bethany ojalehto mays
bethany ojalehto mays
Assistant Professor

Beebe Hall 102B



bethany ojalehto mays is Assistant Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. Her research explores how people conceptualize agency and ecologies, with a focus on cultural variation in social cognition and human-environment relationships. She has been privileged to develop these research perspectives through partnership with Indigenous Ngöbe communities of Panama, where she has participated in research and collaboration since 2010. She received her B.Sc. in psychology and human rights from Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology in 2008, and her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Northwestern University in 2016.

My ongoing research explores diversity in human cognition of the natural world. One line of research comprises basic experimental psychology addressing the cognitive development and conceptual mechanisms involved in people's concepts of nonhuman agency and the natural world across cultures. Another line of research addresses the implications of conceptual diversity in understandings of nature for environmental decision-making and stewardship. It includes children's developing moral reasoning about proper relationships with nonhuman natural kinds. Both strands of research use varied samples of individuals across cultures (US, Panama, Switzerland), ages (childhood to adulthood), and levels of ecological expertise and experience (e.g., urban, rural).

This work is currently funded by a grant from the Institute for Social Sciences at Cornell.

At its best, I see the university as a place that brings such diverse epistemologies into a common space, both as points of study and points of view on what it means to be educated. This philosophy informs my efforts to teach students and mentees how to navigate diversity in psychology, science, and society. 

My teaching philosophy is grounded in cognitive diversity and collaborative learning. My courses are designed to afford multiple perspectives on the complexity of human psychology in its broadest sense, including culture, language, class, and other contexts. My curriculum structure aims to brings theory and data to life through collaborative, inquiry-based learning. Ultimately, I intend for students to take these lessons beyond the classroom, prepared to participate in wider conversations about diverse forms of knowing in a pluralistic society.

A similar philosophy informs my collaborative research with undergraduate students, who contribute to all aspects of my research through advanced studies for credit, independent projects, and paid research assistantships. I have focused in particular on mentoring women and first-generation college students (many of them also first-generation Americans) in their academic goals. I am proud to support my RAs in their successful transitions to graduate programs, post-bac programs, and research lab positions.


HD 2800: Cultural Psychology

HD 4410 / HD 6410: The Culture and Psychology of Human-Environment Interactions

ojalehto mays, b., Sachdeva, S., Narby, J., & Chappuis, C. (submitted). The rights of nature: A cognitive investigation in two Western industrialized nations.

ojalehto, b., Seligman, R., & Medin, D. (in press). Cognition beyond the human: cognitive psychology on the new animism. Ethos.

ojalehto, b., Medin, D., & García, S. (2017). Grounding principles for inferring agency: Two cultural perspectives. Cognitive Psychology, 95, 50-78.

Medin, D., ojalehto, b., Marin, A., & Bang, M. (2017). Systems of (non-)diversity. Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 0088. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0088.

ojalehto, b., Medin, D., & García, S. (2017). Conceptualizing agency: Folkpsychological and folkcommunicative perspectives on plants. Cognition, 162, 103-123.

ojalehto, b., Medin, D., Horton, W., García, S., & Kays, E. (2015). Seeing cooperation or competition: Ecological interactions in cultural perspectives. TopiCS: Exploring cognitive diversity: Anthropological perspectives on cognition, pp. 1-22. DOI: 10.1111/tops.12156.

ojalehto, b., & Medin, D. (2015). Perspectives on culture and concepts. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 249-275. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010814-015120.

ojalehto, b., Waxman, S., & Medin, D. (2013). Teleological reasoning about nature: intentional design or relational perspectives? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(4): 166–171.

ojalehto, b., & Wang, Q. (2008). Children’s spiritual development in forced displacement: a human rights perspective. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 13(2),129-143.

Teaching, research, service, collaborative research partnerships, and attending to the forests.

Research fieldwork in an Indigenous Ngöbe community of Bocas del Toro, Panama: ongoing research partnership and community engagement (over 25 months on site, March 2010-present)


Graduate Admissions Committee, Human Development

2016, Ph.D., Psychology, Northwestern University

2012, M.S., Cognitive Psychology, Northwestern University

2008, B.S. with honors & distinction, Cornell UniversitY

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