Is American culture changing?
Are our shared mindsets shifting in the wake of so much social upheaval?
How can cultural shifts inform how we communicate about important systemic issues?
The Culture Change Project is an ongoing investigation designed to uncover whether and how social and political turmoil is leading to shifts in the ways that Americans think about and make sense of the world—and what opportunities and challenges those shifts might create for those working for progressive change.
About the Project
Historically, times of great upheaval have given rise to significant cultural changes—for instance, the Great Depression or in the aftermath of September 11. In 2020, as a global pandemic shook the world, racial justice uprisings became widely publicized, and a contentious election raised questions about the state of American democracy, the FrameWorks Institute began investigating if and how similar shifts are taking place today.
Through a combination of focus groups, in-depth interviews, and a first-of-its-kind nationally representative culture tracking survey, we have been monitoring changes in the foundational mindsets that shape Americans’ thinking about our society as a whole (such as individualism), as well as specific mindsets about core issue areas:
- the economy
- others, as trends emerge
Our initial findings are already clear: mindsets are changing in important ways, across a number of domains… but not every domain.
On this page you will find the latest research and resources from the Culture Change Project, updated regularly as new findings emerge. Future research will include more and deeper analysis of these mindset shifts, along with different ways of framing social and political issues in order to help advocates build greater understanding of and support for progressive, systemic solutions.
Watch the videos below to get caught up on some of the key highlights from our first two Culture Change Roundtable discussions
To view more of our video content, visit our YouTube channel.
What do you mean by “mindsets”?
Mindsets are deep, assumed patterns of thinking that shape how we understand the world and how we make decisions. Unlike opinions, mindsets are highly durable. They emerge from and are tied to cultural and social practices and institutions with deep historical roots. (For example, “individualism” is a mindset that has dominated American thinking since before the inception of the country.) At the same time, in moments of social upheaval, mindsets can be pushed into flux and become destabilized, leading to fairly rapid changes in thinking.
It’s also important to acknowledge that we all have multiple mindsets that we can use to think about a given issue. For example, while Americans often think individualistically, we also have access to more ecological and systemic mindsets. When these mindsets are active, they bring into view social systems and the ways that environments shape outcomes alongside individual choices.
What do you mean by “culture”?
Culture can be seen as a set of shared, implicit mindsets that individuals use to make sense of information, experiences, and their social worlds; process information; interact with others; and make decisions. In addition to its external aspects in social institutions and the material world, culture exists in the mind and is shared by members of a social group.
What is the relationship between mindsets research and opinion polling?
Public opinion research examines the explicit attitudes and preferences that people hold on specific issues. Cultural mindsets research explores the deeper, underlying ways of thinking that shape and explain these patterns in public opinion. Where public opinion research examines what people think, cultural mindsets research examines how people think. For example, public opinion research might demonstrate that people support health education programs more than they support policies that foster access to healthy housing. Cultural mindsets research explains why this is, revealing the role that the mindset of health individualism plays in driving these opinions and preferences.
What does it mean for culture to change?
If culture is a set of shared, implicit mindsets that individuals use to make sense of the world, culture can change as our collective mindsets begin to shift—in this case, based largely on societal upheaval that has affected so many parts of our lives. Mindsets can shift in many ways. For example, certain mindsets can become more or less dominant over time (e.g., mindsets about the power of the free market became more dominant in the second half of the 20th century, while mindsets around the value of collective labor action grew weaker). The boundaries of a mindset can also stretch as people apply existing ways of thinking to make sense of new realities (e.g., the contours of established mindsets about marriage have stretched to encompass same-sex marriage). And new circumstances can introduce entirely new ways of thinking (as was the case in the mid-20th century when mindsets about the dangers of smoking emerged and the maleficence of tobacco companies took hold).
The FrameWorks Institute is partnering with progressive, advocacy, and nonprofit leaders across numerous issue areas to better understand the implications of our research findings and determine the best questions to ask moving forward.