Cultural Evolutionary Mismatches to Collective Threat

Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

Michele Gelfand

Stanford University

Across the millennia, human groups have evolved specific cultural and psychological adaptations to cope with collective threats, from terrorism to natural disasters to pathogens. In particular, cultural tightness, characterized by strict social norms and punishments, as one key adaptation that helps groups coordinate to survive collective threats. However, interferences with threat signals that facilitate tightening can lead to cultural mismatches—either too much or not enough tightening. Michele Gelfand discusses two examples of cultural mismatches: the COVID-19 pandemic (a case in which collective threat is real, but there is a resistance to tightening) and the rise of populist movements (a case in which exaggerated threat leads to unnecessary tightening), and highlight theoretical and practical implications of cultural mismatch theory. 

Michele Gelfand is the John H. Scully Professor of Cross-Cultural Management and Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business School and Professor of Psychology by Courtesy. Gelfand uses field, experimental, computational and neuroscience methods to understand the evolution of culture and its multilevel consequences. Her book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World was published by Scribner in 2018. She is the Past President of the International Association for Conflict Management. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

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