Wendy Wood (psychologist)

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Wendy Wood is a UK-born psychologist who is the Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at University of Southern California, where she has been a faculty member since 2009. She is also the Distinguished Visiting Professor at INSEAD Business School in Paris. She previously served as vice dean of social sciences at the Dornsife College of the University of Southern California. Her primary research contributions are in habits and behavior change along with the psychology of gender.

She is the author of the popular science book, Good Habits, Bad Habits, released in October 2019. This book was featured in the Next Big Idea Club and was reviewed in the New Yorker.[1]


Wood completed her bachelor's degree at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and her Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Prior to her current position, Wood held faculty positions at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Texas A&M University as the Ella C. McFadden Professor of Liberal Arts, and Duke University, where she was the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience.

Wood is a fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, American Psychological Society, and Society for Experimental Social Psychology, and a founding member of the Society for Research Synthesis Methodology. She has also served as associate editor of Psychological Review, American Psychologist, Personality and Social Psychology Review, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. She served as President of the 7,000 member Society for Personality and Social Psychology.


Wood's primary research focuses on the effects of habits on behavior. Habits are response dispositions that are automatically activated by the context cues that accompanied the responses in the past.[2] Because habits are cued by the context in which they formed, they can be quite rigid. As Wood has shown, habits can be initiated independently of intentions and can occur with minimal conscious control.[3] Wood’s body of work expands upon the central understanding that habits develop when people repeatedly give a response in the context of a behavior’s performance. Once habits form, perceiving that context automatically calls to mind the habitual response. Specific research topics in Woods’ lab include how and why people fall back into old habits, how good patterns help people meet goals, how to change unwanted habits, and how habits promote stereotypes in social groups.[4] Many of the actions of everyday life are habitual and thus can be difficult to change. Her foundational research using an ongoing assessment method revealed that 43% of everyday actions are habitual.

Changing habitual behavior often relies on introducing new contexts that do not cue the behavior. Intentions, instead of habits, are more likely to guide behavior when strong habits have not already been formed. Finally, Wood and her colleagues have shown that self-regulation of habitual behaviors is possible but requires considerable self-control resources.[3] This important work on habits has many practical applications, and its implications for addictions have been featured on NPR.[5][6]


Wood has made influential contributions in two additional research areas: the origins and maintenance of sex-related differences and similarities in social behavior and the dynamics of social influence and attitude change. Her contributions have received more than 32,000 citations.[7]

In her second area of research, Wood has emphasized that the behavior of women and men can be different or similar, depending on individual dispositions, situations, cultures, and historical periods.[8] In her biosocial theory, this flexibility reflects the central importance of a division of labor between women and men that is not static but is tailored to local ecological and socioeconomic conditions.[9] This division of tasks is facilitated by socialization practices directed toward children. These practices, combined with sex differences in child temperament, foster differing psychologies in boys and girls that are tailored to the tasks that they will likely carry out as adults who participate in their society's division of labor.

Although each society's division of labor reflects its local conditions, Wood argues that it is also constrained by the biological endowment of the sexes in the form of women's childbearing and nursing of infants and men's greater size and strength. Because these biological characteristics influence the how efficiently men or women can perform many activities, they underlie central tendencies in the division of labor as well as its variability across situations, cultures, and history. The division of labor exists in a society at a particular point in time is fostered by gender roles, which are the shared beliefs that develop concerning the traits of women and men. These gender role beliefs track the division of labor because people infer these traits from observing the social behaviors of women and men. In other words, people think that women and men typically possess the traits that enable them to undertake their usual activities. Moreover, people essentialize these traits by regarding them as inherent in the biology or social experience of women and men. These gender role beliefs tend to be consensual—that is, stereotypical of each sex—within cultures and influence people's personal identities to the extent that they internalize these beliefs.

In the biosocial theory of sex differences and similarities, these gender roles affect behavior through proximal social psychological and biological processes. Specifically, other people encourage gender-typical behavior, and individuals regulate their own behavior according to their own gender identities. Wood's research has illuminated the self-regulatory processes by which gender identities affect the behaviors of women and men.[10] Also, Wood has argued that hormonal, reward, and cardiovascular mechanisms work in conjunction with these social psychological processes to facilitate masculine and feminine behaviors.[11] This theory, in its several iterations, is often featured both in textbooks[12] and in websites and blogs pertaining to gender and sexuality.[13]

Wood has also undertaken research on several aspects of attitudes and social influence. Her work on minority influence has clarified the conditions under which people are influenced by the opinions of those who are in the minority in groups, compared with those who are in the majority.[14] She has also examined the influence processes that occur in close relationships.[15] Her attention to attitude change processes includes the effects of forewarnings of impending influence on the extent to which persuasion is effective.[16]

