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 thus interested in the causes and consequences of culture.  We have developed specialties in culture-relevant areas related to national security (click on link for more information).  That work has focused on how we can apply cultural research to understand political security -- studying issues like cultural division, the effects of ecological stress on democracy, and authoritarianism.

Where Does Culture Come From? 

Our lab has evaluated two different -- though often interrelated -- processes by which culture forms.  On the one hand, we've evaluated socio-ecological forces that influence cultural and political development.  Socio-ecological forces are macro-level parts of the environment -- such as the amount of disease or the amount of sunlight -- that affect large groups of people.  So, for example, we have evaluated the effect of ecological stressors such as disease, harsh climates, and frontier topography on shared beliefs, laws, and democracy (Conway et al., 2019, Current Opinion in Psychology; Conway et al., 2017, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; Kitayama, Conway, et al., 2010, American Psychologist).   More recently, we've turned our attention to how global positioning -- that is, one's longitude and latitude -- plays a long-term role in shaping cultural and human psychology related to security (Van de Vliert & Conway, 2019, Conflict and Negotiation Management Research). 

On the other hand, our lab has studied communication processes by which culture is often shaped "from the ground up."  One strand of research has focused on what we call the Agreement Paradox.  This works suggests ironic backfiring effects of explicit communication pressures designed to force agreement.  In short, this work reveals that pressures to agree will cause short-term agreeement, but long-term dissension, within a culture, thus potentially setting the stage for a breakdown in political and cultural systems.  We have found backfiring effects in areas related to politics/law (Conway et al., 2009, Basic and Applied Social Psychology; Conway & Repke, 2019, Journal of Environmental Psychology) and business (Conway et al., 2005, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), We even applied this perspective to the 2016 election and found that priming political correctness norms backfired and caused people to vote for the candidate who used the least politically correct language (Conway et al., 2017, Journal of Social and Political Psychology), suggesting that attempts to force agreement may have unintended societal consequences for division.

In addition, we have studied how people unintentionally (almost "accidentally") come to consensus, both in small meso groups and at a larger cultural level. One line of research looked at 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; see also Conway et al., 2016, Sage Open). Similarly, we have studied how people come to share stereotypes unintentionally, merely as a by-product of communication processes (e.g., Conway & Schaller, 2007; Schaller & Conway, 1999, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; Schaller, Conway, & Tanchuk, 2002, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

Breakdown and Influence of Culture

We’ve also looked at the both the potential breakdown of culture and the consequences that beliefs and behaviors have once they are widely culturally shared.  Much of this research is related to security.  We have looked at why people endorse torture, the complexity of rhetoric, authoritarianism, and individualism/collectivism, among others topics (e.g., Conway et al., 2016, Political Psychology; Conway et al., 2018, Political Psychology; Conway & McFarland, 2019, Personality and Individual Differences; Houck et al., 2017, Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism; Houck et al., 2014, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology).  In one line of research, we have evaluated the similarities and differences between Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Left-Wing Authoritarianism and the role of authoritarianism in elections (Conway et al., 2018, Political Psychology; Conway & McFarland, 2019, Personality and Individual Differences).  In another research area, we have evaluated the factors underlying why people believe in torture despite the fact that polls suggest they shouldn't (Houck et al., 2019, Political Psychology; Houck et al., 2013, Journal of Applied Security Research; Houck et al., 2014, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology; Houck et al., 2015, Journal of Applied Security Research). We have further evaluated the influence 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; Leung, Lam, Bond, Conway, Gornick, et al., 2012, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology).