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Thomas Talhelm studies culture. He studies how rice and wheat agriculture have given northern and southern China two very different cultures, influencing whether people wear masks and move chairs in Starbucks. He argues that people often misunderstand collectivism. People imagine collectivism is about loving everyone, as opposed to the duties, tight ties, and vigilance in the real world. His research also finds that liberal culture in the US is more individualistic and that getting people to think more analytically increases support for liberal social policies, whereas thinking holistically increases support for conservative policies. Thomas occasionally lectures and writes about cultural psychology in Chinese.

Thomas lived in China for five years teaching high school in Guangzhou as a Princeton in Asia fellow, a freelance journalist in Beijing, and a Fulbright scholar and a NSF Graduate Research Fellow. While living in Beijing, Thomas founded Smart Air, a social enterprise that ships low-cost air purifiers to help people breathe clean air without shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive purifiers.

Thomas earned his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Virginia and a B.A. with Highest Honors in psychology and Spanish from the University of Michigan.

Professor Talhelm reviews PhD student applications every year. Students interested in culture, politics, or social ecology should apply.

Academic Areas

  • Behavioral Science

Working Papers

2023 - 2024 Course Schedule

Number Course Title Quarter
38126 Culture (And Why It Matters) 2023 (Autumn)
38601 Workshop in Behavioral Science 2023 (Autumn)