Here you will find an overview of some major past and current research projects in the lab.
Multi-method investigation of how traditionalist Mennonites in Kansas think about and cope with negative events. For his dissertation (conducted under Mark Landau at the University of Kansas), Daniel Sullivan performed a case study of a relatively small denomination known as the Church of God in Christ (or “Holdeman”) Mennonites. Members of this group aspire to retain their denomination’s traditional focus on communal values and separation from the modern world of capitalist excess and egoistic individualism. One study used a quantitative, culture-comparative approach by administering a survey to Holdeman Mennonites and comparison groups (Unitarian Universalists and undergraduate Christians in KS). Another study was a qualitative investigation of how one Holdeman congregation experienced and recovered from the devastating Greensburg tornado of 2007. This work was published as part of the book Cultural-Existential Psychology (Sullivan, 2016).
Cross-cultural and experimental research concerning cultural differences in the interpretation or construal of suffering. In particular, we distinguish between two major forms of suffering interpretation: Repressive suffering construal, which consists of seeing suffering as caused by social deviance and has having the ultimate prosocial function of maintaining social cohesion; and redemptive suffering construal, which consists of seeing suffering as caused by random factors but having the ultimate individualistic function of strengthening the sufferer. An initial series of correlational and experimental studies (Sullivan, Landau, Kay, & Rothschild, 2012) showed that, in the United States, dispositional and situationally primed collectivism is associated with greater reliance on repressive suffering construals. Further cross-cultural work – including a representative sample of the U.S. population, focused comparisons of U.S. religious denominations, and diverse samples in China – has provided further evidence for a link between collectivism and repressive suffering construals (Sullivan et al., 2016; Yang et al., 2016). Finally, Roman Palitsky is leading a current investigation into how a humanist (as opposed to normativist) value orientation generates greater reliance on redemptive suffering construals.
Theoretical and multi-level empirical investigations of cultural differences in time-space attitudes and experience. Several lab members and colleagues have drawn on the sociological theorizing of Anthony Giddens and David Harvey to develop the construct of time-space distanciation (TSD; Palitsky et al., 2016; Sullivan et al., in press). TSD refers to the extent to which, within a society, (1) time and space are treated as “separate,” quantifiable and commoditized dimensions, and (2) activities of individuals tend to be “stretched” across physical space and spans of time. We propose that TSD has developed at an accelerated rate in the past few centuries, with major consequences for contemporary life in major cities around the world. Using nationally representative data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Time Use Survey, we (Keefer et al., under review) have found that state-level variation in TSD is associated with factors that are essential to health and well-being. Furthermore, Roman Palitsky is leading a multi-study project (which served as his Master’s Thesis) on how variation in risk levels for trauma and tendencies toward depersonalization may interact with cultural TSD to produce heightened psychological stress.
Experimental and cultural analysis of attitudes toward and motivations for claims of self- and other-victimhood. Drawing on Nietzsche’s ideas, we (Sullivan, Landau, Branscombe, & Rothschild, 2012) proposed that attitudes toward victimhood – especially the victimization of social groups – have changed dramatically over the course of the last 300 years. While victims were once heavily stigmatized – and still are in many cases – a “reversal of values” has partly occurred whereby victims are often viewed as morally superior, while people in power are often perceived as morally corrupt. This cultural shift has produced counterintuitive but increasingly common phenomena, such as high-power group members claiming that they are victimized relative to low-power groups in a bid for moral credentials (for review, see Young & Sullivan, 2016). In a developing project, Isaac Young is conducting experiments to determine how motivations for morality and control, as well as group comparison processes, differentially influence people’s perception of individuals making victimhood claims. He is further drawing on work in political science to determine what qualities are perceived as characteristic of “good” versus “bad” victims in contemporary U.S. society.