Culture, Adaptation, Religion, Morality, Anthropomorphism Lab (CARMA) (Cohen)

Culture, Adaptation, Religion, Morality, Anthropomorphism Lab (CARMA) (Cohen)
Keywords: Culture, Adaptation, Religion, Morality, Anthropomorphism
Lab Area
Social Psychology
Lab Director
Adam Cohen, PhD
Actively Recruiting Undergraduate Researchers
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The CARMA Lab (Culture, Adaptation, Religion, Morality, Anthropomorphism) seeks to understand religion and culture. Below are the types of questions we are interested in studying:

  • Do concepts of God as a caring person or as a punishing person influence the way we treat others?
  • Why do some people believe in God while others do not?
  • What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious?
  • How are our religious beliefs shaped by our culture and individual personalities?
  • What counts as a culture in psychology, and what doesn’t? Is religion a culture?
  • What constitutes personhood? Do people from different cultures and religions see personhood differently?
  • How do religious individuals gain the trust of others in their group – and outside of their group?
  • How do people use religion and morality to advance their own interests? 
  • What stereotypes do people hold about religious and nonreligious people? 
  • How does ecology influence social norms?
  • Why do food taboos persist?
  • Why do some people value cultural identity more than others?
  • How can we program self-driving cars and other machines with human values and moral integrity?

Join the Lab!

The CARMA Lab cheerfully accepts motivated students who wish to gain valuable experience in experimental design, research implementation and writing, data analysis, and scholarly discussion.

If you are interested in joining us, please fill out this form 

Lab Director and Principal Investigator: Adam Cohen, PhD, Professor

Dr. Cohen's research focuses on the cultural psychology of religion and has been funded by DARPA, AFOSR, NSF, and the John Templeton Foundation. He is the author of about 80 articles and chapters, the editor of Culture Reexamined and serves as associate editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Dr. Cohen has won national and international awards including the Margaret Gorman award from the American Psychological Association and the 2013 Godin Prize from the International Association for the Psychology of Religion. He is a fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology and the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Curriculum Vitae. 

Research Affiliates

Kathryn A. Johnson, PhD, Associate Research Professor

Dr. Johnson's research interests include the social perception of non-human agents across different religious, non-religious, and cultural worldviews. Merging her training in religious studies and social psychology, she has investigated the personification of a wide range of non-living human, or non-human agents such as viruses and disease (e.g., cancer as an invading barbarian), living creatures, technological entities (e.g., robots), spiritual beings (e.g., God), fetuses, and human remains. Much of her research has focused on the antecedents and outcomes of representing God as benevolent, authoritarian, unknown, or as a cosmic force. Most recently, she has applied her interest in moral psychology toward the development of moral machines (e.g., self-driving cars). Dr. Johnson is also interested in helping students with divergent religious and cultural worldviews to develop metacognitive strategies to improve their academic achievement and to engage in scientific research. Curriculum Vitae. 

Graduate Students

Jordan Moon, Doctoral Student, Social Psychology, Department of Psychology

Jordan is interested in how people use religion and morality to manipulate their environment and other people to advance their interests, especially how mating strategies motivate religious belief. He is also interested in the downstream social consequences of religion and morality, including stereotypes and prejudice based on religion, morality, and mating strategies. Website: 

Alex Wormley, Doctoral Student, Social Psychology, Department of Psychology

Alex is interested in the relationship between ecology, culture, and belief systems from an evolutionary psychology perspective. Her work looks at everything from food to infectious diseases. In 2021, she was awarded the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP).

Join the Lab!

The CARMA Lab cheerfully accepts motivated students and volunteers who wish to gain valuable experience in experimental design, research implementation and writing, data analysis, and scholarly discussion. If you are interested in joining us, contact Dr. Kathryn Johnson or visit our Research Opportunity page.

Select Publications

Below are a sample of recent publications from Dr. Cohen's research and lab. A more complete listing may be found in Dr. Cohen's curriculum vitae.


Wormley, A. S., Scott, M., Grimm, K., Li, N. P., Choy, B. K. C., & Cohen, A. B. (2021). Loosening the definition of culture: An investigation of gender and cultural tightness. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology.

Scott, M. J., Johnson, K. A., Okun, M. A., & Cohen, A. B. (2019). The road not taken: Fostering research on the psychology of religion via underused representative, open-access datasets (ROADs). International Journal for the Psychology of Religion29, 204-221.

Cohen, A. B., Mazza, G., Johnson, K. A., Enders, C. K., & Warner, C., Pasek, M., Cook, J. E. (2017). Theorizing and measuring religiosity across cultures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 431724-1736.

Cohen, A. B., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2016). Beyond East vs West… Religion, social class, and region as forms of culture. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 5-9.

Cohen, A. B. (2015).  Religion’s profound influences on psychology: Morality, intergroup relations, self-construal, and enculturation. Current Directions in Psychological Science24, 77-82.

Johnson, K. A., White, A. E., Boyd, B., & Cohen, A. B. (2011).  Matzo, meat, milk, and mana: A psychological analysis of religious cultural food practices. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology42, 1421-1436.

Cohen, A. B. (2009).  Many forms of culture. American Psychologist64, 194-204. 


Moon, J. W., Krems, J. A., & Cohen, A. B. (in press). Is there anything good about atheists? Exploring positive and negative stereotypes of the religious and nonreligious. Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Moon, J. W. (2021). Why are world religions so concerned with sexual behavior? Current Opinion in Psychology, 40, 15–19. 

