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The Strength of Social Norms Across Cultures

PI: Michele Gelfand, University of Maryland

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The Strength of Social Norms across Cultures: Implications for Intercultural Conflict and Cooperation

Principal Investigators: Michele J. Gelfand, University of Maryland

Co-Principal Investigators: Shinobu Kitayama, University of Michigan and Klaus Boehnke, Jacobs University Bremen

Years of Award: 2013-2020

Managing Service Agency: Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Project Description: 
Humans are unique among all species in their ability to develop, maintain, and enforce social norms. It is likely, then, that humans have evolved cognitive and affective neuro-mechanisms to be able to detect norm violations very quickly, which affords punishment of violators and enforcement of the social order. Despite this fundamental aspect of human nature, however, there has been surprisingly little research on how norm violation processes are supported at the neurobiological level. While there has been neurobiological research on how humans react to violations of task-related expectations in non-social domains, research on neurobiological processes related to social norm violations is only in its infancy and, moreover, there has been a dearth of research on cross-cultural variation in the neurobiology of social norms. Thus, at present, we know little about how vast cultural differences underlying reactions to norm violations are realized at the level of brain mechanisms. This lack of any cultural neuroscience research on social norms represents a large limitation on our current understanding of group identities, cultural norms, and belief systems. Using EEG and fMRI technology, our research seeks to address this deficit by investigating such questions as:  How can we develop new measures of detection of social norm violations at the neurobiological level? Which cultures, individuals, and situations show stronger neurobiological reactions to norm-violating events? How are neurobiological processes underlying social norms violations related to behavioral processes, including implicit and explicit attitudes, self-control, cooperation, and creativity, among other behaviors? Do neurobiological indices of social norm violation mediate cultural differences in social behaviors? How does culture interact with genes to predict reactions to norm violations? How can research on the neurobiological basis of social norms help to improve intercultural interactions?

Select Publications
De, Soham, Dana S. Nau, and Michele Gelfand. 2017. "Understanding Norm Change: An Evolutionary Game-Theoretic Approach". In 16th Conference On Autonomous Agents And Multiagent Systems, 1433-1441.
De, Soham, Michele J. Gelfand, Dana Nau, and Patrick Roos. 2015. "The Inevitability Of Ethnocentrism Revisited: Ethnocentrism Diminishes As Mobility Increases". Scientific Reports 5 (1).
Gelfand, Michele J, and Joshua Conrad Jackson. 2016. "From One Mind To Many: The Emerging Science Of Cultural Norms". Current Opinion In Psychology 8: 175-181.
Kitayama, Shinobu, Anthony King, Ming Hsu, Israel Liberzon, and Carolyn Yoon. 2016. "Dopamine-System Genes And Cultural Acquisition: The Norm Sensitivity Hypothesis". Current Opinion In Psychology 8: 167-174.
Mu, Yan, Shinobu Kitayama, Shihui Han, and Michele J. Gelfand. 2015. "How Culture Gets Embrained: Cultural Differences In Event-Related Potentials Of Social Norm Violations". Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences 112 (50): 15348-15353.
Roos, Patrick, Michele Gelfand, Dana Nau, and Janetta Lun. 2015. "Societal Threat And Cultural Variation In The Strength Of Social Norms: An Evolutionary Basis". Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes 129: 14-23.
Salvador, C., Kitayama, S., Gelfand, M., Mu, Y. (in press). When Norm Violations Are Spontaneously Detected: N400 Is Jointly Modulated by Tightness and Subliminal Relational Priming. Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience.