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Creating a short documentary film for the Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Program in partnership with the government of Niger, the World Bank, and documentary filmmaker Damel Dieng

Culture and Behavioral Science

Behavioral science is being increasingly leveraged to reduce poverty and advance well-being around the globe. However, over 90% of psychological research still takes place in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) settings. This constrains both our ability to solve societal problems and to understand human behavior. 


How do motivation and agency vary across sociocultural contexts and particularly in understudied Global South and low-income contexts? And can a more 'culturally wise' behavioral science-one that attends to this cultural variation-be more effective in promoting standards of living and well-being, particularly in low-income contexts?

Selected publications and media

  • Thomas, C. C., & Markus, H.R. Enculturating the science of international development: Beyond the WEIRD independent paradigm. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 54(2), 195-214.

  • Thomas, C.C.*, Otis, N.G.*, Abraham, J.R., Markus, H.R., & Walton, G.M. (2020). Towards a science of delivering dignity in aid: Experimental evidence and forecasts from Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(27), 15546-15553. 1917046117.

  • Thomas, C. C., Sambo, A. S., Premand, P., Bossuroy, T., Markus, H.R., & Walton, G.W. (In prep). Culturally wise interventions can help reduce extreme poverty in West Africa. 

Prejudice, Poverty, and Inequality

Welfare recipients are one of the most negatively viewed social groups in American society, with negative stereotypes of laziness and irresponsibility being entrenched in the American psyche. How do stigmatizing and deficit-focused societal narratives, demeaning interpersonal interactions, and other social psychological processes undermine the well-being and outcomes of people experiencing poverty?


In addition to their impacts on people in poverty, prejudicial beliefs and attitudes can undermine political will to address poverty and inequality. How might we intervene on this cycle of prejudice, poverty, and opposition to safety net policies? For instance, how might certain narratives about welfare policies and recipients perpetuate or interrupt this cycle?

Selected publications and media

  • Thomas, C. C., Walton, G. M., Reinhart, E., Markus, H. R. Mitigating welfare-related prejudice and partisanship among U.S. conservatives with moral reframing of a universal basic income policy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 105, 104424

  • Thomas, C., Kalkstein, D., & Walton, G. (2020, June 17). How the Coronavirus Crisis Is Opening the Door to Universal Social Policies in the U.S. Time.​

  • Markus, H. *, Thomas, C. *, Schwalbe, M. *, Garcia, M., & Cohen, G.  (Under review). Inequality in coping and loss: Mostly surviving, some thriving in the COVID-19 crisis.

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Secondary analysis of data from the American National Election Study (ANES) collected between 1964 and 2016 (N = 59,944): Feeling thermometer ratings towards select social groups in the US 


Example of deficit-focused narrative of aid

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