I'm Thomas Costello, a research psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at MIT.
Human beings, as a rule, believe complex, contradictory things about the world, love their group (and hate competing groups), and are often capable of committing reprehensible acts of violence and coercion in service of these beliefs and group allegiances. Humans also differ heterogeneously relative to one another along virtually every conceivable axis. In modernity, as physical distances have become easily surmountable, and information ecosystems have roiled, growing more complex and inflammatory with each technological milestone, some of humanity’s starkest coalitional borders have come to be drawn based on ideologies and beliefs. Yet the heterogeneity that unites us transcends these group borders. This is the key insight of my research program, which peers through the fast-burning, animating political conflicts of our times to the basic features of human psychology that lie, tantalizingly bare, beneath. I study political beliefs as a causal nexus between personality, groupiness, and society, leveraging psychological individual differences to understand why some people endorse extremism and reject liberal democracy while others contentedly “agree to disagree”. My work has drilled down on the psychological nature of authoritarianism–how it persists and morphs across cultural contexts–as well as on the structural complexities of political belief systems (including their cognitive causes and consequences). Focusing on understanding heterogeneity in these processes, I leverage cutting-edge statistical methods and models, as well as computational and traditional “laboratory” methods, while seeking optima between exploratory and confirmatory work.
In the last few years, my scholarly work has been featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Psychological Bulletin, and Nature Reviews Psychology and repeatedly covered in media outlets such as The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Vice. I received my Ph.D. in Psychology from Emory University in 2022. On this site, you'll find more information about me. Thanks for visiting!