ASU to research culture through US military grant

By

Matt Oxford

There are nearly 200 countries in the world today. In those countries there are various religions, age groups, social interests and economic classes, which themselves can be considered cultures. Now imagine how often these cultures can change over time and how difficult it is to track.

To help in understanding culture, the United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences has funded a group of Arizona State University professors through a $1.788 million grant. The project is titled “Broadening our view of culture”. 

The group’s principal investigator is Adam Cohen, associate professor in the Department of Psychology. He brings with him three other psychology professors (Leah Doane, Gene Brewer, and Kevin Grimm), and Carolyn Warner, professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies

While most studies of culture in psychology view cultures as nationalities, this project will take a broader view of people’s cultural identities as including groups that have values, practices, and identities. The four-year project aims to understand how important different cultures are to people, and how cultural identities change or stay the same over time.

There will be a set of studies consisting of focus groups, one using detailed surveys, and one which tracks people over time.  A wide variety of culture types will be examined including, race, religion, generational cultures, etc. The diverse student population of ASU will make up most of the subjects for this study.

The themes for the surveys will emerge from the initial focus groups. The team of ASU faculty will develop questions from the transcripts of these sessions for the next set of surveys, to be fielded on a much larger set of participants. Warner was brought on not only to help develop questions for the focus groups but also to help identify emergent themes from the transcripts, collaborate on creating the large-scale survey and collaborate with the research team on publications. 

Warner commented that, “While often we tend to assume a person's culture is based on an unchanging ethnic or religious identity, this large-scale, multi-method interdisciplinary project led by Prof. Cohen should give scholars, as well as the US military, new means by which to discern the existence of different cultures, their meanings to those who identify with them, and how those cultures change.”

Surveys will be delivered on mobile devices to individuals who self-identify within the various cultures. The ASU faculty will use the results to track how various experiences can influence culture shifts.

Cohen said “I am excited about this work because of its basic theoretical importance and the need for the social sciences to take a broader and richer view of culture. I am also very gratified to think down the line that such work can help protect the lives of American service-people.”