Poverty, ethics and discrimination: How culture plays into cognitive research

November 29, 2017

Cognitive psychology examines how people view the world and what drives them to behave a certain way. These everyday decisions are shaped by countless factors. However, research on cognition often leaves out a key consideration -- the cultural context.

In a new paper, scientists look at how cognitive research on poverty, ethics and discrimination would be enriched by engaging more with cultural sociology. CIFAR Successful Societies Program Co-Director Michèle Lamont is the lead author of the piece published in Nature Human Behaviour this week.

"Inequality and racism do not exist separate from culture. As such, cognitive research on these critical issues and ways to confront them must not either," says Lamont, who is Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University.

Lamont and her colleagues examine three of the most prominent cognitive research models: studies of poverty focused on scarcity and cognitive bandwidth, studies of dual-process morality, and studies of biases using the implicit association test. Their paper outlines the limitations of these approaches and how to advance research by incorporating cultural references.

The cognitive bandwidth model explains why low-income people make decisions that extend their poverty: When people have very little of something (money, food, time etc.), they focus on that scarce resource and don't have the "bandwidth" to think about long-term concerns. The authors suggest that this model should consider the cultural influences that shape perceptions of scarcity and the prioritization of resources. For example, Lamont's research has shown that people in the United States are more likely to measure value against economic criteria, while in France, civic solidarity and aesthetics are important factors.

Dual-process morality and the implicit association test face similar limitations. Both could benefit from deeper cultural analysis of people's responses through either an explanation for a choice or by understanding the meaning of a delayed response time.

The paper also notes that social problems cannot be resolved through cognitive methods alone.

"Reducing poverty requires that public policies enhance material redistribution and social recognition. Promoting ethical decision-making and resolving moral conflicts will require changes in repertoires about morality, rather than shifting modes of cognition. Finally, we are more likely to address discrimination by gradually changing cultural narratives that stigmatize particular groups than by simply sensitizing individuals to their own subconscious biases," the authors write.

Above all, the paper calls for researchers to bridge their research and engage in interdisciplinary discussions. Cultural sociologists should also seek insights from their colleagues in cognitive psychology, the authors write.

The interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches presented in this paper are emblematic of Lamont's career. In 2002, she founded CIFAR's Successful Societies program alongside Harvard University professor Peter A. Hall. The program has brought together sociologists, political scientists, economists, historians and psychologists over the last 15 years.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, Lamont was presented with the 2017 Erasmus Prize during a ceremony at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. The prestigious European prize recognizes an exceptional contribution to the humanities, social sciences or arts.
-end-
"Bridging cultural sociology and cognitive psychology in three contemporary research programmes" was published in Nature Human Behaviour on Nov. 20: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0242-y

Michèle Lamont will be available for interviews.

Media contact:
Juanita Bawagan
Writer & Media Relations Specialist, CIFAR
juanita.bawagan@cifar.ca
416-971-4884

Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Related Discrimination Articles from Brightsurf:

Muslims, atheists more likely to face religious discrimination in US
A new study led by the University of Washington found that Muslims and atheists in the United States are more likely than those of Christian faiths to experience religious discrimination.

Racial discrimination linked to suicide
New research findings from the University of Houston indicate that racial discrimination is so painful that it is linked to the ability to die by suicide, a presumed prerequisite for being able to take one's own life, and certain mental health tools - like reframing an incident - can help.

Perceived "whiteness" of Middle Eastern Americans correlates with discrimination
The perceived ''whiteness'' of Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent is indirectly tied to discrimination against them, and may feed a ''negative cycle'' in which public awareness of discrimination leads to more discrimination, according to a Rutgers-led study.

When kids face discrimination, their mothers' health may suffer
A new study is the first to suggest that children's exposure to discrimination can harm their mothers' health.

Racial discrimination in mortgage market persistent over last four decades
A new Northwestern University analysis finds that racial disparities in the mortgage market suggest that discrimination in loan denial and cost has not declined much over the previous 30 to 40 years, yet discrimination in the housing market has decreased during the same time period.

Successful alcohol, drug recovery hampered by discrimination
Even after resolving a problem with alcohol and other drugs, adults in recovery report experiencing both minor or 'micro' forms of discrimination such as personal slights, and major or 'macro' discrimination such as violation of their personal rights.

Sexual minorities continue to face discrimination, despite increasing support
Despite increasing support for the rights of people in the LGBTQ+ community, discrimination remains a critical and ongoing issue for this population, according to researchers.

Fathers may protect their LGB kids from health effects of discrimination
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who report being discriminated against but who feel close to their fathers have lower levels of C-reactive protein -- a measure of inflammation and cardiovascular risk -- than those without support from their fathers, finds a new study from researchers at NYU College of Global Public Health.

Uncovering the roots of discrimination toward immigrants
Immigrants are often encouraged to assimilate into their new culture as a way of reducing conflict with their host societies, to appear less threatening to the culture and national identity of the host population.

Using artificial intelligence to detect discrimination
A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool for detecting unfair discrimination -- such as on the basis of race or gender -- has been created by researchers at Penn State and Columbia University.

Read More: Discrimination News and Discrimination Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.