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Glenn Adams

Glenn Adams

Associate Professor
Social Psychology

Ph.D., 2000, Stanford University
Research Areas: Cultural Psychology, Social Psychology, African Studies

Related Links
Social Program
Culture and Psychology Research Group

Research Interests

The foundation for my intellectual work lies in the conceptual framework of cultural psychology. As I apply it, this framework emphasizes the idea of mind in context: that is, how the structure of mind is not limited to brain architecture, but also extends to the socially constructed scaffolding of everyday cultural worlds. In terms of empirical research, this framework finds expression in two, broad projects.

1. Cultural-ecological foundations of relationship:
The origins of this empirical project lie in fieldwork that I conducted in West African settings. Over the course of this fieldwork, I became interested in prevalent patterns of cautious (or prevention-oriented) relationality characterized by an emphasis on material care and wariness about interpersonal conflict. I found these patterns remarkable because they deviate from the patterns of open (or promotion-oriented) relationality—characterized by an emphasis on mutual exploration, personal expression, and self-expansive love—that mainstream perspectives of psychological science tend to regard as optimal expressions of human nature. My subsequent work has explored the cultural-ecological foundations that underlie these different relational patterns.

This work suggests how patterns of cautious or prevention-oriented relationality that seem pathological by mainstream scientific standards nevertheless make sense given everyday realities of embeddedness that characterize many West African worlds. More important, this work suggests how patterns of open or promotion-oriented relationality that mainstream approaches treat as standard are not “naturally” good, but instead reflect the epistemological foundations of psychological science in particular everyday realities associated with neoliberal individualism.

Representative publications associated with this work include these:

  • Adams, G. (2005). The cultural grounding of personal relationship: Enemyship in North American and West African worlds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 948-968.
  • Adams, G. & Plaut, V. C. (2003). The cultural grounding of personal relationship: Friendship in North American and West African worlds. Personal Relationships, 10, 333-348.
  • Anderson, S.L.*, Adams, G., & Plaut, V.C. (2008). The cultural grounding of relationship: The importance of attractiveness in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 352-368.
  • Li, L. M.W.*, Adams, G., Kurtiş, T.*, & Hamamura, T. (in press). Beware of Friends: The cultural psychology of relational mobility and cautious intimacy. Asian Journal of Social Psychology.
  • Salter, P.S.*, & Adams, G. (2012). Mother or wife? An African dilemma tale and the psychological dynamics of sociocultural change. Social Psychology, 42(4), 232-242.


2. Cultural-Psychological Bases of Racism and Oppression
Mainstream perspectives of psychological science tend to locate the psychological roots of racism and oppression in the structure of prejudiced or stereotype-prone brains. In contrast, this research project investigates the psychological roots of racism and oppression in sociocultural affordances of everyday worlds. Rather than politically neutral features of a (just) natural environment, this work considers how everyday realities are cultural-psychological products that resonate with particular beliefs/desires and systematically reproduce domination.

Representative publications associated with this research include these:

  • Adams, G., Biernat, M., Branscombe, N. R., Crandall, C. S., & Wrightsman, L. S. (2008). Beyond prejudice: Toward a sociocultural psychology of racism and oppression.. In G. Adams, M. Biernat, N. R. Branscombe, C. S. Crandall,  & L. S. Wrightsman (Eds.),  Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination (pp. 215-246) . Washington, DC: APA Books. 
  • Adams, G., Edkins, V.*, Lacka, D., Pickett, K.*, & Cheryan, S. (2008). Teaching about racism:  Pernicious implications of the standard portrayal. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 30, 349-361.
  • Adams, G., Tormala, T. T., & O'Brien, L. T.* (2006). The effect of self-affirmation on perceptions of racism. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 616-626.
  • Kurtiş, T., Adams, G., & Yellow Bird, M. (2010). Generosity or genocide? Identity implications of silence in American Thanksgiving celebrations. Memory, 18(2), 208-224.
  • Nelson, J.C.*, Adams, G., & Salter, P.S. (2013). The Marley Hypothesis: Racism denial reflects ignorance of history. Psychological Science,24(2), 213-218.


3. Cultural Psychology as Decolonial Practice
My particular version of cultural psychology analysis reflects engagement with West African worlds and epistemological perspectives of African Studies. An inescapable feature of work in these contexts is a concern with the coloniality of knowledge: ways in which mainstream intellectual production reflects and reproduces forms of racial domination. In this context, I have developed an approach to cultural psychology as a tool for decolonizing knowledge. Following the work of decolonial psychologists, Franz Fanon and Ignacio Martín-Baró, the  goal of this approach is to illuminate forms of domination in conventional academic wisdom and to construct new concepts, based on accompaniment with people in marginalized settings, that provide tools for broader human liberation.

Representative publications associated with this body of work include these:

  • Adams, G. (2014). Decolonizing methods: African Studies perspectives and qualitative research. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(4), 467-474.
  • Adams G., Kurtiș, T.*, Salter, P.S., & Anderson, S.L.* (2012). A cultural psychology of relationship: Decolonizing science and practice. In O. Gillath, G. Adams, & A.D. Kunkel, (Eds.), Relationship science: Integrating evolutionary, neuroscience, and sociocultural approaches  (pp. 49-70). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Kurtiș, T.*, & Adams, G. (2013). A cultural psychology of relationship: Toward a transnational feminist psychology. In M. K. Ryan & N. R. Branscombe (Eds.) Handbook of gender and psychology (pp. 251-269). London: Sage.
  • Salter, P.S., & Adams, G. (2013). Toward a Critical Race Psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.7(11), 781-793. doi:10.1111/spc3.

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