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Welcome to the Culture and Cognition Lab!

We try to understand how the sociocultural world and the mind make each other up to influence various facets of psychological function including cognition, emotion, motivation, the self, and health. We have used a wide array of methods including behavioral and neural measures as well as genetic and epigenetic indicators.


Click here for an overview of our lab

Click here for a lecture:
Cultural Neuroscience: Linking Context to Genes and the Brain

Research Themes

In recent years, our lab has focused on the following three research areas.
They converge to contribute to a long-standing program of research on the interface between socio-cultural processes and mentality.

Please click the links below to learn more about each of these research areas.

People

Current Lab Members
Shinobu Kitayama

Shinobu Kitayama

Principal Investigator; Robert B. Zajonc Collegiate Professor of Psychology

Our most recent work examines, among others, the self, cognition and emotion, norm psychology, and varieties of interdependence across the globe, with behavioral, neuroendocrine, neuroscience, and genetic and epigenetic methods.
CV | Scholar | Email|
SPSP Heritage Wall

Allon Vishkin

Allon Vishkin

Post-Doctoral Scholar

My research explores cultural differences in judgments and norms for internal states, such as beliefs and emotions, across two dimensions: individualism-collectivism and religion. In addition, I seek to show that individualist cultures aren’t always what they claim to be: they can have strong norms, and they can favor de-individuating social identities.
CV | Scholar | Email

Qinggang Yu

Qinggang Yu

Graduate Student

My research is on investigating cultural influences on brain structures, as well as on brain functions underlying cognition and emotion. Additionally, I am interested in how genetics interacts with cultural dynamics at both behavioral and neural level.
CV | Scholar | Email

Irene Melani

Irene Melani

Graduate Student

My research interests revolve broadly around understanding why and how cultural differences exist and manifest. Specifically, I am interested in the mechanisms underlying cultural variations in cognition and the ways individuals organize themselves within groups.
CV | Scholar | Email

Tong Suo

Tong Suo

Graduate Student

My research interests revolve around the sense of self across time, namely autobiographical memory and future thinking, in-cultural contexts. I'm also interested in how cultural match and mismatch predicts well-being.
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Amelie Rossmaier

Amelie Rossmaier

Graduate Student

My research interests revolve around culture and group dynamics. Specifically, I am focusing on how culture influences our motivation to conform and to trust in norms.
CV | Email

Lab Affiliates

RICHARD NISBETT

University of Michigan | Website | Email

HAZEL R. MARKUS

Stanford University | Website | Email

ERIC IGOU

University of Limerick, Ireland | Website | Email

MAYUMI KARASAWA

Tokyo Women's Christian University | Website | Email

JOSE ALBERTO REYES

De La Salle University, The Philippines | Website

Alumni

Steve Heine

University of British Columbia
Website | Email

Beth Morling

University of Delaware
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Ayse Uskul

University of Kent
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Takahiko Masuda

University of Alberta
Website | Email

Sean Duffy

Rutgers University - Camden
Website | Email



Heykyung Park

Toshie Imada

Brunel University, UK
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Keiko Ishii

Nagoya University, Japan
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Yuri Miyamoto

University of Wisconsin - Madison
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Yukiko Uchida

Kyoto University, Japan
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Nick Bowman

University of Iowa
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Jinkyung Na

Soang University, Korea
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Thomas Talhelm

University of Chicago
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Timur Sevincer

University of Hamburg, Germany
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Igor Grossmann

University of Waterloo
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Michael Varnum

Arizona State University
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Asuka Murata

Sakushin Gakuin University
Website | Email

Hannah Chua

Cisco
Website | Email

Jiyoung Park

University of Texas - Dallas
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Sasha Kimel

California State University - San Marcos
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Yay-hyung Cho

Highline College
Website | Email

Steve Tompson

Guild Education
Website | Email

Sarah Huff

University of Denver
Website | Email

Tseng-Ping Chiu

National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan
Website | Email

Hide Hitokoto

Fukuoka University

James Glazer

Northwestern University
Website | Email

Brian Kraus

Northwestern University
Website | Email

Saori Tsukamoto

Nagoya University



Ariana McNulty

Akio Kakishima

Publicis Sapient
Website

Aya Kamikubo

Meg Seymour

National Center for Health Research
Email

Cristina Salvador

Duke University
Website | Email

Martha Berg

Meta, UX Researcher
Email

Website Artist

Tseng-Ping Chiu

National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan Website | Email
Recent Papers at a Glance

Kitayama, S., & Yu, Q. (in press)

Going Beyond Heritability: Mechanisms of Gene-Culture Coevolution. Brain and Behavioral Science.

  • What is this paper about?
  • This paper is a commentary on Uchiyama & Muthkrishna's target article entitled, "Cultural evolution of genetic heritability." Uchiyama and Muthkrishna offer an important cautionary note on the interpretation of the heritability index. However, it does not directly address how culture and genes might interact. Here, we suggest that one allele of the dopamine D4 receptor gene promotes the acquisition of cultural values and practices and likely has co-evolved with the human culture over the last 50,000 years.
  • Why is this important?
  • Uchiyama and Muthkrishna's analysis stops short of directly addressing the dynamic interaction between culture and genes. We have offered the hypothesis that even though cultural traits are entirely contingent on ecological (i.e., environmental) factors, genetic factors may still modulate cultural acquisition. These genetic factors likely helped the human species acquire and sustain cultural traditions over the last 50,000 years. By pushing this type of analysis forward, we may better understand how genes and culture have co-evolved to produce contemporary cultural and individual variations.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Kitayama, S., Camp, N. P., & Salvador, C. E. (in press).

Culture and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Multiple Mechanisms and Policy Implications. Social Issues and Policy Review

  • What is this paper about?
  • The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a massive toll on human life worldwide. The case of the United States—the world’s largest economy—is particularly noteworthy since the country suffered a disproportionately larger number of deaths than all other countries during the first year of the pandemic. Here, we used a cultural psychology perspective, which offers unique insights into the vulnerability of this country. The emphasis is on mutually reinforcing interactions across collective, cultural, and psychological levels of analysis. We review extant evidence and argue that various factors at these disparate levels converged to foster an independent mode of action, which, in turn, undermined effective coping with the infectious disease. Several policy recommendations are offered.
  • Why is this important?
  • The 21st century will most likely be the century of infectious diseases due to population expansion (which reduces the distance between humans and viruses of wild animal origin) and globalization (which makes the global spread of infectious viruses far more likely). As social and cultural psychological processes powerfully mediate the spread of a virus, building a deeper understanding of them is of utmost significance. This theoretical understanding is indispensable to make society better prepared for epidemics and pandemics in the future. Moreover, it is already clear that the effort to understand various social, behavioral, and psychological aspects of the current pandemic has significantly expanded the scientific knowledge of the social, behavioral, and psychological sciences. This crosstalk between theory-building and practical problem solving will enrich our science –and our policies-- in the future to come.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Kitayama, S. (in press).

Seeking the Middle Way: An Exploration of Culture, Mind, and the Brain. In S. Kassin (Ed.). Pillars of Social Psychology: Stories and Retrospectives. Cambridge University Press.

  • What is this paper about?
  • This essay is a personal reflection of the field of culture in psychology. This reflection would hopefully contribute to a fuller understanding of how the field of social psychology has evolved. It is one of 50+ similar reflections and retrospectives on various topics. In my reflection, I start with a brief memoir of where I came from and why and how I became fascinated with the study of culture. I then illustrate, in a broad stroke, what we have accomplished. I also explain why I took on the questions of the brain in this connection more recently. Throughout, the theme is the dialectic between the effort to see many different effects with various methods and the single-mindedness in how we might understand the relationship between culture and the agency.
  • Why is this important?
  • The study of culture in social psychology as we know it today has been a development in the last few decades. This essay addresses how this effort has helped expand the scope of social psychology by incorporating culture and diversity into the field’s theoretical framework.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Salvador, C.E., Kamikubo, A., Kraus, B., Hsiao, N., Hu, J., Karasawa, M., & Kitayama, S. (2021).

Self-referential Processing Accounts for Cultural Variation in Self-enhancement vs. Criticism: An Electrocortical Investigation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

  • What is this paper about?
  • Self-enhancement, the tendency to view the self positively is widespread and robust in Western cultural contexts. However, this tendency is much weaker and sometimes reversed among East Asians. While the idea that cultural variation in self-enhancement exists is longstanding, the underlying mechanisms for self-enhancement or the associated cultural variation are unknown. Here, we propose the self-referential processing hypothesis of self-enhancement. Specifically, we suggest that self-enhancement involves spontaneously linking a positive outcome to the self. Using an EEG marker of internal (vs. external) attention, upper alpha, we show that European Americans show greater internal attention when they imagine a success (vs. failure) occurring to the self. The comparable effect was not observed among Taiwanese. Further, we show that the cultural difference in internal attention in response to successes (vs. failures) predicts their self-reported levels of self-enhancement. These findings suggest that people who self-enhance spontaneously recruit internal attention during self-referential processing for favorable events that occur to them.
  • Why is this important?
  • Self-enhancement is one of the most widely studied phenomenon in social psychology. Many theories have been proposed, including a primarily motivational or cognitive accounts. Here, we integrate these two accounts and suggest that self-enhancement spontaneously recruits self-referential processing in response to ones’ successes (vs. failures). We show evidence for this mechanism among European Americans. Consistent with prior work that East Asians do not self-enhance, we failed to find a comparable effect among Taiwanese. The cultural difference in self-referential processing explained why European Americans showed self-enhancement (perceived they were impacted more by a success than failure) and Taiwanese did not.
    -Cristina Salvador

Kraus, B., Salvador, C.E., Kamikubo, A., Hsiao, N., Hu, J., Karasawa, M., & Kitayama, S. (2021).

Oscillatory alpha power at rest reveals an independent self: A cross-cultural investigation. Biological Psychology.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • A primary foundation of cross-cultural research is that differences in values and beliefs across cultures affect how individuals within those cultures think and behave. A common way to quantify these differences between East Asian and European American cultures is by assessing self-construal, or the salience of one’s own personal beliefs and desires (independent self-construal). Here, we measured independent self-construal and also collected electroencephalogram (EEG) alpha power at rest, a correlate of default mode network (DMN) activity and self-referential processing. We found a positive correlation between these measures when the eyes were closed and combining across four independent samples, indicating that resting-state alpha power is correlated with the salience of the personal self at rest.
  •   Why is this important?
  • This study provides important evidence for a foundational claim of cross-cultural psychology, that the salience of the self varies systematically for those who endorse values consistent with East Asian or European American cultures. Even when no task is being performed, self-construal is associated with these systematic differences in neural activity. This offers important insights into how culture affects neuroplasticity.
    -Brian Kraus

Yu, Q., King, A.P., Yoon, C., Liberzon, I., Schaefer, S.M., Davidson, R. J., & Kitayama, S. (2021).

Interdependent self-construal predicts increased gray matter volume of scene processing regions in the brain. Biological Psychology.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Holistic cognitive style entails allocating greater attention to contextual scenes surrounding focal objects. Building on prior work showing that East Asians tend to be more holistic than European Americans, we find that East Asians have greater gray matter (GM) volume in brain regions uniquely involved in the processing of contextual scenes compared to European Americans. Moreover, the GM volume in one of the scene-processing regions, the parahippocampal place area, is associated with the construal of the self as interdependent (vs. independent).
  •   Why is this important?
  • Our study provides the first evidence of a structural neural correlate of cultural variation in cognitive style. Importantly, we show that self-construal is implicated in the origin of this variation. Together, our study reinforces the idea that culture is "embrained".
    -Qinggang Yu

Yu, Q., Salvador, C.E., Melani, I., Berg, M.K., Neblett, E.W., & Kitayama, S. (2021).

Racial residential segregation and economic disparity jointly exacerbate COVID-19 fatality in large American cities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Systemic racism is an important reason for the disproportionately high COVID-19 fatality among American Blacks and Hispanics. But it is not clear exactly which aspects of systemic racism might be responsible for it. Here, we filled this gap by showing that racial residential segregation plays a major role. Specifically, we found that metropolitan areas that segregate Blacks and Hispanics had a faster growth of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Moreover, the income inequality of the area exacerbated the malignant effect of residential segregation.
  •   Why is this important?
  • Systemic racism has been made bare in recent incidences that motivated the Black Lives Matter movement. However, social scientists have yet to pin down exactly what is systemic about systemic racism. Our work shows that the history of residential segregation is a major culprit in the context of the current pandemic. It thus contributes to a better understanding of social structural forces as a significant determinant of the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
    -Qinggang Yu

Salvador, C.E., Kraus, B.T., Ackerman, J.M., Gelfand, M.J., & Kitayama, S. (2020).

Interdependent self-construal predicts reduced sensitivity to norms under pathogen threat: An electrocortical investigation. Biological Psychology.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Prior work suggests that in the presence of threat people become more attune to norms. However, not all people may respond in the same way. Recent evidence shows that interdependent people may feel less alarmed by a threat because of the sense of social connection relationships provide. Consistent with this theorizing, we found that after being primed with a threat (vs. control), people showed enhanced vigilance and detection of norm violations. Importantly, this effect was attenuated for people high in interdependent self-construal.
  •   Why is this important?
  • Our work shows that interdependent self-construal impacts how people cope with external threats. As such, this may offer unique implications for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020. Major outbreaks are being reported after large social gatherings. The sense of interdependence that may be enhanced in these groups could have fostered a sense of complacency if people become looser in norm enforcement. The public health implications of the current study may deserve a careful assessment in the future.
    -Cristina E. Salvador

Coe, C.L., Miyamoto, Y., Love, G.D., Karasawa, M., Kawakami, N., Kitayama, S., & Ryff, C.D. (2020).

Cultural and life style practices associated with low inflammatory physiology in Japanese adults. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Our earlier work found that Japanese show remarkably better health profiles compared to Americans, including lower levels of inflammation. Here, we explored several lifestyle variables that might be associated with lower levels of both interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein and found a significant effect for both Japanese style diet and regular practice of relaxing bathing.
  •   Why is this important?
  • The finding illustrates how everyday cultural practices related to eating and bathing can serve as a powerful influence on biological health. It is also consistent with the earlier evidence that cardiovascular risks increase for Asian Americans by their U.S. generation status.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Na, J., Grossmann, I., Varnum, M.E.W., Karasawa, M., Cho, Y., Kitayama, S., & Nisbett, R.E. (2020).

Culture and personality revisited: Behavioral profiles and within-person stability in interdependent (vs. independent) social orientation and holistic (vs. analytic) cognitive style. Journal of Personality.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Here we followed our earlier work (Na et al., 2010, PNAS) and showed that cultural syndromes of both social orientation (i.e., independent vs. interdependent) and cognitive style (i.e., analytic vs. holistic) are coherent at the collective level, but not at the individual level. The observation suggests that people selectively use cultural resources, particularly cultural tasks, to weave their identity in an idiographic fashion. These individualized profiles do have stability over time, the study finds. Methodologically, the study calls for novel ways to access measurement equivalence.
  •   Why is this important?
  • The findings address the important question of what coherence is at the levels of both culture and person. The two levels of coherence are distinct. The coherence at the cultural level goes like this, "individualists are non-holistic." However, at the individual level, you may or may not be non-holistic just because you are an individualist. Each person has an ideographic pattern of both social orientation and cognitive style, which provides the basis for the personal level coherence.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Salvador, C.E., Berg, M.K., Yu, Q., San Martin, A., & Kitayama, S. (2020).

Relational mobility predicts a faster spread of COVID-19: A 39 country study. Psychological Science.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all countries across the globe, yet some countries have been affected more than some others. We find that relational mobility (RM) is one important factor that explains this cross-country variation. RM is the community's tendency to engage with strangers and freely choose friends. Compared to their low RM counterparts, we find that countries high in RM compared have steeper growth rates of COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths.
  •   Why is this important?
  • Our findings suggest that COVID-19 may spread faster in societies that facilitate broader social contact with others than those that don't. This research underscores the need for social distancing to “flatten the curve,” especially in countries that value social openness (such as the U.S., Spain, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada). Notably, had the US been lower in relational mobility – as low as Japan, the COVID-related deaths would have been 8% (281) of the actual number reported at the end of the 30-day study period (3417).
    -Cristina E. Salvador

Glazer, J., King, A., Yoon, C., Liberzon, I., & Kitayama, S. (2020).

DRD4 Polymorphisms Modulate Reward Positivity and P3a in a Gambling Task: Exploring a Genetic Basis for Cultural Learning. Psychophysiology.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Prior evidence shows that specific allelic variants of the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) sensitize carriers of these variants to cultural values and practices. We have argued that this happens because the carriers are more sensitive to cultural reward contingencies. Here, we provided the first evidence for this hypothesis. Compared to non-carriers, carriers were more sensitive to reward signals in a gambling task.
  •   Why is this important?
  • Ours is the first evidence for a putative mechanism for the DRD4 x culture interaction effect in the endorsement of cultural values and the volume of specific cortical regions that supposedly support culturally sanctioned behaviors. This empirical effort is an important step forward!
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Kitayama, S., & Park, J. (2020).

Is Conscientiousness Always Associated With Better Health? A U.S.–Japan Cross-Cultural Examination of Biological Health Risk. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • Is conscientiousness (a personality trait composed of diligence, dutifulness, and organization) healthy? According to the current literature of personality and health, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Our paper calls into question this accepted wisdom. We used large cross-cultural surveys and showed that conscientiousness predicts better biological health among Americans. Moreover, healthy lifestyle mediates this relationship. All this is to show the existent evidence is robust and replicable. However, among Japanese, there was no direct association between conscientiousness and biological health. Moreover, conscientiousness predicted a tendency to carry out social obligations faithfully. This latter tendency, in turn, predicted impaired biological health. What this means is that conscientious Japanese work so hard because of the sense of social duty that they become less healthy.
  •   Why is this important?
  • This work is yet another demonstration that what appears to be a pan-cultural relationship between personality and health is contingent on socio-cultural context. A personality trait that is salubrious in one context may not be in another.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Berg, M.K., Yu, Q., Salvador, C.E., Melani, I., & Kitayama, S. (2020).

Mandated Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Vaccination Predicts Flattened Curves for the Spread of COVID-19. Science Advances.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • In this paper, we test whether countries that mandate BCG vaccination show flattened growth curves in COVID-19 infections and deaths, compared to those that do not. We find that countries that still maintain mandated BCG policies (e.g., China, Finland, and France) show significantly flatter growth curves, compared to those that had one only during the 20th century (e.g., Australia, Ecuador, and Spain) or those that never had one (e.g., Italy, Lebanon, and the U.S.).
  •   Why is this important?
  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have devastating consequences around the globe, without a current solution. We provide evidence suggesting that BCG vaccination can be effective in "flattening the curve." Notably, our model predicts that if the United States mandated BCG vaccination, it would have only suffered 19% of its actual death toll by the end of March.
    -Martha K. Berg

Kitayama, S., Yu, Q., King, A. P., Yoon, C., & Liberzon, I. (2020).

The Gray Matter Volume of the Temporoparietal Junction Varies Across Cultures: A Moderating Role of the Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene (DRD4). Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • The temporoparietal junction (TPJ) is a region of the brain that is involved uniquely in perspective-taking. The finding that the TPJ is greater in volume for Asians than for European Americans suggests that there is a structural brain basis for a known cultural variation in the propensity toward perspective-taking, which is higher for Asians than for European Americans. The origin of the cultural variation may lie in cultural learning, as suggested by the moderation of the cultural difference by the DRD4 gene.
  •   Why is this important?
  • To participate in Asian cultural conventions requires perspective-taking and thus entails active recruitment of TPJ. Thus, our finding contributes to the growing evidence that culture is inscribed into the brain through reinforcement-based learning.
    -Shinobu Kitayama

Kitayama, S., Berg, M. K., & Chopik, W. J. (2020).

Culture and Well-Being in Late Adulthood: Theory and Evidence. American Psychologist.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • This paper outlines a theoretical model for understanding how culture shapes the psychological experience of aging. We propose that Western cultural contexts uphold a "youthful" ideal of active, positive independence. In late adulthood, as physical and cognitive capacities decline, this ideal becomes less attainable, creating a cultural mismatch that is potentially alienating. On the other hand, Asian cultural contexts prioritize adjusting to age-graded social roles, which may be more attainable throughout the lifespan. We review evidence in support of this theoretical model of culture and aging.
  •   Why is this important?
  • As the global population ages, it becomes increasingly important to understand the psychological experiences of older age. In particular, our work highlights a critical need to acknowledge the role of culture in shaping the trajectory of life-span adult development.
    -Martha K. Berg

Salvador, C. E., Mu, Y., Gelfand, M. J., & Kitayama, S. (2020).

When Norm Violations Are Spontaneously Detected: An Electrocortical Investigation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

  •   What is this paper about?
  • The paper addresses the factors that influence the spontaneous detection of norm violations. We showed that a neural marker of norm violation detection (N400) increases when those who believe their societal norms to be tight (vs. loose) are induced to be relationally oriented. Importantly, we induced relational tendencies with a previously validated subliminal priming procedure. The joint effect of relational orientation and perceptions of tightness vs. looseness of cultural norms illuminates how the reaction to norm violations is automatic and dynamically modulated. Our findings offer implications for the conditions in which norm-violating behaviors are monitored and the pertinent cultural norms enforced. It also sheds light on potential mechanisms for known cultural variations in the sensitivity toward norm violations.
  •   Why is this important?
  • Tightness and Interdependence are seen as two orthogonal, but related cultural dimensions. We demonstrated that inducing relational orientation (a proxy of interdependence) increased sensitivity to norms. Importantly, this only occurred for individuals who perceive their social context to be tight. This shows how both tightness and interdependence dynamically interact to increase sensitivity to norms.
    -Cristina E. Salvador

Click here for earlier publications

News

Our Globalization Project is Highlighted in Science News!

The article observes, “(cultural psychological) research started with a ‘West and the rest’ mentality, Kitayama says. His work with Markus created an ‘East-West and the rest’ mentality. Now finally, psychologists are grappling with ‘the rest,’ he says.” The article then discusses our work showing two distinct forms of interdependence. In one form, emotional suppression plays […]

Shinobu Has Been Honored to Join the SPSP Heritage Wall

“Students, colleagues, and friends have nominated these esteemed and honored individuals in the field of personality and social psychology to become a part of our Heritage Wall of Fame. Our inductees are immortalized for their contribution to research, teaching, or mentorship and the lasting impact they have left on the science of psychology. If you […]