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.


Cultural orientations toward, manifestations of, and consequences of dramaturgical worldviews. Dramaturgical analyses in the social sciences, founded by the work of Erving Goffman (1959), utilize an extended theater metaphor to understand the operation of interpersonal interactions. More recently, social psychological research has investigated the correlates and consequences of everyday people applying the dramaturgical perspective (DP)—perceiving social roles as “masks” or performances, behaviors as scripted, and social situations as stages—during their everyday life (Sullivan, Young, Landau, & Stewart, 2014). Extending this work, current research (led by Isaac Young) probes how different cultures may promote different manifestations of and reactions to the DP, including how cultures may place disparate degrees or ontological realism on the inner (e.g., core, authentic self) and outer (e.g., social performances) worlds. Further, current research examines how exposure to the DP relates to adherence to cultural norms (e.g., gender roles). Finally, the DP and related ideas are being explored as potential avenues for addressing feelings of fraudulence and self-doubt that sometime occur in high-achievement domains (e.g., healthcare profession training).