Attitudes, behavior, and institutional inversion: The case of debt.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychologists often posit relatively straightforward attitude-behavior links. They also often study cultural arrangements as manifestations of attitudes and values writ large. However, we illustrate some difficulties with scaling up attitude-behavior principles from the individual-level to the cultural-level: Historical attitudes and values can lead to the creation of intermediating institutions, whose value-expressive functions may be at odds with the behavioral outcomes they produce. Through “institutional inversion,” institutions may facilitate rather than inhibit stigmatized behavior. Here we examine attitudes and behavior related to debt, contrast historically Protestant versus Catholic places, and show how cultural attitudes against debt may lead to the creation of institutions that increase—rather than decrease—borrowing. Historical antidebt attitudes in Protestant places have led to contemporary households in Protestant cultures now carrying the highest debt loads. We discuss the importance of supply side factors, attitude → institutions → behavior causal chains, and some blind spots that lead to unintended consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1117-1145
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 28 2021


  • culture
  • debt
  • economic behavior
  • institutions
  • religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Attitudes, behavior, and institutional inversion: The case of debt.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this