled to Israel and the West Bank in 2009 during his graduate studies. He leaves for Israel next month with his wife and 80-pound Alaskan malamute.  He will be working with professor Eran Halperin at IDC Herzilya.

The United States-Israel Educational Foundation sponsored Pilecki for the Fulbright Postdoctoral Award.  The foundation is a bi-national organization established between the U.S. and Israel to administer the Fulbright educational exchange program in Israel with the intent of increasing mutual understanding, scholastically and culturally, between the two countries through the exchange of students, teachers, lecturers and research scholars.