$1M donation to empower lives with evidence-based psychology knowledge

Robert Cialdini’s gift to ASU's Psych for Life program will allow access to practical insights for enhancing well-being

August 28, 2023

Robert Cialdini connects people to the profound insights of human social behavior, and with his latest million-dollar donation to Arizona State University, he’s ensuring an even broader audience has access to psychology knowledge to enhance their lives.

Cialdini is a Regents Professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at ASU. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he’s globally renowned as the preeminent scholar in the field of social influence. His legacy spans more than five decades of giving back to The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesDepartment of Psychology through his groundbreaking research, philanthropy and inspiring teaching and mentoring. Now, along with Bobette Gorden, his wife and business partner, Cialdini has amplified his long-standing commitment with his gift to the department’s Psych for Life program. 
Portrait of Bobette Gorden and Robert Cialdini. Bobette Gorden and Robert Cialdini's (pictured above) latest million-dollar gift to Arizona State University is set to empower others with skills for better relationships, stress management, career success and more.

“Bob and Bobette’s generous donation is yet another manifestation of their quest to give psychology away — empowering people, charitable organizations, communities and businesses to improve their overall well-being, in ways that stand true to our scientific understanding and responsible ethics,” said Foundation Professor and Psych for Life founder, Steven Neuberg

At the heart of Psych for Life lies a powerful mission: to leverage the best science to provide people and organizations with access to evidence-based knowledge to enhance everyday life in ways that are trustworthy, engaging, usable and empowering. The initiative digitizes psychological science into on-demand, bite-sized modules, enabling individuals to acquire essential skills for enhancing various aspects of their lives. From guiding difficult conversations to building new habits and managing stress, Psych for Life utilizes top psychological science to address everyday challenges and opportunities in relationships, parenting, well-being, career and more.

“I’ve always felt a commitment to providing research-based, psychological knowledge to interested learners. I know of no program that does this better than Psych for Life,” Cialdini said.

The Psych for Life initiative began as a commitment to lifelong success and well-being for psychology students and evolved into a broader mission to support learners at scale, explained Neuberg.  

“In 2017, the Department of Psychology embarked on a long-term commitment to prepare our students for the many career pathways they could be taking after graduation. We wanted to help them attain meaningful and productive lives, and began creating an integrated set of programs for enhancing undergraduate success and career preparation,” said Neuberg, the former chair of ASU’s Department of Psychology. 

These programs included a psychology-specific tutoring center where students engage in a peer coaching model, an expanded internship program, increased access to scholarships for students who are typically underrepresented in STEM, and a mentorship network where alumni share their experiences of what they are currently doing with their psychology degrees. Advancing to further serve its alumni and the community, the gift from Cialdini and Gorden to Psych for Life will enable the expansion of these efforts to reach a wider range of people while also supporting the other missions of the department.

“At ASU, our work is a partnership with our communities and the world to improve lives, including economic, social and cultural health. The Psych for Life initiative is evidence that the Department of Psychology is on the forefront of developing solutions to critical social, cultural and well-being challenges,” said Tamera Schneider, professor and psychology chair.

A New York Times No. 1 bestselling author, Cialdini penned “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion,” “Pre-suasion: a Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade,” and, together with Gorden, co-founded the Cialdini Institute and runs Influence at Work. They’re committed to helping causes they believe in, and Cialdini and Gorden believe in the power Psych for Life holds.

“Easy access to scientifically grounded, helpful content is exactly what we need as individuals and as a society," Gorden said, "and that’s exactly what Psych for Life offers."

Laura Fields

Marketing and communication manager, Department of Psychology

A revolutionary approach to deciphering evolution

ASU professor describes new method for creating accurate, scalable phylogenomic trees, offering new insights into the history of species

August 28, 2023

For decades, researchers have been trying to understand evolution using phylogenomic trees. These branching structures are intricate maps, revealing the ancestral connections among different species. Each link in the tree’s branches signifies a bond stretching across time, linking species through their shared heritage.

But building phylogenomic trees is no easy task. Traditional methods have relied on analyzing single-marker genes, like the 16S rRNA gene, to construct these evolutionary maps. While they worked well for smaller groups of organisms, they struggled to accurately portray the relationships when dealing with hundreds of thousands of species. Other methods use genome-wide data, which might be more accurate but require scalable algorithms and high computing power. Thus, none of these methods are ideal for generating accurate and large phylogenomic trees. Illustration of a phylogenetic tree. Illustration of a phylogenetic tree. Courtesy Anaissa Ruiz-Tejada

Solving the puzzle of evolutionary research

Assistant Professor Qiyun Zhu from the School of Life Sciences and the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics at Arizona State University recently published an article in the prestigious journal Nature Biotechnology, written in collaboration with other researchers from the University of California San Diego, that introduces a new approach to creating accurate and scalable phylogenomic trees. 

In the realm of evolutionary science, researchers compare the DNA sequences from many organisms and determine the differences between them. These differences serve as clues to deciphering the intricate relationships between species. Several differences indicate a greater genetic divergence, placing species at a distance on the phylogenomic tree. Conversely, lesser differences reflect a closer relationship, illustrating the common threads that bind closely related species together.

To create such connections, researchers have to use genetic information, which often includes DNA sequences. DNA is composed of nucleotides (A, T, C and G) that come together in base pairs. Arranged in a sequence, these base pairs form the genes that determine the characteristics of each organism. The collection of all genes in a single organism is called a genome, and these can vary in length but may contain thousands to billions of base pairs.

In their recent publication, Zhu and colleagues propose a new method, named uDance, to generate phylogenomic trees. Imagine the tree as a puzzle being assembled in pieces, each refined and polished before being combined to create the final masterpiece.

Zhu and his colleagues recognized the limitations of traditional methods and the scalability issues of genome-wide data approaches. So they combined the best of both worlds.

“Central to the new computational approach is the divide-and-conquer strategy,” Zhu explained. “This strategy involves breaking down the full tree into smaller subtrees, each of which can be generated accurately and efficiently.”

Assistant Professor .

Qiyun Zhu

Once the smaller subtrees have been created, the algorithm pulls information that might relate them to neighboring trees. Then it connects them to create a complete phylogenomic tree. With this approach, brand new trees can be created, or existing trees can be improved upon.  

What makes uDance truly remarkable is its ability to update existing trees. Instead of starting to assemble the puzzle from scratch, uDance allows researchers to incorporate these new pieces seamlessly into the evolving tree, refining different sections independently.

“Researchers can use uDance to determine the evolutionary trajectories of pathogenic strains over decades by incorporating the subtle differences found through massive sequencing efforts,” Zhu said. 

This method not only ensures higher accuracy in the trees but also makes the process scalable. The uDance approach resulted in a species tree with 42.5 billion amino acid residues. This accomplishment would have been almost unimaginable just a few years ago. 

“With this new framework, researchers can now aim to accomplish those long-standing mission impossibles, such as inferring the evolutionary relationships among all genomes ever sequenced. There are about 2 million of them as of 2023,” Zhu said.

Anaissa Ruiz-Tejada

Graduate Science Writer, School of Life Sciences