Wood's work has typically combined primary research and meta-analytic integrations of all of the available evidence. She has thus produced numerous highly authoritative meta-analyses of social psychological phenomena.[17][18]

In addition to her research on the previously listed topics, Wood also studies the effects of self-determination interventions on individuals with severe disabilities.[4] In 2005 Wood and colleagues conducted a comprehensive review of intervention studies that were designed to teach core skills of “self-determination” to individuals who have severe disabilities. In 2005, Wood and colleagues conducted a comprehensive review of intervention studies that were designed to teach “self-determination” [19] to disabled individuals. This work advocated for teaching self-management, problem solving, goal setting, decision making, and self-advocacy skills to those individuals.  

In 2005, Wood published a study investigating how changing environmental circumstances can disrupt habits. The study identified stimulus cues that triggered habit performance, and investigated how these habits would change when the usual situational context that provided the stimuli changed.[19] In this specific case, participants were students who had just transferred to a new university, and the habits only remained when the performance context did not change.[20]


  • Good Habits, Bad Habits (2019). ISBN 978-1-250-15907-6


  1. ^ Can Brain Science Help us Break Bad Habits? https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/28/can-brain-science-help-us-break-bad-habits
  2. ^ Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2007). A new look at habits and the habit-goal interface. Psychological Review, 114(4), 843-863.
  3. ^ a b Wood, W., Quinn, J. M., & Kashy, D. A. (2002). Habits in everyday life: thought, emotion, and action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6), 1281-1297.
  4. ^ a b Wood, Wendy M.; Fowler, Catherine H.; Uphold, Nicole; Test, David W. (2005-07-01). "A Review of Self-Determination Interventions with Individuals with Severe Disabilities". Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. 30 (3): 121–146. doi:10.2511/rpsd.30.3.121. ISSN 1540-7969. S2CID 145698523.
  5. ^ Spiegel, A. (2012, January 2). What Vietnam taught us about breaking bad habits. https://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/01/02/144431794/what-vietnam-taught-us-about-breaking-bad-habits
  6. ^ Creatures Of Habit: How Habits Shape Who We Are — And Who We Become https://www.npr.org/2019/12/11/787160734/creatures-of-habit-how-habits-shape-who-we-are-and-who-we-become
  7. ^ Wood's Google Scholar Page https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=xGaNvJ8AAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate
  8. ^ Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2012). Biosocial construction of sex differences and similarities in behavior. In J. M. Olson & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology(Vol. 46, pp. 55–123). London, England: Elsevier.
  9. ^ Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 699-727
  10. ^ Wood, W., Christensen, P. N., Hebl, M. R., & Rothgerber, H. (1997). Conformity to sex-typed norms, affect, and the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(3), 523-535.
  11. ^ Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2010). Gender. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology(5th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 629-667). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.
  12. ^ Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2008). The social psychology of gender: How power and intimacy shape gender relations. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  13. ^ Rhetoric of gender and sexuality. http://gendersex.net/blog/archives/eagly-wood-origins-sex-differences/
  14. ^ Wood, W., Lundgren, S., Ouellette, J. A., Busceme, S., & Blackstone, T. (1994). Minority influence: A meta-analytic review of social influence processes. Psychological Bulletin, 115(3), 323-345.
  15. ^ Oriña, M. M., Wood, W., & Simpson, J. A. (2002). Strategies of influence in close relationships. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(5), 459-472.
  16. ^ Wood, W., & Quinn, J. M. (2003). Forewarned and forearmed? Two meta-analysis syntheses of forewarnings of influence appeals. Psychological Bulletin, 129(1), 119-138.
  17. ^ Ouellette, J. A., & Wood, W. (1998). Habit and intention in everyday life: The multiple processes by which past behavior predicts future behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 124(1), 54-74.
  18. ^ Rhodes, N., & Wood, W. (1992). Self-esteem and intelligence affect influence ability: The mediating role of message reception. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 156-171.
  19. ^ a b "Harnessing the habitual mind. Psychologist & behavioral scientist, Wendy Wood, PhD". PeerSpectrum Podcast. 2020-01-31. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  20. ^ Kuntz, Emily M.; Carter, Erik W. (2019-06-01). "Review of Interventions Supporting Secondary Students with Intellectual Disability in General Education Classes". Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. 44 (2): 103–121. doi:10.1177/1540796919847483. ISSN 1540-7969. S2CID 181418744.

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