Scott, M. J. & Cohen, A. B. (in press). Surviving and thriving: Fundamental social motives provide purpose in life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Moon, J. W., Krems, J. A., Cohen, A. B., & Kenrick, D. T. (2019). Is nothing sacred? Religion, sex, and reproductive strategies. Current Directions in Psychological Science28, 361–365.

Moon, J. W., Krems, J. A., & Cohen, A. B. (2018). Religious people are trusted because they are viewed as slow life-history strategists. Psychological Science29, 947–960.

Northover, S. B., Pedersen, W. C., Cohen, A. B., & Andrews, P. W. (2017). Effect of artificial surveillance cues on moral judgment: Experimental failures to replicate and two meta-analyses. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38, 561-571.

Northover, S., Pedersen, W. C., Andrews, P. W., & Cohen, A. B. (2017). Artificial surveillance cues do not increase generosity: Two meta-analyses. Evolution and Human Behavior38, 144-153.

Hall, D., Cohen, A. B., Meyer, K. K., Varley, A., & Brewer, G. A., Jr. (2015).  Costly signaling increases trust, even across religious affiliations. Psychological Science26, 1368-1376.

Johnson, K. A., Li, Y. J., & Cohen, A. B. (2015).  Fundamental motives and the varieties of religious experience. Religion, Brain, & Behavior, 5, 197-231. 


Johnson, K. A., Baraldi, A. N., Moon, J. W., Okun, M. A., & Cohen, A. B. (2021). Faith and science mindsets as predictors of COVID-19 concern: A three-wave longitudinal study. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 96, Article 104186. 

Johnson, K.A., Okun, M.A., Cohen, A.B., Sharp, C.A., & Hook, J.N. (2019). Development and validation of a five-factor LAMBI measure of God representations. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 11, 339-349.

Johnson, K. A., Moon, J. W., Okun, M. A., Scott, M. J., O’Rourke, H. P., Hook, J. N., & Cohen, A. B. (2019). Science, God, and the cosmos: Science both erodes (via logic) and promotes (via awe) belief in God. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology84, 103826.

Johnson, K.A., Okun, M.A., Cohen, A.B., Sharp, C.A., & Hook, J.N. (in press). Development and validation of a five-factor LAMBI measure of God representations. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality

Johnson, K.A., Sharp, C.A., Okun, M.A., Shariff, A.F., & Cohen, A.B. (2018). SBNR Identity: The Role of Impersonal God Representations, Individualistic Spirituality, and Dissimilarity with Religious Groups. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 28, 121-140.

Johnson, K.A., Cohen, A. B., & Okun, M. A. (2016). God is watching you . . . but also watching over you: The influence of benevolent God representations on secular volunteerism among Christians. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality8, 363-374.

Silverman, G., Johnson, K. A., & Cohen, A. B. (2016).  To believe or not to believe, that is not the question: The complexity of Jewish beliefs about God.  Psychology of Religion and Spirituality8, 119-130.

Soliman, T., Johnson, K.A., & Song, H. (2015). It’s not “all in your head”: Understanding religion from an embodied cognition perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 852-864.      

Johnson, K.A., Li, Y. J., Cohen, A. B., & Okun, M. A. (2013).  Friends in high places: The influence of benevolent and authoritarian God-concepts on social attitudes and behaviors. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality5, 15-22.

Li, Y. J., Johnson, K. A., Cohen, A. B., Williams, M. J., Knowles, E. D., & Chen, Z. (2012).  Fundamental(ist) attribution error: Protestants are dispositionally focused. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology102, 281-290.


Johnson, K.A., Liu, R., Minton, E.A., Peterson, M., Bartholomew, D., Cohen, A.B., & Klees, J. (2017). Citizens’ representations of God and support for sustainability policies. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 36, 362-378.

Johnson, K.A., Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E. , Van Tongeren, D. R., Sandage, S. J., & Crabtree, S. A. (2016). Moral foundation priorities reflect U.S. Christians’ individual differences in religiosity.  Personality and Individual Differences100, 56-61.

White, A. E., Kenrick, D. T., Li, Y. J., Mortensen, C. R., Neuberg, S. L., & Cohen, A. B. (2012).  When nasty breeds nice: Threats of violence amplify agreeableness at national, individual, and situational levels. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology103, 622-634.


Johnson, K.A., Cohen, A. B., Neel, R., Berlin, A., & Homa, D. (2015). Fuzzy people: The roles of sociability, kinship, and essence in the attribution of personhood to nonliving, nonhuman agents. Psychology of Religion & Spirituality, 7, 295-305.

Highlights & more!

May, 2018 – Graduate students Matt Scott and Jordan Moon attended and presented research at the Evolution of Rituals, Beliefs and Religious Minds workshop in Erice, Italy.

April 22, 2016 – –Graduate student Stefanie Northover traveled with lab members Ben Gelbart, Haya Sweidan, and Danya Kaakani to Los Angeles to recruit research participants at a mosque near the University of Southern California. 

April 25, 2016 -  Newest lab-member Graydon Joshua Lilly Cohen is born. Graydon is interested in the cultural psychology of giraffes.

Course Information

PSY 399

Research Opportunity Description

The CARMA lab covers a wide range of topics related to the psychology of religion and moral psychology. Our current projects involve the investigation of evolutionary and ecological factors that influence cultural and religious beliefs, social attitudes, and behaviors. We are also interested in how cultural identities interact– whether those identities are based upon religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Other projects involve the interaction of faith and science mindsets or the ways in which people think about God--and, indeed, the universe. We recently began a project investigating the morals, values, and driving practices of responsible human drivers in an effort to develop programming that would enhance the moral decision-making capabilities of self-driving cars. We are always looking for highly engaged research assistants!

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