Identity | Culture | Tolerance

               We live in an increasingly globalized world where people are exposed to many diverse social and cultural identities. As a result, new challenges and opportunities arise for global leaders and employees in multinational companies. Increased diversity shapes behavior at the individual level, with people integrating new cultures into their identity, and at the group level, with increased interaction between people with diverse identities and cultures. The changing cultural landscape has prompted me to investigate how identities and cultures influence how people think about themselves and interact with others. The goal of my research is to better understand these interactions of identities and culture to foster more positive interpersonal and intergroup relations. In pursuing this aim, my work is organized around two central questions: 1) Integrating identities: How do individual differences in identity management influence interpersonal/intergroup relations, cognition, and neuroscience? and 2) Cultural Adaptation and Learning: How do contextual and biological factors influence adaption to new cultures and adherence to culturally normative behaviors? I have studied these questions in cross-cultural contexts, with immigrants and majority group members in the United States, and with international volunteers and business students. I have also employed diverse methods, including: laboratory experiments, qualitative research, online studies, neuroimaging, and genetic analyses.

Integrating Identities

             In my first line of research, I take a broad approach to identity by measuring generalized identity integration, which taps into the management of many identities (Huff, Lee, & Hong, 2017). For example, one individual could hold identities as a woman, a graduate student, a mentor, an instructor, and a soccer player. Within this conceptualization of identity management, I measure individual differences in perceptions of harmony (or lack of conflict) and blendedness (or lack of separation) between multiple identities. I am primarily interested in positive outcomes—such as tolerance and adaptation—that relate to individual differences in identity integration.

            Positive Interpersonal and Intergroup Relations. Across multiple studies, my dissertation investigates the relationship between identity integration and interpersonal/intergroup tolerance. Whereas much of the previous research on tolerance has focused on structural factors, I focus on how individual differences in managing multiple identities promotes interpersonal and intergroup tolerance. In the first chapter of my dissertation, I found that bicultural Chinese students in Singapore who integrate their two cultural identities and monocultural white American students in the United States who integrate their multiple identities are more tolerant of others with opposing opinions. Additionally, experimental manipulations that cue high identity integration lead to increased interpersonal tolerance (Huff, Lee, & Hong, 2017, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology). In the second chapter of my dissertation, I measure the relationship between identity integration and negotiation outcomes (see Future Directions section for more discussion of this work). The third chapter of my dissertation measures the intergroup consequences of increased identity integration. I have found that biculturals who see their own identities as more integrated report greater intentions to approach (e.g., be friends with, talk to) white Americans (Huff et al., in prep). Interestingly, this relationship is also present in white Americans who report greater intentions to approach recent immigrants when they perceive their own multiple social identities as more integrated. In organizational contexts employees come to work with diverse backgrounds and opinions, and these data suggest that simple manipulations of identity integration could in fact improve teamwork and group cohesiveness in diverse settings.

               Adaptive Cognitive Control. I have conducted a series of studies to elucidate the psychological underpinnings of individual differences in identity integration. I tested a recent hypothesis that a link exists between identity integration and adaptive cognitive control (Hirsh & Kang, 2015). In two separate cultural contexts (US and Singapore), I found correlational evidence that individuals with higher identity integration demonstrate increased adaptive control. Moreover, in an experimental study, manipulating high (vs. low) identity integration also led to increased adaptive control (Huff, Hong, Yoon, Lee, & Weissman, under review, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General). These findings help to explain why identity integration may be linked to adaptive behaviors that increase workplace effectiveness, such as creativity and motivation.

                 Neural Correlates. I expanded upon my initial behavioral research on bicultural identity integration by examining the effects of having a bicultural identity on the neural processes underlying self-referential processing and memory for self-relevant information. By studying memory, we can understand how individuals construct and reflect on their experiences with the world (Huff, Ligouri, & Gutchess, 2015, Handbook of Intercultural Relations Neuroscience). In an fMRI investigation, I found evidence that individual differences in bicultural identity integration modulate neural activity during successful encoding of information relevant to the self and close others (i.e., mother). More specifically, those with lower bicultural identity integration recruit canonical self-referential regions (dmPFC) for successful encoding of self-relevant information, whereas those with higher bicultural identity integration recruit these regions for successful encoding of mother-relevant information (Huff, Yoon, Lee, Mandadi, & Gutchess, 2013, Culture and Brain). By observing neural activation, this is the first study to demonstrate that the impact of individual differences in identity integration goes beyond self-report and behavioral effects

Cultural Adaptation and Cultural Learning

             An additional consequence of globalization is that it has become increasingly common for individuals to move to or spend time in a foreign, host country. In my second line of research, I have used novel methods to understand both how people adapt to new cultures and how people learn the norms of their home cultures. By understanding factors that increase cultural adaptation and facilitate cultural learning, I hope to improve conditions and outcomes for lower-level workers, managers, and the organization. Specifically, international placement decisions or support for expats could be influenced by this research.

