New Methods

Using machine learning to advance the science of culture

Machine Learning

The Culture Science Innovations (CSI) lab at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU SG) is the first in the world to use machine learning methods for hypothesis generation in the social and organisational sciences (Sheetal, Feng, & Savani, 2020). 

We have used machine-learning methods to identify previously undetected causes of important outcomes by analysing large datasets, such as the World Values Survey. Some outcome variables that we have studied include unethical behaviour, xenophobia, health status, job satisfaction, and innovation. For example, a deep learning model found that respondents’ level of optimism about the future of humanity is one of the strongest predictors of their unethicality.

Indeed, this predictor had not been examined in the voluminous past research on unethical behaviour. We verified the hypothesis generated by the machine learning model with correlational and experimental studies, thereby further documenting the validity of machine learning-based discoveries. 

Despite the increasing use of machine learning methods in other scientific disciplines, social and organisational sciences have yet to utilise this approach to discover novel constructs and predictors. We are looking to change that.

Sheetal, A., Feng, Z., & Savani, K. (2020). Using machine learning to generate novel hypotheses: Increasing optimism about Covid-19 makes people less willing to justify unethical behaviors. Psychological Science, 31, 1222-1235.

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New methods in Culture science (neuroscience, virtual reality, wearables)

Please refer to Research Methods to understand more about the different research methods that our lab uses.

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The Science of Cultural Intelligence

cultural intelligence

Cultural intelligence is an intercultural capability that regulates exclusionary reactions and fosters constructive reactions to globalisation and foreign cultures.

Investigators in this programme leverage on the findings from the comparative research in the two previous research programmes. They develop new theories and frameworks for understanding how individuals, firms, governments, and international communities acquire and develop the requisite intercultural capabilities for working and living with others, without cultural conflict and misunderstanding.

Please refer to this website for more information.

Culture, Mega-Cities and the Built Environment

Built Environment

One of the major determinants of human behaviour and health is the built environment. The rapid urbanisation of our planet (currently >50% of humanity now lives in cities) means that the human psychology will be under significant pressure.

Research so far has mostly employed traditional metrics, such as questionnaires and observations. We suggest to employ new cognitive neuroscience tools (please refer to Research Methods for more information) to better understand human psychology and how it interacts with the environment.

In our published research, we examined how psychological, social and architectural factors can affect perception and/or human behaviour in different spaces. 


Lee EU, Christopoulos G., Lu M., Soh CK (2016) Social Aspects of Working in Underground Spaces. Tunneling and Underground Spaces Technology. 55, May 2016, 135-145.

Lee, E. H., Christopoulos, G. I., Kwok, K. W., Roberts, A. C., & Soh, C. K. (2017). A psychosocial approach to understanding underground spaces. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 452.

Lee, E. H., Luo, C., Sam, Y. L., Roberts, A. C., Kwok, K. W., Soh, C. K., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2019). The underground workspaces questionnaire (UWSQ): Investigating public attitudes toward working in underground spaces. Building and Environment, 153, 28-34.doi: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2019.02.017

Roberts A., Christopoulos G., Lu M., Soh CK (2016) Psycho-biological factors associated with underground spaces: the new era of Cognitive Neuroscience. Tunneling and Underground Spaces Technology. 55, 118-134.

Roberts, A. C., Yap, H. S., Kwok, K. W., Car, J., Soh, C. K., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2019). The cubicle deconstructed: Simple visual enclosure improves perseverance. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 63, 60-73.

Roberts, A. C., Yeap, Y. W., Seah, H. S., Chan, E., Soh, C. K., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2019). Assessing the suitability of virtual reality for psychological testing. Psychological assessment, 31(3), 318. doi:

Su, Y., Roberts, A. C., Yap, H. S., Car, J., Kwok, K. W., Soh, C. K., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2020). White-and Blue-collar workers responses towards underground workspaces. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology, 105, 103526.

Tan, Z., Roberts, A. C., Christopoulos, G. I., Kwok, K. W., Car, J., Li, X., & Soh, C. K. (2018). Working in underground spaces: architectural parameters, perceptions and thermal comfort measurements. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology, 71, 428-439.

Tan, Z., Roberts, A. C., Lee, E. H., Kwok, K. W., Car, J., Soh, C. K., & Christopoulos, G. (2020). Transitional areas affect perception of workspaces and employee well-being: A study of underground and above-ground workspaces. Building and Environment, 106840.

Venugopal, V., Roberts, A. C., Kwok, K. W., Christopoulos, G. I., & Soh, C. K. (2020). Employee Experiences in Underground Workplaces: A Qualitative Investigation. Ergonomics, 1-37.

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Identifying mindsets that help people learn the norms of new cultures

Learning Norms of New Cultures
Is it possible that a big part of becoming a competent member of a new culture is accomplished not through deliberate and effortful learning but through picking up patterns as one is exposed to the new culture? 

If this is the case, then learning a new culture would have less to do with IQ (picking up new knowledge and skills through conscious reasoning) and more to do with implicit learning ability (capacity to learn complex patterns without deliberation or awareness), which happens to be uncorrelated with IQ. 

