Using Culture and Identities to Improve Models of Action
Recent work in cultural sociology has provided important insights into the processes underlying behavior, but does not adequately address the role played by situations in shaping action. Research also emphasizes process at the expense of content, helping us see how motives can shape action, without specifying which motives matter. This project addresses these shortcomings by synthesizing work on culture and action with perspectives from sociological social psychology, psychology, and the study of morality. I argue that identities, values, and morality are forms of culture that can motivate action, and that identities and values in particular help to explain consistencies in behavior across different contexts. I illustrate these general claims in three papers, included as chapters 2 through 4.
In chapter 2 I argue that a person's most salient identities form a core self that is perpetually active across situations, and that behavioral consistency occurs because people are motivated to act in ways that are consistent with this core self. However, a person's ability to successfully enact an identity in a given context also depends on possessing the necessary cultural skills and competencies. I illustrate the plausibility of my model using two published ethnographic studies.
In chapter 3 I argue that values also shape a wide range of behaviors, operate across many contexts, and can be processed quickly and automatically, consistent with current models of culture and action. Using data from 25 European nations and a new hybrid propensity score/fixed effects methodology, I find that values predict 15 self-reported behaviors that occur in a variety of substantive domains (e.g., family, religion) and across 25 countries, but that which behaviors values predict depends on the national context. I strengthen the case for causality and draw a link to automatic cognitive processing using a real-time decision task from a large online survey.
In chapter 4 I use two nationally representative samples of the United States to show how various forms of moral culture are distributed across social and demographic categories. This lays a foundation for future work by providing insight into the moral motivations that can shape behavior for members of different social groups.
Taken together, these studies underscore the claim that culture matters for behavior and lay the groundwork for future research on culture and action.
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