Michael E. W. Varnum, PhD
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, and I am director of the Culture and Ecology Lab. My work focuses on exploring the sources, mechanisms, and consequences of cultural differences and universals in a variety of psychological processes and behavioral tendencies.
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=mbqOySoAAAAJ&hl=en
Broadly speaking I am interested in how culture effects the way we view the self, how we experience emotions, and how we perceive and reason about the social and non-social worlds. I am also interested in the causes (both proximal and distal) of cultural variations and cultural changes in these processes. My research combines theoretical frameworks from cultural psychology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral ecology.
Cultural Change: In this line of research I have documented cultural shifts in variables including individualism/collectivism, contempt, gender equality, innovation, and the complexity of cultural products. Together with my collaborators we have used an ecological framework to understand the causes of these shifts. The hope is to create a predictive science that will enable us to forecast how cultures will change based on changes in ecological threats and affordances.
Ecological Causes of Cultural Variation: In this line of work I have explored how features of the ecology may patterns of cultural variation. This work has explored ecological explanations for cultural variations in a wide range of phenomena from conformity, to life history strategy, to the propensity to engage in violence.
Cultural Neuroscience: I am also pursuing research using neuroscience techniques to explore how culture influences the brain and vice-versa. I have conducted research using fMRI and EEG and ERPs to explore the effects of culture (including both national culture and social class) on social cognitive processes including trait inference, empathy, mirroring, emotion regulation, and self-positivity. I have also explored how manipulating views of the self (a key dimension of cultural difference) affects empathy and vicarious reward. I am also using neuroscience to study cross-cultural differences in emotion regulation, self-enhancement, and the process of acculturation.
Some of my other current research interests include universals and variations in human motivation, social class, female sociality, and individual and societal responses to the potential discovery of life off of the earth.