             Cultural Adaptation. Previous research has largely focused on how personality characteristics affect cultural adaptation in the host country. In this line of research, I extend upon previous research by measuring the influence of the social context, specifically how historical migration within a country influences cultural adaptation for new immigrants. In two studies, I used publicly available data to test whether historical migration influences cultural adaptation of international business students and Peace Corps volunteers. In these two samples, people adapt more when moving to countries that have had a long history of international migration. Importantly, historical migration in the host country is more predictive of adaptation than measures of current diversity in the host country, including ethnic fractionalization and cultural diversity of current migrants. I also experimentally manipulated heterogeneity and found support for the hypothesis that greater historical migration is associated with higher levels of cultural adaptation. Across multiple studies, I found that people adapt more when moving to countries that have had a long history of international migration (Huff, Hanek, Yoko-Brannen, & Lee, in prep). In combination with previous work on personality factors that predict effectiveness in international assignments (e.g., cultural intelligence), these findings could be beneficial in increasing cultural competence by focusing on placements in countries that have had more history of international migration. 

            Cultural Learning. I have found that the interaction between genetics and culture influences adherence to culturally normative behaviors. It is well-established that East Asians tend to hold a more interdependent self-concept (i.e. emphasis on interconnectedness and social harmony), whereas European Americans tend to hold a more independent self-concept (i.e., focus on uniqueness and individual goals). However, whether there were differences in susceptibility to learning these culturally normative styles of self-construal was previously unknown. Consistent with previous research, we found that East Asians were more interdependent and European Americans were more independent. Importantly, this effect was only present among individuals carrying variants of the DRD4 gene that are linked to greater reward sensitivity (2R and 7R alleles) (Kitayama, King, Yoon, Tompson, Huff, & Liberzon, 2014, Psychological Science). This study provides preliminary evidence that genetic variants influence the likelihood of exhibiting culturally normative behaviors and might prove to affect success in learning new cultures.

Future Directions

              Identity Integration. Building upon my previous research, I am currently testing two hypotheses that look at behavioral outcomes related to identity integration by having participants engage in an in-person negotiation with another person. First, I posit that dyads with higher identity integration will have greater joint gains than individuals with lower identity integration. Second, I predict that individuals with higher identity integration will rate their interaction partner more positively—indicating greater interpersonal tolerance. Data collection for this study is in progress and the results will be included in my dissertation. This research direction is consistent with the resurgence of focusing on individual differences in negotiation outcomes (Elfenbein et al., 2008).

My work on identity integration and intergroup tolerance is ongoing and I am hopeful that they will become a more central part of my research program. My primary goal for this line of research is to create interventions that situationally increase identity integration and, in turn promote more positive interpersonal and intergroup relations. To this end, I am testing multiple manipulations of identity integration to determine which is most reliable for promoting positive outcomes for the individual, the group, and the organization.

             Cultural Adaptation and LearningI plan to explore how historical migration influences work adaptation in international assignments. Additionally, I am currently designing studies that incorporate behavioral measures of cultural adaptation. Finally, in future investigations, I hope to measure the role of identity integration in the relationship between historical migration and cultural adaptation. In relation to cultural learning, I am analyzing fMRI data from an investigation of how variants in the DRD4 gene interact with culture – namely East Asian versus European American cultural contexts – to influence neural responses to thinking about the self and close others, as well as emotion regulation and decision making. These projects extend my previous research on identity and culture beyond self-report and behavioral measures to biological indices of cultural influence.


            Over the past few years, I have positioned myself to do interdisciplinary research that furthers our understanding of how people manage multiple identities; tolerance towards individuals and groups with differing opinions, backgrounds, or values; the influence of the social context on our ability to adapt in different cultural contexts; and the deep impact of culture and biology on our brain and behavior. I aim to continue these lines of research with a special focus on improving interpersonal and intergroup relations through interventions that encourage people to acknowledge the complexity of their own identities. My program of research will build upon the theoretical understanding of the management of multiple identities and cultural adaptation/learning, as well as provide practical implications for fostering tolerance and inclusion in an increasingly diverse workforce