We found that people who are more likely to engage in implicit metacognition, that is, those who implicitly monitor the accuracy of their responses, are also faster at learning the norms of a new culture (Morris, Savani, & Fincher, 2019, JPSP). We also found people learned new norms faster when task conditions encouraged rather than discouraged metacognition.

This project makes a significant contribution by connecting cognitive psychology with cultural psychology, fields that are considered to be at diametrically opposite ends of the psychological science spectrum.

Morris, M. W., Savani, K., & Fincher, K. (2019). Metacognition fosters cultural learning: Evidence from individual differences and situational prompts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116, 46-68.

Morris, M. W., Fincher, K., & Savani, K. (2019). Learning new cultures: Processes, premises, and policies. In D. Cohen & S. Kitayama (Eds.), Handbook of Cultural Psychology (2nd ed, pp. 478-501). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Morris, M. W., Savani, K., Mor, S., & Cho, J. (2014). When in Rome: Intercultural learning and implications for training. Research in Organizational Behavior, 34, 189-215.

Morris, M. W., Savani, K., Roberts, R. D. (2014). Intercultural competence, assessment, and learning: Implications for organizational and public policies. Policy Insights from Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 63-71.

Savani, K., Morris, M. W., Naidu, N. V. R., Kumar. S., & Berlia, N. (2011). Cultural conditioning: Understanding interpersonal accommodation in India and the U.S. in terms of the modal characteristics of interpersonal influence situations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 84-102.

Cultural differences in the relationship between choices and preferences

Choice Mindsets
What is choice? Is it about whether people have multiple options to select from, or is choice a state of one’s mind? We propose that choice can also be a state of mind that is divorced form the external reality—people can believe that they have a choice even when they only have a single option, or believe that they do not have a choice even when they have multiple options.

Consider this simple experiment: When participants walked into a lab room, they had to sit in one of many empty cubicles, to sign one of two copies of a consent form, to pick one of four pens to sign with, and to decide whether to eat a candy that was on the table. Later on, participants were asked to list all the choices they had made in the lab. 

Quite shockingly, international Asian students at Stanford University listed only about half as many choices as European American students. Even more shockingly, only about 40% of participants recalled all four choices that they had made just a couple of minutes ago. Further investigation led to a paper documenting cultural differences in what counts as a choice. 

More importantly, this research showed that what counts as a choice lies in the eyes of the beholder—even when induced to make the same choices, people differ in whether they construed their actions as choices (Savani et al., 2010, Psychological Science). An extensive programme of research has documented numerous consequences of the choice mindset for people’s judgments and decisions, including analytic thinking, victim blaming, comfort with inequality, and persistence in negotiations.

Madan, S., Nanakdewa, K., Savani, K., & Markus, H. R. (2020). The paradoxical consequences of choice: Often good for the individual, perhaps less so for society. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Ma, A., Yang, Y., & Savani, K. (2019). Take it or leave it: A choice mindset leads to greater persistence and better outcomes in negotiations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 153, 1-12.

Kouchaki, M., Smith, I., & Savani, K. (2018). Does deciding among morally relevant options feel like making a choice? How morality constrains people’s sense of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115, 788-804.

Savani, K., Stephens, N. M., & Markus, H. R. (2017). Choice as an engine of analytic thought. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146, 1234-1246.

Savani, K., & Rattan, A. (2012). A choice mindset increases the acceptance and maintenance of wealth inequality. Psychological Science, 23, 796-804.

Savani, K., Stephens, N. M., & Markus, H. R. (2011). The unanticipated interpersonal and societal consequences of choice: Victim-blaming and reduced support for the public good. Psychological Science, 22, 795-802.  

Tripathi, R., Cervone, D., & Savani, K. (2018). Are the motivational effects of autonomy-supportive conditions universal? Contrasting results among Indians and Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44, 1287-1301.

Uchida, Y., Savani, K., Hitokoto, H., & Kaino, K. (2017). Do you always choose what you like? Subtle social cues increase preference-choice consistency among Japanese but not among Americans. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

Savani, K., Wadhwa, M., Uchida, Y., Ding, Y., & Naidu, N. V. R. (2015). When norms loom larger than the self: Susceptibility of preference-choice consistency to normative influence across cultures. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 129, 70-79.

Savani, K., Morris, M. W., Naidu, N. V. R. (2012). Deference in Indians’ decision making: Introjected goals or injunctive norms? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 685-699.

Savani, K., Markus, H. R., Naidu, N. V. R., Kumar, S., & Berlia, V. (2010). What counts as a choice? U.S. Americans are more likely than Indians to construe actions as choices. Psychological Science, 21, 391-398.

Savani, K., Markus, H. R., & Conner, A. L. (2008). Let your preference be your guide? Preferences and choices are more tightly linked for North Americans than for Indians. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 861-876.

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Cultural symbols, cultural attachment and beauty

Beauty Research Cultural Symbols

Cultural Symbols, Cultural Attachment

Originating from the attachment theory, cultural attachment refers to the process where one’s culture, and its cultural symbols, provide an individual with psychological security in face of threats or vulnerability. 

