Michele Gelfand on How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World

April 29, 2020

Today it’s great to have the cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand on the podcast. Dr. Gelfand is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. Gelfand uses field, experimental, computational, and neuroscience methods to understand the evolution of culture– as well as its multilevel consequences for human groups. In addition to publishing numerous articles in many prestigious scientific outlets, she is the author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World.

In this episode we discuss:

  • What are social norms?
  • The difference between tight and loose cultures
  • The advantages vs. disadvantages of tight vs. loose cultures
  • Why did tight vs. loose cultures evolve in the first place?
  • How chronic threat produces a tight culture
  • Real vs. perceived (imagined) threats
  • How cross-cultural psychology is expanding 
  • The interdisciplinary expansion of the study of social norms
  • How organizations can be tight vs. loose
  • Why the ambidexterity of an organizational culture matters
  • Why people welcomed ISIS in some contexts
  • How to anticipate radical shifts in culture around the world in ways that can be predictable
  • How people differ in terms of what is perceived a threat
  • The potential for meaningful conversation across the political divide
  • The importance of persevering in science
  • How understanding differing cultural codes can help us navigate and negotiate them
  • How can modifying a nation’s norms address protracted social problems?
  • Why Michele is so excited to be in the field now more than ever
  • How these contexts can breed negative behaviors
  • Why we need to exert more control to achieve the Goldilocks principle
  • Why we need to be mindful of social norms
  • Why Michele is hopeful that we can recalibrate social norms that facilitate greater cooperation among cultures

3 Responses to “Michele Gelfand on How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World”

  1. Chad Horner says:


    Thanks for an interesting discussion.

    What kind of culture would Britain be (including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), more particularly Northern Ireland?

    Many thanks,

  2. Ashleigh says:

    Hi, great podcast. is there a link to the study around reading diaries of people from other cultures?

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