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Cultural Psychology



Cultural Psychology is the study of how “culture and psyche make each other up” or mutually co-create each other (See Shweder, 1991, Thinking Through Cultures). My research in cultural psychology has focused on two questions. First, how and why do cultures vary in their moral intuitions, beliefs, and systems. Second, since I believe that emotion is a crucial part of morality, how do emotions vary across cultures? Most of what I know about cultural psychology comes from my good fortune in having had Alan Fiske as an advisor in graduate school (during which I conducted my dissertation research in Brazil), and Richard Shweder as an advisor during my post-doc (during which I spent three months studying morality and emotion at Shweder's field site in Orissa, India). I have continued to use a cultural-psychological approach to the study of politics: ideological groups within each nation are in some ways like distinct cultures, each with its own system of meanings, each with its own profile of hyper- and hypo-developed moral intuitions. In fact, in my dissertation (publication #1), I found that variation within nations (by social class) was much greater than variation across nations (between Brazil and the U.S.A.).

Papers (selections from my main publications page):


**Haidt, J., Koller, S., & Dias, M. (1993). Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 613-628. Request Article

--This is the published version of my dissertation. It examined a debate between Eliott Turiel and Richard Shweder, on whether morality really varied by culture. Using harmless yet offensive stories (such as a family that eats its pet dog, after the dog was killed by a car), I found evidence that strongly supported Shweder: morality did indeed vary by culture. Unexpectedly, cultural differences across social classes within each country were larger than differences across nations (U.S. vs. Brazil). This research showed me the importance of culture and of emotion for understanding moral judgment.


Shweder, R., & Haidt, J. (1993). The future of moral psychology: Truth, intuition, and the pluralist way. Psychological Science, 4, 360-365. Request article

--This theoretical article is an early statement of moral intuitionism; It was written mostly by Shweder, while I was working with him as a post-doctoral researcher. It shows the profound influence of Shweder's ideas upon my later thinking.


Haidt, J., Rozin, P., McCauley, C., & Imada, S. (1997). Body, psyche, and culture: The relationship of disgust to morality. Psychology and Developing Societies, 9, 107-131. View article


** Haidt, J. & Keltner, D. (1999). Culture and emotion: Multiple methods find new faces and a gradient of recognition. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 225-266. Request article

--Keltner and I used multiple methods, including asking subjects to tell us stories about what might have happened to make the person in the photograph make a particular face. We found strong support for Paul Ekman's claims about universality. But we did not find a clear distinction between his set of universal emotional expressions, and a variety of additional expressions we examined. Rather, we found a "gradient" of universality, with some expressions eliciting very high agreement across cultures and methods, others elicited less agreement. This is one of the best pieces of empirical work I ever did. I thought it was going to resolve the debate over whether or not facial expressions of emotion are understood universally. But because it was published in a second level journal, nobody cites it.


Shweder, R. A., & Haidt, J. (2000). The cultural psychology of the emotions: Ancient and new. In M. Lewis & J. Haviland (Ed.), Handbook of emotions, 2nd edition, (pp. 397-414). New York : Guilford . Request article


** Haidt, J . (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review. 108, 814-834. Request article

--This is the most important article I've ever written. It was my effort to bring together the newest developments in many fields in the 1990s, and link them up to older ideas (from David Hume and Robert Zajonc) about the primacy of affect. I formulated the "Social Intuitionist Model" as an alternative to the rationalist models that had dominated moral psychology in the 1980s and 1990s. The model says that most of the action in moral psychology is in our intuitions -- our automatic evaluative responses. People do indeed reason, but that reasoning is done primarily to prepare for social interaction, not to search for truth. We are just not very good at thinking open-mindedly about moral issues, so rationalist models end up being poor descriptions of actual moral psychology.


Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2004). Intuitive Ethics: How Innately Prepared Intuitions Generate Culturally Variable Virtues. Daedalus, pp. 55-66, Special issue on human nature. Request article

--This was my first statement of "moral foundations theory", an attempt to specify the best candidates for being the evolved and innate psychological systems upon which cultures construct an enormous variety of virtues and institutions. For a fuller statement, see pub #41 and pub #62. For more on moral foundations theory see


**Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20, 98-116. Request article
--This is an accessible introduction to moral foundations theory. It was given the Morton Deutsch Award, for the best article published in Social Justice Research in 2007


Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2007). The moral mind: How 5 sets of innate moral intuitions guide the development of many culture-specific virtues, and perhaps even modules. In P. Carruthers, S. Laurence, and S. Stich (Eds.) The Innate Mind, Vol. 3. New York: Oxford, pp. 367-391. View article
--This is our most complete statement of the cognitive science of morality. It examines various notions of "modularity," concluding that for moral and cultural psychology, the best one is the version proposed by Dan Sperber in which "learning modules" are innate, and they generate dozens or hundreds of culture-specific modules during childhood. It is also our most complete statement on virtue ethics, thanks to the expertise of Craig Joseph.


Shweder, R. A., Haidt, J., Horton, R., & Joseph, C. (2008). The cultural psychology of the emotions: Ancient and renewed. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), Handbook of emotions, 3rd ed. (pp. 409-427). New York: Guilford Press. Request article
--This article, written mostly by Shweder, is particularly noteworthy for its presentation of Rasa theory, an ancient Hindu idea about aesthetic emotions.


**Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2009). Planet of the Durkheimians, Where Community, Authority, and Sacredness are Foundations of Morality. In J. Jost, A. C. Kay, & H. Thorisdottir (Eds.), Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification. Request article [Here is a link to the manuscript, which may be easier to read than the scanned version of the final article.]
--This is the most sociological article I've ever written, and its one I'm most proud of. When I first read Durkheim, in graduate school, I had an experience of enlightenment -- my first view of societies as emergent organisms. This article applies the ideas of Durkheim, Tonnies, and Weber to Moral Foundations Theory.


Olatunji, B. O., Moretz, M. W., Bjorklund, F., de Jong, P., Haidt, J., Hursti, T. J., Imada, S., Koller, S., Mancini, F., McKay, D., Page, A. C., & Schienle, A. (2009). Confirming the Three-Factor Structure of the Disgust Scale-Revised in Eight Countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40, 234-255. Request article

77 **Haidt, J., & Kesebir, S. (2010). Morality. In S. Fiske, & D. Gilbert (Eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition. Request article
--This is my absolute most-complete statement on what morality is, where it comes from, how it works, and why people disagree about it. It is in essence a precis of my next book, The Righteous Mind. It's long, and it's written for an audience of social psychologists, but it should be accessible to non-specialists.



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Last Updated March 10, 2010