"It takes two flints to make a fire"

By Dr Alessandro Biraglia

About the author

Dr Alessandro Biraglia is a Lecturer in Marketing at Leeds University Business School.  His research interests focus on the areas of consumer behaviour, branding and decision making.

Rome skyline

A fruitful example of collaboration and knowledge sharing

Collaboration and knowledge sharing have been, for centuries, at the core of many universities’ mission across the globe. The concept of “universitas” itself, after all, regards the union of different people as a “whole” body of intellectuals driven to discover, create, and disseminate knowledge.

Partnerships across institutions have been more and more popular in the last two decades, especially thanks to the free movement of individuals across countries, the implementation of faster and more efficient means of communications, and the creation of dedicated centres to support and nurture such collaborative environments.

I firmly believe that collaborating with scholars from other institutions is crucial for academics at any stage of their career. There are, in my opinion, three main benefits of starting a collaboration:

  1. It allows you to enrich your knowledge and improve your skills
  2. It lets you to disseminate your discoveries to a wider public
  3. It is generally pure fun to work on topics you are interested in with likeminded people.

Collaborating with Sapienza University in Rome

Here at Leeds University Business School I have had the chance in the past couple of years to host colleagues from the Faculty of Psychology at Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. Founded in 1303, Sapienza is one of the biggest state institutions in Europe with over 100,000 students. Incidentally, it is also the university where I graduated for my bachelor and master’s degrees and where, ultimately, I myself am a visiting scholar.

Working with Professor Lucia Mannetti and Dr Renata Metastasio, we were able over the years to set up two main projects that allowed four research assistants from Sapienza to visit Leeds University Business School for a short period (two to three months). Specifically, we worked on two major streams of research:

The first project aims to understand individual differences driving consumers to adopt products made from recycled materials. As the reduction of waste and recycling are two critical issues in contemporary society, past research has tried to look at how to stimulate individuals to recycle more. Similarly, big corporations like Adidas and Levi’s have started manufacturing items by recycling plastic waste. However, little is known about how much consumers would trust, like, and ultimately buy an item fabricated from recycled materials.

With the help of two research assistants – Simone Serafini and Stefania Cianfarani - who visited Leeds University Business School in 2016, we looked at how individuals with a “fixed” mind set (ie people who believe human characteristics such as personality traits, self-esteem, or intelligence are not changeable over time) tend to be less likely to adopt products made from recycled materials. By contrast, people who believe in the incremental change of such characteristics over time and due to effortful practice (also known as individuals with “malleable” mindsets) tend to be more likely to choose and like recycled products.

Our second research project investigates individuals’ intentions to vote for different political candidates. Specifically, we look at which characteristics lead voters to prefer a candidate who is “disadvantaged” in the race (also known as the “underdog”). We looked specifically at this phenomenon as it has been more and more common for politicians around the world and from all the sides of the ideological spectrum (from Corbyn to Trump) to use such underdog narratives to appeal to the electorate. With the aid of three researchers from Sapienza – Gaia Azzali, Enrico Di Bartolomeo, and Giulio Giordano - who visited Leeds University Business School in 2017 and 2018, we determined a series of conditions that can influence voters to prefer a more advantaged or a more disadvantaged candidate. These characteristics depend on how much the disadvantaged candidate is perceived competent, warm, or authentic. Also, in a quasi-experiment using real election data we observed how the “underdog effect” is attenuated or eliminated in the presence of a larger number of candidates.

The benefits of collaborative research

In both projects, the collaboration with individuals with a different set of skills, knowledge, and capabilities helped to move the project forward a great deal. The background in social psychology of the collaborators from Sapienza, together with their different sensitivity to approaching problems, proved to be valuable in tackling and understanding complex phenomena like environmentalism and the rise of diverse leaders in the political arena.

Additionally, these collaborations generated results that have been presented at leading conferences in the fields of marketing and psychology, providing an excellent outlet for knowledge dissemination to a vast audience of academics and practitioners. The findings also provide a solid basis for the writing and the publication of articles in scholarly journals, a number of which are currently at different stages of completion.

Future collaboration

My goal is to pursue these projects with Sapienza University even further, by hosting other researchers at Leeds University Business School in the future, but also by visiting them in their Faculty in Rome to maintain our collaboration. We have several ideas that could be transformed into fruitful partnerships by pooling our resources, with the potential of generating extremely valuable insights regarding the behaviour of consumers and managers.

At Leeds University Business School, visiting titles are used to confirm regular on-going collaborations between the University and individuals based in other institutions. Academics within the Business School have worked with researchers across the globe on a variety of different topics, producing papers, working on projects, and making policy and industry recommendations. At the time this blog post was published, the Business School has 47 current Visiting Titles from academic institutions and industrial collaborators located in 19 countries, spanning four continents. Research topics have ranged from cross cultural management, to perceptions of climate change


"It takes two flints to make a fire" - Louisa May Alcott

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