Culture and Ecology Lab (Varnum)
We study how patterns of cultural variation may be understood as responses to changes in basic ecological features, using various methods including surveys, archival data, and EEG.
The cultures we live in shape our minds and our behavior. The Culture and Ecology Lab focuses on how patterns of cultural variation and cultural change may be understood as responses to changes in basic ecological conditions (i.e. population density, pathogen prevalence, resource scarcity). In this line of research, we use frameworks and tools from behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, econometrics, big data, and cultural psychology. Using these tools, we believe we may not only be able to explain current patterns of cultural variation and past patterns of cultural change but to forecast future cultural trends. We also use EEG and ERP to study how cultural factors affect neural responses involved in a host of social cognitive processes.
Sound interesting? The lab is always looking for bright, conscientious undergraduates to work as research assistants. If interested, please contact Michael Varnum or fill out this form
Lab Director and Principal Investigator:
Lab Director and Principle Investigator: Michael Varnum, PhD, Associate Professor, Social Psychology, Department of Psychology
Professor Varnum uses insights from biology to help understand sources of cultural variation and causes of cultural change. Varnum’s interests are broad ranging from the mirror neuron system to reactions to discovery of alien life. Two of his current central research programs are linked to understanding cultural change. In one line of research, he uses frameworks and tools from behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and econometrics to understand the causes of patterns of cultural change and to forecast future patterns of change. In another line of work, he and his collaborators have documented and assessed the accuracy of social scientists’ predictions for future societal trends. You can find his full CV here: Curriculum Vitae.
Alexandra Wormley, Doctoral Student, Social Psychology, Department of Psychology
Alexandra is a graduate student at Arizona State University, pursuing her PhD in social psychology. She is interested in the relationships between ecology, culture, behavior, and belief systems. In 2021, she was awarded the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP). She is also affiliated with the Interplanetary Institute at Arizona State.
Undergraduate Research Assistants
Former Graduate Students
Jung Yul Kwon – Psychology PhD, 2022, Arizona State University. Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, The New School for Social Research.
Cari Pick – Psychology, PhD, 2021, Arizona State University. Post-Doctoral Fellow, Environmental Defense Fund.
Hannah Bercovici – Geosciences MS, 2020, Arizona State University.
Ryan Hampton – Psychology PhD, 2019, Arizona State University. Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin.
Sarah Herrmann – Psychology PhD, 2017, Arizona State University. Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Weber State University.
Former Undergraduate Students
Gabrielle Ambrose, Biomedical Science BS, Summa Cum Laude, Honors, 2022, Arizona State University. Clinical Research Assistant, St. Joseph's Hospital.
Sebastian Santamaria, Psychology BA, Summa Cum Laude, 2021, Arizona State University.
Justyn Zeider, Psychology and Justice Studies BS, Summa Cum Laude, Honors, 2021, Arizona State University. Law student at Arizona State University and Law Clerk at Silva & Fontes.
Krystina Boyd-Frankel, Psychology BS, Honors, 2019, Arizona State University. Graduate Student (Phd, Social Psychology) University of California Irvine.
Caleb Haynes – Psychology BS, 2019, Arizona State University. Research Associate, Temple University.
Wen Yu – Psychology BS, Sociology BS, Summa Cum Laude, 2016, Arizona State University. Graduate Student (MA General Psychology), New York University.
Arianna Beverly – Psychology BS, 2018, Arizona State University.
Sara Russell – Psychology Major, Arizona State University.
Esha Naidu – Psychology BS, Suma Cum Laude, 2017, Arizona State University. Graduate Student (Phd, Social Psychology), SUNY Buffalo.
Ashley Moroney – Psychology BS, Cum Laude, 2017. Arizona State University. Psychology MS, 2021 Cleveland State University.
Brianne Freeman – Psychology BS, 2017 Arizona State University. Graduate Student (PsyD), Nova Southeastern University.
Taylor Brennan – Psychology BS, Magna Cum Laude, 2017, Arizona State University
Jen Jondac – Psychology BS, Cum Laude, Honors, 2017, Arizona State University
Katja Cunningham – Psychology BS, Magna Cum Ladue, 2016, Arizona State University. Graduate Student (PhD, Experimental Psychology [Social]), Texas Christian University
Wen Yu – Psychology BS, Sociology BS, Summa Cum Laude, 2016, Arizona State University.
Shaunting Li – Psychology BS, Biochemistry BS, 2016, Arizona State University.
Michael Della Maggiore – Psychology BA, Magna Cum Laude, 2015, Arizona State University
David Sobota – Psychology BA, Honors, 2015, Arizona State University.
Below are publications from the Culture and Ecology Lab. Graduate student or Post-doc co-authors are noted with #’s. A more complete listing of Dr. Varnum’s publications may be found in his curriculum vitae.
Accepted for Publication/In Press
Grossmann, I., Rotella, A.,# Sharpinskyi, K.,# Hutcherson, C., Varnum, M. E. W., Achter, S.. . . & The Forecasting Collaborative (accepted for publication). Insights into scientists’ accuracy at forecasting societal change. Nature Human Behaviour.
Wormley, A. S.,# Kwon, J. Y.,# Barlev, M., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2022). The ecology-culture dataset: A new resource for investigating cultural variation. Scientific Data, 9, 615.
Pick, C.,# Ko, A.,# Kenrick, D. T., Wiezel, A.,# Wormley, A. S.,# Awad, E., . . . & Varnum, M. E. W. (2022). Fundamental social motives measured across 42 cultures in two waves. Scientific Data, 9, 499.
Grossmann, I., Twardus, O.,# Varnum, M. E. W., Jayawickreme, E., & McLevey, J. (2022). Expert predictions of societal change: Insights from the world after COVID project. American Psychologist, 77, 276-290.
Pick, C.,# Ko, A.,# Wormley, A. S.,# Wiezel, A.,# Kenrick, D. T., Al-Shawaf, L., . . . & Varnum, M. E. W. (2022). Family still matters: Human social motivation across 42 countries during a global pandemic. Evolution and Human Behavior, 43, 527-535.
Wilbanks, D.,# Moon, J. W.,# Stewart, B.,# Gray, K., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2022). Not just a hijack: Imaginary worlds can enhance individual and group level fitness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 45, E305.
Herrmann, S. D., Varnum, M. E. W., Straka, B. C., & Gaither, S. E. (2022). Social class identity integration and success for first-generation college students: Antecedents, mechanisms, and generalizability. Self & Identity, 21, 553-587.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Grossmann, I. (2021). The psychology of cultural change: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 76, 833-837.
Rotella, A.,# Varnum, M. E. W., Sng, O., & Grossmann, I. (2021). Increasing population densities predict decreasing fertility rates over time: A 174-nation investigation. American Psychologist, 76, 933-946.
Krems, J. A., Ko, A.,# Moon, J. W.,# & Varnum, M. E. W. (2021). Lay beliefs about gender and sexual behavior: First evidence for a pervasive, persistent (but seemingly unfounded) stereotype. Psychological Science, 32, 871-889.
Hampton, R. S.,# Kwon, J. Y.,# & Varnum, M. E. W. (2021). Variations in the regulation of affective neural responses across three cultures. Emotion, 21, 283-296.
Kwon, J. Y.,# Wormley, A. S.,# & Varnum, M. E. W. (2021). Changing cultures, changing brains: A framework for integrating cultural neuroscience and cultural change research. Biological Psychology, 162, 108087.
Sevincer, A. T., Kwon, J. Y.,# Varnum, M. E. W., & Kitayama, S. (2021). Risky business: Cosmopolitan cities and risk-taking. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 52, 295-315.
Varnum, M. E. W., Krems, J. A.,# Morris, C., Wormley, A. S.,# & Grossmann, I. (2021). Why are song lyrics becoming simpler? A time series analysis of lyrical complexity in six decades of American popular music. PLOS ONE, 16, e0244576.
Bunker, C. J.,# & Varnum, M. E. W. (2021). How strong is the association between social media use and false consensus effects. Computers in Human Behavior, 125, 106947.
Kwon, J. Y.,# Glenberg, A. M., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2021). Culture, ecology, and grounded procedures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 44, e13.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Hampton, R. S.# (2021). Cultural changes in neural structure and function. In J. Y. Chiao, S.-C. Lee, R. Turner, S. Y. Lee-Tauler, & B. Pringle (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience and Global Mental Health (pp. 387-408). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Ko, A.,# Pick, C.,# Kwon, J. Y.,# Barlev, M.,# Krems, J. A., Varnum, M. E. W., . . . & Kenrick, D. T. (2020). Family matters: Rethinking the psychology of human social motivation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15, 173-201.
Na, J., Grossmann, I., Varnum, M. E. W., Karasawa, S., Cho, Y.,# Kitayama, S., & Nisbett, R. E. (2020). Culture and personality revisited: Behavioral profiles and within-person stability in interdependent/independent social orientation and holistic/analytic cognitive style. Journal of Personality, 5, 908-924.
Fraser, A. M.,# Hampton, R. S.,# Spinard, T. L., Varnum, M. E. W.,Blais, C., Eisenberg, N., Gal, D.,# Berger, B. H.,# Xu, J.,# & Xiao, X.#(2020). Children’s mu-suppression is sensitive to witnessing others’ social victimization. Social Neuroscience, 15, 348-358.
Hampton, R. S.,# & Varnum, M. E. W. (2020). Individualism-collectivism. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (pp. 2231-2238). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Grossmann, I. (2019). The wealth -> life history -> innovation account of the industrial revolution is largely inconsistent with empirical time series data. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 42, e212.
Varnum, M. E. W. (2019). Social norms are becoming weaker. Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 211.
Santos, H. C.,# Grossmann, I., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2019). Culture, cognition, and cultural change in social in class. In W. H. Berkhaus, & G. Ignatow (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Sociology (pp 271-284). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Sevincer, A. T., Varnum, M. E. W., & Kitayama, S. (2019). The land of opportunity: Cosmopolitan cities attract independent immigrants. In N. Kakabadse & N. Mouraviev (Eds.), Entrepreneurship and Global Cities: Diversity, Opportunity and Cosmopolitanism (pp. 27-47). New York, NY: Routledge.
Kitayama, S., Varnum, M. E. W., Salvador, C.# (2019). Cultural neuroscience. In D. Cohen & S. Kitayama (Eds.), Handbook of Cultural Psychology, 2nd Edition (pp. 79-118). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Sng, O., # Neuberg, S. L., Varnum, M. E. W., Kenrick, D. T. (2018). The behavioral ecology of cultural psychological variation. Psychological Review, 125, 714-745.
Hampton, R. S., # & Varnum, M. E. W. (2018). Do cultures vary in self-enhancement? ERP, behavioral, and self-report evidence. Social Neuroscience, 13, 566-578.
Hampton, R. S., # & Varnum, M. E. W. (2018). The cultural neuroscience of emotion regulation. Culture and Brain, 6, 130-150.
Herrmann, S. D., # & Varnum, M. E. W. (2018). The consequences of social class biculturalism for well-being, academic performance, and workplace adjustment. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 49, 635-663.
Kwon, J. Y., # Bercovici, H., # Cunningham, K., # & Varnum, M. E. W. (2018). How will we react to the discovery of extraterrestrial life? Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 2308. doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02308
Herrmann, S. D., # & Varnum, M. E. W. (2018). Utilizing social class bicultural identity integration to improve outcomes for first-generation college students. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 4, 165-175.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Grossmann, I. (2017). Cultural change: The how, and the why. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12, 956-972.
Santos, H. C., # Varnum, M. E. W., Grossmann, I. (2017). Global increases in individualism. Psychological Science, 28, 1228-1239.
Sng, O.,# Neuberg, S. L., Varnum, M. E. W., & Kenrick, D. T. (2017). The crowded life is a slow life: Population densities and human life history strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111, 736-754.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Grossmann, I. (2017). Socio-ecological changes are linked to changes in the prevalence of contempt over time. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, e250. [commentary]
Varnum, M. E. W.,& Kitayama, S. (2017). The neuroscience of social class. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 147-151.
Krems, J. A.,# & Varnum, M. E. W. (2017). More than just climate: Income inequality and sex ratio are better predictors of cultural variations in aggression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, e89. [commentary]
Grossmann, I., & Varnum, M. E. W.(2017). Divergent life histories and other ecological adaptations: Examples of social class differences in attention, cognition, and attunement to others. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, e327. [commentary]
Varnum, M. E. W., & Hampton, R. S.# (2017). Culture and self-other overlap in neural circuits. In N. Gonzales, E. Telzer, & J. M. Causadias (Eds.), Handbook of Culture and Biology 9pp. 443-464). New York, NY: Wiley.
Kwon, J. Y.,# Hampton, R. S.,# & Varnum, M. E. W.(2017). The cultural neuroscience of socioeconomic status. In A. Ibanez, L. Sedeno, & A. Garcia (Eds.), Neuroscience and Social Science: The Missing Link (pp. 383-395). Springer.
Varnum, M. E. W.,& Hampton, R. S.# (2017). Cultures differ in the ability to enhance affective neural responses. Social Neuroscience, 12, 594-603.
Sevincer, A. T., Varnum, M. E. W., & Kitayama, S. (2017). The culture of cities: Measuring perceived cosmopolitanism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48, 1052- 1072.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Grossmann, I. (2016). Pathogen prevalence is associated with cultural changes in gender equality. Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 0003.
Varnum, M. E. W.(2016). The emerging (social) neuroscience of SES. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10, 423-430.
Varnum, M. E. W., Blais, C., & Brewer, G. A. (2016). Social class affects Mu-suppression during action observation. Social Neuroscience, 11, 449-454.
Cohen, A. B., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2016). Beyond east vs. west: Social class, region, and religion as forms of culture. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 5-9.
Varnum, M. E. W., & Kwon, J. Y. # (2016). The ecology of withdrawal. Commentary: The NEET and Hikikomori spectrum: Assessing the risks and consequences of becoming culturally marginalized. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 764. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00764.
Varnum, M. E. W., Blais, C., Hampton, R. S., # & Brewer, G. A. (2015). Social class affects neural empathic responses. Culture and Brain, 3, 122-130.
Grossmann, I., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2015). Social structure, infectious diseases, disasters, secularism, and cultural change in America. Psychological Science, 26, 311-324.
Sevincer, A. T., Kitayama, S., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2015). Cosmopolitan cities: The frontier in the 21st century? Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1459. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01459
Varnum, M. E. W. (2015). Higher in status, (even) better-than-average. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 496. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00496.
Varnum, M. E. W., Shi, Z., Chen, A., Qiu, J., & Han, S. (2014). When “your” reward is the same as “my” reward: Self-construal priming shifts neural responses to own vs. friends’ rewards. NeuroImage, 87, 164-169.
Jiang, C., Varnum, M. E. W., Hou, Y., & Han, S. (2014). Distinct effects of self-construal priming on empathic neural responses in Chinese and Westerners. Social Neuroscience, 9, 130-139.
Varnum, M. E. W. (2014). Sources of regional variation in social capital in the United States: Frontiers and pathogens. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 8, 77-85.
Smith, G. E., James, L. E., Varnum, M. E. W., & Oyserman, D. (2014). Give up or get going? Productive uncertainty in uncertain times. Self and Identity, 13, 681-700.
Kitayama, S., Varnum, M. E. W., & Sevincer, A. T. (2014). The frontier: Voluntary settlement and cultural change. In A. Cohen (Ed.), Culture Reexamined: Broadening Our Understanding of Social and Evolutionary Influences (pp. 93-127). Washington, DC: APA.
Han, S., Northoff, G., Vogeley, K., Wexler, B. E., Kitayama, S., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2013). A cultural neuroscience approach to the biosocial nature of the human brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 335-359.
Grossmann, I., Na, J., Varnum, M. E. W., Kitayama, S., & Nisbett, R. E. (2013). A route to well-being: Intelligence vs. wise reasoning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142, 944-953.
Varnum, M. E. W. (2013). Frontiers, germs, and non-conformist voting. Journal of Cross- Cultural Psychology, 44, 832-837.
Varnum, M. E. W. (2013). What are lay theories of social class? PLOS ONE, 8, e70589. doi:109371/journal.pone.0070589.
In the News and More!
Dr. Varnum and Dr. Krems wrote an article for The Conversation: "Why Do Women Still Get Judged So Harshly For Having Casual Sex" (2021)
Alexandra Wormley won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship! (2021)
Everyone Was Wrong on the Pandemic’s Societal Impact (2021)
Dr. Varnum receives NSF RAPID grant to study COVID's social-psychological effects (2021)
Dr. Varnum received SPSP Theoretical Innovation Award with Dr. Neuberg, Dr. Kenrick, and Dr. Sng (2020)
Dr. Varnum is co-editing a special issue of American Psychologist on cultural change. If you would like to submit a proposal, visit their submissions page here. (2020-21)
KJZZ the Show - Microbes (2019)
Dr. Varnum is recognized as a SAGE Young Scholar by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (Jan 2019)
Science Mag (Podcast): How we might respond to aliens (Mar 2018)
The Atlantic: How Psychologists Predict We'll React to Alien News (Feb 2018)
New York Post: Hollywood gets gigantic terrifying aliens all wrong (Feb 2018)
National Geographic: How would people react to alien life? (Feb 2018)
Scientific America: Is humanity ready for the discovery of alien life? (Feb 2018)
NBC News: Discovering alien life might not bring response you'd expect (Feb 2018)
The Independent: Humans will be happy if aliens invade earth, scientists say (Feb 2018)
The Guardian: Humans likely to welcome alien life rather than panicking study shows (Feb 2018)
NPR: Could a more individualistic world also be a more altruistic one? (Santos, Varnum, & Grossmann, 2017)
LiveScience: Humans Would Be Cool with Finding Aliens (6 Dec 2017)
The Washington Post: How will humanity react to alien life? Psychologists have some predictions. (4 Dec 2017)
New York Magazine: Rich People Literally See the World Differently (14 Feb 2017)
Gender equality and infectious disease. A study posted Nov 14 in Nature Human Behavior by Michael Varnum and Igor Grossman (University of Waterloo) goes viral with hits from major news outlets including:
The Washington Post, Women have more rights in places with fewer pathogens
(14 Nov 2016)
The New Scientist, Gender equality is boosted by better infection control
(14 Nov 2016)
The Conversation, How a decline in infectious diseases may have boosted gender equality (14 Nov 2016)
ASU Now, Study suggests reducing disease spread could increase gender equality (14 Nov 2016)
de Volkskrant, Na perioden met weinig infectieziekten neemt de man-vrouwgelijkheid toe (15 Nov 2016)
ARS Technica, A psychological link between disease and gender equality (15 Nov 2016)
Newsweek, Gender Equality Is Driven By Fighting Germs and Infectious Diseases: Researchers (15 Nov 2016)
New York Magazine, When Infectious-Disease Rates Go Down, Gender Equality Goes Up (16 Nov 2016)
How Stuff Works features doctoral student Sarah Hermann's research in A Few Encouraging Words Can Change the Lives of Female STEM Students (posted 25 Oct 2016).
Sarah Hermann and team of researchers help young women in science with early intervention. Read more in ASU Now story by Emma Greguska, Stemming the academic gender gap (posted 9, Sep 2016).
Professor Varnum has recently been elected a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP). SESP is an exclusive organization dedicated to advancing research in social psychology whose membership grows by no more than 5% per year.
Scientific American interviews Michael Varnum in its article, Liberals are from Mars, Conservatives are from Venus for May 1, 2016.
Yahoo News. What Your Name Says About You (posted 3 Dec 2015).
Professor Varnum’s work on cultural change (Grossmann & Varnum, 2015) has been receiving some attention in the news! You can find mentions of his work on the causes of rising individualism in the US in recent articles posted on Ozy, The Street and Live Science.
Sarah Hermann receives Continuing Excellence in Education Award from ASU's Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA)! Each year, about a dozen graduate and professional students are recognized by GSPA for their excellence in teaching based on nominations by undergrads or peers. This year, the Department of Psychology is doubly-honored to have two of its doctoral students receive this honor and for Sarah, this is her second year in a row having received the Teaching Excellence Award last year. Congratulations Sarah! Posted 2/17/16.
Professor Varnum has been named a 2016 Association for Psychological Science Rising Star! According to APS, “the APS Rising Star designation is presented to outstanding psychological scientists in the earliest stages of their research careers post-PhD."
Sarah Herrmann has just accepted a tenure-track position. Starting this fall Sarah will be an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weber State University. Congratulations Sarah!
Sarah Herrmann has won the Cialdini Dissertation Prize for best dissertation in social psychology at ASU.
Professor Varnum’s work on naming is featured in this recent BBC piece.
Psychology Today highlights Professor Varnum’s work on how cultural factors influence the brain’s empathic responses. Read here.
Professor Varnum’s recent Nature Human Behaviour publication (Varnum & Grossmann, 2016) linking infectious disease to gender inequality is featured in the Boston Globe.