By examining physiology (skin conductance responses) and psychology (through questionnaires and computerised tasks), our lab is trying to understand how an individual’s positive memories of their culture (through presentation symbols of their culture) can aid the individual in the face of potentially dangerous situations. 


Beauty has been the topic of numerous disciplines, ranging from philosophy to business. Early on, Plato said that beauty (along with goodness and truth) is one of the ideals for human development. But can we study beauty perceptions experimentally and in a systematic way? 

Our lab is trying to understand how the environment could affect beauty perceptions. Yet, beauty is a concept that is difficult to verbalise. It might be implicitly assessed – people might recognise something is beautiful, but they may be less likely to understand why it is so. Therefore, we use more implicit and advanced methods such as eye-tracking, mouse-tracking, computerised tests, and experimental studies.

We also developed a make-up database together with a renowned cosmetic company where we capture images from different camera angles of Asian women in different age groups and with different make-up styles.

Cultural Symbols, Cultural Attachment

Cheon, B. K., Christopoulos, G. I., & Hong, Y. Y. (2016). Disgust associated with culture mixing: Why and who?. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology47(10), 1268-1285.

Yap, W. J., Christopoulos, G. I., & Hong, Y. Y. (2017). Physiological responses associated with cultural attachment. Behavioural brain research325, 214-222.

Yap, W. J., Cheon, B., Hong, Y. Y., & Christopoulos, G. (2019). Cultural attachment: from behaviour to computational neuroscience. Frontiers in human neuroscience13, 209.


Faust, N. T., Chatterjee, A., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2018). The effect of unrelated social exchanges on facial attractiveness judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology79, 290-300.

Faust, N. T., Chatterjee, A., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2019). Beauty in the eyes and the hand of the beholder: Eye and hand movements' differential responses to facial attractiveness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology85, 103884.

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Cultural differences in mindsets about intelligence and willpower

Mindset on Intelligence and Willpower
This research project examined whether there are systematic cultural differences in people’s beliefs about intellectual potential. That is, do some people believe that only a select few individuals can become highly intelligent in any given domain (the nonuniversal belief), whereas others believe that nearly everyone can become highly intelligent (the universal belief)? 

We found that people have universal-nonuniversal beliefs in a variety of domains, including intelligence, morality, and even ideal body weight. 

In a series of studies, we found that people who believe that not everyone can become highly intelligent were less likely to view education as a fundamental human right, and therefore, less disturbed by the country’s poor educational outcomes at the national level, and less supportive of continued public investment in education. These findings indicate that universal-nonuniversal beliefs potentially underlie the active debate in many countries about whether education should be a state-funded public good or a scarce resource to be allocated to only the most deserving. 

We also found that some people believe that everyone has the potential to achieve their ideal weight, whereas others believe that not everyone has this potential. Individuals with the universal belief about weight are more likely to support policies that required overweight people to pay higher health insurance costs and airfare (Li, Kokkoris, & Savani, 2020, OBHDP). 

In addition, we examined a slightly different belief—whether people believe that exerting self-control (such as by concentrating hard on writing one’s research statement) is depleting or energising. We found that Americans tend to believe that exerting self-control is depleting, and correspondingly, exhibit ego-depletion. That is, after exerting self-control on one task, Americans perform worse on another task that requires self-control (Baumeister, Tice, & Muraven, 1988). 

Yet we found that Indians believe that exerting self-control is energising, and correspondingly, exhibit reverse ego-depletion. That is, after exerting self-control on one task, Indians perform better on another task that requires self-control (Savani & Job, 2017, JPSP). These findings challenge the idea that ego-depletion is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 Applying this idea to the workplace, we found that only people who believe that exerting self-control is depleting exhibit job burnout in the face of high work demands; those who believe that exerting self-control is energising do not experience burnout in the presence of high job demands.

Li, S., Kokkoris, M., & Savani, K. (2020). Does everyone have the potential to achieve their ideal body weight? Lay theories about body weight and support for price discrimination policies. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 157, 129-142.

Madan, S., Basu, S., Rattan, A., & Savani, K. (2019). Support for resettling refugees: Role of fixed-growth mindsets. Psychological Science, 30, 238-249.

Rattan, A., Savani, K., Kommaraju, M., Morrison, M., Boggs, C., & Ambady, N. (2018). Meta-lay theories of scientific potential drive women and minorities’ sense of belonging in science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115, 54-75.

Savani, K., Rattan, A., & Dweck, C. S. (2017). Is education a fundamental right? People’s lay theories about intellectual potential drive their positions on education. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43, 1284-1295.

Rattan, A., Savani, K., Chugh, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Leveraging mindsets to promote academic achievement: Policy recommendations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 721-726.

Savani, K., & Job, V. (2017) Reverse ego-depletion: Acts of self-control can improve subsequent performance in Indian cultural contexts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113, 589-607.

Rattan, A., Savani, K., Naidu, N. V. R., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Can everyone become intelligent? Cultural differences and societal consequences of the belief in a universal potential for intelligence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 787-803.

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