Culture Lab

Culture means something like "a group of people who share a set of beliefs or behaviors moreso than other groups share those same beliefs and behaviors." The culture lab is interested in the causes and consequences of culture. We ask questions like “Why do groups of people come to share the particular beliefs and behaviors that they do?” and “What consequences do widely-shared cultural beliefs have?" 

Implicit Consensus 

For example, our lab studies ways that people come to share beliefs almost by “accident,” without direct, effortful intention to do so. Part of this involves studying how people come to share beliefs on topics that are beyond their own conscious awareness.

One recent instantiation of this involves a model of cultural beliefs and cultural change known as the Production-Adoption Model. The model posits that explicit and implicit beliefs "travel" differently across cultural space and that this has consequences for our understanding of where culture comes from (Conway, Houck, & Gornick, 2013, book chapter in Psychological Geography, American Psychological Association; Kitayama, Conway, Pietromonaco, Park, & Plaut, 2010, American Psychologist).

Under the same rubric, we have also studied the somewhat counterintuitive effect of "political correctness" norms on stereotypes. In particular, this work suggests that under some circumstances, political correctness norms -- or the pressure to only talk positively about groups -- can actual backfire, producing more negative stereotypes instead (Conway, Salcido, Gornick, Bongard, Moran, & Burfiend, 2009, Basic and Applied Social Psychology). Similar work suggests that business norms designed to produce a particular outcome can sometimes backfire (Conway & Schaller, 2005, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

In addition, we have studied how people unintentionally come to consensus on their perceptions of time. Even though people in these studies do not talk about their perceptions of time, they come to share the time perceptions of the people that they interact with -- but not those they do not interact with (e.g., Conway, 2004, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology). Similarly, we have studied how people come to share stereotypes unintentionally, merely as a by-product of communication processes (e.g., Schaller & Conway, 1999, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; Schaller, Conway, & Tanchuk, 2002, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

The implicit consensus perspective that underlies much of this work also has implications for overt persuasion attempts as well. In particular, because humans have a deep-rooted implicit tendency to imitate others, long-term deviance from others’ beliefs and behaviors requires effortful thought. Thus, one of the things most likely to stop the march of consensus is thinking. Our lab has collected multiple studies testing the implications of this perspective for persuasion and the spread of shared beliefs (e.g., Conway & Schaller, 2005, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, study 5).

Consequences of Culture 

We’ve also looked at the consequences that beliefs and behaviors have once they are widely culturally shared. For example, we have looked at the impact that shared beliefs relevant to collectivism have on the formation of legally restrictive laws, complex thinking, helping behavior, and the pace of life (Conway, Clements, & Tweed, 2006, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology; Conway, Houck, & Gornick, 2013, book chapter in Psychological Geography, American Psychological Association; Conway, Ryder, Tweed, & Conway, 2001, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology; Conway, Schaller, Tweed, & Hallett, 2001, Social Cognition). More recently, the lab has begun exploring the causes and consequences of shared perceptions of torture (Houck & Conway, 2013, Journal of Applied Security Research; Houck, Conway, & Repke, in press, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology), the effect of individualism and education on terrorism (Houck, Conway, & Repke, under development), and the spread of cultural beliefs relevant to climate change (Repke, Conway, & Houck, under development). The lab has also looked at the impact of shared fundamental social "axioms" (e.g., cynicism, religiosity) about life and their consequences for various things (Leung, Lam, Bond, Conway, Gornick, et al., 2012, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology).