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Wendi L. Adair S.C. Johnson Graduate School of

Management, Cornell University,
Sungu Armagan College of Business Administration, Florida
International University, Florida, USA
Kristin Behfar Merage School of Business, University of
California, Irvine, USA
Bryan L. Bonner David Eccles School of Business, The
University of Utah, USA
Jeanne Brett Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern
University, USA
Marilynn B. Brewer Department of Psychology, Ohio State
University, USA
Ya-Ru Chen Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University,
Roy Yong-Joo Chua Columbia Business School, Columbia
University, USA
Lorna Doucet College of Business, University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, USA
P. Christopher Earley NUS Business School, National University of
Singapore, Singapore
Hillary Anger Elfenbein University of California, Berkeley, USA
Miriam Erez Technion – Israel Institute of Technology,
Manuel Portugal ESTG, Instituto Politécnico de Leiria,
Ferreira Portugal


Jeanne Ho-Ying Fu Nanyang Business School, Nanyang

Technological University, Singapore
Adam D. Galinsky Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern
University, USA
Morela Hernandez The Fuqua School of Business, Duke
University, USA
Mary Kern Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College,
William W. Maddux INSEAD, France
Joe C. Magee Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public
Service, New York University, USA
Tanya Menon Graduate School of Business, The University of
Chicago, USA
Michael W. Morris Columbia Business School, Columbia
University, USA
Lisa M. Moynihan London Business School, UK
Gregory Northcraft College of Business, University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, USA
Gerardo A. Okhuysen David Eccles School of Business, The
University of Utah, USA
Daphna Oyserman University of Michigan, USA
Randall S. Peterson London Business School, UK
Aiwa Shirako University of California, Berkeley, USA
Efrat Shokef Technion – Israel Institute of Technology,
Masako S. Taylor School of Hotel Administration, Cornell
University, USA
Catherine H. Tinsley The McDonough School of Business,
Georgetown University, USA
Ayse K. Uskul University of Michigan, USA
List of Contributors xi

Kimberly A. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University,

Wade-Benzoni USA
Lu Wang College of Business, University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, USA
Chen-Bo Zhong The Joseph L. Rotman School of Management,
University of Toronto, Canada
Jing Zhou Jones Graduate School of Management, Rice
University, USA

Japanese and American management is 95 percent the same, but differs in all important

Takeo Fujisawa, Co-founder of the Honda Motor Corporation.

This volume is based on the premise that in an era of rapid globalization,

while there is a great deal of convergence on many aspects of group proc-
esses and interactions across national cultures, it is the understanding and
appreciation of the divergence among people of different national cultural
backgrounds that make all the difference. Indeed, management of global-
ization and its social, economic, and political implications hit both a nerve
and the bottom line. From the ‘‘cross-cultural’’, ‘‘international,’’ or ‘‘glo-
bal’’ themes of academic conferences to news about trade deficit and surplus
discussions among world leaders, the impact of national culture has become
one of the most important topics in management research.
Researchers’ increasing attention toward the importance of national
culture in various social processes is quite clear. For instance, a search of the
numbers of publications under the subject heading of cross-culture at
PsycINFO shows an unambiguous growing trend of interest in cross-
cultural issues. In the period 1961–1970, there were only 544 articles falling
under the cross-culture heading. The number of cross-culture publications
increased to 1,899 in 1971–1980, more than tripling the number in the pre-
vious decade. The following two decades showed a steady doubling attention
from scholars to the examination of national culture in their research: 3,892
cross-culture publications in 1981–1990 and 7,194 in 1991–2000. This up-
ward trajectory of cross-cultural publications continues to appear in the
current decade. Since 2001 to February 2006, there have been more than
6,500 cross-culture articles published! Similar results emerged when the
search was conducted among management journals. Thus, it is clear that the
community of cross-cultural researchers has been growing! This suggests
that an era, such as 1960s and 1970s, when cross-cultural research was seen
as non-mainstream is over (Triandis, 1999), thanks to the dedication and

contribution from many pioneers in this area, and the increasing global-
ization of the markets in the last few decades.
Cross-cultural research has broken numerous grounds and received many
criticisms over the years (e.g., Earley & Gibson, 1998; Erez & Earley, 1993;
Fiske, 2002; Hofstede, 1980, 2003; Triandis, 1989; Oyserman, Coon, &
Kemmelmeier, 2002). Given the growing interest and importance in under-
standing cross-national differences and similarities, one thing for sure in the
coming years is that greater conceptual clarity and empirical rigor will con-
tinue to add to our understanding of when, why, and how cultural factors
affect people’s cognition, motivation, and behavior. The chapters in the
current volume represent one set of such accomplishments. Several notable
themes across the chapters include the following:
Beyond Mean Differences. Many studies in the earlier years of cross-
cultural research tended to focus on discovering mean differences in
certain variables between cross-national samples. For this reason, findings
of culture main effects were abundant. Recently, however, cross-cultural
researchers have noted that direct mean comparisons as such can be quite
problematic for many reasons (e.g., van de Vijver & Leung, 1997; Chen,
Brockner, & Katz, 1998; Chen, Mannix, & Okumura, 2003). Uskal and
Oyserman’s paper in the volume provides a detailed account of one such
reason – how response biases among national cultural samples might yield
false cultural differences in the variables of researchers’ interest.
The chapters in this volume explore the influence of cultural factors be-
yond the main effect level. Instead, they adopt a more dynamic and inter-
active approach to the examination of cultural factors. Together, they
advocate a culture-moderating perspective – that is, culture factors mod-
erate the relationships and dynamics in a given process or phenomenon. For
example, in the chapter on how cultural factors might play a significant role
in inter-generational resource allocation decisions, Hernandez, Chen, and
Wade-Benzoni suggest that while there might be no differences in managers’
intergenerational decisions between the U.S. and China, the bases for their
decisions might be different across cultures. Similarly, in examining the role
of affect in social influence in group settings, Wang, Doucet, and Northcraft
explore how individualism–collectivism and power distance cultural factors
might strengthen or weaken links in their affect-social influence model.
Introduction of New Exciting Topics. Social loafing (Earley, 1993), attri-
butions (Morris & Peng, 1994), resource allocation (Leung & Bond, 1984),
and inter-group relations (Chen et al., 1998), to name a few, dominated
much of the attention in the past cross-cultural research. The current vol-
ume highlights new exciting topics in the cross-cultural area: power, time,
National Culture and Groups: An Introduction xv

creativity, emotions, social networks, and multi-cultural diversity. They

constitute a set of important and emerging topics not only in the cross-
cultural research domain, but also in the broad research areas of social
psychology and organizational behavior. Thus, insights provided by the
chapters in this volume are of great relevance and appeal to members in
both the cross-cultural community and communities of behavioral science in
Parallel Focus of Comparative vs. Multi-Cultural Approaches. Most early
cross-cultural research adopted a comparative approach to the examination
of cultural effects, e.g., people in high-individualistic cultures such as the
U.S. tend to show stronger self-serving biases than those in low-individu-
alistic cultures such as China (Brockner & Chen, 1996). Scholars using this
approach are often interested in whether patterns of relationships among
variables within a given culture vary across cultures. Chapters in Part I
of the volume adopt this comparative approach. For example, Chua
and Morris compared the relative importance of socio-emotional basis vs.
instrumental basis of trust in social network formations between China and
the U.S. Likewise, Armagan, Ferreira, Okhuysen, and Bonner discuss how
cultural differences in the interpretation of time affect negotiation outcomes
in Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S.
In contrast, chapters in Part II examine dynamics and processes in multi-
cultural settings, where people from two or more national cultures interact
with one another. For example, Behfar, Kern, and Brett examine how the
effects of cultural diversity add to those of demographic diversity in influ-
encing group processes of multi-cultural teams. Moynihan, Peterson, and
Earley, on the other hand, explore how the experience of working in multi-
cultural teams might enhance members’ cultural intelligence, i.e., their
capability to adapt to different cultural contexts in the future. Given the
tenfold increase in joint ventures, cross-border mergers and acquisitions,
and international expansion of firm markets in the current global economy,
this multi-cultural interactive approach is likely to become ever more im-
portant and relevant to theory and practice in cross-cultural management.
Contributors to this volume were asked to address two broad important
questions: (1) Do our theories of groups and teams functioning apply uni-
versally? (2) How do our theories apply, if at all, in multi-cultural settings?
Together, they did just that. The chapters attest to the fact that study of
national culture is thriving and essential. It not only informs but also mod-
ifies and expands theories and research of group processes and social be-
havior. The collective effort here should stimulate further inquiry regarding
the role of national culture in the increasingly globalized human experience.

Brockner, J., & Chen, Y. (1996). The moderating roles of self-esteem and self-construal in
reaction to a threat to the self: Evidence from the People’s Republic of China and the
United States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 603–615.
Chen, Y., Brockner, J., & Katz, T. (1998). Toward an explanation of cultural differences in
in-group favoritism: The role of individual vs. collectivistic primacy. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1490–1502.
Chen, Y., Mannix, E. A., & Okumura, T. (2003). The importance of who you meet: Effects
of self- versus other-concerns among negotiators in the United States, the People’s
Republic of China, and Japan. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 1–15.
Earley, P. C. (1993). East meets west meets mideast: Further exploration of collectivistic and
individualistic work groups. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 319–348.
Earley, P. C., & Gibson, C. B. (1998). Taking stock in our progress on individualism-collec-
tivism: 100 years of solidarity and community. Journal of Management, 24, 265–304.
Erez, M., & Earley, P. C. (1993). Culture, self-identity, and work. New York: Oxford University
Fiske, A. P. (2002). Using individualism and collectivism to compare cultures – a critique of the
validity and measurement of the constructs: Comment on Oyserman et al.. Psychological
Bulletin, 128, 78–88.
Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values.
Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Hofstede, G. (2003). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and or-
ganizations across nations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Leung, K., & Bond, M. H. (1984). The impact of cultural collectivism on reward allocation.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 793–804.
Morris, M., & Peng, K. (1994). Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social
and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 949–971.
Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and
collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological
Bulletin, 128, 3–72.
Triandis, H. C. (1989). The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts. Psychological
Review, 96, 506–520.
Triandis, H. (1999). Personal communication.
Van de Vijver, F., & Leung, K. (1997). Methods and data analysis for cross-cultural research.
Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Ya-Ru Chen

Morela Hernandez, Ya-Ru Chen and

Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni

We explore how cultural factors at both socio-economic and psycholog-
ical individual levels affect the present generation’s beneficence toward
future generations in organizations and society. We examine how socio-
economic mechanisms may influence the present generation’s focus on the
future consequences of their decisions. In addition, we examine how self-
construals in different cultures might result in different mechanisms un-
derlying the reduction of psychological distance between generations in
different cultures. Implications of our cross-cultural analysis to inter-
generational decision making within the context of group research in
general are discussed.

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 3–20
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09001-3

Leaders in business and society often need to make tradeoffs between

the short- and long-term interests of their organizations and communities.
Decisions with future consequences can be especially complex when the
interests of future generations are not aligned with those in the present.
Intergenerational dilemmas that call for a sacrifice on the part of the present
generation for the good of future generations are ubiquitous and pervasive
challenges. Some of the most important intergenerational issues in our
society today, such as global level environmental change, transcend national
boundaries. In addition, competitive pressures for organizations to perform
well and survive over time require managers worldwide to take into account
longer-term consequences of business decisions. Given the relevance and
importance of such issues in today’s global environment, we propose that a
national cultural perspective is essential in order to fully understand inter-
generational decision making.
In exploring how various cultural factors might influence intergenera-
tional resource allocation decisions, we focus our attention on the notion of
psychological distance, which refers to an individual’s degree of personal
connectedness with other generations across time periods. When psycho-
logical distance is great, the intergenerational consequences of one’s actions
lack a sense of immediacy, which can consequently limit intergenerational
beneficence (Wade-Benzoni, 1996; Wade-Benzoni, Sondak, & Galinsky,
2005). If decision makers have an adequate level of affinity or identification
with future generations, they may vicariously experience the benefits and
burdens left to future generations since the future consequences of their
decisions on others feel more immediate and personal (Wade-Benzoni,
2003). Factors that increase affinity and identification between present and
future generations offer a critical opportunity in the reduction of psycho-
logical distance.
Importantly, our underlying assumption is that the psychological distance
between the present and future generations is inherently larger than that
between different groups of people that exist contemporaneously; this is
primarily due to the significant time lag and absence of direct contact be-
tween present and future generations that characterizes the class of inter-
generational contexts we address in this paper. Furthermore, we assume that
all cultures that have survived to date possess various mechanisms that
directly or indirectly reduce psychological distance between present and fu-
ture generations, and thus, ensure their very survival (Schein, 1992). With
these two assumptions in mind, we begin our paper with a synopsis of the
most relevant findings in the existing intergenerational decision research
and then show how the examination of cultural factors at the societal
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 5

and individual levels help identify processes underlying the reduction of em-
bedded psychological distance between the present and future generations.
We will organize our cultural analysis along the intertemporal and inter-
personal dimensions in the intergenerational paradigm. When delineating the
effects of the temporal cultural dimension, we will identify several central
macro-level socioeconomic factors of a society and how they influence the
temporal frame individuals in organizations adopt when making intergene-
rational decisions (e.g., Adler, 2002; Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961). Fur-
ther, we will concentrate on micro-level psychological factors by examining
the effects of cultural influences of self-construal (e.g., Brewer & Gardner,
1996; Hofstede, 1980; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989, 1995).
We will posit that macro-level socioeconomic factors may directly or in-
directly interact or moderate culturally specific psychological dynamics at a
given time. By comparing both the contextual and individual mechanisms in
East Asian cultures (Chinese, Japanese, and India) and North American
cultures (US and Canada), we aim to enrich the current analysis of inter-
generational decisions and thus, offer a more complete understanding of how
and why national culture exerts influence in the intergenerational context.
Finally, we close by examining the implications of our cross-cultural analysis
to intergenerational decision challenges underlying group-oriented processes.


Intergenerational decisions involve both an intertemporal component, as

there is a time delay between decisions made in the present and their
potential effects on future generations, and an interpersonal component, as
there is a tradeoff between the benefits or costs to oneself and benefits or
costs to those in future generations (e.g., Wade-Benzoni, 2002; Wade-
Benzoni, Hernandez, Medvec, & Messick, 2005). A central question in the
study of intergenerational behavior is what motivates intergenerational
beneficence in situations where the present generation must choose whether
or not to make a sacrifice for the benefit of future generations. A growing
body of empirical and theoretical work on intergenerational decision
making has demonstrated that intergenerational beneficence may move be-
yond economic or material considerations to be motivated by social psy-
chological variables (e.g., Wade-Benzoni, 1996, 2002; Wade-Benzoni,
forthcoming; Wade-Benzoni et al., 2005a, b). In the sections that follow,
we will discuss the role of psychological distance, which refers to an

individual’s lack of connection with a collective entity or a sense of affinity

with another individual, within the intertemporal and interpersonal dimen-
sions of intergenerational decision making. We will then center our discus-
sion of psychological distance on the cultural mechanisms that may
facilitate its reduction and thus, promote intergenerational beneficence.
Different from the traditional intertemporal choice literature, the inter-
generational framework involves a consideration of oneself in the present
versus others in the future, rather than a focus solely on tradeoffs between
one’s own present and future interests. While there is naturally some overlap
and consistency between intergenerational and traditional intertemporal
choice, empirical work has shown that the combination of the intertemporal
and interpersonal dimensions in intergenerational contexts can result in
unique patterns of behavior and psychological dynamics under certain con-
ditions (e.g., Wade-Benzoni & Hernandez, 2005; Wade-Benzoni et al.,
2005a, b).
Additionally, intergenerational dilemmas differ from classic social dilem-
mas. In the classic social dilemma the tradeoff is between the individual and
the collective (e.g., Brewer & Kramer, 1986; Dawes, 1980). After the indi-
viduals involved make their decisions, they remain part of the collective and
experience the group level consequences that result from the combination of
individual decisions. In contrast, in the intergenerational contexts that have
been studied empirically, the decision makers exit the social exchange
situation over time and therefore no longer benefit or suffer from conse-
quences of prior decisions. More generally, intergenerational dilemmas can
involve tradeoffs between two individuals (one in the present and one in the
future), two groups, or an individual and a group. In contrast, social
dilemmas by definition focus on individual versus group tradeoffs (e.g.,
Brewer & Kramer, 1986; Dawes, 1980).
The notion of generations is of theoretical importance to the intergene-
rational paradigm. In our framework, a generation does not occupy a po-
sition indefinitely; it takes on a role that may be an office, status, or set of
responsibilities for a finite period of time (Wade-Benzoni, 2002), which can
be either fixed (e.g., a class of MBA students) or flexible (e.g., directors of
departments in organizations). Further, a generation can consist of an
individual or a group in organizations and society. A single generation may
be time- and role-bound. For example, an individual’s tenure in a particular
role (e.g., CEO or dean of a college) may differentiate between generations.
Similarly, a group of individuals can be demarcated as a generation if they
have a common temporal starting point in a common role, which causes
them to hold a certain status contemporaneously (i.e., classes of Ph.D. or
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 7

MBA students). This type of group-level generation is ‘‘cohort’’ based.

Alternatively, group level generations may be ‘‘event’’-based, created by the
occurrence of a significant event that leads to the creation of different gen-
erations in organizations, or causes differentiation among generations to
become meaningful, important, or apparent (see Wade-Benzoni, 2002 for a
more in depth discussion). Importantly, intergenerational beneficence
between present and future generations may be affected by a common
factor: psychological distance.


As we discussed earlier, a central barrier to intergenerational beneficence is
the inherently large psychological distance between the decision makers and
the people who experience the consequences of the intergenerational deci-
sion. One of the most obvious ways in which the repercussions of inter-
generational decisions are removed from the decision maker is through the
temporal delay that exists between the decision and the effects of that de-
cision on others. Consistent with the findings from the literature on inter-
temporal choice, prior work in intergenerational contexts indicates that
generally the greater the time delay between an intergenerational decision
and the consequences of that decision to future generations, the less people
act on the behalf of future generations (Wade-Benzoni, 1996; Wade-Benzoni
et al., 2005a, b). People discount the value of commodities that will be
consumed in the future reflecting an inborn impatience and preference for
immediate over postponed consumption. As time delay increases, people
have greater difficulty making sense of, or fully understanding the conse-
quences of decisions. Beyond these cognitive limitations, however, motiva-
tional effects, such as the immediate pain of deferral, also make it difficult
for people to delay benefits for the future.
Crucially, the psychological distance that is already present from the time
dimension is compounded in the intergenerational context because people
are making decisions in the present that affect others in the future rather
than themselves. When making tradeoffs between the well-being of oneself
and that of others, there is a tension between self-interest and the desire to
benefit others. Although people may care about the outcomes of others,
tradeoffs between one’s own and others well-being are typically skewed
to the point where very little weight is put on the effect of one’s decisions
on others (Loewenstein, 1996). The impact of individuals’ decisions on

themselves is generally far more immediate than their impact on other par-
ties. In terms of intergenerational sacrifices, the costs of changing one’s
behavior are more immediate than the future benefits to others not only in
the temporal sense, but also because they affect the decision maker directly.

Macro Socio-Economic Mechanisms

We argue that different conceptions of time and relationships across

cultures may fundamentally influence the manner in which intergeneration-
al consequences are discounted and as a result, the degree to which psy-
chological distance is perceived. Research on short- versus long-term
focus (Adler, 2002) and the past-present-future orientation (Hall, 1989;
Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961) has identified East Asian cultures as more
long-term and past-oriented, whereas North American cultures have been
classified as more short-term and present/near future-oriented (Adler, 2002;
Hall, 1989; Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961). This implies that many East
Asians will evaluate plans and decisions in terms of their effects on the
existing customs, traditions, and the old wisdom of the society and be more
willing to let go of short-term gains if long-term benefits of a plan will
suffer. More generally, change within the Eastern context is welcomed only
to the extent that it complements past experiences. In contrast, North
American cultures tend to evaluate plans and decisions in terms of the
projected near-term future benefits to be gained and make decisions based
on clear short-term returns on their investment. Change in the Western
context is a welcome innovation to the extent that it leads to immediate
positive results.
Within these frameworks, the time orientation of a culture may funda-
mentally affect the perceived psychological distance between present and
future generations as the weight and value given to time delay differs cross-
culturally. From the cultural trends outlined above, one would expect that
since many East Asians believe that preserving past traditions and practices
is a critical part of ensuring the survival and success of a business enterprise
or a society, a greater time delay between generations may not increase
psychological distance to the extent it would for North Americans. Indeed,
some scholars may argue that although North American business executives
talk about achieving 5–10-year returns of their current plans, all they tend to
work toward is obtaining the current quarterly’s results in the stock market.
Therefore, the psychological distance between present and future genera-
tions in the North American context could generally be perceived as greater
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 9

than in the East Asian context due to this difference in how time delays may
be experienced.
We suggest, however, that such predictions are unduly static given the
complexities of cultural phenomena. Cultures that have traditionally been past
and long-term oriented, such as those in East Asia, might find themselves more
present and short-term oriented in the face of changes in their economic en-
vironment at a given time. For example, Chinese society, which has tradition-
ally been longer-term focused, has experienced a change in the temporal focus
of its senior executives’ business decisions. Specifically, after the establishments
of stock markets, senior executives of state-owned enterprises in China began
to emphasize short-term performance in their business decisions (Peng, 2000),
leading them to behave more similarly to executives in many public-traded
firms in North America (He, Chen, & Zhang, 2004). This effect is in line with
the predictions of many theorists of culture (Inglehart & Baker, 2000;
Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961; Triandis, 1995) who have linked the rela-
tionship between the degree of capitalization of the markets in a given society
and people’s time orientation (Hofstede, 1980; Inglehart & Baker, 2000). For
this reason, one might expect to observe greater variance in the temporal
orientation within East Asian cultures than between East Asian culture and in
North American culture, given the competing forces between the old tradi-
tional beliefs about time and the new economic challenges. For example, while
people in the inland rural areas of China or Japan may maintain traditional
long-term values, people in metropolitan cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo
might behave no differently from those in the US (Kashima et al., 2005).
Clearly, in order to explicate the psychology of intergenerational decisions
and the role of psychological distance in particular, a dynamic and evolving
cultural perspective is needed. In view of this, we identify two potentially
contradictory macro-level influences – religious and ideological beliefs and
market/firm establishment – and then examine the micro-level mechanisms
that may be shaped by these macro-level forces.
Note that national culture and their differing macro-level forces deeply
influence the self-construal of the decision maker (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis,
1989). However, as we will discuss in detail below, changes in the socio-
economic forces of a society and/or the particular establishment of a firm
might make the traditionally promoted culture time-frame out of synch with
the situation that a given firm faces at a given time in that culture. For this
reason, the macro-mechanisms are rather distinct from, though historically
related to, the psychological factors that we will examine. In addition, a
separate examination of the macro-dynamics will also shed light on
variation within a given society.

Religious and Ideological Beliefs

A society’s time orientation – short- versus long-term focus and the relative
emphasis of the past, the present, or the future – is fundamentally reinforced
by a culture’s religious and ideological beliefs. In cultures where Buddhism
and Hinduism are dominant religions (such as Japan, China, Singapore, and
India), the beliefs in reincarnation (rebirth after death) and circling of cause
and effect bind generations of people in a closely inter-related relationship
(Campbell, 1972).
Death has been described in Buddhism and Hinduism as a temporary end
to a temporary phenomenon, and even though the present form may perish,
it is followed by another form which is conditioned by the preceding one,
but which is neither the same as nor absolutely different from it (Campbell,
1972). As a result, the actions that are taken by the present generation today
are no longer decoupled from the consequences that will affect the future
generations – individual entities today were reborn from the past genera-
tions – and will transform to those in the future. Even though there is no
one-to-one connection (e.g., Person A in the present and Person A in the
future) in these associations, the interdependence between generations
across lifetimes and among individuals within a generation is high, bringing
to bear a long-term focus and past orientation.
By contrast, Western cultures are dominated by linear progressivism,
characterized as having a linear unidirectional time perspective (Erikson,
1982). Central to this idea is the assumption that people evolve forward and
upward, a progression through which earlier and simpler stages are left
behind as the individual moves onward toward greater complexity in life
(Loevinger, 1976). The focus in these types of cultures is on the current and
near future where short-term consequences are central. Religions in most
Western cultures including those in North America view the present and
future generations as distinct entities, believing that the advancement of the
current generation is paramount to the continuity of society. Hence, one
would expect that the present generation in East Asian cultures where
Buddhism and Hinduism are highly prevalent would show less psychological
distance between generations and thus, greater beneficence toward future
generations in their decisions than Western cultures.

Market/Firm Establishment
At the organizational level, the relative establishment a firm holds in the
market might also have a deep influence on the perception of time and
closeness of relationships between generations cross-culturally. When a firm
enjoys a relatively high status and attains clear establishment in its market,
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 11

executives in the firm are in a better economic position to concern them-

selves with needs and continued prosperity of the firm in the future. In
contrast, when the firm’s relative market status is still at its entrepreneur
stage, executives of the firm might only be able to focus on the needs of the
firm in the present or, at the most, the immediate future, particularly when
the market is highly competitive and resources are not munificent (Hodge,
Anthony, & Gales, 2003). Accordingly, a greater degree of psychological
distance may be induced when a firm holds a relatively low status in its
market due to the importance of the firm’s own immediate survival needs.
This may be the case even in an East Asian society whose broader religious
and ideological beliefs promote closer intergenerational ties. Alternatively,
psychological distance may be reduced when a firm has a well-established
standing and thus, has the luxury of thinking in terms of longer-term goals
due to relatively high-economic stability. Likewise, this may be the case even
in a society traditionally characterized by linear progressivism.
In a similar vein, at a market-level, the stage of market life cycle in a given
society may also influence the time frame executives in the firm adopt when
making important decisions. When most firms in a society are at a start-up
stage as opposed to an elaboration stage (Hodge et al., 2003), executives of
the present generation may be more concerned about immediate survival
issues than consequences of the ‘‘potential’’ future. Thus, even though East
Asian cultures such as China and India are typically categorized as being
more long-term, and past-oriented, as suggested above, firms in these
cultures aspiring to compete at a global level are likely to shift their goal
priority to more urgent needs of the present (Chen, 1995). Under such
conditions, a sense of connectedness between the current and future
generation is likely trumped by the sense of immediacy between the present
generation’s current and near-future needs.
After delineating the complexities between how the traditional forces
might shape people’s orientations in intergenerational decisions and how
changing socio-economic factors might shift their time focus at a given time,
we will now examine the micro-psychological factors across cultures.

Micro Individual Mechanisms

National culture and its differing macro-level forces deeply influence the
self-construal of the decision maker. In particular, the varying degrees to
which cultures perceive cyclical and linear implications from intergenera-
tional decisions may determine the extent to which individuals define
themselves in terms of their relationship to future others. If cultures embed

the notion of temporal interdependence and identification between gener-

ations through religion or market forces, the result can be an increased sense
of ‘‘oneness’’ between the current self and future others, and consequently
the future consequences to others feel ‘‘closer’’ to present decision makers
than would otherwise be the case.
Earlier work on intergenerational beneficence has focused on the con-
struct of ‘‘affinity’’ between generations, which is conceptualized as the ex-
tent to which the present generation feels empathetic toward future
generations, is able to visualize future generations, and believes they un-
derstand how their actions will affect future generations. High affinity with
the future generation blurs the distinction between interests of the present
generation and those of the future generation, which thus, reduces psycho-
logical distance and consequently promotes more intergenerational benefi-
cence (Wade-Benzoni, 1996; Wade-Benzoni et al., 2005a, b).
Underlying this argument is the idea that the way in which interpersonal
ties are evaluated is fundamentally rooted in the way the self is con-
strued. Relevant to the notion of self-construal is the cultural dimensions
of individualism–collectivism (Hofstede, 1980; Markus & Kitayama, 1991;
Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002; Triandis, 1989, 1995). As they
are generally conceptualized, individualists, or those with independent
self-construal, are characterized by an emphasis on autonomy and inde-
pendence of the self from others; whereas collectivists, or those with inter-
dependent self-construal, are characterized by social embeddedness and
interdependence with others and their groups (Markus & Kitayama, 1991;
Oyserman et al., 2002; Triandis, 1995). When faced with the dilemma be-
tween self-interests and those of the group, collectivists subordinate their
personal interests to those of their group whereas individualists give priority
to their own interests (Chen, Brockner, & Chen, 2002; Chen, Brockner, &
Katz, 1998). According to this line of research, one might expect to observe
greater intergenerational beneficence from collectivists than from individ-
ualists as the psychological distance between generations in a socially
embedded and interdependent society would be smaller than in an auton-
omous, independent community.
Based on recent conceptualization and research in the individualism and
collectivism domain (Brewer & Chen, 2005), and the fact that both
individualistic and collectivistic cultures have both been able to survive
today, we argue that people in all cultures are able to and can be motivated
to sacrifice for others (e.g., future generations in their organizations and
communities). As will be presented below, the motivational bases underlying
their actions, however, are different. Specifically, we posit that at the
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 13

individual level, the mechanisms that reduce psychological distance, such as

a perceived interdependence, may depend on different pathways of inter-
dependence across cultures.
Of greatest relevance to the interpersonal dimension of intergeneration-
al decisions are the relational and collective selves. The relational self is the
self defined in terms of connectedness and role relationships with significant
others (Cross & Madson, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). The collective
self is the self defined in terms of group memberships, and prototyp-
ical properties of members of a common ingroup (Turner, Hogg, Oakes,
Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). Each level of the self is a distinct self-
representation with its own unique structural properties, motivational goal,
and basis of evaluation (see Sedikides & Brewer, 2001).
The relational and collective levels of self represent two different forms of
interdependence (Brewer & Gardner, 1996). Whereas the relational self in-
volves personalized dyadic relationships with specific close others and the
extension of these relationships in the form of interpersonal connections and
networks, the collective self involves depersonalized relationships with
others through common membership in a social group (Yuki, Maddux,
Brewer, & Takemura, 2005). Note that in the theoretical frameworks of
social identity (Hogg & Abram, 1988; Hogg & Turner, 1987; Turner et al.,
1987), identification with a given collective does not require interpersonal
knowledge of others within the collective. In fact, seeing one’s group as an
entity independent of personal relationships with other members in the
group is a necessary requirement for the formation of the collective identity
(Turner, et al., 1987).
Drawing on the distinction between relational and collective selves, Yuki
(2003) suggests that the predominant characteristics of group cognition and
behavior may differ across cultures. While people in Western cultures tend to
place emphasis on the categorical distinction between in- and out-groups,
people in East Asian cultures may tend to perceive groups as primarily re-
lationship-based. Moreover, while social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner,
1986) proposes intergroup comparison as a key source of in-group identifi-
cation and cooperation, recent evidence (e.g., Buchan, Croson, & Dawes, 2002;
Oyserman et al., 2002) and Yuki’s framework suggest that such a perspective
might be more applicable in North American and European cultures than in
East Asian cultures. According to Yuki (2003), for people in East Asian cul-
tures, the primary source for identification and cooperation emanates from the
maintenance of relational harmony and promotion of cohesion within groups.
Moreover, the recent conceptualization and empirical evidence on the
meaning and properties of self-construals suggest that the distinction

between relational and collective selves is of theoretical and practical

importance as it provides different pathways for interdependence across
cultural contexts and thus, the reduction of psychological distance. This
suggests that for East Asians, a focus on the relationship-based connect-
edness (either direct or indirect) with future generations would be more
effective than the categorical distinction in reducing psychological distance.
Specifically, when East Asians can personally relate to future generations
(e.g., through the belief in reincarnation), the psychological distance
between present and future generations is reduced. When the connection
is not personalized, East Asians might instead focus on their own immediate
outcomes rather than show beneficence toward future generations. Because
this level of interdependence requires personalized knowledge and connect-
edness, one can argue that East Asians can only be motivated to show
beneficence toward small groups (e.g., family), not large social entities
(e.g., global society), of future generations. After all, it is psychologically less
feasible to establish interdependence with large collectives than small social
groups if a ‘‘personal’’ connection is necessary (Brewer & Chen, 2005).
In contrast, for North Americans, it is the categorical distinction between
their group and an out-group (e.g., competition between their firm versus a
competing firm) that would prove to be more effective than the relationship-
based distinction in reducing psychological distance in intergenerational
decision making. Since this level of identification/affinity does not require
personalized connectedness, as we argued above, North Americans may in
fact show greater beneficence toward future generations when large social
entities are involved (Brewer & Chen, 2005).

Many cross-cultural researchers have long claimed that the collectivist
makes a sharper distinction between in-groups and out-groups than the
individualist (Erez & Earley, 1987; Triandis, 1989, 1995). Considering the
category-based vs. relational-based group attraction discussed above, we
propose that such a prior claim be modified: All cultures differentiate
in-groups versus out-groups to a similar extent; what differs across cultures
is the meaning of in- versus out-groups and the strength of psychological
attachment to the in-group. Whereas the meaning of in-groups in East Asia
refers to direct versus indirect relationships or relational networks, the
meaning of in-groups in North American cultures refers to the categorical
membership distinction between one’s group and other groups. Naturally,
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 15

when circumstances call for a sacrifice of the individual to benefit the well-
being of an in-group, it is the strong attachment developed through repeated
close relational interactions (among the collectivists), not the depersonalized
membership association (among the individualists), that serves as a suffi-
cient motivational force to propel the individual to do so (Chen et al., 1998).
Moreover, strength of psychological attachment to an in-group may be
determined by the composition of the intergenerational target, the future
generation. In view of the findings in cross-cultural research, the distinction
of which future generation, a specific or general collective (e.g., whether the
future generation encompasses specific, personalized or general, deperson-
alized future others) is critical. In line with social identity theory and the
theoretical framework on self-construal, we posit that if the intergenera-
tional decision for East Asians targets specific future others, an in-group
that has stronger relational ties to the present generation, psychological
distance will be reduced. Since Eastern decision makers have been shown to
greatly favorable members of their identity groups in allocation decisions, it
is likely that the intergenerational allocation of resources to specific future
others will be in line with the findings of Wade-Benzoni et al. (2002): Eastern
decision makers will construe intergenerational decisions as interdependent
situations and thus, be willing to take on burdens that are greater than their
share to promote the well-being of future generations. We would expect this
situation to be present at the organizational level of Eastern society where
strong bonds between individuals in the company foster especially durable
interpersonal ties.
In contrast, if the future generation includes general others, traditionally
interdependent cultures would be expected to act in a self-serving manner
when making intergenerational resource allocations. The result of out-group
disfavor could cause present generations to allocate more burdens to general
future others in order to secure the well-being of specific future others. We
would expect this situation to occur when Eastern decision makers are asked
to consider the consequences of their decisions at a global level. Chinese
society’s record of environmentalism is a good illustration of this phenom-
Another possibility for why people in collective cultures would be willing
to be more intergenerationally beneficent can be drawn from the ‘‘cushion
hypothesis’’ by Hsee and Weber (1999). The cushion hypothesis argues that
in collectivistic cultures like China, family or other close others will step in
to help if one encounters a large and possibly catastrophic loss after select-
ing a risky option. This theory posits an implied transfer of responsibility
between generations, which may drive interdependence within collectivistic

cultures. Accordingly, if such is the case, the affinity between present

and future generations may be a result of intergenerational obligation
induced by social norms and beliefs of such, rather than individuals’ psy-
chological orientations or macro-ideological/market factors. The potential
for a reduction in psychological distance would be the same in all cases;
however, the mechanisms underlying greater intergenerational affinity
would differ.


Business executives and leaders around the world sometimes face dilemmas
that involve choosing between the short- and long-term interests of their
organizations and communities. One central mission of intergenerational
research is to uncover mechanisms that contribute to our understanding of
when and why the present generation would take into account the interests
of future generations and be willing to make a sacrifice for their benefit
when conflict of interests exist with future generations. Empirical and the-
oretical work on intergenerational decision-making to date has mainly been
conducted in the U.S. Our current paper expands the existing paradigms in
this research by taking a national cultural perspective.
In so doing, we developed the notion of psychological distance, which
captures an inherent psychological barrier in intergenerational decision
making. One key dimension that contributes to such a barrier is temporal
delay that occurs between the time the decision is made and the time the
consequences of that decision are experienced by others. The greater the
time lag between an intergenerational decision and the consequences of that
decision to future generations, the greater the psychological distance be-
tween the present and the future generations, and the less likely the present
generation would act in the best interests of future generations. The
psychological distance that is already present in the intertemporal dimension
is compounded by the fact that people are making decisions in the present
that have an impact on others in the future rather than themselves.
In this paper, we have examined the role of both the intertemporal and
interpersonal dimensions of intergenerational decisions in the reduction of
psychological distance across cultures. While past research in intergenera-
tional decision making has made important contributions to our understand-
ing of intergenerational dynamics by focusing on social psychological factors
of the individuals (e.g., Wade-Benzoni, 1996, 2002; Wade-Benzoni et al.,
2005), our analysis here highlights the importance of how socio-economic
Toward an Understanding of Psychological Distance 17

contextual factors can significantly affect the psychological dynamics that

play into the present generation’s intergenerational decision making.
It is clear from our discussion that the present generation of executives
and leaders do not make intergenerational decisions in a social or market-
free vacuum. However, culturally advocated religious or ideological beliefs
might not always be consistent with the competing economic forces, making
national culture as a proxy for people’s temporal orientation problematic
(Chen et al., 2002; Chen, Mannix, & Okumura, 2003). Accordingly, we have
argued that the degree to which intertemporal and interpersonal interde-
pendence is created by socially embedded notions of religion or market
forces may be a decisive influence in shaping and reinforcing people’s self-
construals. Different self-construals may determine the degree of psycho-
logical distance between present and future generations and its influence on
intergenerational decisions. Moreover, the underlying mechanisms for
macro- and micro- level processes are complex and evolving; we have only
begun to explore their interrelationships in the current paper. For this rea-
son, future theoretical and empirical work in intergenerational decision
making should seek to directly capture the effects of these macro- and mi-
cro-level factors on the decision maker.
In sum, our analysis suggests that cross-cultural researchers should be
especially sensitive to possible competing forces and ideologies within any
given culture as coarse dichotomies in most of our cross-cultural frame-
works (e.g., Hofstede, 1980) might not be adequate to fully understand
cross-cultural intricacies. Furthermore, cultural differences may emerge in
different forms. Instead of focusing on possible cultural differences on the
degree of beneficence the present generation would exhibit toward future
generations, our thesis throughout this chapter has been based on the
assumption that all cultures that survive today have developed mechanisms
that ensure sufficient levels of interdependence across generations. As we
argued, cultural differences in the intergenerational context are likely to be
observed along the processes underlying the reduction of psychological
distance between the present and the future generations. Future research
should seek to uncover other possible forms of cross-cultural differences and


We thank the participants of the 2005 Research in Managing Groups and

Teams Conference for their thoughtful and insightful feedback. We

especially thank Maggie Neale and two anonymous reviewers for their
enormously helpful comments.

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Tanya Menon and Jeanne Ho-Ying Fu


Personal agency is often considered the hallmark of the independent self.

By contrast, interdependent selves are viewed as fitting into groups, ad-
justing to situations, and minimally asserting themselves. This character-
ization of the interdependent self as a ‘‘non-agent’’ assumes that personal
and group agency are inimical to one another. We propose that group
agency does not simply constrain personal agency, it also substitutes for
personal agency, coexists with personal agency, and enhances personal
agency. Further, we examine how independent selves experience con-
straint, a similarly underrepresented theme. These arguments introduce
more nuanced conceptions of how independent and interdependent selves
exercise agency.

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 21–51
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09002-5

When we consider the question, ‘‘what is the nature of the American,’’ we

readily imagine a rugged individualist (Hsu, 1983; De Tocqueville, 1835/
2000). We have various prototypes of what the independent self might look
like – perhaps, a John Wayne figure who faces an untamable environment
yet, through determination, effort, and risk-taking, manages to carve the
terrain into something of his own design. Even if we locate individualists in
modern American suburbia rather than in this lawless terrain, we still evoke
an image of people who exert their will on the world around them, exercise
an endless array of choices in every department of their life, and who de-
terminedly construct for themselves a uniquely personal environment of
their own liking. Individualists choose their own spouses and jobs, and
freely walk away from both if they fail to further their pursuit of happiness.
Even in the most inconsequential domains of life, individualists exercise
personal preferences, choosing among thousands of products in grocery
stores and malls, eating at restaurants with lengthy menus, and buying cars
with endless combinations of options (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000; Vohs &
Baumeister, 2004).
When we consider the question, ‘‘what is the nature of the Chinese, the
Japanese, or the Indian,’’ however, we conjure a markedly different image of
the interdependent self. Perhaps, we imagine an army of Japanese business-
men indistinguishably clothed in careful conformity with their co-workers,
Chinese families forcing their children to study relentless hours, or Indian
parents arranging marriages for their children. Each of these images is a
view of how interdependent selves, chained by their inviolable bond to their
companies, families, and the other groups around them, experience con-
straints as they navigate their environments.
According to Markus and Kitayama (1991), the independent self that
American culture cultivates ‘‘stress[es] attending to the self, the appreciation
of one’s difference from others, and the importance of asserting the self’’
(p. 224). On the other hand, the interdependent self that Asian cultures such
as Japan, India, and China cultivate emphasizes ‘‘attending to and fitting in
with others and the importance of harmonious interdependence with them’’
(p. 224). However, the contrasts that the images above depict go beyond
Markus and Kitayama’s original distinctions. In particular, these intuitive
conceptions make the inferential leap that independent and interdependent
self-construals are associated with particular levels of agency and constraint.
Simply put, we imagine that people in cultures that cultivate independent
self-construals are active agents who cause and control events in their en-
vironments whereas people in cultures that cultivate interdependent self-
construals are passive and externally constrained.
Culture and Control 23

Given that cross-cultural research often relies on these implicit links

between interdependence and constraint on one hand, and independence and
agency on the other, this paper proposes a conceptual model that disentangles
these dimensions. We start by introducing a model that conceptualizes self-
construal, agency, and constraint in a more fine-tuned way. Specifically, we
describe theoretical and empirical research in the cross-cultural literature that
associates independent self-construal with agency and interdependent self-
construal with constraint. We then propose more novel associations by
illustrating the forms of agency that the interdependent self displays and the
various forms of constraint that the independent self experiences. Finally, we
discuss the model’s implications for cross-cultural theory, methodology, and
management practice.


To provide a more balanced view of cross-cultural behavior, we suggest that

independent and interdependent selves both (a) act as agents and (b) ex-
perience constraints from their surroundings. Table 1 shows the four cells
that result from crossing self-construal (independent versus interdependent
orientations) and mode of action (agency versus constraint). The first cell
considers the independent self’s patterns of agency. Specifically, independent
selves are likely to assert their agency in opposition to the groups around
them. By contrast, the diagonal cell considers the constraints that interde-
pendent selves face, i.e., from social obligations to the ingroup. These two
cells are well researched in the cross-cultural behavior literature because
traditional conceptions of agency and social control often assume that a
parsimonious relationship exists between independence and agency, and
interdependence and constraint.
Next, and more counter-intuitively, we describe the key contribution of
this paper, which lies in developing the two less frequently researched cells:
(1) interdependent self acting as an agent and (2) independent self experi-
encing constraint. We suggest that interdependent selves exert their personal
agency by finding ways to recruit and use the groups around them, and if
not, to skillfully circumvent group influence. Similarly, independent selves
experience constraints, particularly as they limit the degree to which their
agency interferes with others. We describe the theoretical background as-
sociated with these two conceptualizations and link them to a variety of
findings in the cross-cultural literature, including risk taking, leadership,
competition vs. cooperation, responsibility attribution, and justice.

Table 1. Disentangling Agency-Constraints and Independent-

Interdependent Orientations.
Self as Agent Self as Constrained

Independent Stand out from social groups Limit the extent to which the self
motives interferes with the autonomy of
Independent Direct self-assertion, self- Avoid requests of favors and
strategies enhancement, and personal information from
confrontation others
Submit to universal laws and
Interdependent Assert self by preserving Fulfill obligations to the group,
motives relationships and using them maintain group harmony
Interdependent Group agent as a substitute for Self minimizing strategies (Amae,
strategies individual agent modesty, other enhancement,
conflict avoidance, self-restraint,
emotional repression)
Seek ingroup support Adjust/accept
Indirect assertion (e.g.,
withdrawal in negotiation)
Direct personal agency through


To be an agent, a person must be a self-governing, autonomous actor

(Christman, 2003; Dworkin, 1988; Kant, 1786/1949). People with agency are
capable of freely making their own decisions, imposing actions on the world,
and thereby causing and shaping outcomes within it, as compared to being
the object of external forces that push, sway, and oppress them. An actor’s
control in the environment is a crucial notion in Western philosophy, with
implications for
free will-determinism debate[s]; theories of personal identity; theories of practical reasoning
and deliberation; conceptions of y selfhood; accounts of character and self-respect; and
theories of oppression, embodiment, and subjectivity (Mackenzie & Stoljar, 2000, p. 4).

Agency is not just a central concept in the canons of Western philosophy

(Emerson, 1841/1982; Kant, 1786/1949; Locke, 1689/1990; Mill, 1859/1975),
it is also a value that the independent self celebrates. The writings of Western
Culture and Control 25

political philosophers on liberty and individual rights indicate that the self
should remain free from external forces that could potentially oppress it; a
principle that forms the basis of the ideal political state (Locke, 1689/1990;
Mill, 1859/1975). In Western moral philosophy, personal agency is the basis
for moral judgment (Korsgaard, 1996); a person cannot be held liable for
actions that external forces determined. Likewise, agency is also a prerequisite
for status in Western societies. Independent selves admire those who manage
to exert their will through pure desire and hard work, in the face of all
external pressures. The general who wins a war against overwhelming odds,
the poor child who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and becomes a suc-
cessful CEO, the Olympic athlete who defies illness, poverty, and even limited
genetic endowment to achieve greatness – they are all considered heroes. By
contrast, children, the seriously disabled, and certain elderly people, all of
whom lack a capability for self-governance and hence agency, lack full status
in society (Christman, 2003).


Cross-cultural observers of interdependent cultures have noticed that it is

more difficult to discern personal agency in East Asian interdependent set-
tings given that powerful groups and relationships circumscribe the indi-
vidual. There are many reasons why interdependent relationships should, in
theory, constrain a person’s agency. On the one hand, although groups,
relationships, and strong social bonds offer potential rewards, they also
require the individual to fulfill time-consuming obligations, roles, and duties
(Burt, 1992; Chiu, Dweck, Tong, & Fu, 1997). They exact financial costs as
well, when group members expect (and sometimes demand) that individuals
share their personal financial gains to bring up fellow group members. If the
individual tries to shirk these expectations, or otherwise deviates from the
group’s values, culture, and shared identity (O’Reilly & Chatman, 1996), the
group enforces control by using a variety of social techniques. The group
punishes violations of its norms by wielding social threats including dislike
of dissenting group members (Chua & Fu, 2003), gossip, embarrassment,
loss of face, and ultimately breaking ties and isolating the offending indi-
vidual. The group’s ultimate threat has traditionally been exclusion and
excommunication (Lebra, 1976). Whereas the independent self might regard
the shedding of social influence as an opportunity to exercise agency, the
interdependent self perceives it as ‘‘social death.’’ As a result of these social
pressures ranging from the simple embarrassing loss of face to ultimately,

the loss of the group itself, the interdependent self treads carefully within the
group and avoids disrupting its harmony.
In sum, these arguments suggest that interdependent selves are fundamen-
tally more responsive to other persons and relationships (Markus &
Kitayama, 1991), more focused on duties and obligations (Chiu et al.,
1997), and therefore more restrained in the degree to which they assert their
personal wishes and desires, as compared to independent selves who are be-
holden to no one. This implies that those with interdependent orientations
may simply strive for autonomous agency less than those with independent
Independent-selves y strive to achieve independence and autonomy by establishing their
distinctiveness from others and by remaining uninfluenced by group and environmental
pressures y Interdependent-selves, then, strive not for autonomy or independence but
instead pursue the goal of fitting in and conforming to the demands and expectations of
their social ingroups (Hernandez & Iyengar, 2001, p. 270).



The cross-cultural literature has traditionally emphasized the comparison be-

tween the independent self’s agency and the interdependent self’s constraints.
We focus on three specific lines of research which support this contrast:
(a) Agency perceptions: Perceiving one’s own power and competence in the
environment (Benson, 1994) and perceiving other people’s agency.
(b) Decision making: Making decisions based on one’s own preferences vs.
the preferences of the ingroup.
(c) Ingroup relationships: Communicating, managing conflict, and dealing
with natural tensions between self and other ingroup members.

Agency Perceptions

A prerequisite for possessing personal agency is recognizing one’s own

ability and competence within the environment (Benson, 1994). People who
hold beliefs in their own personal agency even engage in self-enhancement,
and exaggerate their power and capabilities (Greenwald, 1980). Indeed,
whereas Americans report glowing assessments of their own performance,
Japanese modestly under-represent their abilities (Heine, Lehman, Markus,
Culture and Control 27

& Kitayama, 1999), and thus minimize the self’s competence and capability
in the environment.
Likewise, people in societies where personal agency is a norm and a value
should also assume that other people possess higher levels of agency. Once
again, independent selves often make fundamental attribution errors, i.e.,
unwarranted attributions to people’s traits that ignore the relevant situa-
tional factors that might affect their behavior (e.g., he is often late to work
because he is lazy and disorganized) (Ross, 1977). By contrast, interde-
pendent selves are more likely to take situational factors into account when
they understand other people’s actions (e.g., he is often late to work because
he has four children he has to care for every morning) (Morris & Peng, 1994;
Shweder & Bourne, 1982). Rather than assuming that cause resides with
individuals who personally control and direct outcomes in the environment,
interdependent selves perceive action holistically, and assume that cause
resides with the surrounding context (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Noranzayan,
2001). While people and their causal agency loom large for the independent
self, the interdependent self views people as situationally constrained and
their actions as environmentally determined (Cousins, 1989).

Decision Making

A second prerequisite of personal agency, as Western philosophers define

that term, is having one’s own preferences and values, rather than ingroup
preferences or situational pressures, determine choice (Anderson, 1996). In
contrast to independent selves who exhibit unique choices that separate the
self from the ingroup, interdependent selves tend to conform to their peers
(Kim & Markus, 1999). By readily allowing other people’s choices to define
them, as compared to setting their own standards (Anderson, 1996), people
in East Asian cultures appear to violate basic principles of autonomous
agency. Indeed, East Asians seem to value personal choice and control less
than Americans. Whereas Americans feel motivated when they choose for
themselves, East Asians feel motivated when the ingroup chooses for the self
instead (Iyengar & Lepper, 1999).
More generally, interdependent selves tend to avoid rather than approach
(Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000). They are concerned about duties and re-
sponsibilities to the group (Chiu et al., 1997), and as a result, are less likely to
take personal risks which could have negative implications for the group and
their standing within it (Lee et al., 2000). Thus, rather than making decisions
by rationally forming personal preferences and acting on them to further their

own interests, people with interdependent self-construals instead consider the

ingroup’s preferences and their social obligations to the group.

Ingroup Relationships

A final prerequisite for agency is that a person behaves in a self-directed

manner, rather than as a result of others’ goals and interests (Dworkin,
1988; Kant, 1786/1949). Once again, as compared to independent selves,
interdependent selves often do not directly assert their personal agency in
interpersonal relationships to preserve in-group harmony. For instance, in-
terdependent selves often communicate indirectly (Yum, 1988). The Japa-
nese famously avoid the word ‘‘no,’’ which they consider harsh and
potentially insulting, and the Chinese focus on maintaining ‘‘face’’ in their
interactions with others (Hwang, 1987; Ting-Toomey et al., 1991). Whereas
Americans frequently talk as they are thinking, Koreans are more guarded
in their expression and think before talking (Kim, 2002).
Likewise, in conflict situations, rather than directly pursuing their own
goals, people with interdependent self-construals prefer procedures that
preserve the relationship (Leung, 1987). What seems, for an independent
self, like a simple conflict with one other person is much more than that for
the interdependent self. The interdependent self is embedded in tightly in-
terconnected networks that connect each person to the other and that create
a ripple effect whereby a fight with a single person could involve all other
group members and painfully disrupt social harmony. As a result, interde-
pendent selves often prefer to adjust to the resulting situation (Morling,
Kitayama, & Miyamoto, 2002), rather than assert themselves directly.
Even the expression of emotion has social implications for the interde-
pendent self. Whereas the independent self expresses consistent reactions in
public and in private, the interdependent self often conceals private emo-
tions when in a group context so as to reduce the outward expression of
negative emotion. Japanese thus display very different emotions when
watching a movie in public and in private, differences that Americans do not
display (Ekman & Friesen, 1969).
From a Western vantage point, these examples suggest that East Asians
inhibit the expression of their ‘‘authentic’’ selves for the sake of convention,
social obligation, and interpersonal harmony (Anderson, 1996). People often
experience conflict between two desires (Frankfurt, 1971), for instance, their
authentic personal goals and the desire to meet the expectations of their groups.
When the self cannot overcome surrounding external pressures and fails to act
on personal desires and values, this violates a basic requirement of agency.
Culture and Control 29

To summarize, as compared to the independent self, the interdependent

self perceives less personal agency, makes choices based on others’ prefer-
ences rather than their own, and finally, inhibits personal desires, words,
and behaviors for the sake of group harmony. All of these findings suggest
that the interdependent self violates basic tenets of autonomous decision
making and behavior, and exercises less agency than does the independent
self. In the next section, however, we present another view of interdepend-
ence – one that characterizes the interdependent self’s personal agency in a
dramatically different way.


The evening news program 60 minutes recently interviewed Aishwarya Rai,

former Miss Universe and Bollywood actress. As they talked, Aishwarya
revealed to her American interviewer that she still lived at home with her
parents. Clearly taken aback and possibly imagining how his own parents
would hamper his lifestyle, the interviewer observed that he found it surpris-
ing that a clearly well-adjusted, financially independent, successful, 30-year-
old career woman would choose to live at home with her parents. The ques-
tion that independent selves were left with was, why would Aishwarya – who
apparently has so many options at her disposal – choose to live in the re-
strictive confines of her parents’ home? This question reveals the interesting
twist that underlies the more novel arguments we discuss next. We first
present philosophical perspectives that critique overly individualistic concep-
tions of agency. Next, we argue that, rather than viewing the ingroup as
necessarily oppressing the individual, interdependent selves are more likely to
view individual and group agency as compatible with one another, and thus
they maintain and even exert personal agency in the face of powerful in-
groups. Finally, we explore the specific strategies that interdependent selves
use to achieve personal agency while embedded within powerful groups.

Relational Critiques of Individual Agency

While some theorists have celebrated the concept of autonomous agency,

various theorists have attacked the notion with charges that it is overly in-
dividualistic, overly Western, overly masculine, and hence, unable to capture
the fundamentally relational and interdependent nature of the person
(Mackenzie & Stoljar, 2000). First, the very idea that people can ever be

‘‘free from external constraint’’ assumes away social relations and imagines
individuals as disembodied and atomized. Even the most independent selves
do not decide and act in a vacuum, but as a result of values that have been
inculcated through extended processes of socialization with others (Friedman,
2000). As a result, this conception of agency is possibly unattainable as social
influence is unavoidable.
Second, even when traditional conceptions recognize the groups and re-
lationships that surround the individual, they implicitly assume that these
social forces reduce the individual’s ability to act as an agent. As reflected in
the philosophical writings of Marx, Freud, Locke, Nietzsche, Foucault, and
Ayn Rand, Western culture inculcates an implicit theory which depicts the
individual struggling to extricate itself from the oppressive groups around it.
This notion of autonomous agency has been described as ‘‘a thoroughly
noxious concept that encourages us to believe that connecting and engaging
with others limits us and undermines our sense of self (Hoagland, 1988, cited
in Barclay, 2000, p. 52).’’
According to relational perspectives, people’s agency is a product of so-
cialization and it exists in the context of relationships. Indeed, people are
agents, not because of their freedom from others but because of their ‘‘re-
lationships y which provide the support and guidance necessary for the
development and experience of autonomy’’ (Nedelsky, 1989, cited in Stoljar,
2000, p. 95). Relational perspectives are thus characterized by the conviction
that people are ‘‘socially embedded and that agents’ identities are formed
within the context of social relationships’’ (Mackenzie & Stoljar, 2000, p. 4).
Following this argument, we suggest that agency is not only celebrated in
independent-oriented cultures but in interdependent cultures as well. We
first describe how cross-cultural psychologists conceptualize agency in in-
terdependent societies and then describe our own perspective.

Configuring the Relationship between Individual and Group Agency

Instead of arguing that the prospects for agency in interdependent societies

are necessarily limited, some cross-cultural researchers have noted that in-
dependent and interdependent selves both behave agentically, although very
different cultural models of agency guide action (Kitayama & Uchida, 2004;
Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Markus & Kitayama, 2002). Independent selves
assert agency by expressing ‘‘internal needs, rights, and capacities and to
withstand undue social pressure,’’ whereas interdependent selves experience
agency as an ‘‘effort to be receptive to others, to adjust to their needs and
Culture and Control 31

demands, and to restrain one’s own inner needs or desires (1991, p. 240).’’
Kitayama and Uchida (2004) suggest that interdependent selves exhibit their
own forms of agency, and describe the contrast between two students, Tom,
the American, and Tomoko, the Japanese, both of them study hard. On one
hand, Tom’s agency lies in identifying his internal attributes and using them
to construct personal goals, desires, and preferences. Tomoko, on the other
hand, constructs her ‘‘field of action’’ in reference to her parents’ goals and
desires. She has adjusted to her parents’ expectations and, furthermore,
there is probably a significant overlap between her goals and her parents’
goals for her. As this example demonstrates, independent selves experience
agency in the form of primary control (acting on the environment to in-
fluence it) whereas interdependent selves exercise secondary control
(adjusting to parents, relationships, groups, and other circumstances)
(Morling, Kitayama, & Miyamoto, 2002).
Kitayama and Uchida (2004) argue that the concept of agency is cultur-
ally bound and posit a theory of ‘‘interdependent agency.’’ This concept
rests on two observations. First, the authors note that the interdependent
self often internalizes ingroup goals, i.e., there is a considerable overlap
between self and other, and that boundary is often indistinguishable. In-
terdependent selves often do not see the self and other has having conflicting
goals because they engage in ‘‘self-expansion,’’ whereby they encapsulate the
other and its concerns within the self (Gardner, Gabriel, & Hochschild,
2002). Rather than experiencing negative emotions that arise when an in-
group member bests the self on a personally relevant task (Tesser, 1988),
interdependent selves are more likely to feel happy for their friends even
when these friends outperform the self because they include the other in the
self (Gardner et al., 2002).
Second, Kitayama and Uchida observe that in situations where the in-
dividual’s and the group’s will do not perfectly align, the individual often
adjusts and restrains his or her own desires in favor of the group’s will. In
both cases, whether due to a natural coincidence of interests or the self’s
restraint and adjustment, the self and the ingroup effectively become indis-
Kitayama and Uchida also note that these internalizations and adjustments
have very different implications cross-culturally. According to Western philos-
ophers, ‘‘autonomous agents must regard themselves as authorized to act on
their own interests and ordering of preferences (Stoljar, 2000, p. 97),’’ they
should not ‘‘bow down to social convention, tradition, or even morality’’ or
‘‘take other people’s reasons for how they should act as their reasons for
action;’’ they should ‘‘regard themselves as self-originating sources of claims

(Anderson, 1996, cited in Stoljar, 2000, p. 97).’’ Thus, from the vantage point of
Western philosophy, internalizing the group’s way of thought is a depressing
sign of personal weakness; it is ‘‘caving in,’’ conformity, false consciousness
(Engels, 1893/1972), and ‘‘social control,’’ i.e., a state in which cultural mean-
ings constrain the person’s ability to think and act outside dominant paradigms
(O’Reilly & Chatman, 1996; Foucault, 1977). However, from the perspective of
the East Asian interdependent self, behaviors such as Tomoko’s do not con-
stitute weakness, passivity, and conformity but the natural process by which the
matured interdependent person actualizes the self within the group (Kitayama
& Uchida, 2004).
However, these contrasts suggest that interdependent agency is so differ-
ent from Western philosophical conceptions of agency that it bears closer
resemblance to constraint, i.e., the very opposite of Western agency. Even
though the results are the same – i.e., the individual submits to the group
will – the key difference, as specified by these authors, is that interdependent
agency might be viewed as restraint, i.e., the individual has internally man-
aged or come to terms with the external forces that constrain the self. The
question that arises from these arguments, however, is, ‘‘what counts as
agency?’’ East Asians may not consider themselves to be passively con-
strained when they adjust to their environment, but does it really count as
agency when external forces hold one’s personal will in check, whether the
self has adjusted to these external forces or not?
We try to salvage the possibility for personal agency, as Western philos-
ophers define that term, in East Asian, interdependent cultures. Instead of
focusing on the process by which interdependent selves are attuned to others
and promote group harmony, we examine how they are attuned to others yet
promote self-interest. We argue in this paper that the exercise of personal
agency, even under this ‘‘Western’’ definition of the term, is still compatible
with an interdependent orientation.
Specifically, we question the assumption that the boundary between self
and ingroup is blurred, such that there is either no conflict between individual
and group goals, or if there is a conflict, the interdependent individual re-
solves it by adjusting to the group. While this relationship is indeed a frequent
pattern of action in interdependent contexts (Kitayama & Uchida, 2004), we
build on this perspective by arguing that the self and group are constantly
involved in a variety of relationships with each other. In some situations, the
group will and the individual will are truly opposed, consistent with assump-
tions from Western philosophy, and in other situations the two wills are
compatible, as in Tomoko’s situation. We examine situations where individ-
ual and group goals align and individuals use the group to substitute for
Culture and Control 33

individual agency (Tomoko’s situation). We also look at situations where

individual and group interests do not immediately align, but East Asian
interdependent selves recruit the group as a support to facilitate their
own personal agency. Finally, we examine situations in which the will
of the interdependent self and the will of the ingroup are in tension. In
addition to willingly adjusting to the group in these conditions (Kitayama &
Uchida, 2004), we suggest that interdependent selves also use a variety of
strategies that subtly evade the relational pressures upon them so that the self
can assert its goals, desires, and will in the face of social pressures to the
To demonstrate the above arguments, we develop a culturally informed
conception of the strategies by which interdependent achieve agency even
when they are embedded within powerful groups.



The key reason why interdependent agency has been obscured in the lit-
erature is the Western assumption that strong groups necessarily interfere
with the individual’s agency. However, research suggests that people in
different cultures conceive of the relationship between individual and group
agency in very different ways. Ying-Yi Hong has recently developed a scale
of beliefs in individual and group agency that supports this observation
(Brewer, Hong, & Li, 2004; Menon, unpublished data). Hong’s scale con-
tains sample items such as: ‘‘To what extent do you agree that: In this
society, social groups and organizations influence what happens in an in-
dividual’s life;’’ ‘‘Individual’s will is the most powerful force in society;’’ ‘‘In
society, the will of social groups is more powerful than that of individuals;’’
and ‘‘An individual’s own will can most determine his or her future devel-
opment’’. For Chinese participants, there was a positive correlation between
the belief ingroup agency and individual agency, while this correlation did
not exist for North American participants. Strong groups did not necessarily
undermine or inhibit personal agency for interdependent selves, indeed, they
seemed to be associated with enhanced personal agency. We propose that
this is because there are complicated models of agency whereby strong per-
sonal and collective agency can coexist.
In contrast to Western conceptions of agency that implicitly pit individual
will against social relationships and collectives, there are at least three other

ways to interpret the relationship between individual and group agency that
prevail in East Asia:
 Group as substituting for personal agency. Westerners and Asians have
different implicit theories about which kinds of actors act as agents; East
Asians have a reduced sense of personal agency but a higher belief in
group agency, relative to Americans (Menon, Morris, Chiu, & Hong,
1999; Morris, Menon, & Ames, 2001). Rather than venturing out as in-
dividuals, the group, e.g., families, teams, and other collectives, becomes
the vehicle by which interdependent selves experience agency.
 Group as facilitating personal agency. It is possible that groups can also
support individuals, and augment their motivations and abilities to act as
agents in the environment (Hsee & Weber, 1999).
 Group as irrelevant to personal agency. Group agency and individual
agency can coexist and are largely unaffected by one another. In partic-
ular, individuals skillfully develop strategies to deal with strong groups
and their pressures, especially when individual and group will diverge.
In the sections below, we examine these three novel relationships between
individual and group agency and describe how they become mechanisms
through which interdependent selves, particularly in East Asian settings,
exert agency in their environments.

Group as a Substitute for Personal Agency

In one line of research, we reconcile interdependence and agency by arguing

that whereas Americans are more likely to hold implicit theories that en-
dorse a belief in individual agency, East Asians are more likely to hold
implicit theories that endorse collective agency, i.e., the causal power of
groups in the environment (Menon et al., 1999; Morris et al., 2001). In
addition to being more likely to support beliefs related to group agency,
East Asians were also more likely to endorse group-level traits as causes of
action, as compared to Americans. Thus, whereas Americans were more
likely to describe an individual employee’s unfairness as the cause of their
wrongdoing, East Asians were more likely to use the trait term when they
were making attributions about the group.
This reconciliation of interdependence and agency relies on a conception
of the group agent as a substitute for the individual agent. The implication of
this argument is that people in interdependent cultures view groups such as
families and teams as the appropriate vehicle for agency, as compared to the
Culture and Control 35

individual. Thus, particularly in situations in which individual and group

interests coincide, individuals will use groups as a mechanism to fulfill their
personal goals. As a result, rather than a single entrepreneur starting a
business, a group of cousins or a family does; rather than a single individual
making a personal decision, the collective does (e.g., Japan’s ringi system of
decision making); and, rather than distributing work to a single employee, it
is allocated to a team of workers – who would also collectively receive the
rewards and punishments that are due following its completion (Chiu &
Hong, 1992). In these group situations, interdependent individuals do not
reduce their effort in groups and exhibit patterns of social loafing found
among independent selves (Earley, 1989). Indeed, given the alignment of
individual and group goals in this situation, the interdependent individual
uses the group as a vehicle to accomplish their personal will.
Studies of leadership also indicate that group agency may be a substitute
for individual agency. In a research by Fu & Chiu (in preparation), Chinese
participants perceived leaders as less likable and as having worse leadership
skills when they alone were the agent of change, as compared to the group as
a whole. These findings show that leaders who pursue group agency instead
of individual agency are more effective in leading groups in interdependent

Group as Facilitating Individual Agency

While the previous argument assumes (1) a coincidence between individual

and group goals and (2) that interdependent selves perceive and value per-
sonal agency less than independent selves, our next arguments separate in-
dividual and group goals. In particular, in situations where the individual’s
and group’s goals do not immediately align, interdependent individuals often
recruit groups to support their personal interests. For instance, Hsee and
Weber (1999) describe the ‘‘cushion hypothesis.’’ They suggest that the group
does not just act as a source of obligation and constraint upon the individual
but also as a support, which facilitates their ability to take financial risk.
Because groups provide individuals with resources that are a cushion against
losses, interdependent individuals can take more financial risks than Amer-
icans, who have access to less support from their networks. Even though
members of interdependent groups may complain bitterly about supporting
the individual financially and try to avoid incurring losses to themselves, the
individual can often recruit support from them nonetheless.
The perception that the ingroup is a ‘‘cushion’’ can also enable the in-
terdependent self to assert itself in situations beyond the domain of risk. For

instance, the hypothesis helps explain why East Asians are particularly likely
to take aggressive stances against outgroups. Leung (1987) finds that Chi-
nese are less likely than Americans to sue a friend but more likely to sue a
stranger than are Americans. East Asians may behave more assertively in
conflict situations with outgroups because they rely on a powerful ingroup’s
The indigenous Chinese concept of guanxi is another cushioning mech-
anism through which interdependent selves gain social resources for future
use (Chua & Morris, this volume; Farh, Tsui, Xin, & Cheng, 1998; Xin &
Pearce, 1996). Chinese executives, especially those from private companies,
commonly rely on social networks to gain a competitive edge. They build
these ties even when they do not offer immediate advantage for the company
because these ties could serve as future sources of competitive business
information, allies, and social exchange.
These observations suggest that the interdependent network is a chain of
reciprocity that involves, not only constraint, but also support. While the
preponderance of research emphasizes the degree to which groups and re-
lationships drain individual resources and saddle the individual with obli-
gations, they also facilitate individual agency.

Group as Irrelevant to Personal Agency

Finally, consider situations where the individual and group interest fail to
align. In these situations, in addition to adjusting or conforming to their
groups, interdependent individuals find ways to ‘‘work around’’ the agency
of their groups to assert their individual will. We consider first, the indirect
strategies by which this occurs, and then illustrate the more direct ways in
which interdependent individuals assert their will upon their environments.

Indirect Strategies in Interpersonal Relationships

In settings with powerful and potentially constraining groups and relation-
ships, interdependent selves learn influence techniques that enable their
agency to coexist with these pressures. As evidence of the importance of
these skills of personal influence, in research on executive MBAs in the US,
Europe, and Asia, we find that Asians have higher Mach scores than do
Americans and Europeans (Menon, unpublished data). While Westerners
are direct in the ways that they exert influence, the Asian students are more
likely to endorse strategies that are more indirect – and that seem, to West-
erners, to be somewhat manipulative. As a result, the low scores that Asians
Culture and Control 37

receive on managing conflict directly could be misleading. While Asians are

unwilling to directly pursue conflicts because they seek to preserve rela-
tionships, they also use indirect ways to skillfully exert the self that are not
captured by dimensions such as conflict avoidance or accommodation
(Lebra, 1984). For instance, Tse, Francis, and Wall (1994) find Chinese
executives used negotiation strategies such as discontinuing and withdraw-
ing from negotiation to indirectly gain control. Another example is that
Chinese prefer to use a third-party who has connection to the disputants to
resolve conflict. This way, they do not face the other party while they
maintain their control in the resolution process (Fu, Morris, Lee, & Chiu,
2002). Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggests that Japanese say yes while
meaning no, and Chinese solicit advice from ingroup members yet fre-
quently proceed to do what they please, if this advice fails to coincide with
their interests. Thus, East Asians exercise a good deal of personal agency,
albeit through a more subtle, indirect style.

Direct Strategies that Reflect Personal Agency

Finally, interdependent selves often exert their personal agency directly. In
particular, consider the role of personal effort and the prevalence of com-
petitive dynamics within ingroups.

Effort. One way to interpret evidence that East Asians do not engage in self-
enhancement is that they are modest, self-minimizing, and underrate their
competence in the environment. Similarly, the evidence that East Asians do
not make fundamental attribution errors to individuals and instead focus on
their situational constraints, could indicate that East Asians underrate the
individual’s causal agency in the environment, relative to North Americans.
However, given that East Asians make internal malleable attributions (i.e.,
if I work hard, I can do it) (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995), another inter-
pretation of this research is that it reflects a belief in even greater personal
agency than is found in North American samples. Specifically, the internal
malleable attribution has been demonstrated to lead to greater agency in
changing outcomes than does a trait attribution, which often leads to
learned helplessness (i.e., I am just not good at this task; I do not have the
ability) just as external attributions do (I had bad luck, the task was diffi-
cult) (Seligman, 1975). These internal malleable explanations, which reflect
implicit theories about the self and its agency in the environment, have been
found to underlie sales performance (Seligman & Schulman, 1986), chil-
dren’s abilities to learn, and math performance. In the case of math per-
formance, the pervasive East Asians (and Asian American) implicit theory

that math ability is not innate but malleable underlie their higher perform-
ance in those subjects relative to North Americans (Holloway, 1988). Fur-
thermore, East Asians persist after their failures to a greater extent than do
North Americans (Heine et al., 2001). The crucial implication is that effort
attributions reflect a belief in the efficacy of the individual to change reality
– rather than to simply accept or adjust to it given the constraints of either
one’s traits and abilities, or the situation.

Competition vs. Cooperation. We have already discussed one implication of

interdependent self-construal: the self and its interests tend to be suppressed
for the sake of relationships and collective goals. However, Markus and
Kitayama (1991) warn against conceptions that romanticize the interdepend-
ent self as an unselfish self who is ‘‘ever attuned to the concerns of others’’ (p.
299), and who is unwilling to promote and assert the self at the expense of
other ingroup members. They note that East Asians cultivate harmonious
social values such as sunao, a term which ‘‘implies that working with others
does not suggest giving up the self but, rather, that cooperation is the ap-
propriate way of expressing, enhancing, and affirming the self’’ (Kumagai,
1981; White & LeVine, 1986, cited in Markus & Kitayama, 1991, p. 229).
Whereas interdependent people sometimes succeed in restraining the self
or expanding the self to include the other (Gardner et al., 2002), other
evidence indicates that interdependent selves are also quite susceptible to
experiencing envy and competitiveness within the ingroup. Chinese in fact
make more social comparisons than do Americans, and particularly more
upward comparisons to successful others (White & Lehman, 2005). Further,
Hong Kong employees displayed envy when their colleagues received pro-
motions (Schaubroeck & Lam, 2004). More anecdotally, the intense com-
petition, which characterizes Singaporean society, has been captured by the
Hokkien term ‘‘Kiasu’’ which refers to the fear of losing out, and ‘‘keeping
up with the Joneses.’’ Kiasu often involves indirect (and occasionally ma-
nipulative) strategies to gain advantage over one other people (Hwang, Ang,
& Francesco, 2002). Examples of kiasu behaviors are people shoving
through crowds at sales to get the bargains, students keeping as many ref-
erence books as they could and parents prepping their children for school
as early as possible so as to outdo their neighbors and peers. The concept
has been ‘‘celebrated’’ as a central part of Singaporean culture, with a
Mr. Kiasu cartoon figure and even a McDonalds’ marketing promotion, the
‘‘Kiasu’’ deal.
These arguments, which have been underrepresented in the cross-cultural
literature, suggest that the more someone stakes their sense of self upon a
Culture and Control 39

group, the more important it is for that group to confer esteem and status
upon the self. Further, groups confer esteem, not only on those who co-
operate well, but to those who finish first in school and who attain financial
rewards and achievements that signal social status. Values such as ‘‘har-
mony’’ and ‘‘modesty,’’ which have been emphasized in prior cross-cultural
research, could simply be a means to suppress the envy and natural com-
petition that becomes more pronounced among people when they are em-
bedded in close-knit groups. Indeed, a functionalist perspective suggests that
societies characterized by interdependent selves are replete with mechanisms
(e.g., seniority-based promotions) to undermine the competitive behaviors
that naturally arise in such groups.
Each of these examples illustrates the kinds of strategies that East Asians
use to exert agency in their environments. The core idea here is that not only
does the degree of social influence differ for independent and interdependent
self, but how people interpret groups and their influence differs as well
(Kitayama & Uchida, 2004). As a result, interdependent selves use very
different strategic responses to groups as they exert personal agency in their
environments. Rather than seeing the group as simply shackling the self, the
interdependent self also sees the group as compatible with personal agency
and as a facilitator of personal agency. Further, the interdependent self
learns to skillfully navigate through the sometimes forceful ways in which
groups encumber them (i.e., indirect, perhaps Machiavellian strategies to
influence their counterparts). They readily use effort and the group itself to
further their own personal desires and goals. In the process, interdependent
selves are powerful agents who act on their environments – rather than to
simply accepting or adjusting to them.



We have described the forms of agency exercised by people with interde-

pendent selves; the flip side of the question is the nature of the constraints that
the independent self experiences. Whereas interdependent selves feel less ob-
ligated to social groups than interdependent selves, they feel more constrained
by (1) the internalized social expectations that define the consistent, auton-
omous self; and (2) principles and procedures that enforce and govern in-
dividual rights in an ordered society. We now describe these areas where the
independent self experiences more constraint than the interdependent self,

arguments that have often been underemphasized in the literature which

views the independent self as a free and unconstrained actor.

Social Expectations about ‘‘Independent’’ Identity

Just as groups and relationships saddle the interdependent self with obli-
gations and expectations around what it means to be a proper ‘‘interde-
pendent self,’’ independent selves are similarly limited by the social
expectations around what it means to be a ‘‘good independent self (Heine,
2005).’’ Because the independent self is expected to be unwavering and
consistent in its preferences, once an independent self has made a particular
choice, they experience pressures – both internal and external – to behave
consistently with that choice (Cialdini, 2001; Festinger, 1957). They feel
overly committed and are unable to flexibly change course because they
stake their identities on the belief that they possess a stable, consistent, and
coherent essence.
Personal choices and commitments are particularly oppressive when con-
texts change. Independent selves are often dependent on their identities –
which they have heavily invested in based on their conceptions of what
provides them with social recognition (Barclay, 2000). When men who have
used work as source of self worth are laid off or when women who have
stayed at home send their children to college, they often feel disoriented
because their identities were overly dependent on changeable external fac-
tors (Barclay, 2000). By contrast, we hypothesize that East Asians feel sim-
ilar stress in such circumstances, although this stress arises from different
sources (i.e., an inability to meet family financial obligations or a loss of face
in society as compared to dependence on a particular coherent and con-
sistent definition of one’s personal identity).
Additionally, because independent selves (a) seek to maintain their own
self-reliant and independent image and (b) seek to respect other people’s
autonomy, they restrain themselves from placing demands on others, and
requesting favors and help. More generally, to maintain social harmony,
they limit the degree to which the self and its opinions are imposed on
others; a classic rule of etiquette in the West is to ‘‘never discuss religion or
politics’’ (Friedman, 2000). Indeed, the interdependent self is actually quite
willing to assert their wishes and demands upon an ingroup member (Yan,
1996) while the independent self feels constrained, given their fear of in-
terfering with another person’s life and autonomy and appearing helpless
and dependent.
Culture and Control 41

The independent self can find these expectations particularly stressful in

bad times. In contrast to Japanese actors who can share the responsibility
for their wrongdoings with the company, people personally blame American
actors for wrongdoing (Sanders et al., 1996). Not only is the independent
self held more responsible, they also feel inhibited in recruiting advantages
from the larger collective. They avoid requesting favors from others that
provide material support, and curb their desire for the personal information
and close contact that provide social support.
In sum, these arguments build upon classic research in social science,
which has frequently observed the costs associated with an independent
orientation. Durkheim (1857/1958) noted that independent selves experience
anomie, feeling less tied to others and to society, and less able to claim
necessary social resources. Durkheim argued that ‘‘anomie’’ was the reason
why, across so many parts of Europe, Protestants (more independent in
their orientation) tended to commit suicide at higher rates than did Cath-
olics (more interdependent in their orientation). To compensate for their
inability to recruit financial and social resources from their ingroups, in-
dependent selves are more likely to rely on impersonal mechanisms for these
needs (e.g., they may have greater dependence on trained professionals for
psychological support or financial institutions to provide money).

Constraints from Principles and Procedure

One of the first (and most frustrating) things that an American observes on a
trip to India – or Greece, Italy, and many other societies characterized by
interdependent selves – is people’s willingness to cut ahead in line. At first,
queue jumpers casually stand next to you, and then they gradually insert
themselves ahead of you, hardly intimidated by a basic sense of procedure.
This willingness to circumvent law and order stems from the fact that uni-
versal principles are less likely to inhibit interdependent selves. The evidence
for this observation comes from research on Indian and Americans notions
of justice (Miller, Bersoff, & Harwood, 1990). Miller and colleagues gave
Indians and Americans a variety of scenarios in which they had to choose
how they would respond to various ethical dilemmas which pitted their re-
lational duties to another person against obligations from universal laws and
procedures. Whereas Indians placed their relationships above the law,
Americans were much more likely to obey laws and rules. This finding is
rooted in the Hobbsian idea that government and law are crucial constraints
on anarchic individualism. As a result, whereas independent selves see laws

and procedures as binding, interdependent selves are more likely to see them
as secondary to relationships, and as flexibly evolving with situations. Thus,
whereas social harmony in interdependent societies arises from the self-sub-
mitting to obligations from ingroup relationships, in independent societies it
arises from the self submitting to fundamental principles and procedures.


An underlying assumption implicit in much cross-cultural research is that

interdependent selves possess less agency than their independent counter-
parts. An abundance of research documents the fact that interdependent
selves value personal choice less, perceive agency less often in their envi-
ronments, minimize the self, avoid asserting their demands, communicate
less directly, and submerge their individual will to the groups that they are
part of – all because of their impulse to promote harmonious social rela-
tionships. If all of these evidence is interpreted from the perspective of
Western philosophical definitions of what it means to be an agent, it cer-
tainly seems that the interdependent self acts with less agency than does the
independent self.
Cross-cultural comparisons of agency should rest on more complex mod-
els of individual and group agency. In contrast to Western definitions of
agency and autonomy that implicitly pit individual will against social re-
lationships and collectives, we suggest several other ways to specify the
relationship between individual and group agency. Individuals do not
achieve agency simply by overcoming the agency of the groups around
them, but by using group agency as a substitute for individual agency, using
group agency as a supplement to their own agency, and by developing
strategies to work around the agency of other powerful actors in the en-
vironment. By examining these other relationships between individual and
group agency, each of which enables personal agency to flourish even in the
midst of strong groups, we identify a variety of domains in which inter-
dependent selves can display even more personal agency than their inde-
pendent counterparts. We describe the implications of these arguments for
cross-cultural theory, methodology, and managerial practice below.

Theoretical Implications

Our arguments suggest the need for two directions in cross-cultural theory
development. First, we have identified various theoretical mechanisms by
Culture and Control 43

which interdependent selves achieve agency. These mechanisms are theoret-

ical tools, which enable us to generate counterintuitive hypotheses across a
variety of domains that defy stereotypic expectations. For instance, Hsee and
Weber’s (1999) cushion mechanism, which demonstrates that East Asians are
more risk taking than North Americans in some situations, can underlie
interdependent agency in a variety of other domains (e.g., conflict behavior).
Second, to tap counter-intuitive phenomena, researchers need to generate
new theoretical constructs. Rather than imposing etic categories from West-
ern psychology (such as conflict avoidance and directness, or modesty and
self-enhancement) perhaps indigenous, emic categories are more relevant.
For instance, although it has been difficult to document competitive and
envious behaviors among East Asians, Singaporeans often anecdotally de-
scribe kiasu behaviors. Further, while East Asians exhibit what appears to
be simple modesty, they simultaneously display what Hsee and colleagues
label ‘‘secret happiness,’’ a private delight at knowing that the self outper-
forms the other’s expectations (Zhang, Hsee, & Dai, 2004). These more
subtle constructs capture unique strategies that Asians use, and provide
crucial distinctions that enable support for counterintuitive hypotheses.

Methodological Implications

To capture these counterintuitive tendencies, innovative methodologies

from mainstream psychology such as priming and implicit measures such as
the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) may
also be necessary.

Whereas priming techniques have captured the contrast between the inde-
pendent and interdependent selves (Mandel, 2003; Brewer & Gardner, 1996;
Trafimow, Triandis, & Goto, 1991), agency and constraint primes offer a
test of the hypotheses outlined in this paper. We predict that independent
and interdependent agency elicit different responses. Our preliminary evi-
dence suggests that an interdependent self primed with agency is consid-
erably more aggressive in conflict situations and in risk taking than even the
independent self, although the constrained interdependent self is more
avoidant of conflict and risk (Menon, Hsee, & Fu, data collection in
progress). The hypothesis is that interdependence may involve a dual nature,
with both more constraint (in the form of obligations) and more agency
(because of financial and social cushion) than an independent orientation.

Implicit measures
In the same way that people in the West consider racist responses to be
socially undesirable, people in East Asia recoil from self-enhancement, in-
group competition, jealousy, and envy. Because they do not directly admit
that they feel competitive toward ingroup members and because they feel
embarrassed when they enhance the self, implicit measures are a crucial
means to tap these phenomena (Hsee, 2005; Kitayama & Uchida, 2003).
Kitayama and Uchida (2003) found evidence that although Japanese ex-
plicitly evaluate themselves negatively, they hold positive implicit self-eval-
uations. Similarly, whereas East Asians are reluctant to admit negative
feelings toward a successful ingroup member on a pencil and paper survey,
such associations may be captured in an IAT (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995) or
another subtle, implicit measure.

Managerial Implications

Our key argument is that both independent and interdependent selves act
with agency and experience constraint; however, culture shapes the kinds of
factors that promote agency and the particular strategies that people use to
achieve agency. Thus, rather than relying on stereotypic expectations –
which often implicitly presume that Westerners possess more agency than
do Asians (Hsee & Weber, 1999), the arguments in this paper enable man-
agers to better anticipate the ways in which people in other cultures act upon
their environments. The key implications for cross-cultural managers derive
from the recognition that people in different cultures (a) possess different
sources of power; (b) exert influence using different strategies; and (c) ex-
hibit differences between their publicly held values and their behavior.
First, consider the stereotypic expectation that independent selves possess
more agency than interdependent selves, who are more constrained by social
expectations (Hsee & Weber, 1999). By contrast, our arguments suggest that
independent and interdependent selves derive their personal agency from
different sources, and that managers must understand how people experience
particular social factors as constraining or enabling to better anticipate cross-
cultural behavior. Without this understanding, they risk underestimating the
other sides level of agency and sources of power. Assuming that the other
side will acquiesce and not pursue their interests because they lack agency
can be a costly miscalculation when managing people in organizations.
Relatedly, cultural misunderstandings often occur because independent
and interdependent selves use very different strategies to achieve agency.
Culture and Control 45

For instance, Westerners often assume that they have reached an agreement
in their negotiations with the Japanese because the Japanese negotiator did
not say no, and fail to realize that this diplomatic response was not tan-
tamount to saying ‘‘yes.’’ More generally, independent selves may fail to
detect the more indirect strategies that interdependent selves use to achieve
agency. By contrast, independent selves may offend interdependent selves
with their direct strategies. In all of these examples, people misunderstand
the strategies of influence that members of other cultures use, and thus, fail
to understand the other side’s interests and thus fail to achieve their own
Finally, we note that the often-documented cultural differences in inde-
pendent agency and interdependent constraint could simply represent values
and aspirations. Thus, there may be a considerable divergence between these
ideals and reality. It may be the case that interdependent selves publicly
minimize competitive and self-enhancing behaviors, although they also en-
joy subtle opportunities to better their neighbors and experience envy when
their neighbors better them. Similarly, Americans may declare their inde-
pendence and individualism with vigor but conform to friends and family
(Cialdini, 2001). These patterns are invisible when analyzing explicit or
public pronouncements but may be more subtle, implicit patterns that
complicate the typical generalizations about managing in another culture.


It is hardly original to level the charge that Western observers of other

cultures underestimate the level of agency that their subjects possess. Indeed
there is a long anthropological history that rests on either making these
assumptions or criticizing them. In her book Culture and Agency, Margaret
Archer (1988) cites one anthropologist who characterizes non-Western
thought as follows:
Primitive people, because of their low individuation, are held to lack a sense of alter-
natives y in traditional cultures there is no developed awareness of alternatives to the
established body of theoretical tenets whereas in scientifically oriented cultures, such an
awareness is highly developed (Horton, 1974, p. 153).

This type of assumption that people from other cultures are ‘‘non-agents’’
creates two levels of misperception: on the one hand, a romanticization
whereby they are seen as unselfish, modest, and nice (Markus & Kitayama,
1991), and on the other hand, a perpetuation of the stereotype of passivity,

whereby researchers fail to fully appreciate other people’s active efforts in

shaping the world and pursuing their own interests. At the same time, such
assumptions ignore the constraints that limit the action and behavior of the
independent self. In our opinion, this blind spot in the literature is not the
result of some deliberate prejudice, but is instead created by cultural differ-
ences in what it means to be an agent, and cultural differences in the kinds of
strategies by which people act on their environment.
What is original, however, is research that makes counterintuitive pre-
dictions by reversing these assumptions. Only by examining agency in its
complex cultural manifestations, can we imagine how people understand it
differently and the contrasting strategies by which they achieve it. The irony
may be that the very factors that inhibit personal agency in one culture –
interdependence with strong groups and powerful social relationships – are
the factors that promote and create it in others.

We would like to thank Ying-Yi Hong, Carol Dweck, Chris Hsee, the editors,
and the reviewers for their thoughtful comments. Tanya Menon was sup-
ported by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Jeanne
Ho-Ying Fu was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and she is now an
Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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Chen-Bo Zhong, Joe C. Magee, William W. Maddux

and Adam D. Galinsky

We present a model of how culture affects both the conceptualizations and
behavioral consequences of power, focusing in particular on how culture
moderates the previously demonstrated positive relationship between
power and assertive action. Western cultures tend to be characterized by
independence, whereas individuals in East Asian cultures tend to think of
themselves as interdependent. As a result, power is conceptualized around
influence and entitlement in the West, and Westerners behave assertively
to satisfy oneself. In contrast, East Asians conceptualize power around
responsibility and tend to consider how their behavior affects others. As a
result the experience of power activates a tendency toward restraint.
Therefore, power is associated with an increase in assertive action in in-
dependent cultures, whereas it leads to restraint of action in interdependent

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 53–73
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09003-7

cultures. We discuss a number of moderators of this effect including the

type of actions and the groups who are affected by those actions.
[Conquer with inaction] (L. C. Tsu (600 BC) Tao te ching).

Power is a fundamental feature of society and individual psychology.

Hobbes, for example, suggested that to obtain pleasure it is necessary first
and foremost to have power (cf., Allport, 1954). Concern for how power
affects the power possessor is motivated by the modern cliché that power
corrupts (Kipnis, 1972) and by the paradox that although the actions of the
powerful have greater social consequences than the actions of those without
power, power often leads to the taking of bold action regardless of those
consequences (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003; Keltner, Gruenfeld, &
Anderson, 2003). In these traditionally Western theories, power often is part
and parcel of the ability to do what one wants to do and to take action to
satisfy one’s desires and goals.
Eastern philosophy, however, suggests a different view of power and its
consequences. Lau Tsu, for example, commented on the importance of
inaction when it comes to power and control. In the phrase ‘‘to conquer with
inaction,’’ the Taoist philosopher recognized that the universe works har-
moniously according to its own laws, and as humans exert their will against
the world, they turn the natural state of harmony into a world of disso-
nance. Lao Tsu seemed to suggest that the supreme exercise of will was to
withhold, to refrain from interfering with this natural equilibrium. This
form of Eastern philosophy prescribes a very different approach to the use
of power compared to Western society. According to these teachings,
power-holders should try to suppress their instincts to act to preserve social
and natural equilibrium. Experiencing power should highlight East Asians’
responsibility to those who submit to their power. Given that this philo-
sophical tradition is deeply embedded in East Asian culture – in its religions,
its institutions, its systems of politics, economics, and education – it may
well affect individual and group psychology that is directly related to power.
In this chapter, we argue that Lao Tsu’s philosophical ideas, from a period
estimated as far back in history as the 6th century B.C., are alive and well in
East Asian consciousness today and that their cultural influence creates a
very different relationship between power and action for East Asians’
thought and behavior.
This paper is part of a rapidly growing area of psychological research
concerned with how culture affects not only the norms for how people
think they should behave at a conscious level, but also people’s automatic,
Power, Culture, and Action 55

unconscious responses to social cues they encounter in everyday life. In

particular, we advance the thesis that the association between power and
assertive action demonstrated heretofore (Galinsky et al., 2003) is culturally
prescribed and circumscribed. We develop a two-part theory about the
relationship between culture, power, and action. First, we discuss how his-
torical and contemporary aspects of culture affect individuals’ self-concepts,
underlying psychological states, and goals, or what they strive to do in their
everyday life. Second, we propose that, rather than promoting action in all
situations, power actually facilitates a focus on completion of one’s goals
(see also Chen, Lee-Chai, & Bargh, 2001). That is, power increases goal
directed behavior, but the Western and Eastern cultures differ in their
salient and enduring goals, leading to different conceptualizations and con-
sequences of power. In Western cultures, the predominant goals tend to be
oriented toward individualistic concerns; hence the experience of power
leads to assertive action to fulfill those goals. In contrast, in Eastern cultures,
where the goals are oriented toward managing relationships and maintain-
ing harmony, power may promote restraint. In testing this theory, we take a
comparative approach by investigating differences between Western (e.g.,
American, Western European) and East Asian (e.g., Chinese, Japanese)
cultures in the automatic associations that people hold between power and
goal-relevant concepts including entitlement vs. responsibility and assert-
iveness vs. restraint as well as actual behaviors in social dilemma situations.


Historically, psychologists have been universalists. In other words, the prev-

alent view among those who study the mind has long been that people think,
feel, perceive, and behave in much the same way all over the world (e.g.,
Nisbett, 2003). Although few if any would deny that individuals from different
cultures vary tremendously in terms of the languages they speak, the clothes
they wear, their average height, weight, and skin color, and their customs for
eating, drinking, and bathing, psychologists have tended to neglect the extent
to which psychological processes might be affected by cultural variables.
However, the zeitgeist in psychology has been shifting rapidly over the
course of the last two decades. At present, most psychologists would con-
cede that culture has a significant impact on the way individuals perceive
and behave in the world. Research has been particularly adept at docu-
menting psychological differences between people from East Asian and
Western cultures (for reviews, see Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett,

1998; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan,
2001). Even within the United States, regional cultures alter the ways in-
dividuals see and approach the world; for example, individuals born in the
South, compared to those born in the Northeast, respond differently to in-
sults at the psychological, physiological, and behavioral levels (Cohen, Nisbett,
Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996). The consistent emergence of cross-cultural differ-
ences in perception, cognition, motivation, and emotion have led researchers
to the conclusion that many psychological processes previously thought to be
universal are often culturally specific (e.g., Nisbett, 2003).

Western Cultures

Western intellectual and psychological tradition has been strongly influ-

enced by the thinking of the ancient Greeks and the Humanists of the post-
Renaissance era. For many of these thinkers, the dominant theme concerned
the rights of the individual and the beliefs that people should have a strong
sense of individual agency and should develop their interests and lives
however they wish, using their individual sense of self as a guide for proper
behavior. Thus, people in the West tend to be socialized to think of them-
selves as separate, unconnected entities and are encouraged to forge their
own way independent of the expectations of others. Indeed, cross-cultural
theorists have noted that this tradition continues in the West even today,
where people tend to be individualistic, construe themselves as independent
of others, attend to attributes that make them separate and unique from
others, and focus on how to control and change their environment for their
own benefit more than individuals in Eastern cultures (Hofstede, 1980; Lee,
Aaker, & Gardner, 2000; Markus & Kitayama, 1991).
As a result, independent cultures in the West embrace goals that target
self-enhancement and promotion (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In fact,
Western psychologists have long believed that self-enhancement is a univer-
sal phenomenon, one intimately connected to human evolution, with high
levels of self-esteem being necessary for psychological well-being (Taylor &
Brown, 1988; Twenge, Catanese, & Baumeister, 2002). To enhance and
maintain positive self-regard, individuals in Western cultures tend to focus
on individual reward, gains, and successes.

East Asian Cultures

In contrast to the West, the cultural traditions of most East Asian societies
are heavily influenced by Confucian and Buddhist thinking, both of which
Power, Culture, and Action 57

place a dramatically different emphasis on the ideal method of human

development. In contrast to the self-focused traditions of the West, the
Confucian influence on East Asian cultures leads individuals to consider
others explicitly, stressing the notion that productive societies should have a
relationship- and group-centered focus (Nisbett et al., 2001). Thus, East
Asians learn to think about the world not necessarily in terms of themselves
but in terms of the relationships among people, understanding events within
a relatively broad social context. The individual raised in an East Asian
culture is steeped in the role of interconnectedness and knows the impor-
tance of interpersonal relationships, fulfilling obligations and responsibil-
ities to others, and maintaining intra-group harmony (Heine, Lehman,
Markus, & Kitayama, 1999; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In essence, having
a strong sense of interconnectedness with others is paramount for people
from East Asian cultures.
With an overriding emphasis on interconnectedness, some scholars have
postulated that in Confucian societies, the concept of ‘‘self’’ actually does
not exist in the absence of other people (Smith, 2001). As a result, self-esteem
is less important to East Asians than it is for people from Western cultures, if
in fact it is important at all (Heine & Lehman, 1995, 1997; Kitayama,
Markus, Matsumoto, & Norasakkunkit, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991;
for a review, see Heine et al., 1999). Not only do the Japanese have relatively
lower levels of self-esteem compared to Americans, they actually show ten-
dencies in the opposite direction, displaying self-criticism, a stark contrast
to the robust self-enhancing tendencies typically noted in the West. Self-
criticism serves the goal of interconnectedness, allowing individuals to fit in
with other group members and avoid being seen as distinct from the col-
lective (Heine et al., 1999; Kitayama et al., 1997). Although debate continues
about the necessity of high self-esteem for the Japanese (e.g., Sedikides,
Gaertner, & Toguchi, 2003), clearly the cross-cultural perspective has shown
that high self-esteem is not the universally rich resource and psychological
panacea it was once thought to be. The key is that compared to individuals
in the West, East Asians are more concerned about interpersonal relation-
ships and relatively less concerned about achieving positive, individual dis-
tinctiveness. Being independent and individually recognized might hold
great value in the West, but these motives are perceived to be disruptive to
group harmony and collective integrity in East Asian cultures.
Given the fundamental differences in which Westerners and East Asians
think about the social world and construe themselves, psychologists have
noted a myriad of different ramifications for cognition, affect, and behavior
consistent with these different intellectual traditions. East Asians demonstrate

a greater tendency to prefer conformity to situational norms than Westerners

(Kim & Markus, 1999), to allow others to make decisions for them (Iyengar
& Lepper, 1999), to mimic the physical mannerisms of others (van Baaren,
Maddux, Chartrand, de Bouter, & van Knippenberg, 2003), and to make
more social comparisons (White & Lehman, 2005). These differences are
highlighted in the different ways that egocentrism and self-enhancement play
out in these disparate cultures. East Asians tend to show fewer self-related
biases and are particularly more averse to self-enhancement than are West-
erners (Heine & Lehman, 1995, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). However,
consistent with a relationship-based focus, there is evidence that East Asians
do have biases in favor of the quality of their own relationships (Endo, Heine,
& Lehman, 2000).
Thus, empirical psychological research has tended to confirm that the
different intellectual influences that predominate in the West and East con-
tinue to have an enduring impact on the psychological makeup of their
respective contemporary societal cultures. In the West, the individual is of
primary importance; in the East, relationships with others are the psycho-
logical focal point.


People are dependent on each other for social and material resources (Em-
erson, 1962; Mintzberg, 1983). Further, individuals have different amounts of
control over others’ access to desired resources because of unequal resource
distribution (Fiske, 1993; Fiske & Dépret, 1996). These two concepts, ‘‘de-
pendence’’ and ‘‘control’’, are at the heart of most definitions of power (e.g.,
Bacharach & Lawler, 1981; Emerson, 1962; Fiske, 1993; Mintzberg, 1983),
with many researchers defining power as the capacity to withhold or provide
resources and thereby to determine outcomes for oneself and for others (see
Fiske, 1993; Keltner et al., 2003; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). All other things
being equal, an individual who has more of a valued resource in a specific
situation is less dependent upon and has more control over others who have
less of that resource.
Because power offers increased control and decreased dependence, we be-
lieve that, regardless of culture, power channels behavior toward accomplish-
ing one’s goals in a wide variety of situations. Indeed, there is considerable
evidence showing that power increases the link between internal psychological
states and observable behavior (Galinsky et al., 2003), suggesting that power
allows individuals to satisfy their enduring goals. As a result, individuals who
Power, Culture, and Action 59

experience power are more likely to engage in behaviors that are consistent
with currently held goals than those who are powerless and respond to sit-
uational opportunities in the pursuit of their goals (Guinote & Trope, 2005).
The meaning and consequences of power therefore should depend on
culturally specific goals – what individuals strive for in their everyday lives
and the goals they hold in specific situations (see also Galinsky et al., 2003;
Keltner et al., 2003). In the present research, we are interested in how culture
determines the degree or amount of assertive action as a function of the
experience of power. We believe the Western research lens has highlighted
an action-oriented notion of power, and has failed to capture and frame
important cross-cultural differences in the relation between power and as-
sertive action (Belk et al., 1988; Ellis, Kimmel, Dı́az-Guerrero, Cañas, &
Bajo, 1994). Thus, we feel it is particularly important to strip assumptions
about assertiveness and action from our conceptualization of power to
avoid conflating our independent and dependent variables.
According to our theory, power liberates goal-directed behavior, but the
East and West differ in their salient and enduring goals, leading to different
conceptualizations and consequences of power. In the West, the goals are
individually based; as a result power is conceptualized as influence, and
therefore power leads to assertive action. In the East, the goals are com-
munally oriented; as a result power is conceptualized as responsibility, and
therefore power leads to restraint.


Conceptualizations of Power: Influence

Research in the West has focused theoretically and empirically on power as

the ability to influence others. Dahl (1957), for instance, defined power as the
ability of one individual to get another to do something he or she does not
want to do. Another popular way to think about power was explicated first
by Weber (1947) in his statement that power is the probability that one can
produce the effects that one intends on the world. In these definitions, power
is synonymous with influence. Salancik and Pfeffer (1974) similarly discussed
power as the use of influence to obtain benefits. Likewise, power is often ope-
rationalized with special focus on individual assertive behavior by having one
person exercise influence over another person’s outcomes (e.g., Anderson
& Berdahl, 2002; Copeland, 1994; Galinsky et al., 2003; Goodwin, Gubin,
Fiske, & Yzerbyt, 2000; Overbeck & Park, 2001; Sachdev & Bourhis, 1985).

Across a range of Western theorists, then, power is conceptualized in terms

of influence.

Consequences of Power: Assertive Action

This Western conceptualization of power as influence has focused on what it

allows the powerful person to do and to accomplish; that is, power is viewed
through a lens of individual assertiveness. Consistent with this notion of
power, Keltner et al. (2003) made an explicit connection between power and
assertive behavior when formulating their power-approach theory, which
posits that power is associated with a general state of approach whereas
powerlessness is connected to inhibition. Scholars have demonstrated that
approach and inhibition are fundamental dimensions of how individuals
interact with and respond to the environment (Depue, 1995; Gray, 1982,
1987, 1991, 1994; Sutton & Davidson, 1997). Activation of the behavioral
approach system (BAS) is associated with a focus on rewards and the taking
of action to seize those rewards, whereas activation of the behavioral in-
hibition system (BIS) is associated with concern about and vigilant inspec-
tion of the environment for threats (Carver & White, 1984; Higgins, 1997).
The power-approach theory posits that with increasing power comes in-
creasing activation of the BAS and depression of the BIS (Keltner et al.,
2003). Power is correlated with both increased resources (e.g., financial
resources, food, attraction, praise) and heightened awareness that one can act
at will without interference and with exemption from serious social conse-
quences (Gruenfeld, Keltner, & Anderson, 2003). Acting within reward-rich
environments and being unconstrained by others’ evaluations or the conse-
quences of one’s actions, people with power are disposed to elevated levels of
approach-related affect, cognition, and behavior in the pursuit of their goals.
A number of studies conducted in North America support this contention.
Individuals with power focus more on rewards as compared to threats in the
environment (Anderson & Berdahl, 2002; Zander & Forward, 1968) than do
low-power individuals. Those with power experience and express more pos-
itive affect (Anderson & Berdahl, 2002; Keltner, Young, Heerey, Oemig, &
Monarch, 1998) and less negative affect (Keltner et al., 2003), and they act in
more extraverted ways (Anderson, John, Keltner, & Kring, 2001).
At the group and societal level, however, power appears to be a double-
edged sword, producing both positive and negative consequences interper-
sonally. It has been widely observed that power can produce a host of
malfeasant and antisocial consequences, such as aggression (Howard,
Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1986; Keltner et al., 2003), sexual harassment
Power, Culture, and Action 61

(Bargh, Raymond, Pryor, & Strack, 1995; Winter & Barenbaum, 1985), and
corruption (Chen et al., 2001). However, power can also serve as a beacon of
pro-social behavior, increasing generosity in those who are communally
disposed (Chen et al., 2001) and motivating contribution to public goods
(Galinsky et al., 2003).
Although seemingly contradictory, the dual nature of power can be un-
derstood by noting a single pattern present across all these findings: the
association between power and the taking of assertive action in the service of
one’s goals (Galinsky et al., 2003). It would appear that the activation of the
BAS, the initiation of approach-related behavior, and the taking of assertive
action are all wrapped up in the relationship between power and behavior
directed toward satisfying individually based goals. As a result of the pre-
dominant goals in Western cultures (independent actors concerned with self-
interested desires), the power-assertive action relationship may in fact be
limited to cultures that are characterized by an independent self-construal
and individually assertive goals, such as Western cultures.


Given that Eastern cultures focus on relationships and interconnectedness,
both the meaning of power and the consequence of power should be mark-
edly different in Eastern cultures. Because so much of the research on power
has been conducted by Western researchers, our discussion of the concep-
tualization and consequences of power draws more heavily from our theory
than it does on empirical support.

Conceptualizations of Power: Responsibility

Whereas much of the conceptualization of power in the West has been fo-
cused on influence, the conceptualization of power in the East is geared to-
ward self-discipline and responsibility toward those without power. Lau Tsu,
for example, considers the ability to exercise self-discipline as the greatest
form of power. Similar logics can be found in teachings of Confucianism,
which considers four hierarchical relationships as the basis of society: the
relationship between king and subject, father and son, husband and wife, and
elder and younger brother. In each of these relationships, the latter party with
less power is expected to conform to the ruling of the more powerful party.
Thus, the social structure defined by Confucianism does not require those
with power to exercise influence – obedience and submission from low power

individuals are expected and embedded in hierarchical relationships rather

than secured by high-power individuals’ exercise of influence or control. In-
stead, a balanced society requires the powerful to discipline and restrain their
own desires and attend to the needs of those who are dependent on their
power and provide care for their welfare. Owing to the influences of these
dominant doctrines, we expect power in the East to be associated with a sense
of responsibility rather than the ability to influence.
Recent empirical research lends some support to the idea that East Asians
have a broader sense of responsibility for others than do Westerners, par-
ticularly regarding actors who hold power over others, such as CEOs
(Maddux & Yuki, 2006). For example, in a vignette involving a CEO firing
employees and implementing pay cuts, the Japanese participants took more
responsibility for the effects on the employees and their families, while
American participants took more responsibility for cutting their own
salary. The Japanese also took more responsibility for a very indirect, distal
event: a societal crime rate increase a year later, which could have been a
result of a large number of people being out of work. Thus, power leads
individuals to attend more carefully to culturally specific goals.

Consequences of Power: Restraint

We believe that two forces produce a power-induced tendency toward re-

straint among East Asians. First, communal concern for others should sen-
sitize those in power to the potential negative consequences for others of
taking assertive action. The goals in these Eastern cultures are animated by
a sense of responsibility for others, which should serve as a brake pedal of
restraint. Second, as previously mentioned, Taoist philosophers recognized
that the universe works harmoniously according to its own laws, and as
humans exert their will against the world, they disrupt this natural equi-
librium. The chronic concern for preserving social relations (Hofstede, 1980;
Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis & Gelfand, 1998) and the reluctance to
interfere with natural equilibrium should produce a strong tendency of
restraint among East Asians. Compared with individuals from Western
cultures, East Asians may refrain from acting assertively because such ac-
tions could disrupt their own relationships or the greater social order.
As we discuss below this is not to say that East Asians will never take
action. Just as power intensifies the default goals – individual influence
and communal responsibility – power also solidifies the behavioral defaults.
In general, we believe that there is an inaction default among East Asians –
all else equal, the default orientation of an East Asian is not to take action
Power, Culture, and Action 63

unless the situation requires otherwise. This contrasts with the Western
concept of individual agency, or the tendency to take action unless the
situation prohibits it. Since power liberates underlying states and increases
goal-directed behavior, the behavior of the powerful in East Asian cultures
should be geared less toward assertive action and more toward restraint.


The central hypothesis of the chapter is that power facilitates enduring
psychological states and goal satisfaction; thus, because chronic social goals
tend to differ in the East and West, the relationship between power and
action tendencies may also be sensitive to the cultural context.
Fig. 1 highlights the different focus on social constraints and conse-
quences by Westerners and East Asians. Independent of power, East Asians
show a broader focus that considers social constraints on and consequences
of their behaviors compared to Westerners. As mentioned above, power
makes individuals truer representations of their culture’s underlying dispo-
sitions and desires. As a result, we expect that power leads to an accen-
tuation of cultural differences between individuals.
If Westerners think of themselves in individualistic and agentic terms,
then the power-assertive action link makes intuitive sense: action is not
necessarily dependent on appraisals of how it might affect others. One has
the power to act assertively, and one does so. Thus, power experienced by
Westerners tends to focus their attention on action in the service of their
individual goals and reduce their considerations for social constraints and


East Asians


Social context Consequences for


Fig. 1. Level of Focus on Social Constraints and Consequences Independent

of Power.

High-Power High-Power
East Asians High-Power Westerners East Asians


Social context Consequences for


Fig. 2. Power Narrows Focus Away From Social Constraints and Consequences
among Westerners and Broadens this Focus among East Asians.

Culturally Determined

Independent vs.

Conceptualization of Power Behavioral Consequences of Power

Influence vs. responsibility Assertive vs. Restrained

Individual vs.

Fig. 3. Process Model Illustrating that Power Intensifies the Relationship between
Culturally Determined Self-Concept/Goals and Behavior.

consequences of the action. However, in cultures where the default tendency

is toward restraint and to consider how actions might affect others, being
possessed of power intensifies these default tendencies and actually leads to
restraint of assertive action. In East Asian cultures, power broadens one’s
consideration of situational factors and heightens how one’s behaviors
might negatively impact others (see Fig. 2).
According to our model (Fig. 3), power strengthens the culturally norma-
tive prescriptions for thought and behavioral tendencies. Power increases the
salience of the predominant goals and solidifies the default tendencies to-
ward action or inaction. Western cultures, characterized by independent self-
concepts and individualistic concerns, conceptualize power as influence.
Power, Culture, and Action 65

Consequently, the experience of power primarily leads to assertive action.

East Asian cultures, characterized by interdependent self-concepts and com-
munal concerns, conceptualize power as responsibility. Rather than produc-
ing assertive action, we predict that power experienced by individuals in
interdependent cultures will lead to the restraint of assertive action, especially
when the action has the potential to adversely affect the lives of others.

Response Latencies to Entitlement and Responsibility Words

We have begun to explore the meanings of and associations with power that
differ across Western and Eastern cultures. One way of exploring whether
the goals of a culture determine the conceptualization of power is to explore
whether individuals from different cultures demonstrate the same strength
of association between the concepts of power on the one hand and those of
entitlement and responsibility on the other. The individualistic and agentic
nature of Western cultures and the dominating goals of satisfying one’s own
needs suggest that activating power in Westerners should increase the ac-
cessibility of concepts related to entitlement and reward for these individ-
uals. On the other hand, the primary goals of maintaining and fostering
relationships in East Asian cultures means that activating power would
increase the accessibility of concepts related to responsibility and depend-
ability for individuals exposed to those cultures.
Zhong, Magee, Maddux, and Galinsky (2005) tested the proposition that
culture determines meanings of power using a reaction time design. In their
study, participants were informed that they were about to engage in a study
investigating the ability to detect objects under distracting conditions. Spe-
cifically, they were presented with a number of letter strings, and they had to
decide whether each string of letters constituted a word or non-word. They
were instructed to go through this task as fast and as accurately as possible.
At the same time, they were told that light flashes would be presented to
distract them. It was pointed out that they should attempt to remain un-
influenced by the light flashes, and to do so, they should concentrate on the
focus point that was presented in the center of the screen. The letter strings
would occur at exactly the same position.
The light flashes actually constituted the power manipulation. The word
‘‘power’’ or ‘‘paper’’ was flashed for 86 ms at one of four positions on the
screen. It was immediately masked with a letter string (i.e., ‘‘XX’’) that was
presented for 14 ms. Thus, the concept of power was activated outside of
conscious awareness when the word ‘‘power’’ was presented (see Bargh &
Chartrand, 2000).

Immediately after the presentation of the masking stimulus (i.e., ‘‘XX’’), a

target stimulus was presented and participants had to decide whether it was
a word or a non-word. The target stimulus included 4 words that are related
to the concept of responsibility (responsibility, duty, obligation, and depend-
able) and 4 words that are related to the concept of entitlement (deserve,
merit, earn, and entitlement), as well as some neutral words and non-words
that served as controls.
We found that when European-Americans were subliminally primed
with power, accessibility of the entitlement words was facilitated, whereas
accessibility of the responsibility words was inhibited. These results indi-
cate an association between the concept of power and concepts associated
with entitlement in European-Americans. In contrast, when Asians and
Asian-Americans were primed with power, their response latencies to en-
titlement-related words increased whereas their response latencies to re-
sponsibility-related words decreased.

Response Latencies to Action and Restraint Words

We also explored the consequences of power between Western and Eastern

cultures by looking at whether power indeed activates an assertive action
mental schema for individuals from independent cultures and a restraint
schema for people from interdependent cultures.
We used a reaction time design as in the first study. We invited partic-
ipants to perform two different computer tasks. The first task was a ma-
nipulation of power, in which participants were asked to perform a word
generation task. Participants in the high-power condition were asked to
generate 4 words that related to the concept of power; the low-power par-
ticipants were asked to generate 4 words that related to the concept of
subordination. Participants generated words such as ‘authority’ and ‘con-
trol’ in the power condition and ‘weak’ and ‘submissive’ in the subordinate
condition. In the second task, which immediately followed the first one
participants were asked to react as quickly and accurately as possible to
whether a string of letters presented on the center of the computer screen
was a word or non-word in English. Included in these strings of letters were
a number of words that related to assertive action and restraint. There were
5 assertive action words, including change, challenge, oppose, move, and
start, and 5 restraint words: hold, restrain, withhold, stay, and cease.
For European-Americans, those who received the power prime had shorter
response latencies to assertive action-related words and longer response late-
ncies to restraint-related words than those primed with subordination. This
Power, Culture, and Action 67

suggests that activating the concept of power for individuals in independent

cultures tends to increase the cognitive accessibility of assertive action-related
constructs and to decrease the accessibility of restraint-related constructs.
This is consistent with the studies conducted in the West that demonstrated a
power-action association (Galinsky et al., 2003; Keltner et al., 2003).
For Asians and Asian-Americans, however, this pattern was reversed.
Asians and Asian-Americans who received the power prime had shorter
response latencies to restraint-related words and longer response latencies to
assertive action-related words than those in the control condition. Thus, the
experience of power by individuals in interdependent cultures increases the
mental accessibility of restraint-related constructs and decreases the acces-
sibility of assertive action-related constructs.

A Commons Dilemma: Comparing Asians and Asian-Americans and


In addition to the reaction time studies, we have demonstrated that power

leads to actual restraint behaviors by East Asians. Galinsky et al. (2003)
showed that power leads to action regardless of the social consequences of
that action. In their study, the powerful compared to low-power and control
individuals took more from a common resource, a situation where individ-
uals must decide how much they want to take from a common resource
pool. This assertive action by the powerful ultimately exhausted the resource
into extinction. Galinsky et al. (2003) considered this evidence supporting
the proposition that power leads to assertive action, even when this action
can hurt collective interests.
However, this study was conducted in a major U.S. city with a predom-
inant Western religion and in which the vast majority of participants were
European-American students. If we were to conduct the commons dilemma
study using Asian and Asian-American participants, we would expect that
high-power Asians and Asian-Americans would not show the same levels of
taking from a common resource that Galinsky et al. (2003) demonstrated
with high-power European-Americans. If power is associated with restraint
for those with an East Asian cultural background, then Asians and Asian-
Americans primed with power should take less than Asians and Asian-
Americans who are primed with low power.
This is in fact what we found in a pilot study (Zhong et al., 2005) with
a sample of undergraduate Asians and Asian-Americans at a large Mid-
western university. At the beginning of the study, half of the participants
were instructed to write about a time when they held a position of power

(high-power prime). The other half of participants were instructed to write

about a time when someone held power over them (low-power prime). As an
ostensibly unrelated study, participants were then told that they were to
make a choice about how many points (up to a maximum of 10) they
wanted to take from an initial, common pool of 100 points. Participants
were instructed that the person with the most points from each experimental
session would be entered into a lottery to win $50; this was done to induce
participants to maximize the incentive to take some points. However, in
order to prevent all participants from taking all 10 points, we introduced
one major caveat; participants were told that if the entire pool of 100 points
was collectively used up, then no one would be eligible to enter the lottery.
Since individuals participated in sessions of 12–15 at a time, using up the
resource was a distinct possibility if everyone took their maximum. Thus,
there was a specific incentive to consider how one’s actions might affect
others in determining how many points to take.
Overall, the results supported our power-restraint hypothesis: Asians and
Asian-Americans primed with high power took less from the commons than
those who were primed with low power. The tendency toward action, which in
this case served selfish ends, was not observed for Asians and Asian-Americans.
This suggests that the default relationship between power and assertive action is
not invariant across cultures.


This work is only the foundation for a rich understanding of the potential
behavioral responses that individuals in high- and low-power positions can
have in different national cultures. Our data suggest that the default setting –
the implicit response – for power-holders from East Asian cultures is one of
less assertive action than for power-holders from the West and, at times, one of
complete restraint. Yet, we acknowledge that it is unlikely that this relationship
persists across all situations in these cultures and to understand the relationship
between power and action more completely one must consider the contextual
meaning of any particular action as well as who is affected by the action.
Our interpretation of why East Asians with power exercise more restraint
than their Western counterparts is that their self-concept, embedded in re-
lationships, leaves them with a heightened sense of responsibility for others
in their community. When taking action harms community members, as it
did in the commons dilemma study we reported, high-power East Asians
appear to recognize the consequences their action will have on others and
Power, Culture, and Action 69

refrain from depleting the commons. Consider an alternative scenario: a

public goods dilemma, in which the taking of action (making contributions
to the shared resource) improves collective well-being. If, on the one hand,
the community affected by contributions to the public good was one in
which an East Asian power-holder felt deeply embedded, she might be bold
in action, relative to a powerful Westerner, to insure the livelihood of the
collective. This would also be consistent with the notion that East Asians are
more prevention-focused than Westerners (Lee et al., 2000). When action
prevents harm to people for whom they feel responsible, high-power East
Asians should be especially action-oriented. On the other hand, if the com-
munity in possession of the public good was composed of individuals with
whom an East Asian power-holder felt no connection, then her chance of
taking actions would likely be no greater or possibly even lower than those
of a high-power individual from a Western culture. Consideration of these
scenarios suggests that the sense of connectedness and related variables,
such as the social categories of others whom one’s behavior could affect
(Yuki, Maddux, Brewer, & Takemura, 2005), are important moderating
factors in the relationship between power, culture, and action. When power
is conceptualized as responsibility, whether assertive action is taken or re-
straint rules the day will be determined by how action by the powerful will
impact the powerless.
In contrast to our theory and data on East Asians’ behavior, Westerners’
action appears to be driven by a conceptualization of power as connected to
entitlement. When a Western power-holder feels particularly entitled, the
tendency to be assertive and take forceful action compared to Eastern
power-holders should be magnified. One interesting implication of this rea-
soning is that the longer someone has power in the West, the more entitled
she may feel, and the bolder she may become.


With the benefit of the cross-cultural perspective, researchers are now more
aware of the complexities of how the mind works and how adaptable psy-
chological processes are to different cultural surroundings. As a result, it has
become increasingly important for research to explicitly consider the extent
to which any given phenomenon may be bound by culture.
In this chapter we set out to provide evidence for the moderating effect of
culture on the link between power and action. Our central hypothesis is that
Western and East Asian cultures differ fundamentally in the goals they

prescribe, in the way power is conceptualized, and in the type of behavior in

which the powerful engage. We reviewed evidence that power tends to
facilitate behavior that serves the salient goals of the individual; that is,
power increases goal-directed responses. For western cultural backgrounds
with their independent self-construals, the salient goals are individualistic,
whereas for individuals from East Asian cultural backgrounds with in-
terdependent self-construals, the predominant goals are collectivistic. In
addition, power is conceptually linked to influence in the West but to re-
sponsibility in the East. Therefore power should increase assertive action
among Westerners but produce restraint among East Asians. This is indeed
what we found across several preliminary studies: the enactment and
expression of power is inextricably linked to and moderated by culture.

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Jing Zhou

In this chapter, I develop a model concerning effects of paternalistic
organizational control on group creativity. I develop the model on the
basis of a diverse set of literatures, including research on individual and
group creativity, paternalistic leadership, self-systems theory, and its im-
plications for impact of choice on intrinsic motivation. According to this
model, (a) paternalistic organizational control enhances work group cre-
ativity for groups in the East; (b) the impact of paternalistic organiza-
tional control on group creativity is mediated by groups’ intrinsic
motivation; and (c) national culture (i.e., East versus West) moderates
the relationship between organizational control and group intrinsic mo-
tivation (and subsequently, group creativity) in such a way that organ-
izational control would enhance intrinsic motivation (and creativity) for
groups in the East, but it would inhibit intrinsic motivation (and crea-
tivity) for groups in the West.

Commentators argue that with the advancement of new technology, the

changing nature of work, and with the intense competition in the international

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 75–94
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09004-9

business environment, we are at the beginning of a ‘‘creative economy’’

(BusinessWeek, 2005). In the ‘‘creative economy’’, one of the key drivers for
companies’ survival and growth is creativity exhibited by their employees.
Consequently, management research has made substantial progress in under-
standing the factors that facilitate or inhibit employee creativity (see Amabile,
1996; Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004, for reviews). Although more and more
employees work in groups, relatively less research has been conducted on
work group creativity (Shalley et al., 2004). Moreover, even less research has
been done on group creativity in non-Western countries.
Because most research has been done in the West concerning what factors
influence employee creativity at the individual level of analysis, it might be
problematic to directly borrow findings documented in this literature to
inform us on how to manage group creativity in Eastern countries (Shin &
Zhou, 2003). For example, a robust finding in the individual employee cre-
ativity literature is that autonomy has a positive impact on creativity, pre-
sumably through enhancing employees’ intrinsic motivation, which is
theorized to foster creativity (Amabile, 1996). However, recent research in
social psychology revealed that the positive effect of autonomy or choice on
intrinsic motivation is not equal across cultures. Specially, Iyengar and
Lepper (1999) found that Asian American (i.e., Chinese, Japanese, and
Vietnamese) school children performed better and were more intrinsically
motivated when they believed that their mother – an authoritative figure –
chose the experimental task and materials for them than the children who
made these choices themselves.
These results concerning differential effects of autonomy on intrinsic
motivation leads to an interesting question: Will paternalistic organizational
control, enhance or restrict creativity, especially group creativity? In the
pages that follow, I will develop a conceptual model concerning how pa-
ternalistic organizational control affects group creativity in organizations.
Paternalistic organizational control is defined as the extent to which top
management has control and influence over work groups’ personnel (e.g.,
designation of group leaders and promotion of group members) and task
arrangements (e.g., selection of projects, use of budget or funding, and
acquisition of material and equipment). Although few previous studies have
examined the impact of paternalistic organizational control on creativity,
prior research suggests that top management or leadership behaviors have
substantial influence on employee creativity (Shin & Zhou, 2003).
The conceptual model will be formulated on the basis of a review of lit-
eratures on creativity, paternalistic leadership, and the self-systems theory de-
veloped by Markus and Kitayama (1991). The premise of the model developed
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 77

in this chapter is that paternalistic organizational control positively affects

work groups’ collective intrinsic motivation in the East rather than in the
West. Intrinsic motivation, in turn, positively affects group creativity.
This model seeks to contribute to the employee creativity literature in at
least three ways. First, it introduces the construct of paternalistic organ-
izational control. Second, it theorizes the motivational mechanism through
which organizational control exert positive impact on group creativity. And
finally, from a research method standpoint, the development of the theo-
retical model, especially the key construct of paternalistic organizational
control, follows an ‘‘indigenous approach’’ to research involving interna-
tional management (Yang, Hwang, & Kim, in press). More specially,
whereas much of previous theorizing and research in this area has often
taken a ‘‘generalizability approach’’ in which theories developed in the West
especially in the U.S. are tested in countries with a non-Western culture to
see whether they still hold in a different cultural context. Alternatively,
research has also taken a ‘‘comparative approach’’ in which, for example,
data are collected from countries from the West and the East, and com-
parisons are made to see whether there are systematic differences in em-
ployees’ attitudes and behavior between the West and the East. In contrast,
the ‘‘indigenous approach’’, taken in the present theory development, fo-
cuses on identifying constructs specifically relevant and prominent in, for
example, a cultural context in the East, and theorizing the relationships
among these constructs (e.g., Farh, Earley, & Lin, 1997). In doing so, this
approach allows researchers to discover unique constructs and theoretical
relationships that would otherwise not be attended to because they would
not be characteristic of organizations operating in the West.



To set the stage for developing the model of paternalistic organizational

control and group creativity, in this section, I will provide a selective and
relevant review of theorizing and research in the areas of individual and group
creativity in the workplace. I will start with a definition of group creativity.

Group Creativity Defined

Consistent with the creativity literature (Amabile, 1988; Woodman, Sawyer,

& Griffin, 1993), in this paper I define group creativity as the production of

novel and potentially useful ideas, products, services, processes, or knowl-

edge by a small group or employees working together.
Here I use the term ‘‘group creativity’’ instead of ‘‘team creativity’’ inten-
tionally. Some researchers (e.g., Salas, Dickinson, Converse, & Tannenbauem,
1992) emphasize the need to differentiate groups from teams. They suggest
that the term ‘‘team’’ should be used when there is a high level of task
interdependence among a collective of employees working together, whereas
the term ‘‘group’’ should be used when task interdependence is relatively low.
In this chapter I use the term ‘‘group creativity’’ to represent creativity
exhibited by both group and team with varying degrees of interdependence.
That is, a group of employees can produce creative ideas in many different
ways; they could work highly interdependently or have low levels of inter-
dependence. For example, a task force could be assembled together to
brainstorm ideas for solving a particular problem. In this case the employees
work closely and interdependently together toward a common goal, and
once the goal is accomplished the group ceases to exist.
As another example, a research and development group could be put
together in a certain area of science or technological research and devel-
opment (e.g., image processing). This group of employees could stay to-
gether as an intact ‘‘unit’’ over a relatively long period of time (e.g., several
years or even decades), working on different projects either highly interde-
pendently or somewhat independently, depending on the complexity,
duration, and scope of the projects. When they work highly interdepend-
ently, each individual group member may have equal involvement or con-
tribution to different routes of creative idea generation. Routes refer to
avenues through which creativity in organizations comes into being (Zhou &
George, 2003). More specifically, Zhou and George (2003) suggest that there
are five routes essential for creative idea production: identifying a problem
or an opportunity, gathering information, generating ideas, evaluating and
modifying ideas, and implementing ideas. After reviewing research on the
creative process, these researchers concluded that while all five routes are
essential for creativity, they do not necessarily unfold linearly or in a par-
ticular predetermined sequence. Relevant to our definition of group crea-
tivity is the fact that group members could have equal involvement and
contribution to all five routes of creative idea generation. Alternatively, their
involvement and contribution are equal but they do not interact with each
other intensively while making the contributions. Yet another possible al-
ternative is that different group members make different contributions to
different routes of creative idea generation. Finally, it is possible that
different group members work on different sub-projects. Although they
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 79

offer input to other members’ projects when needed, they largely complete
their sub-projects in an independent fashion.
The above discussion concerning different ways in which groups produce
creative ideas provide implications for measuring group creativity. To cap-
ture the true level of creativity exhibited by an intact work group, it is
necessary to take all modes of creative idea production discussed above into
consideration. One way to do this is to specify a time period that by ob-
jective criteria (e.g., the entire duration of a taskforce) or, in the absence of
any objective criteria, by researchers’ subjective judgment is reasonable
given the goal of the research. After specifying the time period, and when
objective measures of creativity are available, the researchers can collect the
objective creative outputs generated by groups during that time period or
subjective ratings of group creativity by knowledgeable parties. (For a more
detailed discussion on objective and subjective measures of creativity, see
Zhou & Shalley, 2003.) For example, Pelz and Andrews (1966) collected
data on number of patents obtained by work groups in a three-year period
prior to data collection.

Research on Group Creativity

Shalley et al. (2004) reviewed the employee group creativity literature. The
review led them to make two important conclusions. One, they found that
only limited theorizing and research have been conducted in the area of
employee group creativity. Although a large body of literature exists on
group brainstorming, this literature may be informative to research on cre-
ativity in employee groups, by definition employee creativity is conceptually
different from some of the brainstorming research conducted in the be-
havioral laboratory. More specifically, the definition of employee creativity
emphasizes both the novelty and usefulness aspect of creative idea produc-
tion, whereas research on brainstorming typically records fluency and
quantity of ideas generated as creativity. Therefore, compared with work-
place creativity which must take usefulness into consideration, research on
brainstorming tends to emphasize or measure only the novelty dimension of
creativity. In addition, the composition and processes of on-going employee
groups in work organizations may be quite different from those experienced
by college student ad hoc groups assembled for a short period of time in the
behavioral laboratory.
Two, they found that the input–process–output framework is useful in
guiding theorizing and research in this area. More specifically, the input-
process-output framework posits that a group’s creative output is a direct

result of the group’s processes, which are influenced by input made by either
the group members or external agents to the group.
On the basis of this review, they called for more theoretical and empirical
work to be carried out to describe and predict what factors are positively
related to group creativity. The goal of this paper is to formulate a model
concerning effects of paternalistic organizational control on group creativ-
ity. The development of this model is greatly informed by research on in-
dividual creativity in the workplace. I now turn to a briefly overview of that
body of research.

Research on Individual Employee Creativity: The Central Role

of Intrinsic Motivation

In contrast to the relatively slow pace of progress made in research on work

groups’ creativity, research on creativity exhibited by individual employees
has grown rather rapidly (Shalley et al., 2004). Much of this research has
been guided by an intrinsic motivation perspective. Intrinsic motivation
refers to the motivation state that individuals experience when they are
interested in and excited by the work task themselves, instead of seeing
completing the work tasks as a means toward getting something outside the
tasks (Deci & Ryan, 1985). According to this perspective, when individuals
are motivated by the tasks themselves, the individuals tend to be willing to
devote high levels of cognitive energy to the tasks, to be playful with ideas,
and to be persistent when faced with obstacles and setbacks (Amabile, 1996;
Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Shalley, 1991; Zhou, 1998). All these motiva-
tional forces are theorized to lead to high levels of creativity. Thus, intrinsic
motivation is a key ingredient for individual creativity (Amabile, 1988).
In addition, this perspective posits that contextual and organizational
factors can substantially boost or reduce employees’ intrinsic motivation
(Amabile, 1988). Key contextual and organizational factors examined in
previous research included leadership (Shin & Zhou, 2003; Tierney, Farmer,
& Graen, 1999) and supervisory behaviors (George & Zhou, 2001; Oldham
& Cummings, 1996; Zhou, 2003). Among field studies, only the Shin and
Zhou (2003) study directly tested the theorized psychological mechanism –
intrinsic motivation. The study demonstrated that intrinsic motivation par-
tially mediated the relationship between transformational leadership and
creativity. Although many studies did not directly test whether intrinsic
motivation was a mediator, results obtained in those studies were largely
consistent with theoretical predictions derived from the intrinsic motivation
perspective (Shalley et al., 2004).
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 81

To summarize, research on individual employees’ creativity suggests that

intrinsic motivation is key to actual creativity, and that contextual factors
such as leadership can facilitate or inhibit creativity via intrinsic motivation.
Although the vast majority of research applying the intrinsic motivation
theory to creativity has been conducted in the West, the Shin and Zhou
(2003) study, which obtained a positive association between intrinsic moti-
vation and creativity (correlation coefficient ¼ 0.19, po0.05), was conducted
in an Eastern country – Korea. Thus, there is reason to believe that in both
the East and the West, intrinsic motivation leads to creativity. However, the
manner in which intrinsic motivation can be boosted may differ between the
East and the West. I argue that in the East, intrinsic motivation would be
boosted by paternalistic organizational control, whereas in the West it would
be reduced by this variable. Next, I will first review theorizing and research on
paternalistic leadership, a concepts that was originated in the East, followed
by a review of self-systems theory and its implications for the relationship
between paternalistic organizational control and intrinsic motivation.

Empirical and theoretical work on paternalistic leadership has gained mo-
mentum in recent years, perhaps because its importance in the East has been
recognized by more and more researchers. Farh and Cheng (2000) and
Aycan (in press) are two representative pieces in this area of research.

Paternalistic Leadership: Using the Chinese Context as an Illustration

Farh and Cheng (2000) presented an integrated review of paternalistic

leadership in overseas Chinese family businesses, and analyzed the cultural
roots of this type of leadership. Because China is a prototypical country in
the East, the Farh and Cheng paper is quite informative.
Relevant to the present paper are two points made by Farh and Cheng
(2000). The first point is concerned with the general research methodology.
They note that much of leadership research in Chinese organizations in-
volved translating measurement instruments of leadership behaviors from
English to Chinese. These instruments were grounded in the leadership lit-
erature built in the West, especially in the U.S. After being translated into
Chinese, they would then be used in studies that were designed to test the
generalizability of Western theories in the East (e.g., China). Farh and
Cheng argued that there are substantial differences between the cultural

contexts in the East and the West. Thus, testing Western theories can only
provide evidence concerning boundary conditions of extant leadership the-
ories developed in the West. They suggest that a complementary and per-
haps more fruitful avenue of research is to develop indigenous concepts and
theories specifically for the Chinese context.
The second point is concerned with the concept of paternalistic leader-
ship. Farh and Cheng (2000) define paternalistic leadership as ‘‘y a father-
like leadership style in which clear and strong authority is combined with
concern and considerateness and elements of moral leadership y .’’ (p. 85).
They point out that this type of leadership is widely used in overseas Chinese
family businesses. In fact, their preliminary survey of employees in China
indicated that employees expected and responded positively to this type of

Paternalism: An East and West Comparison

Consistent with Farh and Cheng, Aycan (in press) suggests that paternalism
includes both control and care. Translating this duality into the workplace,
Aycan argues that paternalistic leaders or superiors provide their employees
with care, protection, and guidance. In return, the employees are expected to
fulfill their obligation in this relationship by being loyal and deferent to the
leaders or superiors.
Whereas Farh and Cheng’s research on paternalistic leadership focused
only on the Chinese context in an attempt to uncover the richness and
complexity of this concept, Aycan (in press) takes a broader theoretical
perspective. More specifically, she argues that although paternalism is an
indigenous concept originated in the East and continues to play a significant
role there, it is relevant to both the East and the West. By ‘‘East’’, she refers
to countries in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle-East whose national
cultural values are characterized as highly traditional, hierarchical, and
collectivistic. In contrast, in her terminology ‘‘West’’ refers to countries in
North American, Western and Northern Europe whose national cultural
values are characterized as highly industrialized, egalitarian, and individ-
ualistic. By situating this concept in both the Eastern and the Western
countries, Aycan may have foregone the opportunity to uncover the richness
and complexity of this concept in a particular national context. However,
her approach would allow her to ground this concept in the larger literature
on cross-cultural similarities and differences in relationships at work,
thereby facilitating comparative research comparing effects of paternalistic
leadership on work outcomes in the East and the West.
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 83

In particular, Aycan grounded the paternalism concept in Hofstede’s

(1980) framework. She maintains that paternalism is likely to be positive
and desirable in countries that have cultural values characterized by high
levels of collectivism and large power distance (i.e., countries in the East). In
contrast, it is likely to carry a negative tone and results in negative work
outcomes in countries that have cultural values characterized by low levels
of collectivism and small power distance (i.e., countries in the West).
According to Hofstede (1980), collectivism ‘‘is characterized by a tight social
framework in which people distinguish between ingroups and outgroups,
they expect their ingroup to look after them, and in exchange for that they
feel they owe absolute loyalty to it’’ (p. 45). On the other hand, individ-
ualism refers to ‘‘a loosely knit social framework in which people are sup-
posed to take care of themselves and of their immediate families only’’
(p. 45). In addition to individualism-collectivism, another key dimension in
Hofstede’s (1980) framework is power distance. It refers to ‘‘the extent to
which a society accepts the fact that power in institutions and organizations
is distributed unequally’’ (p. 45).
In sum, Aycan (in press) situates the concept of paternalism at the in-
tersection of collectivism and power distance. Because countries in the East
can be roughly categorized as having high collectivism and large power
distance, and those in the West may be loosely categorized as having high
individualism and small power distance, following her analysis an East–
West comparison of effects of paternalism becomes possible. Because the
central concern of the present chapter is on group creativity, and because the
creativity literature suggests that group intrinsic motivation is a key ingre-
dient for group creativity, it would be necessary to examine effects of
paternalism-related concepts on intrinsic motivation. For this purpose, I
now turn to a review and discussion on a major distinction between the East
and the West: self-construals delineated in the self-systems theory, especially
the implications of this theory for relationships between paternalistic
organizational control and intrinsic motivation.


Self-construals are building blocks governing social relationships among
individuals, and they have significant motivational, cognitive, and emotional
consequences. On the basis of previous theory and research in psychology

and anthropology, Markus and Kitayama (1991) contend that individuals in

different cultures have substantially different self-construals. These differ-
ences are especially profound when one compares East Asian cultures rep-
resented by the Japanese, and Chinese cultures with Western cultures
represented by the American culture. More specifically, whereas people
representing the predominate culture in the U.S. as well as many European
countries tend to hold self-construals that highlight individuals’ independ-
ence and uniqueness from others, East Asians’ self-construals emphasize
one’s interdependence with others, particularly one’s interconnectedness and
belongingness with one’s social in-groups. Thus, according to Markus and
Kitayama, there are two distinctly different types of self-construals – inde-
pendent self-construals commonly seen in the U.S. and interdependent self-
construals held by East Asians. And different types of self-construals result
in different nature and processes of motivation, cognition, and emotion.
Particularly relevant to the present paper is the notion that East Asians’
self-construals are interdependent in nature. The self does not exist in iso-
lation. Instead, one is an integral part of a social entity and thus the self can
only be appropriately and meaningfully defined as part of certain social
relationships. After an individual is defined as part of a social relationship,
he or she will is motivated to fit in the relationship properly by fulfilling his
or her obligations defined in this relationship.
Using self-systems theory, Iyengar and Lepper (1999) investigated effects
of choice on intrinsic motivation. They reasoned that for independent selves,
having personal choice would lead to higher intrinsic motivation than not
having such a choice. In contrast, for interdependent selves, having choices
made for them by trusted authority figures or peers would make them most
intrinsically motivated. Results of their studies largely supported these the-
oretical predictions. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the results of this
set of studies suggest that for interdependent selves, paternalistic organiza-
tional control would enhance their intrinsic motivation, whereas for inde-
pendent selves it would diminish their intrinsic motivation. Similar to the
authority figures who made choice for the participants in Iyengar and
Lepper’s (1999) studies, paternalistic organizational control represents au-
thority figures (i.e., leaders or top management in an organization), making
choices for their employees. For employees with interdependent self-construals
(e.g., employees commonly seen in the East), experiencing paternalistic or-
ganizational control would enhance their intrinsic motivation toward the
chosen task. In contrast, for employees with independent self-construals (e.g.,
employees commonly seen in the West), such experiences would tend to
diminish their intrinsic motivation.
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 85

As suggested above, the self-systems theory and the Iyengar and Lepper
studies focus on the individual level of analysis. In addition, the above
analysis concerning the relationship between paternalistic organizational
control and employee intrinsic motivation focus on the top management–
employee dyad. Nevertheless, the same logic can be applied to the group
level of analysis. Consider, for example, a group of employees in the East.
Because the group members each has interdependent self-construals, aggre-
gating this tendency to the group level, it is conceivable that the group as an
entity is also interdependent in nature when one considers this group’s re-
lationship with top management. As a collective entity, the group as a whole
would have a high level of collective intrinsic motivation when top man-
agement exerts paternalistic organizational control. On the other hand,
when a group of employees in the West experiences paternalistic organi-
zational control, the group’s collective intrinsic motivation will be reduced.
Thus, taken together, the impact of paternalistic organizational control
on the group’s intrinsic motivation parallels the influence of paternalistic
organizational control on individual employees’ intrinsic motivation. Draw-
ing from aforementioned theory and research in diverse sources including
literatures on employee creativity, self-systems theory, and paternalistic
leadership, I next formulate a model of group creativity.



On the basis of the theoretical viewpoints reviewed above, in this section I

develop a model concerning effects of paternalistic organizational control
on group creativity. Fig. 1 is a graphic representation of this model.

Effects of Paternalistic Organizational Control on Group Creativity

Recall that at the beginning of this chapter, paternalistic organizational

control was defined as the extent to which an organization exerts influence
on its work groups’ personnel (e.g., the designation of the group leader and
the promotion of the group members) and task arrangements (e.g., the
selection of project topics, utilization of allocated funding, and acquisi-
tion of equipment) (Carroll, 1967; Fischer, Blackmon, & Woodward, 1990;
Kowalewska, 1979; Tannenbaum, 1968). This construct is rooted in paternal-
ism and paternalistic leadership (e.g., Aycan, in press; Farh & Cheng, 2000)

Paternalistic Group
Organizational Control Group Creativity
Intrinsic Motivation

National Culture
(East vs. West)

Fig. 1. A Model of Effects of Paternalistic Organizational Control on

Group Creativity.

reviewed earlier in this chapter. Paternalism and related concepts have been
discussed in various literatures ranging from political science, philosophy,
sociology, to business and management (for an extensive description see
Aycan, in press). However, there is not yet a consensus in management
research on exactly what dimensions the construct of paternalistic organi-
zational control entails. For the purposes of this chapter, I follow common
elements in theorizing and research by Aycan (in press) and Farh and Cheng
(2000) in arguing that paternalistic organizational control includes both
control and care. Therefore, the paternalistic organizational construct as
defined in this chapter is closely related to the benevolent paternalism di-
mension identified by Aycan and the benevolence dimension identified by
Farh and Cheng.
Because groups operate in the context of the organization (Gladstein,
1984), organizational factors should affect group processes, which, in turn,
affect group creativity (Woodman et al., 1993). Organizational control is
likely to be such a factor (Fischer et al., 1990; Rosner, 1968; Tannenbaum,
1968). Unfortunately, little research has directly examined this possibility.
The literature developed in the West would suggest that when the or-
ganization has a great deal of control over how to conduct the group task
(e.g., selecting topics and using funds) and the promotion of group mem-
bers, it takes the sense of ownership and choice away from the group.
Consequently, the group members may be reluctant to develop and use
work strategies and may lose interest in external information exchange.
Thus, a seemingly straightforward prediction is organizational control neg-
atively affects group creativity.
However, the above arguments are largely based on empirical data from
Western countries such as the U.S. (e.g., Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, &
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 87

Herron, 1996; Pelz & Andrews, 1966), and directly generalizing them to
work groups in the East may prove to be premature. As suggested earlier,
for work groups and their top management in the East, their relationship is
characterized by power differentials and mutual obligations: subordinate
work groups should respect, trust, and obey authorities (e.g., top manage-
ment), and authorities should provide direction and structure for the
groups. Therefore, in the East, work groups may actually expect a great deal
of control from the top management of the organization. When manage-
ment does exhibit controls, the groups may interpret this ‘‘control from
above’’ as coaching and mentoring, because top management is paying at-
tention to their groups and providing directions, thereby fulfilling the man-
agement’s obligation of taking care of their subordinates. Consequently, the
groups’ collective intrinsic motivation is boosted. As suggested by the cre-
ativity literature (e.g., Amabile, 1988), intrinsic motivation leads to crea-
tivity. Thus, I propose:

Proposition 1. Groups in the East will exhibit higher levels of creativity

when their organizations exert more control than when organizations
exert less control.

Mediating Role of Group Intrinsic Motivation

To develop a complete understanding of the relationship between paternal-

istic organizational control and group creativity, it would be necessary to
identify the intervening psychological or group processes that explain the
aforementioned positive impact of paternalistic organizational control on
group creativity. Essentially, the above discussion suggests that the positive
impact of paternalistic organizational control on groups’ creativity is due to
the fact that paternalistic organizational control enhances groups’ intrinsic
Consistent with the motivation and creativity literatures (e.g., Amabile,
1988; Ambrose & Kulik, 1999), groups’ intrinsic motivation is defined as
group members’ collective direction, effort, and persistence toward creative
endeavors. This group-level construct is analogous to intrinsic motivation as
an individual-level construct. However, a group cannot directly experience
intrinsic motivation per se; as a psychological mechanism, intrinsic moti-
vation is experienced by individual group members. Thus, group intrinsic
motivation may be measured by taking average of individual group mem-
bers’ self-report intrinsic motivation. It may also be measured by asking key
group members to report the general level of intrinsic motivation present in

the group. If these key informants’ reports demonstrate reasonable agree-

ment, their reports can then be summed or averaged to create a measure of
group intrinsic motivation. These two types of equally acceptable measures
represent the additive model and the direct consensus model, respectively,
defined in the multilevel research. More specifically, Chan (1998, p. 236)
points out that an addictive model is one in which ‘‘higher level unit is a
summation of the lower level units regardless of the variance among these
units’’. And a direct consensus model is one in which the ‘‘meaning of higher
level construct is in the consensus among lower level units’’.
When a group has a high level of intrinsic motivation, the group members’
attention is directed toward coming up with new and appropriate ideas, they
put forth great effort, and they stay engaged and being persistent when faced
with obstacles. The large body of literature on individual employee crea-
tivity, the central tenet of which was briefly summarized earlier in this paper,
has established that intrinsic motivation is a key ingredient for creativity to
occur (Shalley et al., 2004). Amabile (1988) has affirmed that parallel effects
of intrinsic motivation on creativity holds at the group level as well.
In addition, employees often make sense of their work by taking cues
from their social environment (Wrzesniewski, Dutton, & Debebe, 2003).
Their motivation toward work tasks are also shaped by their social and
organizational environment. For work groups in the East, paternalistic or-
ganizational control may serve as cues to indicate that their groups’ work is
important and valuable, and that their organizations administrators and
leaders have high expectation for them and trust that they are capable of
successfully producing creative work. These practices from the organization
send signal to the groups that the management and leaders are fulfilling their
part of the mutual obligation, and should be seen as cues inviting the groups
to fulfill their part of the mutual obligation. Work groups in the East are
motivated to do so. Thus, overall, paternalistic organizational control
should enhance groups’ intrinsic motivation in countries in the East. And it
is intrinsic motivation, in turn, that propels groups to exhibit high levels of
creativity. Consequently, I propose:

Proposition 2. In the East, group intrinsic motivation will mediate the re-
lationship between paternalistic organizational control and group creativity.

Moderating Role of National Culture

Throughout the foregoing discussions, I implied that paternalistic organ-

izational control would have different impact on group intrinsic motivation
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 89

and subsequently group creativity for groups in the East and the West.
Whereas Propositions 1 and 2 would apply to work groups in the East, the
aforementioned discussions suggest that groups in the West will experience
the opposite effects. Consequently, I propose:
Proposition 3a. National culture will moderate the relationship between
paternalistic organizational control and group intrinsic motivation in
such a way that high levels of paternalistic organizational control will
boost group intrinsic motivation for groups working in the East, and
diminish group intrinsic motivation for groups working in the West.

Proposition 3b. National culture will moderate the relationship between

paternalistic organizational control and group creativity in such a way
that high levels of paternalistic organizational control will results in
greater group creativity for groups working in the East, and results in less
creativity for groups in the West.

Proposition 3c. Group intrinsic motivation will mediate the moderated

relationships among paternalistic organizational control, national culture,
and group creativity.


Drawing from a diverse set of literatures, in this paper, I have developed a

model that posits that paternalistic organizational control fosters group
creativity in East instead of the West. In addition, the model postulates that
the positive influence of organizational control on group creativity is via
elevating groups’ intrinsic motivation. This model contributes to the cre-
ativity literature by being the first one depicting differential effects of a
concept rooted in the East on group creativity for work groups in the East
and the West. In addition to calling for future research to test and refine this
model, I suggest that this model could also stimulate researchers to explore
additional avenues of theorizing and research along this line of inquiry.
One possibility for future theorizing and research is concerned with
whether paternalistic organizational control will work in the same fashion
on groups with collective interdependent self-construals working in compa-
nies operating in the West as in the East. Previous research has shown that
influence of cultural values on attitudes and behavior could be influenced by
the situation one is in. For example, Haberstroh, Oyserman, Schwarz,
Kuhnen, and Ji (2002) found that after being primed with interdependent

self-construals, individuals with chronic independent self-construals (i.e.,

Germans) could exhibit similar patterns of behaviors on a judgment task as
individuals with chronic interdependent self-construals. Applying this logic
to groups with chronic interdependent self-construals, it is conceivable that
they can be primed with independent self-construals. If this turns out to be
the case, then one might follow the logical deduction that groups with
chronic interdependent self-construals working in the West may be primed
so that they hold independent self-construals in the workplace in the West.
Consequently, paternalistic organizational control will not have any positive
effects on them when they work in the West.
Following the same logic, therefore, it is conceivable that groups with
high levels of collective interdependent self-construals will respond favor-
ably to paternalistic organizational control by exhibiting great creativity
only in the East. If those groups were moved to the U.S., for instance,
paternalistic organizational control would not exert similar impact on those
groups’ creativity.
In addition, groups engage in social comparison through which they reach
conclusions with regard to whether they are treated justly and fairly. To the
extent that leadership in an organization exerts paternalistic organizational
control only to certain groups but not other groups, for example, using
paternalistic organizational control only on a group of scientists from the
East, but not on groups comprised of scientists from the West; the group
from the East may feel that they are being treated unfairly and hence will
not respond favorably by being more creative. Future research is needed to
examine these interesting possibilities.

Comparison with Relevant Theories

Several major creativity theories have discussed issues related to group cre-
ativity. For example, in her seminal work, Amabile (1988, 1996) identifies
key components that contribute to an individual’s creativity. In addition, she
specifies how these components play a role in a series of stages (i.e., problem
identification, preparation, response generation, response validation and
communication, and outcome) through which a creative idea or response is
produced. Relevant to group creativity is the fact that she suggests that the
same set of stages may be applicable to creativity at the group level. Little
systematic research has been conducted to test whether groups go through
these stages to produce creative outcomes.
Extending Amabile’s earlier work, Amabile and associates (1996) developed
a questionnaire to measure individuals’ perceptions of work environments
Paternalistic Organizational Control and Group Creativity 91

relevant to their creativity. They took a ‘‘total-work-environment level of

analysis’’ (p. 1157) approach and measured individuals’ perceptions of their
coworkers, supervisors, upper management, and the organization as a whole
in affecting their creativity. For validation purposes, they then linked these
perceptions to pre-identified group projects rated as high or low on creativity.
As emphasized above, the central concern of the present chapter is creativity
at the group level of analysis.
In another creativity theory, Woodman et al. (1993) posit that individual
characteristics, group characteristics, and organizational characteristics
affect creativity. Based on a review of a diverse body of literatures, including
theory and research on the effectiveness of research groups, on group prob-
lem solving, brainstorming and performance, and on task design, Woodman
et al. argue that group characteristics include norms, cohesiveness, size,
diversity, roles, task, and problem-solving approaches. Different from
Woodman et al.’s model, however, the present model underscores pater-
nalistic organizational control as a key and positive factor in the East. In
addition, whereas the Woodman et al. model includes characteristics at
individual, group, and organizational levels, the present study focuses on the
group level.
In sum, the present model is different from prior creativity models in that
it is a group level model. It is based on contemporary research in cultural
psychology, this model highlights the positive role of paternalistic organ-
izational control in promoting group intrinsic motivation and creativity in
the East. As such, it is particularly useful for an understanding of how and
why groups produce creative output in the East versus in the West.

Implications for Future Research

I now discuss a few issues related to how best to test the proposed model.
Field research. To test this model, especially to let the theorized effects of
paternalistic organizational control and group processes to manifest fully,
it if preferable to conduct field studies with intact work groups in organ-
Measurement. It is also desirable to collect data from multiple sources. In
particular, it is preferable to measure paternalistic organizational control by
directly asking administrators or top executives of organizations the extent
to which they exert control over their work groups. On the other hand,
researchers are advised to measure groups’ intrinsic motivation by one of
two ways. One, they could measure group intrinsic motivation by aggre-
gating group members’ self-reported intrinsic motivation. Alternatively,

they could obtain a measure of group intrinsic motivation by asking key

informants to describe the general level of intrinsic motivation present at the
group, and then taking average of their responses. Finally, groups’ creative
output can be measured by ratings from knowledgeable experts including
supervisors and group members, and by collecting archival data if possible
(see Zhou & Shalley, 2003, for a discussion on ratings versus objective or
archival measures of creativity).
A seemingly ideal approach to test the model is to use a longitudinal
research design in which data are collected at three stages over time. At the
first stage, measure paternalistic organizational control. At the second stage,
measure intrinsic motivation. At the third stage, measure group creativity.
This approach has a temporal sequence that matches the sequence depicted
in the model, and hence may be the preferred approach by some researchers.
Note, however, that this approach is not without problems and limitations.
One potential problem is associated with the difficulty of determining the
appropriate time intervals between each of these three stages. If a chosen
interval is short, not enough time may have elapsed to allow the variable
measured at one stage to exert its theorized effect on the variable(s) measured
at the next stage or to give enough time to allow the effect manifest. On the
other hand, if a chosen interval is long, it might be too long in the sense that
the effect of a variable measured at a previous stage has substantially waned
by the time its theorized outcome variable is measured at the current stage. In
addition, choosing too long an interval increases the possibility that some
unmeasured variables interfere, interrupt, or exert other unknown influences
on the theorized relationship between the two measured variables, which
would make the observed relationship deviate from the theorized relationship
in unknown ways. Moreover, it is difficult to determine whether the three
time intervals separating the three data collection stages should be equal to
one another or whether some intervals should be longer than the others.
Last, but not the least, creative endeavors or projects conducted in or-
ganizational sometimes do not have a clear starting and ending time, and
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Roy Yong-Joo Chua and Michael W. Morris


Interpersonal trust is an important element of Chinese guanxi network. In

this chapter, we examine Chinese guanxi network from a trust perspective.
We adopt the distinction that trust could be built on either a socio-emo-
tional basis (affect-based trust) or an instrumental basis (cognition-based
trust) and use this lens to examine cultural differences in Chinese and
Western social networks. Specifically, we will discuss (a) how the two
dimensions of trust are related in the Chinese versus American context, and
(b) how affect-based trust is associated with different forms of social ex-
change in Chinese versus American social networks. Because dyadic re-
lationships are embedded within larger social networks, trust between two
network actors is also likely to be influenced by the social context that
surrounds them. Hence, we also examine how dyadic trust is shaped by
higher-level network properties such as density.

Anyone who is interested in doing business in a Chinese environment will

quickly encounter the term guanxi. In the literal sense, guanxi means ‘‘con-
nections’’ or ‘‘relations’’. It is also used to refer to personal bonds that are
established between people who may engage in business together (e.g., Lin,

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 95–113
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09005-0

2001; Tsui & Farh, 1997; Xin & Pearce, 1996; King, 1991). Although social
capital is discussed in the West, observers of business practices in Chinese
cultures note that having the right personal connection appears to be a
stronger predictor of success in the Chinese business environment than in
Western countries such as the United States. Researchers have accounted
for the use of guanxi in Chinese culture as reliance on personal bonds to
protect against defection (e.g., Xin & Pearce, 1996; Nee, 1992; Redding,
1990; Zucker, 1986). In other words, guanxi engenders trust and thereby
serves as a form of insurance in an otherwise risky business environment.
However, there is, to date, little research that explicitly examines the
psychology of trust in guanxi networks. Whenever trust is discussed in the
guanxi literature, it is assumed rather than measured. There is also a dearth
of empirical research on how trust dynamics in Chinese guanxi networks
differ from that in Western social networks. Moreover, extant social net-
work research involving interpersonal trust tends to conceptualize trust as a
unidimensional construct (e.g., Uzzi, 1996, Ferrin, Dirks, & Shah, 2004) and
makes little attempt to differentiate the dimensions of trust that may have
different bases. In sum, the psychology of trust in guanxi networks remains
A key distinction in the psychological literature is between trust formed
on a social, emotional basis -affect-based trust- or a rational, instrumental
basis -cognition-based trust (McAllister, 1995; Lewis & Weigert, 1985). In
this chapter, we integrate this notion of trust with research in social network
and culture in an attempt to better understand how trust in managerial
networks differs between the Chinese and American cultures. Specifically,
we argue that the distinction between affective and cognitive bases of trust is
an important one toward advancing our understanding of Chinese guanxi
networks and explaining why personal connections are so critical in the
Chinese business world.
In the ensuing sections, we will first review work that supports the dis-
tinction between cognition-and affect-based trust. Then, we discuss (a) the
relationship between affect- and cognition-based trust in Chinese versus
American cultures, (b) how affect-based trust is associated with different
forms of social exchange in Chinese versus American social networks, and
(c) how network density can influence each dimension of trust. Empirical
evidence supporting our arguments comes from our research program that
investigates cross-cultural differences in managerial networks. By studying
how trust operates in both Chinese guanxi networks and American social
networks, we hope to better understand how embedded relationships differ
across these cultures.
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 97


Although there have been different definitions of interpersonal trust in
organizational research, most scholars agree that it involves willingness to
make oneself vulnerable to another despite uncertainty regarding motives,
intentions, and prospective actions (Kramer, 1999). For instance, Mayer,
Davis, and Schoorman (1995) define trust as ‘‘a willingness of a party to be
vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the
other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective
of the ability to monitor or control that party.’’ Likewise, McAllister (1995)
defines trust as the ‘‘extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to
act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another.’’
However, most scholars also acknowledged that trust is not a unitary con-
struct (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996; Lewis & Weigert, 1985; McAllister, 1995). A
common distinction is between trust from the heart (affect-based) versus trust
from the head (cognition-based). McAllister (1995) proposes that affect-based
trust is founded on the socio-emotional bonds between individuals. With
affect-based trust, individuals express care and concern for the welfare of their
partners, believe in the intrinsic virtue of such relationships, and believe that
these sentiments are reciprocated (Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna, 1985). Hence,
affect-based trust involves concerns about others’ motives (Lewis & Wiegert,
1985). Cognition-based trust, on the other hand, centers on beliefs in the other
party’s competence and reliability. Cognition-based trust is faith in the other
party that rests on rational and instrumental information processing.
The distinction between cognition and affect-based trust is not restricted
to the Western conceptualization of the trust construct. Chinese scholars
have also highlighted this distinction, one marked in the Chinese term for
trust, the compound word ‘‘xing-ren’’. The first part, ‘‘xing’’, refers to
trustworthiness in the sense of a person’s sincerity and concerns for one’s
welfare (Chen & Chen, 2004). The second part, ‘‘ren’’, refers to a person’s
trustworthiness in the sense of dependability, usability, and employability,
which suggests that competence and reliability are also important compo-
nents of the Chinese concept of trust. This sincerity-ability distinction of
trust in the Chinese context corresponds well with the Western conceptu-
alization of cognitive and affective trust (Chen & Chen, 2004).
The distinction between cognition- and affect-based trust has received
considerable empirical support. In a study involving managers in the U.S.
(McAllister, 1995), confirmatory factor analyses results showed that the
2-factor structure is superior to a 1-factor structure. Managers’ ratings of

relationships on the two dimensions of trust1 differentially relate to other

variables included in the study in ways that follow from the theorized dis-
tinction. Empirical evidence for the distinction between cognition- and
affect-based trust in a Chinese context comes from a series of laboratory
studies involving Chinese college students from Singapore (Ng & Chua,
2003, 2005). Results from these studies consistently suggest that cognition-
and affect-based trust are conceptually distinct in that each dimension of
trust is linked to different patterns of individual’s contribution to teamwork.
So far, we have reviewed literature that argued for the conceptual distinction
between cognition- and affect-based trust. However, it is important to note that
the two dimensions of trust are not independent or completely orthogonal. For
example, McAllister (1995) reported that cognition- and affect-based trust are
correlated at r ¼ 0.63. Ng and Chua (2003) also reported similar results
(r ¼ 0.49). However, more interestingly, because the Ng and Chua’s (2003)
study involves laboratory manipulation of each dimension of trust, it was
found that the overflow of one dimension of trust to the other is asymmetrical.
Specifically, affect-based trust overflows to cognition-based trust more than the
other way round. This is consistent with the finding that interpersonal affect
can positively influence objective ratings. For instance, Tsui and Barry (1986)
found that managerial performance ratings were positively related to the degree
of positive affect between rater and ratee through the mechanism of halo effects
(Latham & Wexley, 1981). Put differently, the presence of affect between two
persons can inflate the rater’s favorable judgment of the ratee, even though this
judgment is to be made on some objective criteria.
Though cognition-based trust may also be the basis for affect-based trust,
this effect is likely to be weaker as Zajonc (1980,1984) found that affective
reactions are more primary and irrevocable than cognitive ones. As we shall
see later, the finding on the asymmetrical overflow between the two dimen-
sions of trust has implication for understanding the differences in the dy-
namics of trust between Chinese and American cultures.



Given the above distinction between cognition- and affect-based trust, one
would therefore expect that in a social network context, the two dimensions
of trust should be related to different forms of social exchanges. A recent
study of American executives by Chua, Ingram, and Morris (2005) shows
that this is indeed the case. These researchers measured the levels of trust felt
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 99

by executives across their network relationships of various kinds and found

that cognition-based trust was more associated with instrumental exchanges
of economic resources and task-related advice. In other words, to the extent
that an executive has previously approached an individual to get task-re-
lated advice and economic assistance, he or she is likely to perceive this
individual as reliable and capable (cognition-based trust). Conversely,
affect-based trust is more associated with personal exchanges such as
friendship. Hence, to the extent that an individual is a source of friendship
and social enjoyment for an executive, the executive is likely to perceive that
this individual has his or her welfare and interest at heart (affect-based
This study represents a first wave of empirical evidence that the distinc-
tion between cognition- and affect-based trust can be fruitful in a social
network context. The finding that different dimensions of trust are asso-
ciated with different forms of network exchange provides a more nuanced
understanding of how trust operates in embedded relationships. In the sub-
sequent sections, we will draw heavily on this idea to discuss cultural
differences in trust dynamics in Chinese versus American social networks.


Although the distinction between affect and cognition-based trust applies to

both Chinese and American cultures, we argue that the affective aspect of
trust is likely to be highly emphasized by the Chinese people even as they
seek instrumental ends. Thus, affect-based trust is more likely to co-exist
with the cognition-based trust during trust development in the Chinese
context than in the American context. This argument can be constructed
from two theoretical perspectives.
From a psychological perspective, it has been argued that Chinese people
tend to have interdependent construal of the self while Americans tend to
have independent construal of the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Thus,
relative to Americans, Chinese people tend to emphasize and value their
relationships with others more. This implies that when building trust, be-
sides making a rational choice assessment of the other party’s trustworthi-
ness, Chinese are relatively more likely to take the quality of relationship
with the other party into consideration. Conversely, because Americans tend
to see themselves as autonomous and self-contained individuals each of
whom comprises a unique combination of internal attributes (Markus &
Kitayama, 1991, p. 224), the focus during the trust building process is likely

to be on the task-oriented attributes of the other party such as competence,

ability, track records, and reliability.
From a more historical perspective, Bond and Hwang (1986) argued that
Chinese societies are by and large constructed on the basis of the philosophy
of Confucianism. The Confucian society is a relation-based one character-
ized by familial collectivism. Under this premise, the family is considered to
be the basic organizing framework for social structure and function. Spe-
cifically, the Chinese people believe that the family is the core unit of both
economic as well as social life and is often used as a model for structuring
social collectives. Not only does the family provide one with affect and
social support, it can also be counted on for economic resources and help.
To the extent that the Chinese people are acculturated in the familial-ori-
ented norm in which instrumental concerns are tightly coupled with affec-
tive relationships, they tend to be highly sensitive to socio-emotional
concerns when interacting with social others. For instance, Sanchez-Burks
et al. (2003) found that Chinese people are comparatively more attentive to
indirect social cues in a work context than Americans.
In addition, an individual growing up in a Confucian society is taught
from young that the amount and type of obligations that exist in a given
relationship depend on the nature of the relationship and are often not the
same between different relationships. Thus, Chinese tend to approach social
relationships in a highly relation-specific manner (Chen, Meindl, & Chen,
2003). Similarly, we argue that interpersonal trust is likely to be particu-
laristic too. The amount of trust a Chinese has in another person depends to
a great extent not only on the personal qualities that person has, but also on
the kind of relationship that exists between them.
In contrast, the Anglo-American economic, legal, and philosophical tra-
ditions (Lukes, 1973) in the United States gave rise to a different phenom-
enon. There is relative ease in the formation of instrumental work relations
without the prior basis of any friendship or family connection (Tocqueville,
1848/1945). As long as the other party is competent and has good track
records, he or she is deemed trustworthy enough to enter a work relation-
ship with. At the same time, individuals in the American context are rel-
atively willing to break away from existing ties if those ties no longer serve
any instrumental value. Thus, in a work context, trust is built on relatively
more instrumental basis of what resources the other person can offer and
how reliably these can be made available.
So how does each dimension of trust relate to the other within Chinese
versus American culture? We propose that the two dimensions of trust are
more likely to co-occur in the Chinese context than in the American context.
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 101

Put differently, the two dimensions of trust are more intertwined for Chinese
than for Americans. Specifically, if Chinese were to place more importance
on the affective aspect of trust when assessing the trustworthiness of the
other party, individuals in a Chinese person’s guanxi network are likely to be
those whom he or she has considerable affect-based trust in. Drawing on the
finding that affect-based trust is likely to overflow to cognition-based trust,
one would also expect considerable levels of cognition-based trust to be
induced. Thus, to the extent that an individual trusts a particular person in
his or her social network, both cognitive and affective aspects of trust are
likely to co-exist. This characterization of interpersonal trust in the Chinese
culture is consistent with the notion that Chinese people tend to strive for
achievement through personal relationships (Hsu, 1953) and are thus rel-
atively uninhibited in mixing instrumental and socio-emotional concerns.
On the other hand, while the American culture does not preclude mixing
socio-emotional concerns with work concerns (e.g., friendship can be forged
between business associates), there is considerable tension in the co-existence
of these two types of social interaction. Specifically, the Protestant Ethic
(Weber, 1904/1930) that prevails in the American workplace advocates that it
is unprofessional to inject affective concerns or friendship into work or busi-
ness engagements. In an extreme manifestation of this ideology, behavior at
the workplace is supposed to be efficiency and effectiveness oriented yet im-
personal. Thus, in a work context, Americans are likely to place more em-
phasis on cognition-based trust, rather than affect-based trust. In other
words, it is one’s instrumental assessment that determines whether a given
person is trustworthy enough to be included in one’s network. Furthermore,
drawing on the finding that cognition-based trust is less likely to overflow to
affect-based trust, one would not necessarily expect a concomitant level of
affect-based trust even though cognition-based trust is built.
In short, we argue that, in a workplace context, while Chinese people tend
to build trust from an affective foundation and have little inhibition in
mixing personal and work concerns, Americans tend to build trust from a
cognitive foundation and are more inhibited in mixing socio-emotional
concerns with instrumentality. Hence, although affect- and cognition-based
trust have been found to co-occur in relationships among the American
managers (McAllister, 1995), we expect the two dimensions of trust to be
more intertwined in the Chinese context than in the American context.
Using network data collected from executives2 attending Executive-MBA
courses in China (Beijing, Shanghai, & Guizhou) and the United States,
Chua, Morris, and Ingram (2005) found evidence for this argument. In a
research program that investigates cross-cultural differences in managerial

networks, these researchers found that controlling for a host of network

measures such as types of tie, network size, density, tie strength and indi-
vidual differences such as race and gender, affect-based trust strongly
predicts cognition-based trust and vice versa3. This is not surprising since
the two dimensions of trust, are found to be correlated. What is striking in
the results is that the association between the two dimensions of trust is
significantly stronger for the Chinese sample than for the American sample,
supporting the argument that the two dimensions of trust are more inter-
twined for Chinese.


In our earlier discussion, we argued that although affect-based trust is

relevant to both American and Chinese cultures, Chinese people are more
likely than Americans to use interpersonal affect and relationship to assess
whether another person is trustworthy or not. Consequently, we expect that
the level of affect-based trust a Chinese person has in the individual in his or
her social network to be fairly high. Conversely, Americans tend to use a
more instrumental approach in trust development, i.e., they decide whether or
not someone is trustworthy based on non- socio-emotional criteria such as the
person’s competence and track records, etc. Hence, interpersonal affect need
not always enter an American’s trust assessment process. Given this cultural
difference in trust development, it is plausible that affect-based trust could be
useful in explaining cultural differences in social exchange patterns in net-
works. Here, we focus on two common forms of social network exchanges –
(a) friendship and social support and (b) economic resource.

Friendship and Social Support

Since affect-based trust involves interpersonal affect and the feeling of care
and concern for the welfare of the other party, this dimension of trust
should be stronger in network ties that contain friendship relations than
those that do not. However, we expect friendship ties to have a stronger
effect on affect-based trust in the American culture than in the Chinese
culture. This proposed asymmetry could again be traced to the effect of
Confucian influence on Chinese social relations. As discussed earlier, Con-
fucian societies are characterized by kinship affiliation and familial collec-
tivism (Bond & Hwang, 1986) with clear delineation of the types of
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 103

relationship in terms of their associated rights and obligations. Out of the

five cardinal relationships (father–son, husband–wife, elder brother–young-
er brother, sovereign–subject, and friend–friend) outlined by Confucius,
friendship among peers is just one of them. Although goodwill and loyalty
are emphasized in friendships, Chinese often feel great debts of kindness and
gratitude toward individuals such as family members, parents, and teachers
(Chen, Miendl, & Chen, 2003). In fact, in Chinese societies, when the
friendship between two peers became extremely strong, it is common to
overlay the relationship with fictive kinship ties such as sworn brotherhood
(Peng, 2004, p. 1049). A friend henceforth becomes part of the family. More
importantly, the feelings of affect for friends or peers are differentiated from
that toward other individuals such as family members, teachers, superior,
etc. For instance, because of higher power distance in the Chinese culture, it
is inappropriate to regard teachers and superiors as friends. Rather, any
affective feelings for these individuals tend to take on additional elements of
awe, deference, and respect. In sum, friendship is but one of the many
sources from which affect-based trust could develop from in the Chinese
In contrast, American societies do not place as strong an emphasis on
hierarchical structures and differentiating among types of relationships as
characterized by the relatively lower power distance (Hofstede, 1984) and
egalitarian philosophy. It is totally legitimate and acceptable to regard one’s
teachers, bosses, and even parents as friends. This implies that friendship ties
involving social support and enjoyment could be developed with almost eve-
ryone in one’s social network. For instance, it is very common in the United
States that subordinates and superiors address each other by first name and
participate in social activities after work as friends do. Hence, we expect that
network ties that carry friendship-related social exchanges such as social en-
joyment and support are likely to be the main channels through which in-
terpersonal affect is developed in American social networks. Therefore, we
argue that friendship ties are more strongly linked to the development of
affect-based trust in the American culture than in the Chinese culture.

Economic Resource

Another interesting feature of the familial orientation in Chinese culture is that

the family is not only a source of unconditional social protection, but also a
source of financial and economic support. Research on Chinese businesses has
consistently argued that the family is a key provider of economic resources for
entrepreneurs. According to Whyte (1995, 1996), Chinese familism and kinship

loyalty are the social roots of economic developments. Because of the high
degree of obligation a Chinese person has toward his or her family, there is a
strong norm of commitment to advance the interests and goals of any family
member. Such kinship solidarity (Peng, 2004) suggests that family members
should be highly willing to provide economic and financial resources to those in
need, sometimes even at the expense of self-interests. This obligation to offer
economic or financial help to someone whom one has an affective relationship
with could also be potentially extended outside the family. Among close friends
who have developed fictive kinship ties, there is often strong obligation to help
one another financially through means such as loans, job recommendation, free
labor, and providing information regarding investment opportunities. For ex-
ample, Whyte (1996) described how hometown residents, old classmates, and
friends were recruited to fill positions in family businesses when there was labor
shortage, often for free. Hence, when a Chinese person turns to another in-
dividual for economic resources, it is likely that he or she believes that this
individual has his or her welfare at heart and can be counted on.
In American culture, however, an individual’s dependence on family re-
sources diminishes drastically when he or she comes of age. When a young
person is of college age, he or she typically leaves home and become finan-
cially less reliant on the family. Although parents continued to have financial
obligations toward their children, such obligations are relatively weaker than
in the Chinese culture and are not bounded by moral principles such as those
depicted by Confucius. Among siblings and friends, the obligation to help one
another economically is even less given the American emphasis on voluntary
associations and individual jurisdiction. Therefore, even though an American
may perceive an individual to be genuinely concerned about him or her and
can be relied upon, this person is not likely to be an immediate candidate to
turn to for economic help. The relatively low level of multiplexity in American
social ties also suggests that affective relationships and instrumental relation-
ships are more clearly demarcated. Hence, we do not expect any positive
relationship between affect-based trust and economic resource tie among
American managers. In short, we argue that there is a positive relationship
between the acquisition of economic resources and affect-based trust for
Chinese managers but not for American managers.
Empirical support for the above two arguments can be drawn from our
research program. Specifically, results from the Chua, Morris, and Ingram
(2005) study indicate a significant country by friendship tie interaction such
that friendship tie is more predictive of affect-based trust for Americans
than for Chinese. We also found a main effect of friendship tie on affect-
based trust such that friendship is positively related to affect-based trust.
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 105

Taken together, this set of results suggest that while friendship and social
support is predictive of affect-based trust in both Chinese and American
cultures, friendship seem to have a greater effect on the development of
affect-based trust for Americans than for Chinese. Our results also dem-
onstrated a significant country by economic resource tie interaction such
that Chinese are more likely than Americans to have affect-based trust in
those whom they obtain economic resources from.


Does the social system that one is embedded in influence the development of
trust? There is reason to believe that this is so. Although interpersonal trust
exists between a trustor and a trustee, each dyad is embedded within a larger
social network whereby each individual simultaneously engages in multiple
dyadic relationships. Consequently, the trust between any two actors is likely
to be influenced by the social context that surrounds them (Ferrin et al., 2004).
One critical social network property that may have considerable impact on the
formation of interpersonal trust is network density. The density of an indi-
vidual’s network refers to the extent to which the people in his or her network
are also interconnected (Burt, 1992). Hence, the more that individuals in one’s
network also know one another, the denser is one’s social network.
Various scholars have argued that dense networks are beneficial to em-
ployee and firm performance in part because they facilitate the exchange of
information and foster trust (e.g., Uzzi, 1996; Ingram & Roberts, 2000;
Ahuja, 2000). We extend this line of theorizing by proposing that the pos-
itive effect of a dense network on trust may be more salient for affect-based
trust than for cognition-based trust. This is because cognition-based trust is
built on a relatively more instrumental basis. The fact that a person is highly
connected to other individuals in a focal manager’s social network does not
necessarily render him or her to be perceived as more competent or reliable
in getting things done. A person’s degree of competence and task-related
reliability should be associated with specific individual characteristics (e.g.,
skills, past interaction patterns etc) rather than how embedded he or she is in
the focal manager’s network. As such, cognition-based trust between two
network actors is likely to be more dependent on dyadic level interaction
(e.g., how long they have known each other and how often they interact)
rather than whether they are connected to common social others per se.
In contrast, affect-based trust is more socio-emotional in nature. Because
a dense network helps foster interpersonal relationships and affect, it may

also enhance this dimension of trust. There are a couple of mechanisms how
this may play out. One mechanism is that of social homophile. According to
Burt (1992), the main drawback of a dense network (i.e., one with few
structural holes) is that actors in a dense network tend to be very similar to
one another, resulting in much redundancy. Yet, this redundancy and sim-
ilarity can have a positive effect since individuals tend to trust, like, and
associate with others who are similar to themselves in terms of a large
number of personal characteristics such as social background, attitudes,
values, and beliefs (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). Imagine a
closely-knit group in which everyone knows everyone. Members of the
group are likely to be similar to one another and hence share more common
references, which in turn lead to stronger socio-emotional bonds.
Another mechanism is that of norm establishment. Various research sug-
gests that a dense social network provides clarity of norms and social sup-
port (Mitchell & Trickett, 1980; Polister, 1980). To the extent that norms are
shared understandings of what is appropriate in a collectivity, the more
interconnected individuals are in this collectivity, the stronger the norm is
through increased mutual influence and reinforcement. A strong norm not
only reduces uncertainty as to how social others will behave but also fosters
a sense of belonging or identity to a group. The heightened level of socio-
emotional bond and group identity in a dense network is likely to enhance
affect-based trust. In short, we posit that network density has a direct pos-
itive main effect on affect-based trust but not cognition-based trust. Results
from the Chua, Morris, and Ingram (2005) study show that this is indeed the
case for American managers. Specifically, these researchers found that the
higher the network density, the higher the affect-based trust. There is how-
ever no density effect on cognition-based trust. Unpublished data from our
research program indicated that for Chinese managers, network density also
has positive effect on affect-based trust.
So far, we have built a case that affect- and cognition-based trust, are more
intertwined in the Chinese culture and how affect-based trust is enhanced by
network density. Next, we link these two arguments by considering the effects
of culture on network density. There is a long-standing line of theorizing
which argues that Chinese are more likely to have denser social networks than
Americans (e.g., Peng, 2004; Menon & Morris, 2001). The underlying logic is
that because the Chinese culture is characterized by high levels of collectivism,
interdependence, and tight in-groups, individuals in a given social network are
more likely to know and interact with others in the same network. In ad-
dition, because social ties are relatively more particularistic in the Chinese
culture, Chinese people do not forge relationship easily with strangers.
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 107

Therefore, social ties tend to be restricted to a set of in-group members such

as family members, relatives, friends, and classmates, etc., who over time also
get to know one another. This gives rise to social networks with relatively few
‘‘structural holes’’ (Burt, 1992) or in Granovetter’s (1973) term, ‘‘weak ties’’.
Given these theoretical underpinnings, one ought to observe relatively higher
network density in Chinese social networks. Empirical evidence supporting
this proposal is found from our program of research (unpublished data).
Specifically, in two independent waves of data collection, we found that Chi-
nese managers reported significantly denser social networks than Americans
managers. This finding is significant because past research studying Chinese
and American social networks has not been successful in showing this density
effect (e.g., Morris, Podolny, & Ariel, 2000) though there has been much
theoretical support for it.
The findings that (a) cognition- and affect-based trust are more correlated
in Chinese culture than American culture, (b) Chinese managers have denser
social network than American managers, and (c) network density predicts
affect-based trust but not cognition-based trust, when taken together begins
to tell a coherent story. Specifically, it seems that Chinese managers rely on a
dense network to foster affect-based trust, which in turns serves as a foun-
dation for cognition-based trust. In the next section, we discuss the impli-
cations of these findings.



Many organizational scholars have written about guanxi as if it were an

indigenously Chinese concept (e.g., Hung, 2004; Vanhonacker, 2004) while
others tend to associate it with the idea of networking in the Western con-
text (e.g., Wellman, Chen, & Dong, 2001). In this chapter, we draw on the
notion that cognition- and affect-based trust operate differently in social
networks and propose that this distinction can help us better understand the
similarities and differences between Chinese guanxi networks and American
social networks.
Through a series of network studies from our research program, we found
evidence for this proposal. Specifically, we found that the dynamics of cog-
nition- and affect-based trust differ across cultures. First of all, the two di-
mensions of trust are more intertwined for Chinese than for Americans.
Second, friendship ties are more correlated to affect-based trust for Americans
than for Chinese while Chinese are more likely than Americans to obtain

economic resources from those they have affect-based trust in. Turning to
more structural constructs, we found that network density appears to have a
main effect on affect-based trust in both Chinese and American cultures.
However, Chinese networks are likely to be denser than American networks.
Our finding on the impact of culture on trust dynamics helps advance our
understanding of Chinese guanxi networks. While the Chen and Chen
(2004) model of guanxi network argues for the need to consider both affect-
and cognition-based trust, our research presents the first sign of empirical
support that the dynamics between two types of trust indeed vary across
cultures. Various scholars (e.g., Xin & Pearce, 1996; Nee, 1992; Redding,
1990; Zucker, 1986) have written about how guanxi networks in Chinese
business environments are often used as a compensation for the lack of a
stable legal and regulatory environment which facilitates impersonal busi-
ness transaction. However, even as China improves her legal infrastructure,
there does not appear to be a decline in the importance of personal con-
nections (Tsui, Farh, & Xin, 2004). Many Chinese businessmen today still
consider personal relationships with individuals such as family members, old
classmates etc to be critical in business dealings. Our finding that affect- and
cognition-based trust are more tightly coupled in Chinese social networks
than in American social networks speaks to this observation. Since our
Chinese sample were collected from highly developed Chinese cities (e.g.,
Shanghai and Beijing) where business and legal regulations are more com-
prehensive than in other less-developed cities, we believe that this suggests
that the Chinese people’s emphasis on socio-emotional ties during business
transactions stems from more socio-cultural roots rather than the result of
having to deal with a poorly regulated business environment.
Interestingly, our result is consistent with Sanchez-Burks et al.’s (2003)
finding that East Asians are more likely to mix socio-emotional concerns with
instrumental concerns than Americans. The convergence of our findings with
Sanchez-Burks et al.’s (2003) work provides a compelling perspective that one
important difference between collectivistic and individualistic cultures could
lie in the degree to which instrumental ties also contain socio-emotional bases.
This offers an expanded view of the popular collectivism–individualism di-
mension in explaining cultural differences. Instead of seeing the collectivism
and individualism dichotomy as opposing value orientations, our research
suggests that cross-cultural scholars may want to focus on the extent to which
people consider socio-emotional factors at the same time as they strive for
individual achievements or goals. This is a more sophisticated view because it
recognizes that people from both individualistic and collectivistic cultures
value both individual achievements as well as social harmony. What differs is
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 109

the extent to which people are willing or feel comfortable to mix both con-
siderations in a single interpersonal interaction.
Another result worth highlighting is that Chinese social networks were
found to be denser than American social networks. Although many scholars
have proposed that Chinese social networks are likely to be denser than
American social networks (e.g., Peng, 2004; Menon & Morris, 2001), there
has been, so far, no empirical evidence. Hence, our research provides some
initial support for this line of theorizing.
Finally, given that density is found to predict affect-based trust, it seems
that Chinese managers appear to rely on a dense network to foster affect-
based trust, which in turns serves as a foundation for cognition-based trust.
If true, this manner of trust formation is in stark contrast to McAllister’s
(1995) view that there has to be cognition-based trust first before the more
socio-emotional type of trust can be built. Hence, our research suggests a
new line of inquiry on cultural differences in the trust development process.
Throughout this chapter, our focus has been on highlighting differences
between Chinese and American networks. However, it is important to
qualify that network dynamics in these two cultures do share similarities as
well. For instance, data from the Chua, Morris, and Ingram (2005) study
indicates that career guidance ties in managerial networks predict both di-
mensions of trust for Chinese as well as Americans. Task advice ties predict
cognition-based trust but not affect-based trust, regardless of culture.
Hence, our approach of studying two distinct dimensions of trust in a net-
work context serves to not only elucidate cultural differences in network
dynamics but also reveal areas of similarity.

Practical Implications

Western businesspeople who have worked in China often experience difficulty

in establishing trust and breaking into the local social networks. Our research
suggests that this is probably due to the relatively denser network structure
and the higher correlation between affect- and cognition-based trust in China.
If one wants cognition-based trust from a Chinese counterpart (e.g., be seen as
both reliable and competent), one cannot ignore the affect-based trust with
which it is closely intertwined. Yet because affect-based trust is positively
associated with network density, the recommendation is to get to know as
many people in the Chinese counterpart’s network as possible. In other words,
it is not sufficient to just interact with the person whom one wants to do
business with. One also needs to be acquainted with the other person in this
people’s social network. Unfortunately, this cannot be established overnight!

Hence, Western businesspeople heading to the Chinese market should be

aware that the trust-building process tends to take more time than in the U.S.
The finding that economic resource ties are associated with affect-based trust
for Chinese managers but not American managers also has implications for
businesspeople seeking funding or sales in the Chinese business environment.
Financial ties in Chinese cultures tend not to be purely transactional in nature.
Such ties are either built on existing personal connections or if these economic
resource ties were to be established first, they are likely to be overlaid with
affective elements over time. This phenomenon highlights the norm of familial
collectivism in Chinese societies whereby socio-emotional aspects of a rela-
tionship are usually not cleanly separated from instrumental concerns of the
relationship. Understanding this aspect of Chinese business conduct can
greatly reduce culture shocks and frustration when foreign businesspeople
engage the Chinese market. For instance, practices (e.g., personal consider-
ations being factored into business financial decisions), which may be con-
strued as corrupt from the perspectives of Westerners, may not be so in the
eyes of the Chinese people. Ability to understand and deal with such cultural
differences is critical for business success in China.

Future Research Directions

Future research could take a more nuanced approach toward studying the
effect of culture on trust. For instance, since Chinese are relatively more
particularistic in their social engagements, it is possible that there are many
factors, which contribute to the formation of trust. For instance, the role
that social others play may have a significant impact. In a recent study on
Chinese managers, Tsui et al. (2004) found that having teachers and com-
munist party members in one’s network has positive effects on one’s man-
agerial reputation. Taking a slightly different tack, it is also plausible that
managers from different cultures trust different people in their network. For
instance, in the Chinese culture, due to strong emphasis on role obligation
(Yang, 1993) and unconditional reciprocity among family members, familial
ties are the greatest source of trust. One can always count on family mem-
bers for both emotional and instrumental support in times of need. In con-
trast, in American societies, which celebrate individual agency, individuals
may derive more trust from friends since these are people whom one can
actively choose to associate with and not preordained at birth. In the current
research, we are unable to capture the specific role(s) that each individual
plays in our participants’ social networks. Future research could investigate
the effect of network contacts’ role on trust formation.
Dynamics of Trust in Guanxi Networks 111


In this chapter, we have shown that the distinction between affect- and
cognition-based trust is useful in understanding how trust develops in
working relationships and how this varies across Chinese and American
cultures. We have also received evidence for the role of dense networks in
building trust and related this to the Chinese pattern of social interactions.
Overall, as suggested by the Chinese term ‘‘xing-ren’’, which combines the
two dimensions of trust, affect- and cognition-based trust are more tightly
intertwined in the Chinese culture than the American culture. These cultural
differences in trust dynamics help elucidate the phenomenon that the
Chinese people prefer to do business with friends and relatives.

1. Sample items of affect-based trust include ‘‘We have a sharing relationship. We
can both freely share our ideas, feelings, and hopes’’. Sample items of cognition-
based trust include ‘‘given this person’s track record, I see no reason to doubt his/her
competence and preparation for the job’’.
2. A total of 143 Chinese managers and 88 American managers participated in
this study. The mean age of these participants is 40 and 75% are males. For the
American sample, the most common industries of employment for the participants
were finance and banking, information technology, and consulting. For the Chinese
sample, the most common industries of employment for the participants were phar-
maceutical/medical, manufacturing, and consulting.
3. In regression analysis of cross sectional network data, the causal relationship
between the two types of trust cannot be disentangled. Thus the two types of trust
predict each other, though we know from experimental data that the overflows tend
to be asymmetric.

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Sungu Armagan, Manuel Portugal Ferreira,

Bryan L. Bonner and Gerardo A. Okhuysen


This paper discusses national differences in the interpretation of time in

mixed motive decision contexts, such as negotiation. Specifically, we consider
how members of different national cultures (Portugal, Turkey, and the
United States) experience temporality in these situations. We argue that
cultural temporality such as polychronicity, future orientation, and uncer-
tainty avoidance form part of a broader national environment. The national
environment is also expressed in national stability factors such as legal sys-
tems, family ties, and homogeneity of populations. We propose that tem-
porality and stability aspects of national environment determine negotiation
paradigms, which subsequently influence temporality in negotiations. We
conclude by suggesting that inclusion of complex and interdependent national
environment factors in the study of negotiation has the potential to substan-
tially advance our understanding of mixed motive decision situations.

As national borders become increasingly open to international trade, foreign

investments, and cross-national partnerships, successfully negotiating in
different cultures becomes critical to organizational success. In the last two
decades, academics have given increased attention to how cultural differences

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 115–145
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09006-2

influence negotiation processes and outcomes (e.g., Adair, Okumura, & Brett,
2001; Adler, Brahm, & Graham, 1992; Harnett & Cummings, 1980; Tung,
1982). One apparent conceptual gap in this research deals with the construct
of time. Although a number of studies have examined negotiation behavior
cross-culturally, only limited progress has been made in understanding how
cultural views of time can influence negotiation behavior. To our knowledge,
Foster’s (1992) research is the only work that comparatively explores tem-
porality in intra-cultural negotiations. Foster examined the behaviors of
different cultures such as Mexicans, French, Asians, and people in the U.S.,
and provided a narrative of how these cultures behave in a negotiation con-
text in relation to time, such as their attention to deadlines or the extent to
which they juggle several negotiation issues at the same time.
Individuals’ interpretations of time are likely to become salient in a number
of situations, such as when negotiations involve deadlines by which an agree-
ment has to be reached, when negotiations are one-time vs. multiple-time
events, or when negotiations involve explicit temporal dependencies. One cir-
cumstance in which negotiations involve explicit temporal dependencies is when
the outcomes of negotiated agreements are implemented at a future date. For
instance, a negotiator may strike a deal on the price of a product today but not
receive the product for some time. Existing research on delays has shown that
when the temporal distance between a negotiation and its outcome increases,
parties tend to reach more efficient agreements (Okhuysen, Galinksy, &
Uptigrove, 2003). Okhuysen et al. (2003) speculated that this is due to de-
creased contentiousness in the negotiation when the outcomes are delayed, due
to discounting. Although these types of temporal constraints are a common
experience for negotiators around the world, existing research on temporality in
negotiations has yet to uncover the factors that underlie the negotiation ex-
perience in different cultural settings.
Since individuals’ understandings of time are culturally constructed (Hall,
1959; Hall & Hall, 1990), differences in negotiation processes and outcomes
across cultures are likely to be observed when negotiations involve temporal
constraints such as delayed outcomes or deadlines. In this paper, we suggest
that national-level environmental factors, including aspects of national sta-
bility and cultural temporality, lead to the development of national-level
negotiation paradigms. These three elements, in turn, affect individual-level
factors, such as the perceptions of time, negotiation processes, and nego-
tiation outcomes. National-level environmental factors are described by
Guisinger’s (2001) GEOVALENT dimensions of econography (economy
and geography), culture, legal systems, income profile, political risk, tax
systems, exchange rates, and government restrictions. We define national
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 117


Cultural Negotiation National
Temporality Paradigm Stability Variables

Perceptions of Negotiation Negotiation
Time Process Outcomes Variables

Fig. 1. Model of Cultural Components of Negotiation Related to Temporality.

stability as the environmental conditions that pertain to the steadiness and

the strength of political, legal, economic, and social institutions in a given
nation. We describe cultural temporality as the way in which cultures per-
ceive time and the consequent attitudes, preferences, and behaviors indi-
viduals in these cultures display in relation to time. Finally, we define
negotiation paradigms as the shared cognitive representations of individuals
in a given nation, which individuals use to make sense of the negotiation
activity. Fig. 1 portrays our conceptual model of how the factors we dis-
cussed above relate to one another.
We illustrate our discussion using three countries as exemplars: Portugal,
Turkey, and the U.S. Prior research has shown that these countries differ in
a number of important dimensions including those on the national (e.g.,
temporality) (Hall, 1959, 1989) and individual (e.g., uncertainty avoidance)
(Hofstede, 1980) levels of analysis. According to the results of the GLOBE
project1 (see Ashkanasy, Trevor-Roberts, & Earnshaw, 2002; Jesuino,
2002), Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S. belong to separate clusters of nations
(Latin Europe cluster, Arabic cluster, and the Anglo clusters, respectively),
allowing us to use them as representations of these three clusters.2
Our interest in negotiation stems from its role as a mixed-motive, collective
decision-making process (Neale & Bazerman, 1991). Negotiation involves col-
laboration in the desire to create value as well as competition in the desire to
claim value (Lax & Sebenius, 1992). Negotiation also includes interdependence
between parties, as behaviors by one party can easily affect other participat-
ing parties (Thompson, 1998). Additionally, the process of negotiation involves
two or more parties (i.e., individuals, groups, or organizations; Lewicki,

Saunders, Barry, & Minton, 2004), highlighting situations where the social
nature of decision making is important such that the outcome of the collab-
orative decision-making effort depends on the interactions that occur between
the parties. As such, we consider negotiation a special case of collective decision
processes, such as group decision making.
This paper contributes to the existing literature in three primary ways.
First, we explore the differences in temporal views that affect negotiations in
different national cultures, which have received scant attention in the lit-
erature (see Foster, 1992). Second, we emphasize the role of nation-level
environmental factors, which encompass not only the national culture (e.g.,
cultural views on time) but also the political, legal, economic, and social
institutions in a given nation to explain temporal perspectives. Third, we
propose that it is through negotiation paradigms that environmental factors
influence temporal preferences, attitudes, and behaviors in negotiations. The
legal, economic, and social realities of nations help create cognitive repre-
sentations of how to think about and approach negotiations, which then
influences parties’ temporal preferences and behaviors.
In this paper, we first examine the environmental factors of national sta-
bility and cultural temporality that pertain to the negotiation experiences in
different national cultures, specifically in Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S. We
then present nation-level negotiation paradigms with an emphasis on differ-
ences in negotiation processes and outcomes across these national cultures.
We follow with a discussion of the linkages among environmental factors
and how they impact temporality in negotiations by influencing the nego-
tiation paradigms individuals hold. We conclude with a discussion including
implications for negotiations and avenues for future research.


Although an ideal literature review for this paper would encompass research
that explored the influence of culture on temporality in intra-cultural ne-
gotiations, such a literature is scarce (see Foster, 1992). Therefore, our lit-
erature review in this section will rely heavily on existing work that examines
the influence of culture on negotiation behaviors and outcomes. Through
this literature review, we aim to highlight some of the ways in which national
cultures can affect negotiation styles, behaviors, and outcomes. Following
this literature, we suggest in later sections that cultures also differ in how
they view time in negotiation contexts, and we explore the factors that affect
these temporal views.
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 119

Research on the effect of culture on negotiations has commonly contrasted

the styles of negotiators from different national cultures. Much of this work
has compared U.S. negotiators to Chinese negotiators. For example, Adler
et al. (1992) found that Chinese negotiators tended to ask questions and to
interrupt more frequently than their U.S. counterparts. In terms of expressing
conflict, Tse, Francis, and Walls (1994) showed that Chinese negotiators were
more likely to avoid expressions of conflict than were U.S. negotiators. In
their survey, Morris et al. (1998) found that, when managing conflict, Chinese
managers relied more heavily on an avoiding style (e.g., avoiding expressions
of conflict) due to their emphasis on conformity and tradition, whereas U.S.
managers relied more heavily on a competing style (e.g., being assertive in
making demands) due to their emphasis on individual achievement. Finally,
Tinsley and Pillutla (1998) found that U.S. negotiators were more likely to
display both self-interest norms aimed at maximizing one’s own gain and joint
problem-solving norms aimed at maximizing joint gain, whereas Chinese ne-
gotiators were more likely to subscribe to an equality norm aimed at dis-
tributing the outcomes equally.
Other research has focused on contrasting the negotiation styles of U.S.
negotiators with those of Brazilian and Japanese negotiators. For example,
Graham (1985) found that U.S. negotiators tended to make larger initial
concessions than the Japanese, but that Brazilian negotiators tended to be
more ‘‘greedy’’ in their first offers than either of the other two. Gelfand et al.
(2001) showed that, compared to people from the U.S., the Japanese per-
ceived conflicts as more compromise-focused. Adair et al. (2001) found that
U.S. negotiators exchanged information directly, whereas the Japanese
negotiators exchanged information indirectly.
Inter- and intracultural negotiation research has also studied negotiation
tactics in conjunction with individual or joint gains of negotiators. Graham
(1983) found that deceptive information from an opponent decreased ne-
gotiation outcomes for U.S. negotiators, whereas deceptive bargaining
strategies enhanced individual profits for Brazilian negotiators, concluding
that dishonest opponents could take advantage of U.S. negotiators. Adair et
al. (2004) showed that cultures that utilized direct information-sharing
strategies or a combination of indirect and direct strategies maximized their
joint gains. Finally, Tinsley and Pillutla (1998) found that U.S. negotiators
reported higher levels of satisfaction when they maximized joint gain and
Chinese negotiators were happier when they attained outcome parity. Over-
all, these differences highlight the differential outcomes that negotiators
attain depending on the particular negotiation style they ascribe to within
their culture.

Although this research is helpful in establishing cultural differences across

nations, there is very little work considering the effect of culture on tem-
porality in negotiations. Foster (1992) examined the negotiation behaviors
of people from the U.S., Mexicans, French, and Asians in relation to time.
He discussed how, for example, people in the U.S. are comfortable dis-
cussing things in an orderly fashion, whereas Mexicans discuss more than
one point at the same time. Mexicans tend to interrupt one another and
sometimes even act emotionally when they need to emphasize a point. He
also discussed how to the French, the quality of a project is more important
than meeting its deadline, whereas people in the U.S. tend to emphasize
deadlines to a greater degree. In this paper, we add to Foster’s work by
suggesting other temporal preferences and behaviors that different cultures
display as they make decisions in negotiation contexts.



Table 1 provides a brief summary of how Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S.
compare on a variety of important aspects of national environment includ-
ing religion, government, and economy. Other important differences also
distinguish these countries and its citizens, such as the differences in societal
values of human development, power distance, and performance orientation
(see the GLOBE project; Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Jesuino, 2002). Further-
more, these three countries and their citizens also vary in terms of individ-
ualism–collectivism, with Portugal at the collectivist end of this scale, the
U.S. at the individualistic end, and Turkey ranking as a moderately col-
lectivistic society (Cavusgil, Civi, Tutek, & Dalgic, 2003). We argue that the
differences between these countries in terms of the broader national envi-
ronment meaningfully distinguish these nations from one another in sig-
nificant ways relevant to negotiation.
In this section, we advance three dimensions of national stability that are
likely to play an important role in temporal views in negotiations across
different national cultures. We define national stability as the environmental
conditions pertaining to the strength and consistency of political, economic,
and institutional norms and realities in a given nation. For the purposes of
understanding temporality in negotiations within cultures, we select aspects
of the environment that directly pertain to temporality in negotiations:
institutional systems, relationships, and national homogeneity.
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 121

Table 1. Demographic Information about Portugal, Turkey,

and the U.S.
Portugal Turkey U.S.

Location Europe Europe and Asia North America

Size (sq. km) 92,391 780,580 9,631,418
Population (million) 10.6 68.9 295.7
Languages Portuguese (official), Turkish (official), English, Spanish
Mirandese (official Kurdish, Arabic, (spoken by a
– but locally used) Armenian, Greek sizable minority)
Government type Parliamentary Republican Constitution-based
democracy parliamentary federal republic;
democracy strong democratic
Legal system Civil law system Derived from various Common law system
European legal
Religions Roman Catholic Muslim 99.8% Protestant 52%,
94% (mostly Sunni), Roman Catholic
other 0.2% (mostly 24%, Mormon
Christians and 2%, Jewish 1%,
Jews) Muslim 1%, other
10%, none
Currency Euro (EUR) Turkish lira (TRL) US dollar (USD)
GDP per capita $17,900 $6,700 $40,100
Inflation rate 2.1% 18.4% 2.5%
(consumer prices)
Unemployment rate 6.5% 11.3% (plus 5.5%
of 6.1%)

Sources: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US
Library of Congress.
 2005 estimate.
 2004 estimate.
 1995 estimate.
2002 estimate.
 2003 estimate.

Institutional Systems and Temporality in Negotiations

One important element in national cultures is the institutional environment.

Institutional actors are social groups that exert some overarching influence on

how national culture is expressed. Examples of institutional actors can include

churches, national governments, regulatory bodies, and the armed forces.
These institutions are important because they can provide stability, which is
critical as individuals assess the predictability of the future. For example,
some have suggested that the Israeli army, with its forced conscription, pro-
vides a common experience for all Israeli citizens. Institutions within coun-
tries, however, are not always stable. In Turkey, for example, one can observe
frequent state intervention in business life through unpredictable policy
changes, which creates uncertainty for private companies that remain highly
dependent on the state for financial incentives (Kabasakal & Bodur, 1998).
The instability of institutional actors can create an absence of behavioral
guidance (Khanna & Palepu, 1997). If institutional actors cannot guarantee
stability in the national environment, then individuals face an unpredictable
Institutional actors can affect negotiations, for instance, through their
impact on how negotiators view the future. Legal systems are one example
of a set of institutional actors that can affect how individuals see the future.
Legal systems can be quite different and include systems based on common
law, civil law, religious law, and many hybrid forms (LaPorta, Lakonishok,
Shleifer, & Vishny, 1997; LaPorta, Lopez-De-Silanes, & Shleifer, 1999). One
element that distinguishes these systems is the extent to which they protect
investors through processes that provide for the enforcement of contracts.
Higher levels of protection reduce the uncertainty involved in investment
and increase the predictability of the future by providing an institutionalized
process to fall back on in situations where, for example, agreements are not
fulfilled. It is the ability to rely on institutional actors that allows individuals
and organizations to negotiate for future outcomes even though the future,
in its very essence, is unpredictable.
As an example of how different legal systems can impact temporality in
negotiations, consider the case of a buyer and a seller that involves the
delivery of merchandise at a later date. In this situation, two considerations
may be relevant. The first one is whether or not the buyer can count on the
seller to deliver at the appointed time, and the second one is whether or not
the seller can count on payment after delivery. Even in such a simple sit-
uation, a strong and effective legal protection of contracts and property can
be an important enabler of agreements, because it is a critical factor in the
enforcement of agreements. Thus, in a country with a strong judicial system,
a retailer will want to be able to enforce the contract and to take action if a
supplier does not deliver the merchandise at the appointed time. Similarly,
the buyer can count on the legal system to guarantee payment.
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 123

In Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S., the legal systems operate in different
ways, potentially leading to differences in the way individuals view the fu-
ture and thus the way in which the legal system enables agreements for
delayed outcomes. For example, a central tenet of the U.S. legal system (a
common law system) is that justice must be quick, that ‘‘justice delayed is
justice denied.’’ In this respect, the U.S. legal system is quite different from
the legal systems in Portugal (a civil law system) and Turkey (a law system
derived from various European legal systems), where civil disputes can take
a long time to settle. One potential consequence of the differences in legal
systems is that individuals in Turkey and Portugal may be less likely to rely
on the judicial system as a guarantor of agreements that involve delays
compared to individuals in the U.S. In turn, negotiators in Turkey and
Portugal may prefer and provide incentives for negotiated agreements that
involve an immediate realization of outcomes (such as preferring cash pay-
ments rather than credit or other forms of delayed payments), even pro-
viding price reductions for those parties willing to pay up front. In some
cases, making cash payments may be the only option available to the buyer.
In contrast, negotiators in the U.S. may be much more willing to provide
delayed payment options to buyers due to a greater ability to rely on the
judicial system in the event of a default.

Relationships and Temporality in Negotiations

Family ties and close relationships are another element of national stability
that can exert a strong influence on how transactions occur in a society. In
particular, the existence of strong ties in families, including the extended
family, friendships, and other close-knit groups, can serve to reduce uncer-
tainty for individuals. For example, some scholars have speculated that close
relationships can substitute for other governance mechanisms, such as con-
tractual safeguards, by providing an alternative mechanism based on trust
(Gulati, 1995; Gundlach & Murphy, 1993; Heide, 1994; Inkpen & Currall,
1998; Parkhe, 1993; Ring & Van de Ven, 1992). In negotiation contexts, close
relationships can reduce the uncertainty associated with the implementation
of agreements.
Close relationships can reduce the risk and the uncertainty regarding the
implementation of negotiated agreements by providing trust among the par-
ties involved in the negotiation. However, close relationships may have an-
other interesting temporal effect. Some have observed that one way to
establish or build close relationships is by extending trust. In these situations,

it is more likely that an actor will find it acceptable to fulfill his or her part of
an agreement without immediate reciprocity, using the delay of payment, or
an unfulfilled promise, as an opportunity to build the relationship. That is, the
acceptability of a delay in payment in these conditions, on its own, can be-
come a trust-building exercise. This delay, by engendering trust, can also
increase the confidence in partner cooperation (Das & Teng, 1998). Although
the expectation for the other party to implement their part of the agreement at
a future date is there, the actual implementation time may be quite uncertain.
In such a system of relationships, each transaction is embedded in a deeper
network of interactions, both past and future.
One example of how family ties or other close relationships can influence
the negotiation of delayed outcomes is the case of a buyer and a seller in-
volving the payment for a used car. One can assume that the seller’s main
concern is receiving payment for the car. In a situation where family or other
relationship networks are strong, they may not rely on a contract, but on a
verbal agreement instead. To the extent that a strong direct or indirect re-
lationship exists between the parties, the seller is more likely to trust the
buyer. In addition, the seller may be willing to accommodate the buyer by
delaying the payment to preserve or enhance the existing relationships, per-
haps by showing kindness and generosity. Situations such as this highlight the
important point that negotiation outcomes often involve factors exogenous to
the negotiation per se, including the preservation of social ties, which may be
differentially valued based on national culture.
In Turkey, Portugal, and the U.S., family and friendship ties take differ-
ent forms and may lead to differences in individuals’ reliance on networks of
family and friends. For instance, the U.S. is known for its strong individ-
ualistic orientation (Hofstede, 1980). In this respect, the U.S. orientation to
family and other close relationships is quite different from that in Portugal,
where there is a strong sense of loyalty to an extended network of family and
friends, and where some have noted a weaker ‘‘civic sense’’ toward the larger
community (Osland, Franco, & Osland, 1999). As Cheke (1953, p. 45)
noted, ‘‘the Portuguese is kind and charitable to five categories of persons:
to his family, to his friends, to the friends of his family, to the friends of his
friends, and lastly, to the beggar in his path.’’
In Turkey, the network of interdependent relationships includes family,
regional origin, and school affiliation, and carries great importance. This
network gains even more importance in Turkey due to the influence of
Islam, which places great value in a collectivist culture (Kabasakal & Bodur,
2002). Consequently, we propose that in Turkey, delaying payments and
extending generosity in this way to enhance existing relationships among
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 125

parties is likely to be more common than in Portugal where these types of

generous behaviors will be mostly observed among friends and family.
Improving existing relationships serves the purpose of enlarging one’s net-
work of relationships, creating opportunities for new business and personal
relationships. In contrast, in the U.S., intentional delays will be less fre-
quently observed as compared to Portugal or Turkey because maintaining
relationships may be less of a concern due to an individualistic orientation.

National Homogeneity and Temporality in Negotiations

The extent of homogeneity within a national population is another aspect of

national stability, and may have important implications for how transactions
are conducted in a society. Populations that are relatively homogeneous in
terms of background, language, religion, historical traditions, education, eth-
nicity, and so forth are more likely to have widely shared schemas to un-
derstand the world. Shared schemas may assist individuals in crafting
agreements because individuals may share an understanding for what each
party’s expectations are concerning the negotiation. For example, in some
cultures, negotiating over certain commodities is expected and prices are de-
liberately kept at a higher level with the expectation that the potential buyer
will negotiate the price. Sharing similar expectations, both the buyer and the
seller go into the negotiation prepared for the negotiation to take place,
attenuating conflict that can arise due to differential expectations.
Shared schemas as derived from homogeneity in the population may help
individuals craft agreements for delayed outcomes because individuals share
many of the concerns about the future, and thus these concerns may be im-
plicitly accounted for in the agreements that are reached. For example, suppose
that a country suffers a financial crisis and currency devaluation. An event of
this type can be a severe shock to an economic system. Consider, for instance,
how the Great Depression in the U.S. affected an entire generation’s view of
savings, waste, and personal sacrifice. The events that could precipitate such a
crisis, its resolution, and the recovery from it are likely to be events that are
shared by many individuals within that society. This shared history can create a
mutual understanding of expectations and preferences concerning future out-
comes and lead to cooperative behavior for delayed issues.
Portugal is a more homogeneous society with regard to values, prefer-
ences, and behaviors than either Turkey or the U.S. Portugal’s homogeneity
comes from its small population residing in a small land area compared to
Turkey or the U.S. In Turkey, one can observe a multiplicity of ideologies

that emerge from ethnic and regional differences. This heterogeneity of cul-
tures within Turkey creates a diversity that blends traditional and modern
values, secular and Islamic ideologies, and Eastern and Western perspectives
(Kabasakal & Bodur, 1998).
Due to its sheer population size, geographic magnitude, and tradition as a
haven for immigrants, the U.S. displays even greater diversity than Turkey
extreme mix of cultures, religions, and peoples. We propose that individuals
in a country like Portugal, where greater homogeneity exists, may be able to
rely on common understandings to develop agreements that involve delayed
outcomes more than individuals in Turkey or the U.S. These agreements are
more likely, in addition, to include implicit and explicit elements that ac-
count for the shared experience of the Portuguese. In particular, this reliance
on common understandings may be more effective than relying on the legal
system, like negotiators in the U.S. might be expected to do. Furthermore,
we suggest that when negotiating for delays themselves, a common under-
standing of expectations and preferences in Portugal is likely to allow for an
accommodation of each party’s concerns on how great a delay is desirable,
whereas this accommodation is less likely to be observed in places such as
Turkey or the U.S., where shared understandings exist to a lesser degree.
In this section, we introduced the concept of national stability and three
ways in which national cultures differ in national stability. In addition, we
discussed the consequent temporal preferences and behaviors individuals in
different national cultures display in negotiations. We suggested that insti-
tutional, relationship, and population characteristics of a society affect
temporal preferences and behaviors in negotiation. In the next section,
we introduce the notion of cultural temporality and how it affects nego-



We now focus on another aspect of the broader national environment, the

temporal culture, and its impact on negotiations conducted in different na-
tional cultures. We define cultural temporality as the ways in which people in
different cultures perceive time and their consequent attitudes, preferences,
and behaviors in relation to time. Given our focus on understanding tem-
porality in negotiations across different cultural settings, considering the
temporal dimension of national culture is central to our discussion. We sug-
gest that temporal dimensions of the national culture influence negotiators’
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 127

perceptions of time. Prior research has identified a number of time-related

factors that are culture-specific, such as polychronicity, future orientation,
and uncertainty avoidance. These factors are manifested in individuals’ per-
ceptions of time. In the following section, we explore these temporal factors
and their impact on negotiations.

Polychronicity and Temporality in Negotiations

Hall (1959) introduced the concept of polychronicity to describe how

different cultures use and view time. He suggested that people in poly-
chronic cultures tend to have a preference for doing many things at once or,
in other words, for multi-tasking. This ‘‘multi-tasking’’ behavior enables
individuals to easily combine personal and professional lives. Also, in po-
lychronic cultures human relationships are emphasized over schedules. In
contrast, individuals in monochronic cultures tend to prefer doing one thing
at a time, and generally place greater emphasis on schedules and the need to
keep them. Hall (1989) further associated polychronicity with the intangi-
bility of time, noting that in polychronic cultures individuals are less likely
to speak of time as being spent, wasted, or lost. Latin cultures and Eastern
cultures tend to be polychronic. Individuals in these cultures often prefer
doing several things at a time and are not as concerned about deadlines as
Western cultures are. Western cultures tend to be more monochronic such
that people in these countries tend to prefer focusing on one thing at a time
and greatly emphasize punctuality (Hall, 1959, 1989).
Individuals in polychronic cultures are likely to display negotiating be-
haviors consistent with the temporal characteristics of their culture, which
emphasize multi-tasking, during negotiating. They are likely to negotiate
over multiple issues at a time rather than over one issue at a time. Con-
sequently, individuals in polychronic cultures may be more likely to find the
integrative potential in an agreement by making trade-offs among issues
compared to monochronic cultures, where individuals are likely to focus on
one issue at a time. In addition, given that polychronic cultures do not speak
of time as spent or lost, individuals in these cultures are likely to go through
lengthier negotiations compared to those in monochronic cultures, where
there is a greater awareness of the passage of time and where individuals are
likely to end negotiations after a specified period of time even if a decision is
not yet reached. Longer duration negotiations may also facilitate the cre-
ation or strengthening of personal relationships. Furthermore, we suggest
that individuals from polychronic cultures are likely to multi-task and focus

on both negotiation-specific concerns and outside concerns, such as personal

issues, during negotiations. Outside concerns can create distraction and
prevent individuals from focusing fully on the task at hand. Overall, al-
though polychronicity may be associated with greater logrolling, it may also
be associated with lengthier negotiations and greater interference of per-
sonal matters with the negotiation task compared to monochronicity. Con-
versely, monochronic cultures are likely to focus on the task, which is the
negotiation itself, not allowing personal or other outside matters to interfere
with the negotiation. This can allow for a more focused and attentive way of
approaching the negotiation process.
Latin cultures (e.g., the Portuguese culture) and Eastern cultures (e.g., the
Turkish culture) are polychronic cultures, whereas Western cultures such as
the U.S. culture tend to be monochronic (Hall, 1989). Accordingly, we argue
that Portuguese and the Turkish negotiators are more likely to tackle mul-
tiple issues at once in a multi-issue negotiation compared to U.S. negoti-
ators, who are more likely to tackle one issue at a time. In addition, given
their polychronic nature and consequent lack of attention to the passage of
time, one can expect the Eastern and Latin cultures to go through a rather
lengthy negotiation process, perhaps involving activities such as business
lunches and dinners, as part of building a trusting relationship in the ne-
gotiation (see Cavusgil et al., 2003, for Turkey). In these situations, nego-
tiations may reach impasse or the agreement may remain vague, but the
process may also be expected to pick up again at a later time. In contrast,
U.S. negotiators may be more likely to adhere to deadlines and attempt to
finalize negotiations after a predetermined period.

Future Orientation and Temporality in Negotiations

Future orientation refers to the extent to which individuals in societies en-

gage in behaviors focused on the future such as planning, investing in the
future, or delaying gratification (House, Javidan, & Dorfman, 2001; House,
Javidan, Hanges, & Dorfman, 2002). An orientation to the future both
influences environmental factors such as national stability, legal environ-
ment, or religion, and is also influenced by these factors. Factors such as
institutional systems, historical heritage, economic development, govern-
ance or religion can reinforce the way the present, past, and the future are
viewed by people of different cultures. For example, in cultures that adhere
to the Muslim faith, one can observe a short-term orientation and lack of
planning and forecasting, since believing in fate as a basic principle of faith
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 129

in God involves accepting all conduct that occurred in the past or that will
occur in the future (Ilmihal I, 1999), which is prearranged and perhaps
preordained by God (Kabasakal & Dastmalchian, 2001). Economic hard-
ship can also turn people’s attention to the present and prevent individuals
from making plans regarding the future if it is perceived as uncertain and
The extent to which a negotiator is culturally oriented toward the future
can affect both the negotiation process and outcome. For example, a strong
future orientation can increase negotiators’ focus on issues with delayed
outcomes and increase the competition over these issues. Lack of cooper-
ation over delayed issues can increase the chances of reaching impasse or
prevent negotiators from identifying the integrative potential in an agree-
ment. Further, compared to those in present-oriented cultures, negotiators
embedded in future-oriented cultures may be more likely to take into ac-
count future opportunities with their counterparts, allowing cross-temporal
trade-offs to take place between the present and the future.
Research initiated by the GLOBE project suggests that people in the U.S.
are higher in future orientation than Turks, who are slightly higher than the
Portuguese (Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Jesuino, 2002; Kabasakal & Bodur,
2002). A strong future orientation in the U.S. can be attributed to the
tendency of thinking of the future as greater, bigger, better, and more pros-
perous than the present (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961), which is perhaps
largely reinforced by the strength of the economy and the U.S. status as the
world’s only superpower (Ashkanasy et al., 2002). On the other hand,
economic hardships along with Islamic roots and a consequent belief in
‘‘fate’’ (Kabasakal & Dastmalchian, 2001) reinforces a present-orientation
in Turkey. The Portuguese tend to be oriented to the past due to a somewhat
recent history of economic hardships that contrasts with a far more glorious
colonial past.
We propose that negotiators in the U.S. are more likely to assume a
competitive stance when negotiating over delayed issues compared to ne-
gotiators in Turkey or Portugal because negotiators in the U.S. tend to be
more future-oriented (Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Jesuino, 2002; Kabasakal &
Bodur, 2002) and, therefore, may discount the value of delayed outcomes to
a lesser degree, placing relatively more emphasis on issues with delayed
outcomes. Further, negotiators in the U.S. may be more likely to trade-off
present negotiations for future ones compared to Turkey or Portugal. In
other words, negotiators in the U.S. are likely to concede to the other party
in a present, less important negotiation while expecting a return from
the other party in a more important future negotiation. Naturally, such a

relationship would be moderated by the strength of the relationships

between the parties.

Uncertainty Avoidance and Temporality in Negotiations

Uncertainty avoidance refers to the extent to which individuals strive to avoid

ambiguity by relying on social norms, rituals, and bureaucratic practices
(House et al., 2001). Societies that are oriented to the future can also try to
avoid the ambiguity the future entails. Thus, future-oriented societies tend to
be heavily involved in planning, forecasting, and investing in the future
(House et al., 2001, 2002), which serve to minimize the negative impact of an
ambiguous future on the present. Similar to an orientation to the future, the
level of uncertainty avoidance in a society is likely to be heavily affected by
stability factors. Institutional systems, historical heritage, economic develop-
ment, or religion can shape the way time is viewed by people of different
cultures and how they view and deal with uncertainty. For example, people in
a country battered by a history of economic crises are likely to get used to
uncertainty as it is a part of daily life. Conversely, a stable economy creates
the perception of a more certain future and any uncertainty is likely to be
mitigated through extensive planning and forecasting.
The degree of uncertainty avoidance in a society can affect temporal
preferences in a negotiation context. Compared to negotiators from a cul-
ture that is accepting of uncertainty, negotiators from an uncertainty
avoidant culture may be more competitive when negotiating over delayed
issues, because delayed issues carry more uncertainty in their implementa-
tion. Moreover, negotiators from cultures that avoid uncertainty may assign
more risk to future outcomes than present ones, whereas those that embrace
uncertainty are likely to assign less risk due to a lower level of desire to
control the effect of the future on their present decisions.
Research has shown that the Turks are generally more tolerant of un-
certainty than the Portuguese, who are more tolerant of uncertainty than
individuals from the U.S. (Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Jesuino, 2002; Kabasakal
& Bodur, 2002). Turks are less avoidant of uncertainty compared to indi-
viduals from the U.S., perhaps due to Turkey’s roots in Islam and indi-
viduals’ need to maintain a strong relationship with the family and other
closely knit groups (Kabasakal & Bodur, 2002). These networks of close
relationships may provide the security the Turks need to cope with ambi-
guity. On the other hand, what is distinctive and peculiar about Portugal is
the ‘‘paternalistic role attributed to the state’’ which is expected to ‘‘regulate,
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 131

educate and protect its subjects’’ (Jesuino, 2002, p. 84). Within Portuguese
society, the state assumes the protector role and provides a ‘‘safety net’’
from uncertainty. In contrast, the individualistic nature of the U.S. seems to
leave little room for the immediate family or other members of the com-
munity to protect individuals from uncertainty. Instead, individuals in the
U.S. tend to rely on processes and institutions focused on planning. These
differences across national cultures in how uncertainty is viewed can impact
negotiations. In particular, Turks may be more cooperative when negoti-
ating over delayed issues than immediate ones, as they are more likely to
embrace ambiguous situations, compared to the Portuguese, who in turn
will be more cooperative than individuals in the U.S. In addition, due to
differences in uncertainty avoidance in Turkey, Portugal, and the U.S, ne-
gotiators from these cultures can create agreements that involve conditional
agreements tied to risk preferences, where Turks take more risks than the
Portuguese who take more risks than individuals from the U.S.
In this section, we have described three elements of cultural temporality:
polychronicity, future orientation, and uncertainty avoidance. These tem-
poral factors have been previously examined to understand how societies
view time (e.g., Hall, 1989; House et al., 2001). We have extended previous
work to explore the potential impact of cultural temporality on temporal
preferences and behaviors in negotiations. We have suggested that cultural
temporality may have an influence on individuals’ perceptions of time, and,
therefore, may have consequences for individuals’ temporal preferences and
behaviors during negotiation.


In this section, we explore negotiation paradigms observed in different cul-
tures as a mechanism to explain how cultural temporality affects temporal
preferences and behaviors in negotiations. We describe three aspects of the
negotiation experience in day-to-day life in Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S.
to explore how the national environment can affect temporality in nego-
tiation. These descriptions highlight ways in which different countries reflect
different contextual environments within which negotiation takes place. We
argue that different countries, by merit of their different cultural influences,
develop paradigms of negotiation that are defined by shared conceptions of
how, when, and under what circumstances negotiations should take place.
Here, we define negotiation paradigms as shared cognitive representations

that individuals in a given culture hold and that are used to make sense
of the negotiation activity. These negotiation paradigms influence the spe-
cific processes and outcomes associated with temporality in any given

Negotiating as a Common vs. Uncommon Activity and Temporality

in Negotiations

In some cultural settings, individuals negotiate frequently because this may be

the only way to achieve one’s goals. In other settings, negotiating may not be
as common. In Portugal, for instance, negotiating tends to be perceived as
awkward and somewhat unnatural, and it is not an everyday task. The Por-
tuguese are not used to negotiating, perhaps as a legacy of a half-century-old
dictatorship (Rafael, 1994), which involved a controlling autocratic regime
and a high degree of state intervention in all aspects of economic life (Nunes
& Montanheiro, 1997). Negotiating opportunities are limited in Portugal,
circumscribed to a limited number of places or interactions (e.g., feiras –
mobile agglomerations of vendors that sell everything from food products to
clothes, furniture, or small domestic appliances). In stark contrast, bargaining
is an integral aspect of a Turk’s day-to-day activity. As Cavusgil et al. (2003)
remarked, bargaining is a national hobby in Turkey and people frequently
negotiate. These negotiations range from bargaining for consumables such as
clothing or photocopies to larger-scale items such as a house or car. Finally,
individuals from the U.S. are most likely to bargain when acquiring big-ticket
items or during major life events, such as changing employers (i.e., job
Individuals acquire experience in negotiating over time. In a culture where
negotiating is a common occurrence, individuals acquire experience more
readily. Experience can lead to being more willing and proactive in com-
municating needs and desires to the other party. In addition, one would
expect experienced negotiators to have a greater awareness as to when they,
or the other party, will walk away from a negotiation. Because negotiating is
less fearsome for experienced negotiators, they may be more assertive in
their temporal preferences when negotiating with a party with less initiative
and experience. For example, they may be less likely to delay gratification by
demanding a quick implementation. Moreover, experienced parties are less
likely to give up on their demands and are likely to continue haggling until a
satisfactory agreement is reached. Overall, we argue that individuals from
the U.S. and Portugal are likely to be less proactive in communicating needs
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 133

and desires to the other party while taking less time to reach an agreement
than the Turks.

Negotiating as a Process vs. an Outcome and Temporality in Negotiations

Another difference in how negotiation takes place across countries is related

to whether there is a primary focus on the process or the outcome. For the
Portuguese, personal negotiations, as infrequent as they may be, have to be
considered in the context of relationships. The Portuguese tend to value
long-term relationships, as reflected in their collectivistic nature (Hofstede,
1980). Bargaining, especially over distributive issues, where one’s gain is the
other’s loss, can be particularly tricky and needs to be carried out with great
caution so as not to sever relationships. Although Portuguese executives at
large companies tend to assume an aggressive and practical stance in busi-
ness dealings, most small-and medium-sized businesses are less financially
aggressive and place high importance on trust and personal loyalty (Rafael,
1994). Overall, for the Portuguese, the handling of the negotiation seems to
be as important, if not more important, than the outcome of the negotiation.
In Turkey, the bargaining process is considered an enjoyable experience
(Cavusgil et al., 2003). Although the end-result of a negotiation is impor-
tant, the process of negotiating is perceived as a natural and well-appre-
ciated aspect of daily life. In the context of business dealings, Turks use
business lunches and dinners as opportunities to develop a relationship, and
reciprocating is crucial (Cavusgil et al., 2003). In contrast to both Portugal
and Turkey, individuals in the U.S. tend to focus on ‘‘the bottom line.’’
Americans strive to get the best deal and, hence, emphasize the outcome
over the process. Given that the U.S. is characterized as an individualistic,
achievement-oriented, and performance-driven culture where individuals
display high degrees of independence (Ashkanasy, et al., 2002), it is not
surprising that a strong performance orientation during bargaining can of-
ten be observed. Attempts to get the best end-result in negotiations may also
be linked to the assertiveness (i.e., the extent to which societies are assertive,
confrontational, and aggressive in social relationships, see House et al.,
2002) of the U.S. culture, which is considered to be high on this dimension
(Ashkanasy et al., 2002).
Cultures that view negotiating as a process rather than an outcome are
likely to invest more effort in building relationships and preparing for po-
tential future negotiations compared to cultures that place primary impor-
tance on the outcome. Given the importance of building the relationship,

negotiation deadlines may be taken less seriously. Viewing negotiating as an

outcome, on the other hand, makes the handling of negotiation more effi-
cient, such that negotiators are likely to invest less time reaching an agree-
ment because building the relationship is not an integral part of the
negotiation process. We argue that due to an outcome orientation in the
U.S., one can observe a more efficient way of handling the negotiation
process by reaching an agreement more swiftly, compared to Portugal or
Turkey. In Portugal or Turkey, individuals are more likely to focus on
efficiently managing the relationship than individuals in the U.S. whereas
individuals in the U.S. are more likely to focus on the negotiation outcome
per se than those in Portugal or Turkey.

Negotiating as a Rational vs. an Emotional Process and Temporality

in Negotiations

Whereas in some cultures individuals may refrain from expressing emotion, in

others open conflict and loud argumentation are an integral (and even enjoy-
able) aspect of negotiating (Cavusgil et al., 2003). Negotiating in Portugal
seems largely based on rational exchanges of arguments. Using rational argu-
ments, the Portuguese bargain at a professional level rather than a personal
level, which is not surprising since Portuguese tend to be somewhat formal
(Rafael, 1994). At the same time, given the collectivist nature of the Portuguese
(Hofstede, 1980), this professional style of negotiating is also amenable to the
protection of personal relationships, which may be reflected in emotional as-
pects of negotiation. Turks, on the other hand, tend to debate and be argu-
mentative as they embrace conflict. In Turkish, the very word ‘‘negotiation’’
translates as pazarlik, which implies a heated, animated, haggling process
(Cavusgil et al., 2003). This complements the high levels of aggressiveness in the
Turkish society (Kabasakal & Bodur, 2002), which is likely to make Turks low
on conflict avoiding behaviors during negotiations. In the U.S., expressions of
emotion can sometimes be thought of as inappropriate and negotiations can be
carried out in a more rational and less emotional manner. The individualistic
nature of the culture in the U.S. (Hofstede, 1980) emphasizes a self that is not
attached to others, perhaps allowing a more rational way of dealing with one’s
negotiation partner.
Important differences mark the influence of negotiating as a rational vs.
an emotional process on temporal preferences in negotiation. A rational
way of negotiating allows viewing time in blocks, as something that cannot
be wasted or spent. Therefore, a rational negotiator may only invest time on
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 135

negotiating as it is deemed necessary. In addition, because a rational ne-

gotiator is likely to evaluate a block of time in the future similar to a block
of time in the present, he or she may be more likely to envision the impact of
future outcomes on current decisions. We suggest that when negotiating
over delayed outcomes, rational negotiators such as those in the U.S. are
likely to discount the future less compared to emotional negotiators such as
those in Turkey and to evaluate delayed issues as similar to immediate ones.
In addition, U.S. negotiators will take less time negotiating than negotiators
in Turkey since irrelevant, non-factual matters are not as likely to be
brought to the table. In Turkey, delayed issues are likely to lose their im-
portance in the face of immediate ones. Being emotional negotiators, Turks
will involuntarily focus on their emotions salient during negotiation and
have a heightened focus on what is at stake at the present moment in time,
possessing an inconsistent view of time. On the other hand, negotiators in
Portugal, who may use emotional and rational approaches in negotiations,
are likely to lie somewhere in between U.S. and Turkish negotiators in how
much time they take to negotiate and how they perceive delayed issues.
To summarize, although negotiating may be observed in many different
national cultures, the negotiation paradigm with which negotiation is carried
out can vary substantially. The idiosyncrasies illustrated for Portugal, Turkey,
and the U.S. (see Table 2) highlight some of the negotiation processes that
underlie the characteristics of these countries’ negotiation paradigms. Estab-
lishing variations across nations on paradigms utilized during negotiations is
valuable because these variations are likely to influence temporal preferences

Table 2. Negotiating in Portugal, Turkey, and the U.S.

Portugal Turkey U.S.

Negotiating as a Infrequent small-and Frequent small- and Infrequent small-

common vs. big-item big-item item negotiations;
uncommon negotiations negotiations frequent big-item
activity negotiations
Negotiating as a Process and outcome Process (negotiation Outcome
process vs. an (negotiation as a as an enjoyable (negotiation as an
outcome venue to maintain activity) end-result)
Negotiating as a Rational and Emotional exchange Rational exchange
rational vs. an emotional (negotiating
emotional, exchange through debating
argumentative and
process argumentation)

and behaviors in negotiation such as emphasis on immediate vs. temporally

distant outcomes or the amount of time spent on finalizing an agreement.



In this section, we describe how different elements of national environment

(i.e., cultural temporality, negotiation paradigm, and national stability) relate
to one another as well as to negotiation processes and outcomes, following
Fig. 1. We suggest that individuals’ temporal attitudes and behaviors during
negotiations are likely to be heavily influenced by the nation-level negotiation
paradigms that stem from both nation-level cultural temporality and stability.
To the extent that individuals’ views, attitudes, preferences, and actions are
partly a product of their national environment, negotiation processes and
outcomes will reflect the characteristics of cultural temporality and stability.
Cultural temporality and stability can restrict the available attitudes and be-
haviors in specific negotiation situations by presenting a frame for how one
will approach and think about a negotiation situation. An individual from a
culture low on time tangibility (Hall, 1959 i.e., a characteristic of cultural
temporality) or a culture of close relationships (i.e., a characteristic of na-
tional stability) is likely to place a strong emphasis on the process of nego-
tiating because building and preserving the relationship is an important aspect
of these cultures. Therefore, one will observe a process orientation (i.e., a
characteristic of negotiation paradigm) from negotiators.
Negotiation paradigms will then have an overarching influence on how
individuals act during negotiations and the agreements they reach. For ex-
ample, we would expect that negotiators from a culture low on time tan-
gibility or high on close relationships who tend to be process oriented in
negotiation situations will be less focused on meeting the deadlines for
reaching an agreement than on creating a trusting relationship. In contrast,
negotiators from a culture high on time tangibility (i.e., viewing time in
blocks, as something that one can partition into smaller units) or low on
close-relationships who tend to place more emphasis on the outcome of the
negotiation than the process will focus heavily on planning and preparing
for negotiations and meeting the negotiation deadline.
It is important to note that at any given time multiple national stability
factors, as part of the broader national environment, will influence temporal
preferences and behaviors in negotiation. For the purposes of this chapter,
we only discuss those stability factors, including institutional systems, close
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 137

relationships, and population homogeneity, whose effects on temporal be-

haviors are relatively straightforward. However, other factors such as re-
ligion, economic development, the role of the state, or historical heritage
also exist. These factors can affect negotiations in a combined fashion. For
example, a few of the characteristics of the national environment in the U.S.
are a future orientation, a Protestant ethic (including elements of punctu-
ality, diligence, deferment of gratification, and primacy of the work domain,
Rose, 1985), and a stable, powerful economy. A stable economy may re-
inforce an optimistic view of the future and enable future-oriented behaviors
such as planning or forecasting.
A future orientation coupled with a strong Protestant ethic create an even
stronger economy and stable institutions, adding to the cycle where both
temporal culture (e.g. future orientation) and national stability (e.g., insti-
tutional system) influence one another. A heavy orientation to the future
and a strong Protestant ethic, in turn, can lead individuals to view nego-
tiating as a rational process where individuals do planning before and dur-
ing negotiating as well as work toward set deadlines and place great value on
issues whose outcomes will be realized in the future. A healthy, steady
economy may also eliminate the attractiveness of negotiating as a common
activity and limits negotiating to big-ticket items. In addition, future ori-
entation and strong Protestant ethic can focus negotiators’ attention on the
outcome of negotiating.
Portugal can be characterized by a history of revolutions over the last
decades, such as the fall of the dictatorial regime in 1974. The volatile
history, resulting in an unstable economy, may reinforce a pessimistic view
of the future. In addition, individuals tend to converse about and generally
focus on the past and the present more than the future. Because the future is
not viewed the same way as the present, and because poor economic con-
ditions persist along with a collectivist culture, the Portuguese are likely to
focus on the process of negotiating rather than the outcome to maintain
relationships. In turn, deadlines are not heavily emphasized and heavy em-
phasis is likely to be placed on issues whose outcomes will be realized today
in negotiation situations. Turkey’s poor economy in addition to its adher-
ence to the Muslim faith may reinforce a view where the future cannot be
controlled, which explains the heavy emphasis on the present. Therefore, the
negotiation paradigm in Turkey considers negotiating a common activity,
an emotional process, and is process- instead of outcome-oriented. Planning
or forecasting is rarely observed because the economy is volatile and future
conditions cannot be easily anticipated. Short-term solutions to even com-
plex problems are common. Due to these characteristics of the negotiation

paradigm in Turkey, one can observe lack of attention to deadlines as well

as focus on issues with immediate outcomes.


National environment has a pervasive impact on perceptions, attitudes, and

behaviors of individuals embedded in that environment. In this chapter, we
extend previous work on negotiations by exploring temporality in different
national cultures and discussing differences in negotiation processes and
outcomes across cultures when negotiations have temporal constraints such
as deadlines or delayed implementation of outcomes. Understanding how
perceptions of time differ across cultures is an important step in under-
standing a variety of managerial dimensions as perceptions of time influence
strategic choices (Reger & Huff, 1993), decision-making styles (Beldona,
Inkpen, & Pratak, 1998) and negotiation per se (Foster, 1992).
Understanding the influence of time on negotiations is important because
temporal concerns are ubiquitous in negotiations. Organizations and indi-
viduals often negotiate with a deadline or negotiate for outcomes that are
delayed. In fact, not only negotiated outcomes but also other outcomes are
often delayed. An investment project may only yield a financial return after
many years. The return for years of education manifests itself over the life of
an individual. Procurement relationships that entail deliveries scheduled
over a predefined period may extend to several months. In addition, ne-
gotiation research and practice can benefit from an understanding of con-
ditions under which negotiations are likely to lead to agreements that are
more efficient. Delayed outcomes or deadlines may bring this efficiency to
the extent that the future is discounted in the eyes of the negotiators, where
the rate of discounting can vary from one culture to another, or that dead-
lines are taken into consideration when building agreements.
One of the primary contributions of this paper is to introduce the concept
of negotiation paradigm as a mechanism through which national environ-
ment affects temporal preferences and behaviors in negotiations. We suggest
that complex environmental factors give rise to the development of cognitive
paradigms that societies use as a roadmap to approach negotiation situations.
For example, we suggested that while some cultures are more process-ori-
ented, others are more outcome-oriented in a negotiation context as a result
of differences in future orientation or work values across these cultures.
Another important contribution of this paper is in suggesting a way to
overcome an implicit view in much research that time means the same for all
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 139

individuals in all countries, suggesting that we move away from ‘‘parochial’’

views of human phenomena (Boyacigiller & Adler, 1991). We argue that we
should look at time as a multidimensional construct including, for example,
future orientation, uncertainty avoidance, and time tangibility. We also
suggest that, to understand the impact of time on negotiation, we must
integrate macro environmental factors, such as institutional and economic
influences, and cultural temporality that form negotiation paradigms, which
influence temporality in negotiation. Our analysis emphasizes the perspec-
tive that as the conceptualizations of time differ across cultures so should
the negotiations with temporal elements.
It is important to note that the effect of national environment on nego-
tiating is complex and, therefore, hard to predict. At any given point in time,
several environmental factors such as political, legal, economic, and social
factors come together to create certain types of negotiation paradigms in the
minds of individuals in a given society. These paradigms, in turn, affect
temporal orientations in negotiation, such as how societies negotiate for
immediate and delayed implementation of outcomes or behave in the face of
a deadline. Turkey, Portugal, and the U.S. are characterized by different
combinations of interdependent political, legal, economic, social, and insti-
tutional factors, which influence negotiations. These environmental factors
also change over time, creating further changes in negotiation paradigms,
and, therefore, in temporal preferences and behaviors in negotiations.
We suggest specific directions where theoretical and empirical work might
be worthwhile. First, future research may benefit from undertaking a more
in-depth analysis of the impact of past and present developments in the
economic, legal, political, and social arenas. For instance, the influence of
British colonization and the September 11th events on the U.S., the effect of
Islam and the formal recognition of Turkey as a candidate to join the
European Union on Turkey, or how the Portuguese culture has evolved to
accommodate the impact of the European Union, are worth noting as forces
shaping temporal views. That is, as the environment changes, so do the
cultural and individual interpretations of such aspects as time.
Future research could also develop a thorough examination of different
temporal constructs across cultures. This requires overcoming our natural
parochialism (Boyacigiller & Adler, 1991), which often emerges when re-
searchers use the very same measure across countries without appropriate
adaptations. In addition, given the complexity inherent in delayed outcomes,
future quasi-experimental research on cross-cultural negotiations can benefit
from simple manipulations of time, for example, manipulating a single tem-
poral orientation (e.g., future orientation) rather than manipulating delays.

Another avenue for future research is to identify the similarities and

differences among countries in how individuals allocate burdens in nego-
tiation situations. Perhaps the allocation of resources with negative valences
(Sondak, Neale, & Pinkley, 1995) is a function of negotiators’ prior expe-
riences. For instance, individuals more accustomed to dealing with burdens
may be more efficient when negotiating for burdens than individuals that
deal more often with benefits. Thus, it would be reasonable to suggest that
negotiators in Turkey would reach more efficient negotiated agreements
than those in Portugal, who will reach more efficient agreements than those
in the U.S. This should be particularly true when allocating delayed bur-
dens. These relative efficiencies would result naturally from differences in
the economic wealth of the country and its citizens. Nonetheless, future
research may test specifically whether individuals primed with burdens are
more or less efficient than those primed with benefits.
Studying negotiation as a special case of collective decision processes such
as group decision making highlights the importance of the social or rela-
tionship aspect of negotiation, which is affected by the broader environ-
ment, including the culture in which the negotiation takes place. For
example, in a nation characterized by close interpersonal ties, negotiation
interactions will focus on the process of negotiating, which will involve
building and maintaining the relationship between parties. These relation-
ship building efforts are likely to yield a cooperative style of negotiating,
making it easier for parties to reach the integrative potential of an agree-
ment. Overall, environmental characteristics whose influences are ingrained
within individuals in a given nation are likely to affect the interactions
between parties, which can determine negotiation outcomes.


Although our examination is theoretical, it is easy to foresee a number of

implications for research and practice related to intra-cultural negotiations.
Understanding negotiation paradigms within cultures can help set expec-
tations for how negotiations will take place within those cultures. For ex-
ample, if negotiating is a common experience in a given culture, then, in
many situations, individuals will be expected to negotiate to be able to
achieve a satisfactory agreement. Going into the negotiation with a shared
mindset that negotiating is to be expected will help parties feel comfortable
with the idea and act of negotiating, making it easier for them to be able to
reach a mutual agreement.
Temporality and Culture in Negotiations 141

In addition, understanding the impact of culture on negotiation can help

parties adjust their negotiation strategies accordingly. For instance, if, in a
given culture, individuals tend to underestimate the importance of the value
of future outcomes (i.e., discount the value of future outcomes), they are
likely to trade off future outcomes for present ones even though the value of
the present outcomes may be less than that of future outcomes. However, a
negotiator who is aware of the tendency to underestimate future outcomes
can use this information to his or her advantage by trading off present out-
comes that are not as valuable for future outcomes that are more valuable.
Overall, understanding how individuals go about negotiating within a given
culture can set mutual expectations for parties involved in the negotiation and
create opportunities to adjust one’s strategy to increase individual gain.
A number of implications for cross-cultural negotiations also exist. First,
a past or a present orientation may be associated with greater discounting
effects, which is not necessarily bad in a negotiation setting. When nego-
tiated outcomes are delayed into the future, greater discounting may lead to
less difficult negotiations and therefore better agreements (Okhuysen et al.,
2003). Managers in different cultures need to recognize how differences in
temporal perceptions may lead to conflicts over the realization of a nego-
tiated agreement. Negotiators may display more or less heated arguments
and emotions when the outcomes are delayed or immediately realized. Thus,
it is important for managers to pay attention to how negotiators’ temporal
perceptions are likely to differ across cultures, and how these orientations
may affect the negotiation processes and outcomes. For example, one could
expect negotiating to be a little more competitive when negotiating over
delayed issues with a negotiator from a future-oriented culture than with a
negotiator from a present or past-oriented culture. A negotiator from a
future-oriented culture is likely to put great emphasis on the issues even
when their implementation is to occur in a distant future.
It is important to note that when individuals from different cultures ne-
gotiate, the process and the outcome of the negotiation will follow the joint
decision-making process, which will include elements of conflict and under-
lying interests. On one hand, differences in negotiation paradigms such as
process orientation as observed in Turkey vs outcome orientation as observed
in the U.S. are likely to create conflict during negotiating. Similar to differ-
ences in attitudes toward quality and punctuality that Foster (1992) noted
between Americans and the French, a Turkish negotiator will value the
process of negotiating and extend this process to build a relationship, while a
U.S. negotiator will focus on the outcome and the deadline to reach this
outcome. Conflict is likely to arise as the Turkish negotiator insists on a

business lunch or dinner and the U.S. negotiator is anxious to close the deal.
On the other hand, differences in time orientations such as present-orientation
of a Turkish negotiator and a future-orientation of a negotiator from the U.S.
can help parties realize the integrative potential in an agreement through
trading-off among issues with immediate and delayed outcomes that have
different levels of importance to each party. In sum, differences in negotiation
paradigms and temporal orientations can create conflict while providing op-
portunities for logrolling or trade-offs.
Notwithstanding, it is important to remember Adler and Graham’s (1989)
finding that individuals adjust their behavior when negotiating cross-culturally.
In particular, Adler and Graham (1989) found that managers revealed differ-
ent negotiating behaviors when negotiating intra-culturally than when they
engaged in cross-cultural negotiation. This is a positive indication that man-
agers are aware of the cultural differences and adapt accordingly. However, the
first step toward appropriate adaptation is the knowledge of what to adapt to
such as the local interpretations of time and the environmental factors sur-
rounding those interpretations.

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Lu Wang, Lorna Doucet and Gregory Northcraft

Although social influence plays an important role in organizational
groups, past findings regarding culture’s impact on social influence have
been scarce and inconsistent. Past research has found that people from
collectivist cultures are more susceptible to social influence, while other
studies have found the opposite or no effect. One major weakness of prior
research on social influence is the predominantly cognitive orientation
that has underemphasized the role of affect in culture’s impact on social
influence. We address this weakness by outlining an affective model of
social influence, thereby expanding our understanding of social influence
in multicultural decision-making groups.


Groups have the potential to outperform individuals because groups can tap
the unique perspectives, opinions, and information of their members,
thereby creating a larger pool of intellectual resources to use when making

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 147–172
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09007-4

decisions (Wagerman, 1995; Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). Unfortunately, the

potential effectiveness of groups is undermined when social influence proc-
esses lead group members to withhold their unique perspectives, opinions,
and information from the group (Stasser & Titus, 1985; Gigone & Hastie,
1993). Group members often choose to self-sensor or conform in response to
social pressures within the group. Such choices can be detrimental to group
performance when group members choose to withhold information that is
critical for effective decision making.
This disruptive effect of social influence in groups seems a particularly
critical issue in multicultural groups. Multicultural groups are those com-
posed of members socialized in countries with different cultures. Individuals
socialized in countries with different cultures typically will hold different val-
ues, information, opinions, and perspectives (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis, 1994,
1995). These differences represent a critical resource for effective decision
making in groups. However, cultural differences may also determine the ex-
tent to which social influence processes prevent that critical resource from
being put to good use in groups. That is the focus of this chapter: How do
cultural differences facilitate or dampen social influence processes in groups?
A review of the literature regarding culture and social influence in groups
reveals some surprises. Research has been conducted in two main areas:
social influence regarding subjective evaluations (e.g. whether a policy is
appropriate or inappropriate) and social influence regarding objective judg-
ments (e.g. the length of a line or the direction of a movement). Research
concerning the effects of culture and social influence on subjective evalu-
ations is remarkably thin. In two of the few studies that have been con-
ducted, Meade and Barnard (1973) found that Chinese college students were
more likely than American students to shift their opinions on controversial
issues when faced with group pressure. However, few, if any other studies,
have examined the relationship between culture and social influence on
subjective evaluations.
Somewhat more research has examined the relationship between culture
and social influence on objective judgments. Bond and Smith (1996) con-
ducted a meta-analysis of studies examining the relation between individ-
ualism–collectivism and conformity using an Asch-type line judgment task
(1952b). Although Bond and Smith (1996) reported overall support for a
positive relation between collectivism and conformity, they also noted mul-
tiple exceptions. For example, while some studies found that individuals
from collectivist cultures are more susceptible to social influence than people
from individualist cultures (Huang & Harris, 1973; Meade & Barnard, 1973;
Sistrunk, Clement, & Guenther, 1971; Bond & Smith, 1996), other studies
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 149

have found the opposite (Frager, 1970; Williams & Sogon, 1984) or no effect
at all (Whittaker & Meade, 1967; Rodrigues, 1982). Overall, then, past
research on the role of culture in social influence in groups paints a very
incomplete picture.
An important limitation of past research is that it focuses almost exclu-
sively on verbal communication when examining the relationship between
culture and social influence in groups. Few studies have explored the role of
nonverbal communication – such as expressed affect – in understanding the
role of culture in social influence. Because nonverbal communication is
more open to interpretation than verbal communication (Royatos, 1988;
Seel, 2005; Kowner & Wiseman, 2003), social influence via nonverbal proc-
esses may be more susceptible to cultural effects.
The central argument we explore in this chapter is that expressed affect, as
a specific type of nonverbal communication, plays an important role in
social influence. In a sense, we are building on Asch’s (1952a) contention
that affect and cognition are both important determinants of social inter-
actions and influence in groups. Asch (1952a) wrote:
The human form is one of the most expressive objects in the surroundings; few of its
movements lack expressive qualities. But most vivid and expressive is the appearance of
a person in the throes of emotion. In the changes of the face, posture and gait we see the
visible forms of determination, fear, cheerfulness, or sadness y . The grasp of these
changes quickens our understandings of others and increases the speed and subtlety of
social interaction. (p. 183)

Recent studies have provided some indirect evidence confirming affect’s role
in social influence. For example, both Doucet (2004) and Pugh (2001) found
that employees’ expressions of affect influenced customers’ evaluation of
overall service quality. Expressions of negative affect were found to be neg-
atively associated with evaluations of service quality (Doucet, 2004), whereas
expressions of positive affect were found to be positively associated with
evaluations of service quality (Pugh, 2001). Research has also found trans-
formational leadership to be associated with superior work unit effectiveness
– ostensibly due to such leaders’ abilities to influence followers through the
expression of affect (see Lowe & Galen Kroeck, 1996 for a review). One
reason for this may be that a key element of expressed affect is its evaluative
dimension – which can be directly linked to evaluations (Russell, 1979). For
example, expressions of positive affect have been found to be attributed to
positive evaluations of an issue or an object (Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967).
In sum, we propose that the role of culture in social influence can be more
fully appreciated by extending previous models to include the role of ex-
pressed affect in social influence.


Social Influence in Groups

Social influence generally refers to processes whereby an individual’s beliefs,

opinions, attitudes, values, and behaviors are affected by other(s) through
social interaction (Manstead & Hewstone, 1995; Cialdini & Trost, 1998). A
basic model of social influence is illustrated in Fig. 1a. Social influence
occurs when one group member expresses an evaluation regarding a focal
issue, which is perceived by a second group member, which in turn influ-
ences the second group member’s evaluation of the focal issue. Group
members are often influenced by other group members’ evaluations of im-
portant issues and subsequently edit or even refrain from offering their own
unique perspectives, opinions, and information once they become aware of
other group members’ evaluations (Gigone & Hastie, 1993; Stasser & Titus,
1985). This social influence process has the potential to undermine the

Group members’
verbally expressed evaluations
of focal issue

Observing group members’ perceptions of

other group members’ evaluations of focal issue


Observing group members’

evaluation of focal issue

Fig. 1a. A Basic Model of Social Influence in Groups.

Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 151

effectiveness of group decision making and performance when it leads to the

suppression of decision-critical perspectives, opinions, or information.
Researchers have suggested at least four reasons why individuals yield to
social influence (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). First, an individual’s susceptibility
to social influence may be explained using the accuracy motive – that is,
individuals have a desire to be correct or accurate in their judgments and
actions (Aronson, 1972; Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004; Deutsch & Gerard,
1955). Individuals often rely on others to determine what constitutes correct
judgments or behaviors. When group members express evaluations of key
issues during a discussion, others may regard these evaluations as information
about reality and therefore alter their personal opinions in order to improve
the accuracy of their evaluations (Kaplan & Miller, 1983, 1987). Empirical
studies have shown that a desire for accuracy can lead individuals to change
their opinions and actions (Burnstein & Vinokur, 1975; Clark, Crockett, &
Archer, 1971). For example, Burnstein and Vinokur (1975) examined choice
shift in individuals who found out that their initial choices differed from
others’. Individuals were more likely to be influenced by the choices made by
others when they were given enough time to generate persuasive arguments
supporting the choices made by others than when they did not have access to
such persuasive arguments. These findings suggest that a desire for accuracy
may account for an individual’s susceptibility to social influence.
Second, individuals’ susceptibility to social influence may also stem from the
desire to create and maintain relationships with others (Cialdini & Goldstein,
2004; Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). This affiliation motive reflects an individual’s
desire to gain the social approval of others as well as to build and maintain
rewarding relations (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). The affiliation motive leads
individuals to be influenced by evaluations expressed by other group members.
Individuals who conform to evaluations expressed by other group members
expect to be rewarded with social approval and positive relationships. Heider’s
(1958) balance theory also suggests that positive relationships can only be
psychologically comfortable and stable when both parties share opinions and
judgments about key issues – implying that social influence and affiliation are
interdependent. A number of classic experiments have demonstrated the effect
of the affiliation motive on social influence (Asch, 1951, 1955).
Third, individuals’ susceptibility to social influence may also be attributed
to self-interest regarding material gains. This type of influence is likely to be
wielded by group members who control rewards and/or punishments
(French & Raven, 1959; Haas, 1981; Kelman, 1961; Schein, 1977). Based on
the hedonic principle, individuals are motivated to behave in ways that
maximize rewards and minimize punishments (Higgins, 1997).

Fourth, individuals’ susceptibility to social influence may also stem from

respect for legitimate authority (see Cialdini, 1995 for a review; French &
Raven, 1959). Deference to legitimate authority is typically based on cul-
tural norms (Linton, 1945). For example, in many societies, children are
socialized to respect and defer to their parents’ judgments and employees are
socialized to hold their bosses in high esteem and submit to their opinions
(Triandis, 1995). In both cases, authority figures have a significant influence
on individuals’ evaluative beliefs. In sum, the four reasons we outline above
have been used in previous research to explain social influence. As we ex-
pand on previous models of social influence, we draw on these reasons to
elaborate on the role of affect in culture and social influence in groups.

Culture and Social Influence

The majority of previous research extending models of social influence to
include culture has focused on examining how cultural differences in indi-
vidualism–collectivism affect individuals’ susceptibility to social influence.
Bond and Smith (1996) argued that individuals socialized in collectivist
countries have been socialized to be more motivated by the affiliation mo-
tive – which should make them more susceptible to social influence – than
individuals socialized in individualist countries. Hence, Bond and Smith
(1996) extended the basic social influence model (illustrated in Fig. 1a) by
adding the cultural difference of individualism–collectivism as a moderator
of the social influence process. Bond and Smith (1996) addition to the basic
model of social influence is illustrated in Fig. 1b (in bold). Based on a meta-
analysis, Bond and Smith (1996) found overall support for their hypothesis
that individuals socialized in collectivist countries were more susceptible to
social influence than individuals socialized in individualist countries. How-
ever, as the authors noted, many studies did not support this hypothesis.

Although Asch (1952a) argued for the role of affect in social influence over
50 years ago, the role of affect has remained largely overlooked in current
theories of social influence. When using the term affect, we mean to include
both emotion and mood (Petty, Gleicher, & Baker, 1991). We follow
Watson (2000), who defines emotion as ‘‘a distinct, integrated, psychophys-
iological response system; in essence, an emotion represents an organized,
highly structured reaction to an event that is relevant to the needs, goals, or
survival of the organism’’ (p. 3). More specifically, Ekman (2003) argues
that an emotion has a variety of characteristics, including: (1) a feeling or
sensation that we experience; (2) a relatively short duration; (3) a specific
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 153

Group members’
verbally expressed evaluations
of focal issue

Observing group members’ perceptions of

other group members’ evaluations of focal issue

Observing group members’

evaluation of focal issue

1. Refers to observing group member

Fig. 1b. A Model of Culture and Social Influence in Groups.

and important target; and (4) an efficient signal – which serves to commu-
nicate feelings to others. Mood, on the other hand, is defined as, ‘‘transient
episodes of feeling or affect’’ (Watson, 2000, p. 4). Compared with an emo-
tion, a mood is a low intensity, diffuse feeling state that usually does not
have a clear antecedent (Forgas, 1992) and lasts longer than an emotion.
Unlike emotions, moods do not offer clear signals.
Despite the differences, emotion and mood share many similarities. For
example, both emotion and mood involve feelings or sensations that are ex-
perienced. These feelings are often characterized in terms of degree of pleas-
antness and degree of activation (Russell, 1979). Mood is also associated with
specific emotions. For example, being in an unpleasant mood increases the
probability that one will experience an unpleasant emotion in response to
particular events or targets (Ekman, 2003). Although mood does not have
unique signals, it is often communicated through expressions of emotion
associated with the mood. Hence, we use the term affect to loosely capture the
notion of feelings and expressions associated with both emotion and mood.

In using the term affect, we distinguish between the experiential compo-

nent of affect – which we label experienced affect – and the expressive com-
ponent of affect – which we label expressed affect. Although expressed affect
is often a direct reflection of experienced affect, researchers have noted
differences in the degree to which individuals freely express the affect they
experience (Asch, 1952a; Gross & John, 1998). We distinguish between ex-
perienced and expressed affect because we expect these two aspects of affect
to play different roles in social influence.


In the remainder of this chapter, we extend the existing model of culture and
social influence (captured in Fig. 1b) by specifying the affect-focused mech-
anisms through which social influence occurs. Furthermore, we examine the
role culture plays in these affect-focused mechanisms. We suggest two dis-
tinct mechanisms through which group members’ expressed affect influences
an observing group member’s evaluations of a focal issue. First, we propose
that social influence can occur via the perception mechanism – by affecting
an observing group member’s understanding of the other group members’
evaluations of a focal issue. Second, we propose that social influence can
occur via a contagion mechanism – by affecting an observing group mem-
ber’s experienced affect which in turn biases that group member’s perception
and subsequent evaluation of the focal issue. Finally, we argue that cultural
differences play a more important role in the perception mechanism than in
the contagion mechanism. Our proposed extension to the existing model of
culture and social influence is presented in Fig. 1c. The perception mech-
anism is represented by the pathway on the left; the contagion mechanism is
represented by the pathway on the right.

The Perception Mechanism

Expressed affect is a type of nonverbal communication (Buck & VanLear,

2002) that can represent information about group members’ inner states –
including their opinions and evaluations. More than a century ago, Darwin
(1872/1998) proposed that the expression of affect reveals something about
the inner state of the expresser. More specifically, Darwin argued that
the perception of expressed affect serves a communication function, and
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 155

Group members’
Group members’
verbally expressed evaluations
nonverbally expressed affect
of focal issue



Contagion Mechanism
Perception Mechanism


Observing group
Power members’
Distance¹ experienced

Observing group members’ perceptions of

other group members’ evaluations of focal issue

Individualism/ Issue

Observing group members’

evaluation of focal issue

1. Refers to observing group member

2. Refers to group members being observed/ who expressed affect

Fig. 1c. Proposed Model of Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Groups.

increases the probability of survival. For example, the perception of

expressed fear by one group member serves to alert other group members
that danger is present and that they should proceed with caution. Percep-
tions of expressed affect can often communicate more quickly, intensely,
and effectively than nonaffective verbal communication (see Ekman, 2003
for further discussion of this point). Darwin argued that these communi-
cation functions of expressed emotions are genetically inherited due to their
survival properties. More generally, researchers have argued that expres-
sions of affect can communicate the affective component of attitudes. For
example, expressions of positive affect can signal a favorable evaluation of a
focal issue, and expressions of negative affect can signal an unfavorable
evaluation (Jorgeson, 1978).

Research has confirmed that individuals make inferences about others’

inner states based on the perception of expressed affect. For example, stud-
ies have shown that individuals showing anger are perceived to be dominant
(Algoe, Buswell, & DeLamater, 2000; Tiedens, 2001) and more instrumental
(Algoe et al., 2000) than those showing fear or sadness. In the attitude
literature, research shows an individual’s attitude, which can be generally
defined as the evaluation of a referent (Petty, 1995), can be identified by
looking at how much an individual likes a referent (Rosenberg & Hovland,
1960). How much a person likes or dislikes a referent, in turn, may be
perceived by others via expressed positive or negative affect in the presence
of the referent. Indeed, researchers have found that individuals infer positive
attitudes from positive facial expressions (Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967) and
that positive attitudes can be reliably inferred from smiles (Jorgenson, 1978).
Based on this evidence, we propose:
Proposition 1. The affect expressed by group members will influence an
observing group member’s perceptions of other group members’ evalua-
tions of focal issues. Observer will infer the valence of others’ evaluations
from the valence of others’ expressed affect. That is, if others express pos-
itive affect, observer will infer that others’ evaluations are positive. If others
express negative affect, observer will infer others’ evaluations are negative.
As discussed in our review of social influence, individuals are susceptible to
social influence for multiple reasons – accuracy, affiliation, self-interest regard-
ing material gains, and respect for legitimate authority (Cialdini & Goldstein,
2004; Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; French & Raven, 1959; Kelman, 1961;
Milgram, 1974). Based on any or all of these motives, a group member who
observes expressions of affect by other group members may change his or her
evaluations to match the evaluations he or she perceives to be held by others.
Proposition 2. An individual’s perceptions of other group members’ eval-
uations of focal issues will influence the individual’s evaluations of focal
issues. That is, the more an individual perceives that other group members
are in favor of an issue, the more that individual will be in favor of that
issue. The more an individual perceives that other group members are
opposed to an issue, the more that individual will be opposed to that issue.
Combining Propositions 1 and 2 yields the following proposition:
Proposition 3. The affect expressed by other group members will influence
an individual’s evaluations of focal issues, mediated by that individual’s
perceptions of other group members’ evaluations of those focal issues.
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 157

Culture and the Perception Mechanism

In our proposed perception mechanism, any or all of the four reasons for an
individuals’ susceptibility to social influence can account for Proposition 2.
However, since culture can influence an individual’s value and goals, culture
is likely to play an important role in determining why an individual may be
more or less susceptible to social influence via the perception mechanism.
Culture has been described as a shared set of assumptions, beliefs, or
worldview held by a group of people (Triandis, 1994, 1998). Culture includes
the beliefs a group of people share about what constitutes appropriate val-
ues and goals for individuals and the group. We use the term culture to
describe the shared beliefs and practices of a group of people, whereas we
use the term cultural orientation to describe the beliefs of an individual who
is part of a particular culture. Cultural orientation is the individual-level
manifestation of group culture (Earley & Randel, 1997; Chao, 2000).
Scholars have examined a number of dimensions of cultural orientation,
including individualism–collectivism, power distance (Hofstede, 1983;
Triandis, 1994), uncertainty avoidance, (Hofstede, 1983), orientation to
time, relation to nature (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961), and universalism–
particularism (Trompenaars, 1994).
Although many cultural orientations might play important roles in social
influence via the perception mechanism, we focus on two cultural orientat-
ions that seem most promising: individualism–collectivism and power dis-
tance. Individualism–collectivism refers to the extent to which individuals
organize their world around in-groups and out-groups; power distance re-
fers to the extent to which individuals organize their world around power
and deference to power (Hofstede, 1983). Below we examine in more detail
the effect of each of these two cultural orientation variables on social in-
fluence via the perception mechanism.

Affiliation, Individualism/Collectivism, and the Perception Mechanism. As

noted earlier, the majority of previous work on culture and social influence
explored the relationship between individualism–collectivism and social in-
fluence. As summarized by Bond and Smith (1996), individuals socialized in
collectivist cultures tend to have strong affiliation motives, and hence, are
more susceptible to social influence. We elaborate that same basic argument
here in two ways. First, we examine how in-group/out-group categorizations
may moderate social influence processes. Second, we examine differences in
individualism/collectivism across cultures and how those differences may
further moderate the perception pathway of affective social influence.

Past studies have shown that an individual’s capacity to attend is limited and
individuals do not allocate equal amounts of attention to each person or object
in the environment (Fiske, 1995). Rather, individuals consciously choose to
allocate more attention to certain stimuli than others (Neuberg & Fiske, 1987;
Fiske & Taylor, 1991). As such, in a group, one group member may attend to
the affective expressions of certain group members more than others. As a
consequence, it is the affective expressions of group members to which an
individual selectively attends that are most likely to influence that individual.
Furthermore, researchers have argued that individuals attend more to
contextual stimuli that are relevant to goal attainment than those that are
irrelevant (Berscheid, Graziano, Monson, & Dermer, 1976; Fiske, 1995).
James (1890) labeled this active attention. Hence, one might expect group
members high in the affiliation motive to actively attend to all other group
members. However, researchers have found that individuals do not always
consider all group members to be of equal relevance. In social interactions
within a group, individuals often categorize other group members into in-
groups and out-groups (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In-group members are those
belonging to the same group as the individual, while out-group members are
those who do not belong to the focal individual’s group (Devine, 1995).
Since an individual and his or her in-group members belong to the same
group, in-group members are often considered to be more relevant to an
individual than the out-group members. In-group members tend to be those
whose social approval is important to the observer. Hence, because an in-
group member’s approval is more relevant to an individual than an out-
group member, that individual is likely to attend more to his or her in-group
members than out-group members. As a result, this increased attention to
in-group members should lead to more complete and accurate perceptions
of in-group evaluations than out-group evaluations:

Proposition 4. An individual’s perceptions of other group members’ eval-

uations should be more complete and accurate for that individual’s in-
group members than for that individual’s out-group members.

The key features of a collectivist cultural orientation include, among

others, an emphasis on an ‘‘unconditional relatedness’’ (Gelfand, Bhawuk,
Nishii, & Bechtold, 2004, p. 443) within the in-group. Within the in-group,
social approval and positive relationships are of the utmost importance.
Although individuals make in-group and out-group distinctions across
different cultures, many studies show collectivists place more importance on
the in-group/out-group distinction than individualists (Gomez, Kirkman, &
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 159

Shapiro, 2000; Hui, Triandis, & Yee, 1991). For example, Gomez and
colleagues (2000) found that people from Mexico (a collectivist culture)
evaluated their in-group members more generously than people from the
United States (mostly an individualistic culture). Similarly, Hui et al. (1991)
found that people from collectivist cultures gave more generous rewards to
their in-group members than people from individualist cultures. Based on
this evidence, we propose that the bias to selectively attend to in-group
members over out-group members should be stronger for collectivists than
individualists. This bias should influence the completeness and accuracy of
an individual’s perceptions of other group members’ evaluations.

Proposition 5. The relationship proposed in Proposition 4 should be

moderated by cultural orientation such that this relationship will be
strongest for collectivists and weakest for individualists. The most com-
plete and accurate perceptions of other group members’ evaluations
should be formed by collectivists observing in-group members. The least
complete and accurate should be formed by collectivists observing out-
group members.

Respect for Authority, Power Distance, and the Perception Mechanism. Re-
searchers have not yet explored the role of cultural differences in power
distance in social influence. However, differences in power distance have
been shown to play an important role in a wide variety of organizational
phenomena, including newcomer feedback seeking (Morrison, Chen, &
Salgado, 2004), CEO pay (Tosi & Greckhamer, 2004), reactions to job
characteristics (Huang & Van de Vliert, 2003), and organizational justice
(Lam, Schaubroeck, & Aryee, 2002). Power distance is the degree to which
members of a culture accept that certain members of the culture may have
much more power than other members (Hofstede, 1980). In high power
distance cultures, members are socialized to esteem high-status members and
to defer to their authority. Hence, individuals socialized in high power dis-
tance cultures tend to learn to respect legitimate authority more than in-
dividuals socialized in low power distance cultures. Following the approach
used for the affiliation motive and individualism–collectivism, we examine
the role of power and power distance in social influence as follows. First, we
consider how respect for authority or status may lead group members’ power
to moderate the perception mechanism. Second, we consider cultural differ-
ences in power distance and how they may further moderate this mechanism.
As argued earlier, individuals have limited capacity to attend to all other
group members, and individuals’ motives are likely to influence to which

other group members they focus their attention. Ostensibly driven by re-
spect for status, individuals have been found to distinguish between high-
status (power) and low-status group members – and to selectively attend to
high-status group members (Hall, Carter, & Horgan, 2001; Stewart &
Vassar, 2000). As a result, this increased attention should lead to more
complete and accurate perceptions of the evaluations of high-power group
members than the evaluations of other group members.

Proposition 6. An individual’s perceptions of other group members’ eval-

uations should be more complete and accurate for other group members
with high power or authority than for other group members without high
power or authority.

Mulder (1977) defines the cultural orientation power distance as ‘‘the

degree of inequality in power between a less powerful Individual (I) and a
more powerful Other (O), in which I and O belong to the same (loosely or
tightly knit) social system (p. 90).’’ Although largely in agreement with
Mulder, Hofstede (1980) further explains that the power distance accepted
by I and O and supported by their social system is seen as a characteristic
element of that system’s culture. Group members with cultural orientations
high in power distance accept that certain group members may have much
more power than other group members. Individuals high in power distance
are more likely to hold the view that high-power or high-authority individ-
uals are more relevant to goal attainment than low-power or low-authority
individuals. Thus, we predict that the bias to selectively attend to other
group members high in power or authority will be more pronounced for
individuals with cultural orientations that are high in power distance
than for individuals with cultural orientations low in power distance. Fur-
thermore, this bias should influence the completeness and accuracy of an
individual’s perceptions of other group members’ evaluations:

Proposition 7. The relationship proposed in Proposition 6 should be

moderated by cultural orientation such that this relationship will be
strongest for individuals high in power distance and weakest for individ-
uals low in power distance. The most complete and accurate perceptions
of other groups members’ evaluations should be formed by high-power
distance group members observing other group members with high power
or authority. The least complete and accurate perceptions should be
formed by high-power distance group members, observing other group
members low in power or authority.
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 161

The Contagion Mechanism

In addition to the perception mechanism, we propose a second affect-ori-

ented social influence mechanism labeled the contagion mechanism. We
characterize the contagion mechanism as a universal, primitive, and non-
conscious process, and hence we propose that conscious motives and cul-
tural differences do not play as central a role in this mechanism as in the
perception mechanism. This distinction may be particularly important in
terms of understanding inconsistencies in past research. The extent to which
culture does, in fact, play an important role in social influence may depend
to a large extent on the relative impact of the contagion mechanism versus
the perception mechanism. To the extent that the perception mechanism
overshadows the contagion mechanism, we expect culture to play an im-
portant role. However, to the extent that the contagion mechanism over-
shadows the perception mechanism, we expect culture to play a minor role.
Affective or emotional contagion is a fairly well-established social phe-
nomenon (Barsade, 2002; Doherty, 1998; Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson,
1992). This phenomenon is actually one specific instantiation of a broader
social phenomenon referred to as motor mimicry (Bandura, 1977;
Dijksterhuis, 2001). Primitive motor mimicry refers to the process whereby
an observer nonconsciously mimics the behaviors of a focal actor (see
Bavelas, Black, Lemery, & Mullett, 1987 for a review). For example, yawn-
ing has been described as being contagious: when a focal actor yawns, it is
common for observers to yawn (Provine, 1996, 1997). Researchers have
argued that mimicry communicates solidarity and a shared psychological
orientation which enables the creation and maintenance of positive inter-
personal relationships (Hatfield et al., 1992).
Expressions of affect are a particular type of behavior that tends to be
mimicked. For example, Bavelas and her colleagues have found that indi-
viduals mimic expressions of pain (Bavelas, Black, Lemery, & Mullett,
1986), smiling, laughter, and disgust (Bavelas, Black, Lemery, MacInnis, &
Mullett, 1986). Individuals not only mimic expressions of affect – they also
tend to experience the affect that they mimic (Duclos et al., 1989).
Researchers have long argued that the expression of affect can lead to the
experience of affect (e.g. Darwin, 1872/1998). According to the theory of
facial feedback, individuals nonconsciously infer their own experiences of
affect from their facial expressions. That is, if an individual arranges his face
into a smile, he will consequently think he is happy, and hence feel happy. A
wide variety of studies have found support for this theory (see Hatfield et al.,
1992 for a review). Research has also found support for vocal feedback –

whereby emotional experience is affected by mimicking vocal characteristics

associated with specific emotions (Hatfield, Hsee, Costello, Weisman, &
Denney, 1995) and postural feedback – whereby emotional experience is
affected by mimicking postural characteristics associated with specific emo-
tions (Bull, 1951; Cacioppo, Priester, & Berntson, 1993; Duclos et al., 1989).
A number of empirical studies have provided both direct and indirect
support for the relationship between affect expressed by other group mem-
bers and affect experienced by an observing group member. For example,
using a confederate to express affect, Barsade (2002) found that group
members’ experienced affect was influenced by the confederate’s expressions.
Research on mood convergence in groups provides findings that are con-
sistent with the emotional contagion mechanism. Studies have found that the
moods of individual group members tend to become more similar as groups
interact (Anderson, Keltner, & John, 2003; Totterdell, Kellett, Teuchmann,
& Briner, 1998; Totterdell, 2000). Emotional contagion is one theoretical
mechanism that can account for such findings. Based on the emotional
contagion process described above, we offer the following foundation prop-
osition, which has been tested and supported in previous research:
Proposition 8. The affect expressed by other group members will posi-
tively influence an observing group member’s experienced affect. That is,
if group members express a particular type of affect (such as happiness)
the observing group member is likely to experience the same type of
Researchers have argued that experienced affect can influence how an
individual perceives and processes information (Bower, 1981; Forgas, 2000).
Forgas’ (1995) Affect Infusion Model (AIM) represents one of the most
comprehensive models of the relations between experienced affect and social
judgments. Forgas (1995) defines affect infusion as:
the process whereby affectively loaded information exerts an influence on and becomes
incorporated into the judgmental process, entering into the judge’s deliberations and
eventually coloring the judgmental outcome. (p. 39)

As Forgas (1995) explains, according to contemporary theorizing, affect

infusion occurs via two mechanisms – (1) affect-as-information and (2)
affect priming. According to the affect-as-information mechanism, individ-
uals consult their feelings in order to make judgments. If individuals ex-
perience pleasant affect while evaluating some social stimulus, they tend to
attribute the affective experience to the characteristics of the stimulus,
whether or not this attribution is accurate. This attribution leads individuals
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 163

to evaluate the stimulus in a positive fashion. According to the affect-prim-

ing mechanism, specific cognitive categories and memories are associated
with specific affective states. For example, happy moods are associated with
happy memories. Hence, when individuals experience specific affective
states, these feelings automatically trigger the associated cognitive categories
and memories. These categories and memories are used for acquiring and
processing the information required for social judgments. These processes
also lead to convergence between the valence of the affective experience and
the valence of a judgment. That is, individuals in pleasant moods will eval-
uate stimuli more positively than those in other moods. We argue that both
the affect-as-information and affect priming mechanisms are associated with
the accuracy motive. When individuals are under the influence of these
mechanisms, they believe their evaluations are accurate – even though they
are mistaken.
Forgas (1995) proposes that the strength of the affect infusion process
varies in systematic ways. The Affect Infusion Model captures the key fac-
tors that influence the degree to which affect infusion occurs. Simply stated,
affect infusion is most likely to occur when individuals use heuristic or
substantive information processing strategies. In the case of heuristic
processing, where cognitive short cuts are used, affect-as-information is a
likely candidate for such a short cut. In the case of substantive information
processing, the affect-priming mechanism is likely to play an important role.
The focus of this chapter is decision-making groups in organizations, which
we assume are frequently engaged in substantive information processing.
Numerous studies have found that experienced affect influences memory
and/or judgments. These studies include memories and/or judgments (Doherty,
1998; Bower, Monteiro, & Gilligan, 1978), music (Kenealy, 1997), autobio-
graphical events (Eich, Macaulay, & Ryan, 1994), and job satisfaction (Brief,
Butcher, & Roberson, 1995). Based on the theory and empirical evidence pre-
sented above, we propose that

Proposition 9. An individual’s experienced affect will influence the indi-

vidual’s evaluations of focal issues such that the valence of the individ-
ual’s evaluations will be consistent with the valence of the individual’s
experienced affect. For example, an individual’s evaluations of focal is-
sues will be more positive when the individual experiences positive affect
and will be more negative when the individual experiences negative affect.

Combining our first two propositions yields the following proposition

regarding the mediating role of an individual’s experienced affect in the

relationship between other group member’s expressed affect and the indi-
vidual’s evaluations of focal issues. Howard and Gengler (2001) found em-
pirical support for this mediation proposition in a study of the formation of
product attitudes. Doucet (2004) and Pugh (2001) also found support for
this mediation proposition in studies of attitude formation in dyadic service

Proposition 10. The affect expressed by other group members will

positively influence an individual’s evaluations of focal issues, mediated
by the individual’s experienced affect.


This chapter has examined the relationships among affect, culture, and so-
cial influence. In order to enhance our understanding of the role of culture in
social influence, we have introduced two new affect-focused social influence
mechanisms – a perception mechanism and a contagion mechanism – and
we have suggested that the perception mechanism is more susceptible to
cultural differences than the contagion mechanism.
By exploring the role of affect in social influence processes, this chapter
offers a new perspective for understanding the complex relationships
between culture and social influence in groups. First, bringing expressions of
affect into the social influence equation reveals another path through which
culture can impact social influence processes. In particular, considering the
joint effects of cultural variables and perceptions of affective expressions
may help account for inconsistencies in past research concerning cultural
effects on social influence. We have also extended past research on culture
and social influence by considering the effects of dimensions of culture other
than individualism–collectivism (i.e. power distance). Finally, we have ex-
amined how cultural variables may lead individuals to selectively attend to
particular group members and hence be more likely to be influenced by these
group members.
Our model of culture, affect, and social influence in groups has important
implications for future research in the area of culture and social influence.
Most importantly, our model moves beyond a purely verbal communication
perspective (by incorporating nonverbal forms of communication such as
expressed affect) and in doing so provides a more comprehensive, multi-
channel perspective on social influence. The implication for future research
is that scholars should continue to conceptualize culture and social influence
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 165

as a multichannel phenomenon. Furthermore, scholars should investigate

the possibility that certain social influence channels are more likely to be
influenced by cultural differences than others.
Our theoretical model also has implications for managers and members of
multicultural groups. As we noted earlier, while the performance of any
group is likely to suffer when group members are led to withhold task-
critical information, this may be particularly true for multicultural groups in
which cultural differences represent an important intellectual resource for
the group to tap. Hence, managers and group members could benefit from
our model by understanding the conditions that increase the likelihood that
group members might self-censor or conform and thereby withhold impor-
tant information from the group. Such conditions might include having a
group composed of collectivist in-group members or having a group com-
posed of high-power distance members and a high-power individual – both
of which represent circumstances in which one group member’s affective
displays might elicit strong conformity effects from others. Managers and
group members could further benefit from our model by appreciating the
importance of attending to their own affective displays, and the social in-
fluence effects those displays might engender. Managers in particular may
(through their affective displays) unintentionally influence group members’
evaluations, thereby harming the information sharing and performance of
the group. With greater appreciation of the power of affective displays,
managers and group members could learn to moderate such displays in
order to promote more open discussion among group members.
Although our proposed model makes important contributions to research
on culture and social influence in groups, there are notable limitations to the
model. These include a lack of specification of the relationship between the
contagion and perception mechanisms of affect-focused social influence
featured in our model. It remains to be seen whether these mechanisms
operate independently or whether they interact in important ways.
Furthermore, our model does not address the relationship between affect-
focused (nonverbal) social influence and verbally based social influence.
Whether verbal and nonverbal social influence mechanisms interact in im-
portant ways also remains an unanswered question. For example, Spain has
been described as an affective culture, whereas Japan has been described an
affectively neutral culture (Trompenaars, 1994). Thus, in-group settings,
expressions of affect may be more influential for Spanish group members
than for Japanese. Furthermore, the relationship between affect-focused
and verbally based social influence is likely to be of interest when expressed
evaluations are inconsistent across these two channels. For example, a

group member may verbally claim to have a favorable attitude toward a job
candidate while displaying feelings of disinterest or disgust. To the extent
that affective displays are believed to be more difficult to fake than words,
such expressions may well play a critical role in interpreting – and hence
being influenced by – evaluative statements.
Of course, many of these limitations provide interesting opportunities for
future research. Among the possibilities for future research, we find the
following ideas to be the more promising. Our model rests on the assump-
tion that observers believe expressed affect reflects inner states – i.e. expe-
rienced affect. However, studies have shown that people from certain
cultures may attribute the expression of affect to display norms (Ekman,
1978; Ekman & Friesen, 1969). This is another way in which culture may
play an important role in affect-focused social influence. Future research
should examine systematic cultural differences in the attribution and inter-
pretation of affective expressions that could drive social influence.
As a preliminary exploration into the role of affect in the effects of culture
on social influence, we have intentionally set aside the differences between
mood and emotion. However, studies have shown that mood and emotion
differ in many aspects, such as intensity and duration (Watson, 2000;
Forgas, 1992). This distinction could be particularly important for the pos-
sibility of misattributed affect. Although emotions tend to be stimulus-
reactive and moods tend to be stimulus-independent, an observing group
member may not be able to effectively differentiate between the two.
Because our proposed perception mechanism relies on observer interpreta-
tion, a mood could be misinterpreted as an affective reaction to a focal issue.
Such errors could easily set in motion mistaken social influence processes.
Future research should examine the role of issue-specific affect and non-
specific affect in culture and influence.
Group size may also play a critical role in determining the effects of
cultural orientation variables on affect-focused social influence. Because the
cultural orientation differences of individualism–collectivism and power
distance are argued to bias the rationing of attention, these effects may be
stronger for larger groups, where more social stimuli compete for attention.
Another promising avenue for future research involves the issue of in-group
advantage in emotion recognition (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002b). In order
for social influence to occur, observers must not only attend to the affective
displays of other group members, but must be able to interpret these dis-
plays. If observers are able to interpret such displays, they should be more
likely to be influenced by them than if they cannot understand these dis-
plays. Recent research suggests that observers are better able to interpret
Culture, Affect, and Social Influence in Decision-Making Groups 167

expressions of affect of cultural in-group members than out-group members

(Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002a, b, 2003a, b; Marsh, Elfenbein, & Ambady,
2003). Hence, future research might consider how this ‘‘in-group advan-
tage’’ may impact the effect of culture on affect-focused social influence.
Taken together, these new directions provide us with promising opportu-
nities to improve our understanding of affect-focused social influence in
multicultural groups.

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Ayse K. Uskul and Daphna Oyserman


We integrate cross-cultural literature with broader literature in survey

methodology, human cognition, and communication. First, we briefly re-
view recent work in cognitive survey methodology that advances our un-
derstanding of the processes underlying question comprehension and
response. Then, using a process model of cultural influence, we provide a
framework for hypothesizing how cross-cultural differences may system-
atically influence the meaning respondents make of the questions that
researchers ask, how memory is organized, and subjective theories about
what constitutes an appropriate answer and therefore the answers par-
ticipants are likely to give.

How central are satisfaction with school and marital satisfaction to life sat-
isfaction? Questions like this are almost always answered, but answers are
profoundly influenced by context. While we as researchers may think that we

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 173–201
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09008-6

are learning about the influence of culture and cultural context by comparing
answers across countries and samples, responses can be influenced by a much
more proximal context: the research context and potentially systematic
differences across cultures in how the research context is perceived. Recent
advances in integration of survey methodology, human cognition, and com-
munication research have enhanced our understanding of the processes un-
derlying question response (for reviews see Sudman, Bradburn, & Schwarz,
1996; Schwarz, 1999a; Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski, 2000). Unfortu-
nately, this work has not yet been well integrated into the cross-cultural field.
In the current chapter, we provide a framework for hypothesizing how cross-
cultural differences may systematically influence the meaning made of the
questions asked by researchers and the answers participants are likely to give.
Substantive interpretation of the life satisfaction question we opened up
with would be quite different if data revealed high or not very high corre-
lations between satisfaction in a specific life domain and satisfaction with life
in general. For example, if marital satisfaction and life satisfaction correlate
r ¼ 0.67 for adults then one can conclude that marriage is central to the life
satisfaction of adults. Conversely, if marital and life satisfaction correlate only
r ¼ 0.32 then the conclusion would be that marriage is of no major impor-
tance to the general life satisfaction of adults. Similarly, if school-academic
satisfaction and life satisfaction correlate r ¼ 0.78 for students then it is more
likely to conclude that academic success is central to the life satisfaction of
students than if the correlation were say r ¼ 0.53. In fact, each set of divergent
correlations come from the same populations randomly assigned to answering
the question about satisfaction with life before or after the question about
satisfaction with a particular life domain (marital satisfaction results from
Schwarz, Strack, & Mai, 1991; academic satisfaction results from Study 2,
Haberstroh, Oyserman, Schwarz, Kuhnen, & Ji, 2002).
In the following sections, we first outline the conversational logic of the
research context. We then outline how subjective theories are employed to
reconstruct plausible estimates of past behaviors and the editing processes
involved in answering questions. As we will outline in the following sections,
by taking into account the meaning participants are likely to make of the
researchers’ questions, what is likely to be remembered, and theories par-
ticipants are likely to use to reconstruct memory; cross-cultural psycholo-
gists may avoid making unwarranted substantive interpretations about
answers. As a first step toward this goal, we show how culture can influence,
how questions are understood, what is remembered, and the editing process
utilizing a process model of cultural influences developed by Oyserman,
Kemmelmeier, and Coon (2002b).
Question Comprehension and Response 175


As cultural and cross-cultural psychologists are aware, self-reports are lim-

ited representations of behaviors and attitudes (e.g. van de Vijver & Leung,
1997; Shapiro, Rosenblood, & Berlyne, 1976; Triandis & Triandis, 1962).
But cultural and cross-cultural psychologists have not systematically ad-
dressed the cognitive processes that underlie self-report methods and there-
fore the ways that cultural differences may systematically shift the pragmatic
meaning of both questions and answers.
What are the limitations of self-report? Schwarz and Oyserman (2001)
summarize the gap between researchers’ hopes and the reality of the self-
report research context. Researchers hope participants understand the ques-
tion as intended, identify the behavior, judgment, or attitude of interest,
retrieve relevant instances of the behavior or attitude judgments from mem-
ory, and honestly communicate them to the researcher. In reality, as Schwarz
and Oyserman (2001) note, all questions require interpretation. What is
retrieved from memory depends on retrieval cues embedded in questions,
response scales, what is routinely paid attention to and what is not and
culturally rooted subjective theories about what is normative, what is stable,
and what is likely to change. As we outline below, answers are typically
constructed on the fly from these cues and theories, particularly when the
information requested requires access to behaviors that are habitualized,
high frequency, or in other ways impossible to retrieve as a series of discrete
occurrences. Prior to communicating these constructed answers, partici-
pants may edit them if answers feel culturally wrong.
Cross-cultural researchers must ask if there is reason to believe that the
members of different cultures will differ systematically in (1) how the ques-
tion is understood, (2) what is identified as the relevant behavior, judgment,
or attitude, (3) what inferences are likely to be made from the research
context, the question being posed, or the question framework, (4) how
common or habitual the behavior to be identified is, how sensitive the sub-
ject matter is, (5) the subjective theories used to reconstruct estimates to
provide answers, and (6) what is edited.



To provide appropriate answers to research questions, participants need to

have a pragmatic (meaning in context) understanding of the question not

simply a literal (meaning of the words) understanding (see Mitchell, 1994;

Simpson, 1994 for reviews). Participants are likely to use the same tacit
assumptions to make sense of research questions as they use to engage in
everyday conversations (for reviews see Clark & Schober, 1992; Schober,
1999; Schwarz, 1996). These tacit assumptions were formally presented by
Paul Grice (1975) and are often termed Grician conversational logic (for
reviews see Schwarz, 1996; Schwarz, Groves, & Schuman, 1998).

Maxims of Conversation

According to Grice, conversations are assumed to follow the cooperativeness

principle, which he operationalized as the following four maxims: (1) Maxim
of relation: Speakers make their contributions relevant to the aims of the
ongoing conversation. This means that the communicator is assumed to take
contextual information into account and draw on previous utterances in in-
terpreting the later ones. (2) Maxim of quantity: Speakers make their con-
tributions as informative as required, but not more informative than is
required. This means that the communicator is assumed to provide answers
that fit the question asked, not simply say whatever comes to mind and not
repeat information already provided. (3) Maxim of manner: Speakers make
their contributions as clear as possible rather than obscure, ambiguous, or
wordy. This means that the communicator is assumed to have chosen the
clearest culturally appropriate way of phrasing the question and that there-
fore the culturally obvious meaning must be the correct one. If an obvious
meaning does not come to mind, respondents will use contextual cues to
figure out the culturally relevant meaning. (4) Maxim of quality: Speakers do
not say anything that they believe to be false or lack adequate evidence for.
This means that respondents assume that questions and response scales are
meaningfully chosen, not arbitrary or nonsensical.
In a nutshell, Grician conversational logic suggests that partners to a
conversation focus on what is relevant, provide new information, are clear,
and do not lie. We will argue that these maxims are likely to be universal; to
answer a question, participants always will try to figure out what is relevant,
will avoid repeating themselves, will assume that the researcher is trying to
be clear and not purposefully being ambiguous or opaque in how questions
and response alternatives are worded. Yet, maxims are also applied within a
culture frame – what it means to be clear will differ cross-culturally and
partners typically assume their conversational partner is using culturally
appropriate cues. In this chapter, we will discuss key contextual cues and
Question Comprehension and Response 177

how they are used by respondents to both make sense of what is being asked
and to find an appropriate answer. We will argue that cross-cultural differ-
ence in focus on social context will be reflected in differential sensitivity to
the conversational logic of the research context.

Asking Questions

Context Influences Meaning

The meaning of questions and what constitutes a reasonable answer shifts
as a function of the context in which questions are asked. As Schwarz and
Oyserman (2001) note, context can come in the form of the title of the survey,
the letterhead on which the survey or its cover letter are printed, or the
questions that precede a question. For example, ‘list all the drugs you use’
carries different meaning when it is part of a Health and Retirement Study
than when it is part of a Delinquency and School Failure Study. When asked
to describe oneself on a survey printed on letterhead of the ‘Institute of
Political Research’ respondents generate more social identities than when the
letterhead was that of the ‘Institute of Psychological Research’ (Norenzayan
& Schwarz, 2005). ‘How often do you fight with your parents?’ when asked in
the context of prior questions about fighting (e.g. ‘how often have you hurt
someone badly enough that they needed a doctor’) and delinquency (e.g. ‘how
often have you stolen something with more than $50?’), results in interpre-
tation of ‘fighting with parents’ as physical fights rather than verbal disa-
greements (Schwarz & Oyserman, 2001).

Preceding Questions Can Influence Subsequent Answers

The content of preceding questions can influence respondents’ interpretation
of and response to, later, possibly redundant, questions. Following the
maxim of quantity (Grice, 1975), respondents will attempt to provide new
rather than redundant answers. This is likely to result in responses that shift
depending on prior questions. Moreover, following the maxim of quality
(Grice, 1975), respondents assume that scales are meaningful (e.g. the mid-
dle of the scale refers to what is average in the population). This is likely to
result in responses that shift depending on where answers to prior questions
fell on the researchers’ scales.
A classic example of the former issue comes from use of general and
specific questions focused on the same content domain. When asked a gen-
eral question (e.g. how satisfied are you with your life?) and then a specific
question (e.g. how satisfied are you with your marriage?), response to the

first question may or may not be relevant to the second question – one may
(or may not) think about how one’s marriage is going as a way to gauge life
satisfaction. When asked the specific question first, however, the informa-
tion brought to mind definitely is relevant to how one’s life is going. One
could simply give the same answer again given that ‘my marriage is going
pretty well, I guess my life is, too’. But Grician logic would suggest that the
researcher really means ‘aside from your marriage, which you already told
me about, how is the rest of your life?’ The question is whether respondents
notice the redundancy. Indeed, when first asked about their marriage and
then their life, answers were more correlated (marriage once brought to
mind, is relevant) than when asked questions in the reverse order (after all,
one could answer the general satisfaction question based on other criteria)
and correlation between answers depended on whether the redundancy was
made obvious or not (Schwarz et al., 1991).
Answers to prior questions also set up a meaningful context from which
to infer subsequent answers. This can be seen in a number of studies
(Schwarz, Hippler, Deutsch, & Strack, 1985, also see Rothman, Haddock, &
Schwarz, 2001; Schwarz, 1999b) which manipulate the rating scale on a
prior question so that most participants will infer that they are higher (or
lower) than the average. This difference from the average in the population
is then used to infer subsequent feelings. For example, when first asked to
assess television-watching time and then asked to assess satisfaction with
leisure time activities, respondents who were made to infer that they watch
more than the average amount of television subsequently reported lower
than average satisfaction with their use of leisure time. Respondents seemed
to be constructing satisfaction with leisure time based on the information
about television-viewing time saying in effect ‘I am not really satisfied with
my leisure time activities because I seem to be watching more TV than
anyone else’ (Schwarz et al., 1985, also see Rothman et al., 2001; Schwarz,

Response Alternatives and Formats Matter

Researchers often attempt to simplify the questionnaire by having a standard
response format (e.g. very much agree to very much disagree; never to always)
across questions and scales. Unfortunately, respondents anchor these vague
quantifiers across questions. They infer what a response like ‘frequently’
means by taking into account how they used it in prior questions. In the
context of ‘frequently’ brushing one’s teeth, one is less likely to say that one
‘frequently’ calls home because frequent has just been anchored at multiple
times a day. This effect is called the ‘range effect’ (Parducci, 1965).
Question Comprehension and Response 179

Even when response options are varied throughout the question-

naire, they are still used as informational tools by respondents. Following
Grician conversational maxims of manner and quality, respondents gener-
ally assume that the researcher constructed a meaningful response scale,
relevant to the question at hand. Participants use all features of the response
scale to make sense of the question. Identically worded questions may
acquire different meanings depending on the response alternatives provided
(see Schwarz, 1996; Schwarz & Hippler, 1991). The range of responses,
number of points on a scale, the time period the scale encompasses, the
numeric values used to represent points on the scale, and the words used
to represent points on the scale are all useful sources of information for
Respondents assume that the range of response alternatives provided
reflects the distribution of the behavior in real world, such that values in the
middle range of the scale reflect average behavioral frequency, whereas
the extremes correspond to the extremes of the distribution (Schwarz &
Scheuring, 1992). In essence, they understand the researcher to be informing
them of what is average, allowing them to respond by asking themselves
whether they are average, below, or above average on the issue involved,
then responding appropriately. This pragmatic use of response content
means that substantive interpretation of results is likely to be in error if
response alternatives with the same meaning are located at different points
on the continuum of a response scale. Schwarz et al. (1985) demonstrated
this point by shifting, where 2.5 hours a day was located on a frequency of
TV watching response scale. More than twice as many respondents reported
watching TV for more than 2.5 hours a day when 2.5 was at the low end as
when it was at the high end of the scale.
When a question is followed by a scale with very high values, this implies
that the researcher assumes a high frequency of occurrence (and therefore
more commonly occurring behaviors) than if the question is followed by a
scale with low values. Respondents report higher frequency of irritation on a
high- than on a low-response alternative scale – high-frequency response
options led to the inference that the irritation must refer to more minor
everyday things, low-response options led to the inference that irritation
must refer to more serious things (Schwarz et al., 1998). Just as high-re-
sponse frequency options lead to the conclusion that the behavior must be
common, so does the use of brief time periods (e.g. in the last week) as
compared to long time periods (e.g. ever in your life). When a question
refers to a brief time frame, respondents infer that the researcher is after
more everyday occurrences than when the time frame for recall is longer.

Respondents report more anger when the time frame is ‘last weeks’ than
when it is ‘last years’ (Winkielman, Knäuper, & Schwarz, 1998).
Although formally equivalent, response scales using only positive numbers
(e.g. 1–5 or 0–10) are not treated the same as scales using both negative and
positive numbers (e.g. 2 to +2 or 5 to +5) (Schwarz, Knäuper, Hippler,
Noelle-Neumann, & Clark, 1991). Negative numbers are interpreted as the
presence of a negative trait or behavior (e.g. failure), while formally equivalent
positive numbers are interpreted as the absence of a positive trait or behavior
(e.g. lack of success). Presence of a negative trait or behavior feels more neg-
ative than absence of a positive trait or behavior, resulting in shift of responses
toward the positive side of the scale when a scale with both negative and
positive numbers is used as compared to when a scale with only positive num-
bers is used. This shift results both in higher mean responses and in lower
standard deviation because of fewer of the points in the scale are actually used.

Memory Constraints and Subjective Theories

Autobiographical Memory
Responses are also systematically influenced by autobiographical memory
processes – how memories are stored and retrieved. Although researchers
hope that respondents will identify the behavior of interest, scan the reference
period, retrieve all the instances of the target behavior, count or otherwise
organize them to match the response scale, and provide an overall response,
autobiographical memory does not work that way. First, memory decreases
over time, especially for common or habitual activities that are unlikely to be
stored as distinct detailed representations (Belli, 1998). Second, autobio-
graphical memory is not typically stored by themes (Belli, 1998). When asked
how many cigarettes they smoked in the past week, for example, respondents
cannot open a mental file drawer labeled cigarette consumption and pull up a
tally. Instead, respondents literally have to scroll through the days searching
for cigarette events – a difficult and time-consuming process.
The more difficult it is to retrieve the relevant autobiographical memories,
the more likely it is that respondents will rely on question content and
response format and other organizing frames (e.g. subjective theories) to
infer their response. The easier it is to retrieve the relevant autobiographical
memories (e.g. the behavior is rare and important or has to be tallied on an
ongoing basis for other consequential purposes), the less likely it is that
respondents will need to use these cues to estimate their response (see
Menon, 1994; Menon, Raghubir, & Schwarz, 1995).
Question Comprehension and Response 181

Subjective Theories of Stability and Change and of Personality

What subjective theories are research participants likely to use? Subjective
theories are culturally sanctioned rules of thumb that allow research par-
ticipants to provide responses in spite of limitations of autobiographical
memory (Schwarz & Oyserman, 2001). Subjective theories organize predic-
tions about what must have happened or how one must have felt.
A simple rule of thumb that participants can use to respond to questions
about past behavior is to provide estimates based on current behavior. To
do so, respondents ask themselves ‘Am I the same or different as I was
during the time at issue in the question?’ If they see no reason to assume
their behavior has changed over time, they can use their present behavior as
an estimate of their past behavior. If they do believe their behavior has
changed, they adjust the initial estimate based on their current behavior to
reflect the assumed change. Culturally sanctioned theories about stability of
human behavior make this strategy appear reasonable.
To the extent that subjective theories of change and stability over time
differ cross-culturally, the estimates based on these theories are likely to differ
as well. In addition to using the present to estimate the past, respondents can
also rely on their subjective theories about personality to make estimates
(Schwarz & Oyserman, 2001). In essence, to answer a question about past
behavior respondents ask themselves ‘Am I the kind of person who would do
this?’ Cultures that sanction belief in stable personality should increase stable
behavioral estimates whether estimating own or a target’s behavior.

Answering Questions

Now that we have outlined influences on what is likely to come to mind given
questions asked, we turn to responses. Responses that come to mind are not
necessarily provided ‘as is’ to the researcher; they may be edited for various
reasons. Unlike research on context effects that has shown dramatic shift in
responses based on changes in question context (e.g. order and scale), there is
less information about the expected size and direction of editing effects.
Editing effects have typically been considered errors and handled pragmat-
ically – by making the response situation anonymous, improving fit between
question and response to reduce guessing, and accepting that highly involv-
ing questions or questions asked of partisans (those who feel strongly about
issues) are likely to be answered with the extreme points of the scale. Yet, as
we outline below, editing may also be due to the same cognitive processes
that influence responding more generally.

Editing Answers
Editing can occur consciously and deliberately or as an automatic result of
biased memory search due to a combination of Grician interpretation of
questions and answer format and subjective theory-driven estimation tech-
niques (Schwarz & Oyserman, 2001). Edits typically result in more socially
desirable responses (see DeMaio, 1984 for a review) and are argued to be
motivated by impression-management (Ross & Mirowsky, 1984) or self-en-
hancement (Lalwani, Shavitt, & Johnson, 2006; Paulhus, 1984) goals. Edited
answers are more likely to fit what the respondent believes is the expected
response (Marsh, Antill, & Cunningham, 1987). It seems plausible that ed-
iting is less likely for questions that do not carry clear social norms for
appropriate responses and more likely when the question concerns behavior,
attitudes, or experiences that carry a clear value or morality tag in the culture.

Social Desirability. Both the immediate social situation (source of the sur-
vey, attributes of the interviewer, and interview situation) and cultural
norms are likely to influence perceived desirability–undesirability of re-
sponse. Socially desirable responding is more likely when confidentiality is
low (e.g. face-to-face interviews), less likely when confidentiality is high
(e.g. self-administered interviews, Krysan, Schuman, Scott, & Beatty, 1994).
Respondents may find it embarrassing to admit not engaging in a desirable
behavior, resulting in overreporting of desirable behavior; they may find it
embarrassing to admit engaging in undesirable behaviors, resulting in un-
derreporting of undesirable behavior.

Acquiescence (Yea-Saying). Acquiescence is the tendency to answer affirm-

atively or systematically over the use of only one extremity of the response
scale (see Smith, 2004). Yea-saying is more likely when the issue asked about
is one that respondents do not know much about or do not care about or if
questions do not carry much social desirability information (see Knowles &
Condon, 1999; Cronbach, 1950; Edwards, 1957; Jackson, 1967; Stricker,



How might cultural frame inform the sense made of questions, what is salient
and therefore retrievable from memory, and what is not memorable and
Question Comprehension and Response 183

therefore must be inferred, the subjective theories used to make needed in-
ferences, and the editing process? Do some cultures heighten sensitivity to the
conversational logic of the research context? Cross-cultural differences have
been noted in self-construal (e.g. Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Oyserman, 1993),
cognitive processes (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001; Oyserman,
Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002a), and relationality (Triandis, 1994) including
how tightly appropriate interactions are scripted (e.g. Triandis, 1994, 1995).
All of these may influence how questions are understood and responses pro-
vided to them. To examine how culture may influence understanding, mem-
ory, subjective theory, and response editing, we use an operationalization of
culture focusing on differences in individualism and collectivism.

Overview of Impact of Collectivism and Individualism

Individualism and collectivism can be understood via their likely conse-

quences for self-concept, cognitive style, and relationality (Oyserman et al.,
2002a). Individualism implies that the self is permanent, separate from con-
text, trait-like, and a causal nexus; that reasoning is a tool to separate out
main points from irrelevant background or context; and that relationships
and group memberships are impermanent and nonintensive (Oyserman et al.,
2002a). Conversely, collectivism implies that the self is malleable, context-
dependent and socially sensitive; that reasoning is a tool to link and make
sense of the whole rather than disparate elements; and that relationships and
group memberships are ascribed and fixed, ‘facts of life’ to which people
must accommodate (Oyserman et al., 2002a, b).
While cross-cultural difference in self-reported behavior, judgment, and val-
ues may reflect substantive difference, differences in culture may also influence
how questions are understood and answers given in other ways. How are
individualism and collectivism likely to influence how questions are understood
and what answers are provided? First, differences in self-concept, cognitive
style, and relationality imply differences in likely rules of thumb used to infer
behavior. Individualism is more likely to foster rules of thumb assuming in-
dividual stability; collectivism is more likely to foster rules of thumb assuming
contextual adaptation. An important issue for cross-cultural psychologists is to
map out what are the likely subjective theories used by respondents from
collectivistic cultures in comprehension of and responses to questions.
Second, cultural difference in focus on context is likely to influence how
much participants infer from context to create meaning (Gudykunst &
Ting-Toomey, 1988). Thus participants in collectivistic contexts should be

even more sensitive to conversational logic of research than participants in

individualistic contexts. Given that the substantive research reviewed in the
prior section on conversational logic of the research context is based in the
US and Germany, this implies that even bigger effects should be found in
collective contexts. Third, collective cultures are likely to enhance sensitivity
to appropriate engagement in public behaviors, resulting in differential need
to estimate these behaviors in collective vs. individualistic cultures. Finally,
and perhaps most obviously, cultures are likely to differ in what constitutes
desirable behavior resulting in differences in editing strategies.

How Might Individualism and Collectivism Interact with Other Influences on

Question Response?
Distal Culture. We start with a process model of cultural influences that
distinguishes distal from situated and proximal operationalization of ‘cul-
ture’ (Oyserman et al., 2002b). Following this model, as graphically dis-
played in Fig. 1, when culture is operationalized by its distal features – a
society’s history, religion, or philosophic traditions, it is likely to have only
weak direct impact on current behavior, rather the effect of distal culture is
likely to be felt via its impact on features of the current social structures and
institutions (termed ‘situated’ culture) and the likelihood that individual vs.
collective models for making sense of the self and of the situation are primed
in the moment. Because all societies must have mechanisms for their own
survival, all must have some collective (work for the common good) fea-
tures. Because all societies must provide some outlets for choice when this
does not undermine the group, all must have some individualistic features.
Thus for example, while everyone is able to think about themselves as both
separate from and unique and also part of and connected, the frequency

Situated Culture
Social Situations

Distal Culture,
History, Traditions Subjective construal behavioral
(Linguistic, of the situation consequences

Fig. 1. A Process Model of Cultural Influences.

Question Comprehension and Response 185

with which one or the other of these comes to mind depends on what is
relevant in the moment and societies differ in the likelihood that an indi-
vidualistic or collectivistic lens will be primed, as we will discuss in the next

Situated Culture. Situated culture refers to social systems (e.g. educational,

legal systems), social structures (e.g. transportation, employment, banking),
social patterns and practices (e.g. friendship, family, and child-rearing prac-
tices), and ways of communicating. Together these create the likely everyday
situations a person living in a culture is likely to experience, what is re-
quired, what must be paid attention to, what can be ignored. The assump-
tion here is that differences in situated culture are not random but rather are
rooted in differences in the extent that the distal culture focuses on indi-
vidualism and collectivism.
Cultures placing greater emphasis on context (high-context communica-
tion cultures) focus attention on what is said between the lines, sensitizing
participants in these societies to what is implied rather than stated. ‘Tight’
cultures that tightly prescribe appropriate public behaviors and sanction
inappropriate behaviors are likely to increase on-going attention paid to
what is socially appropriate in the context and what oneself is doing (in
absolute terms, relative to social standards, and relative to others in the
context) (e.g. Triandis, 1994). ‘Loose’ cultures that permit wide latitude of
acceptable public behavior do not require that participants in these societies
pay much attention to what oneself is doing (either in absolute terms or
relative to others in the context) (e.g., Triandis, 1994). In this way, situated
culture structures not only what is considered of value and what is con-
sidered normative, but also what is memorable and what is likely to need to
be estimated.

Proximal Culture. Situated culture influence what typically comes to mind in

particular situations. Of particular concern here is what is likely to come to
mind in the research context. Of course, research is not a uniform context – as
we have described in the previous sections. Indeed, an expanding literature
makes clear that it is relatively straightforward in experimental contexts to
prime individual vs. collective focus. The context of the research questionnaire
can also serve as a prime, making salient individualistic vs. collectivistic focus.
For example, priming collectivism increases social content in self-concept
descriptions (Gardner, Gabriel, & Lee, 1999), sensitivity to the conversational
common ground (Haberstroh et al., 2002), and assimilation of informa-
tion about others into self-judgment (Stapel & Koomen, 2001, Study 1).

Collectivism can be primed by language (Chui, 2004; Marian & Kaushanskaya,

2004), and, we will argue, by other features of the questionnaire.

Culture and Sensitivity to Maxims of Conversation

Grice’s maxims of relation, quantity, manner, and quality state in essence

‘be relevant to the aims of the conversation’, ‘provide new information’, ‘be
clear’, and ‘do not lie’. These maxims were developed in a Western frame.
Some have argued that within high-context communication cultures these
maxims do not apply because high communication involves use of indirect,
implicit, and ambiguous messages (e.g. Gudykunst, 1998; Gudykunst &
Ting-Toomey, 1988), including qualifier words such as ‘maybe, ‘perhaps’
and messages that do not reveal speaker’s true intentions and emphasize in-
group harmony rather than speaking one’s own mind and telling the truth
(e.g. Okabe, 1983, 1987). We agree that cultures differ in how much atten-
tion must be paid to the conversational common ground and emphatically
disagree with the argument that Grice applies only in low context, Western
Rather than simplifying Grice to mean ‘interact like an American’ we un-
derstand Grician maxims to be relevant for all human conversation. High-
context communication requires increased sensitivity to the conversational
common ground in order to interpret the nuanced cues the other is providing.
Only by truly focusing on these contextual cues could a person hope to infer
meaning from a ‘perhaps’ or understand what is inferred. Overall, given that
the explicit content of messages tends to be less clear in high-context com-
munication settings, speakers are required to attend more carefully to the
social cues to infer the message meaning compared to low-context commu-
nication settings. To understand how individualism and collectivism are likely
to influence answers, taking seriously the increased sensitivity of collectivist
respondents to nuances in the questionnaire context is critical. We examine
this assertion in greater detail in the following section.

Culture and Asking Questions

Culture and Context of the Question

Generally, collectivism should increase sensitivity to every aspect of the
question as context. When primed or chronically salient, collectivism should
increase the likelihood that responses are congruent with the general theme
Question Comprehension and Response 187

of the survey, that respondents rely on the preceding questions to infer the
meaning of subsequent questions and response scales, and so on. Of
particular impact on cross-cultural research, collectivism should increase
shift in responses depending on features of the researcher (as implied in
letterhead, in preamble, introduction, or consent forms). A standard part of
cross-national surveys is to note the affiliation of the researcher and the fact
that the study is taking place cross-nationally; this sets up an implied com-
parison at the group level ‘‘what do ‘we’ do, say, or think, as compared with
‘them’.’’ The ‘them’ could be the country from which the survey originates
as well as more general sense of intergroup comparison; this should increase
collective focus and make salient intergroup concerns. The implied standard
can come from language – thus, for example, when randomly assigned to
Chinese vs. English response conditions, Chinese respondents at a Canadian
University reporting in Chinese marked (culturally appropriate) lower self-
esteem, than when reporting English (in which case their self-esteem was no
different from European heritage Canadian respondents) (Ross, Xun, &
Wilson, 2002). When asked to report in Chinese, the respondents may have
been cued that the researcher was asking them as representatives of Chinese
culture, something that would not be salient if they were asked in English
and then might assume that they were asked as individual college students.
In the same vein, collectivism should increase sensitivity to the content of
previous questions asked in a questionnaire to determine the appropriate-
ness of the responses to later questions, resulting in greater endorsement of
the maxim of quantity (Grice, 1975). Haberstroh et al. (2002) tested this
possibility. Hypothesizing that interdependence increases sensitivity to the
conversational common ground, they expected that interdependent re-
spondents would be more likely to take care to provide non-redundant
answers to redundant questions. Indeed, Chinese respondents were more
likely to provide non-redundant answers than German respondents. When
primed with interdependence, German respondents became as sensitive as
Chinese respondents to the implied common ground. Thus, Haberstroh and
colleagues demonstrate not only that cross-culture difference is in line with
our reasoning on cross-cultural differences in sensitivity to the Grician
maxims, but also demonstrate via their priming results that it is in fact
interdependent self-focus that activates this sensitivity.

Culture, Response Alternatives, and Formats

Primed or chronic collectivism should also influence sensitivity to the im-
plied meaning of response alternatives and format. For example, when es-
timation is necessary, respondents high in collectivism should be more likely

to use the middle of the scale as the assumed population mean and to
interpret the scale extremes as the assume ends of the population distribu-
tion. Not only will this greater use of the scale influence response to the
question, it will also influence inferences taken to subsequent questions.
Similarly, collectivism is likely to be associated with a greater use of prior
responses to anchor the meaning of ambiguous scale markers like ‘very
much’ or ‘frequently’ as a result of greater attention paid to answers given to
previously asked questions using the same response format.

Culture, Memory Constraints, and Subjective Theories

Culture and Autobiographical Memory

Because the implied meaning drawn from questions, response alternatives,
and the like are used in estimating appropriate responses, cross-cultural
differences in whether requested information requires estimation are likely
to be important in predicting effects. Estimation is not necessary if the
information requested can be drawn from memory. This is likely when
information is stored in the form requested and is therefore well represented
in memory (e.g. Menon et al., 1995) or when one has relevant cognitive
schemas that anchor and organize memory search (e.g. Bartlett, 1932).
In tight cultures that prescribe appropriate public behavior and sanction
inappropriate behavior, respondents should be well aware of their own and
others’ public behaviors and therefore be relatively impervious to differences
in question order and response format. Because only public behaviors can
be monitored by others, only public, visible behavior (not private, non-
visible behaviors, attitudes, and cognitions) should be differentially well
represented in by individuals living in collective contexts. Ji, Schwarz, and
Nisbett (2000) showed these effects in a comparison of Chinese and Amer-
ican respondents. When asked about the frequency of public behavior (e.g.
coming late to class), Chinese were not influenced by response format and
response alternatives, while Americans were. Americans seemed to be using
the scale to estimate their behavior frequency using the distribution infor-
mation provided in the scale. This meant that both absolute and relative
differences between Americans and Chinese were not stable – depending on
Americans using the response options as information. When the frequency
of private behaviors were compared (e.g. having a nightmare), Americans
and Chinese were equally influenced by the context provided by the scale.
Differences in how the self is schematized (connected to or separate from
others) should also influence autobiographical memory processes (Markus
Question Comprehension and Response 189

& Kitayama, 1991; Wang, 2001; Wang & Leichtman, 2000). Following
Bartlett’s (1932) argument that ‘‘y remembering is ‘schematically’ deter-
mined’’ (p. 312), events that are congruent with one’s self-schema are ex-
pected to have a perceptual and comprehension advantage over those that
do not; indeed, schema-congruent information is remembered more accu-
rately than irrelevant information and missing or ambiguous information is
likely to be remembered in terms of the schema (Markus, 1977). Thus,
events fitting an interdependent schema would be expected to be better
remembered by those with an interdependent self-construal, and events fit-
ting an independent schema would be expected to be better remembered by
those with an independent self-construal (Ng & Zhu, 2001). In line with this
prediction, Ng and Zhu (2001) found that individuals from Beijing and
Hong Kong who scored higher on interdependent self-construal than indi-
viduals in Wellington, New Zealand, had a better memory for group-acting
situations than for individual-acting situations. Similarly, Wang (2001)
found that individuals who were more focused on private aspects of the self
in their self-descriptions provided more specific and more self-focused
childhood memories than did those who more often described themselves in
terms of social roles and group memberships.
Language can serve as a prime. For example, when randomly assigned to
speak Russian or English with a bilingual research assistant, Russian
émigrés describing events in Russian, were more likely to include a descrip-
tion of others present and their perspective as compared to when events were
described in English in which case others and their perspective were largely
absent from descriptions (Marian & Kaushanskaya, 2004). Priming influ-
ences not only self-report on behavior and social judgment but also recalls
the processing of non-social information (Kühnen & Oyserman, 2002;
Oyserman, Sorensen, Cha, & Schwarz, 2006).

Culture, Subjective Theories of Stability and Change and about Personality

Can current behavior be used as an estimate of past behavior? Can one use
information about oneself in one realm to estimate other things about one-
self? These are plausible strategies to the extent that people are assumed to
be stable and to the extent that traits are expressed in behavior across
settings. Emerging evidence suggests cross-cultural difference in the extent
that these assumptions are endorsed, with individualism carrying these as-
sumptions of self-stability and generalizability from behavior to traits, while
collectivism carries an assumption of self-malleability in response to context.
To the extent that context, not personal trait, matters in predicting behavior,

then estimates of past behavior will more comfortably be made based on

information about the context one was in.
When asked to explain why a person committed a crime, Americans
focused on the person’s disposition, Chinese on the situation (Morris &
Peng, 1994). When asked to explain the behavior of a motorist who did not
stop after a fender bender, Indian respondents focused on the situation,
while Americans focused on the person (Miller, 1984). Indians suggested
that the motorist might have been in a rush to get to work, Americans
suggested that the motorist was a thoughtless or heartless person. In their
comparison of Chinese and American responses, Ji, Nisbett, and Su (2001)
found that Americans predicted more stability and Chinese more change in
a variety of events and more change in the direction of trends – that is, for
Chinese respondents, the present is a less helpful indicator of the future.
Greater change perceived under collectivism should also lead to a reduced
reliance on current behavior to infer past behavior when retrieval from
memory is difficult. Similarly, when primed with collectivism, respondents
were more likely to be influenced by norms rather than personal attitudes
in making judgments about the likelihood of future behavior (Ybarra &
Trafimow, 1998).

Culture and Answering Questions

Questions evoke responses; responses may or may not be filtered or edited

prior to being provided as an answer to a research question. A number of
studies in the cross-cultural literature have examined response tendencies,
either simply comparing countries or comparing countries assumed to be
high or low on individualism or collectivism. A few cross-cultural studies
that do assess individualism and collectivism report inconsistent findings.
Because the studies are not framed in terms of cognitive survey methods,
detailed information about the research context, the questionnaire, response
formats, and so on are not provided, so inconsistencies are impossible to
interpret. In the following sections, we integrate available research with our
cultural process model.

Culture and Editing Answers

Culture and Social Desirability. Social desirability responding means re-
sponding in culturally sanctioned ways (Crowne & Marlowe, 1964); in this
sense social desirability can be reasonably assumed to be universal (for a
review, see Johnson & van de Vijver, 2003). However, as discussed earlier,
Question Comprehension and Response 191

cultures vary dramatically in identifying what is sanctioned and what is not

(e.g. Newby, Amin, Diamond, & Naved, 1998), meaning that even if the
same process occurs to the same extent cross-culturally, the number and
substantive of questions impacted by social desirability should differ cross-
culturally. Differences in social desirability responding may be moderated
by factors such as the cultural relevance of questions, anonymity, and
salience of inter-group (or cross-national) comparison.
Social desirability responding has been posited to be higher when collec-
tivism is primed or chronically salient, lower when individualism is primed
or chronically salient. With regard to collectivism, this is explained as re-
duced motivation to provide accurate information to outgroup members
(Triandis & Suh, 2002), reduced willingness to self-disclose (Smith & Bond,
1998), increased conformity (Bond & Smith, 1996), and face-saving behavior
(e.g. Triandis, 1995). With regard to individualism this is explained as a
norm of providing an honest, sincere, or self-disclosing response regardless
of who is the recipient of communication (Triandis, 1995; van Hemert, van
de Vijver, Poortinga, & Georgas, 2002). To the extent that social desirability
is differentially likely when collectivism is salient, then responses of collect-
ivists should be more influenced by, for example, format of the scale if the
meaning implied by scale anchors is differentially socially desirable or un-
desirable. When what is being rated is desirable – culturally valued, a low
score on a bi-polar (e.g. 5, +5) scale may be more difficult to endorse than
a low score on a uni-polar (e.g. 0, 10) scale because low responses on the
former scale connote presence of negative traits while equally low responses
on the latter scale simply connote absence of positive traits. Moreover,
negative responses in general may fit better with some cultural values (e.g.
humility) than others (e.g. pull yourself up by your bootstraps).
Another possibility is that the mechanism underlying social desirability
responding differs by cultural frame, with individualism highlighting the
need to present a positive, self-enhancing image to oneself and others, and
collectivism highlighting the need to save face in public. Indeed, collectivism
is associated with public-image management and individualism is associated
with self-image enhancement (Lalwani et al., 2006). Findings in this research
were the result of using targeted rather than general scales. This might
explain why some research has not found a relationship between collectiv-
ism and social desirability or found a relationship only with individualism
(e.g. Okazaki, 2000). Similarly, Grimm and Church (1999) observed no
relationship between several social desirability indexes and individualism
and collectivism as measured by the Individualism-Collectivism scale by Hui
(1988). In a study where culture-level variables were examined in relation to

social desirability, van Hemert et al. (2002) found that the strongest pre-
dictor of the lie scores measured by the Eysenck Lie Scale was GNP such
that low GNP scores predicted high lie scores. We believe that further
research directed to understanding culture-specific processes that might
underlie socially desirable responding across cultures and culturally relevant
context effects that might impact socially desirable responding is needed to
resolve some of the confusion that exists in the current literature on culture
and social desirability.

Culture and Use of Middle or Extreme Responses. Some authors have spec-
ulated that chronic or situationally primed collectivism increases use of a
non-committal midpoint response, particularly when the correct response is
not clear or when the respondent does not want to offend the interviewer.
With regard to collectivism, this is explained as due to salient norms of
limiting self-disclosure (Steel, 1991), guarding affective expression (Lai &
Linden, 1993), masking feelings (Gross & John, 1998), and greater emphasis
on modest and cautious responses (Hui & Triandis, 1989). Asian collectiv-
ism, influenced by Confucianism is also thought to be related to midpoint
responding as a reflection of moderation, deference, and modesty valued by
this philosophical thinking style (Chia, Allred, & Jerzak, 1997; Tu, 1979).
These values may be endorsed particularly by those members of the cultures
influenced by Confucianism who are high on public self-consciousness
which is associated with a greater concern about how one appears to others
(Hamid, Lai, & Cheng, 2001). Dialectical thinking – viewing reality as dy-
namic and changeable, believing that contradictory features can co-exist in
the same object or event and that everything is related – as opposed to
analytical thinking – paying attention primarily to the object and the cat-
egories to which it belongs and using rules such as formal logic to under-
stand its behavior – is also thought to contribute to midpoint responding
(Triandis, 2004).
While use of midpoint may be due to these cultural values and cognitive
styles, it also may be due to use of questions that are differentially involving
for individualistic respondents (who would then be more likely to choose
extreme answers), while being of little relevance to collectivist participants
(who would then be more likely to choose non-committal answers). A general
tendency of cultural and cross-cultural research to be focused on the west
would create a general tendency of research questions to be relevant to in-
dividualists. Questions focused on irrelevant behaviors, judgments, and at-
titudes are more likely to need to be estimated. If culturally relevant subjective
theories focus on context-focused rather than person-focused stability, then
Question Comprehension and Response 193

individuals high in collectivism may be left less sure of their estimated an-
swers. Question irrelevance and difficulty using estimation cues together could
produce what would appear to be a tendency to use the midpoint on the part
of collectivists. Van de Vijver, Ploubidis, and van Hemert (2004) have found
evidence for domain effects; country differences in extreme responding de-
pend on the extent to which a domain involves personal involvement. To the
extent that questions are culturally specific, midpoint responding should in-
crease when they are culturally irrelevant. To the extent that questions are
universal, midpoint responding should decline.
Unfortunately, few studies have explicitly measured individualism and
collectivism and examined its link to midpoint and extremity responding.
We found two studies. The first study (Johnson, Kulesa, Cho, & Shavitt,
2005) showed no relationship between Hofstede country-level individualism
score and individual variability in extreme responding in diverse samples of
adults in 19 countries. The second study (Chen, Lee, & Stevenson, 1995)
assessed individualism at the individual level and showed both the expected
general cultural differences in use of midpoint and at least some evidence
that the effect has to do with relevance of questions.
Chen et al. (1995) measured individualism in 11th grade students in
Japan, Taiwan, Canada, and the US (N ¼ 6,451) who also completed scales
inquiring about different school-related domains (e.g. value of education,
academic self-concept). Individualism correlated positively with extreme re-
sponding and negatively with midpoint responding. In addition, Japanese
and Taiwanese students had a significantly greater preference for midpoint
responding and significantly lower preference for extreme responding than
the US students, but neither Asian group differed from the Canadian group.
In addition to general differences by individualism–collectivism and by
country, question-specific differences also emerged. Japanese students had a
greater preference for midpoint responding when questions asked about
social and physical self-concept, but this difference almost disappeared when
questions inquired about attitudes concerning math. Similarly, American
students had a greater preference than the other three groups for extreme
responding when asked about value of education, but had equal preference
for extreme points when asked about school anxiety.
In addition to question relevance effects, there is some evidence that for-
mat-related features of questions influence extreme responding cross-cultur-
ally. Unfortunately, studies are not framed in terms of cognitive survey
methodology making results interpretable. Hui and Triandis (1989) report
increased use of extreme responses in a collectivistic group (US Hispanic
supervisors) when presented a 5-point response alternative (response options

ranging from A to E), but not when provided a 10-point alternative (response
options ranging from 1 to 10) compared to an individualistic group (US non-
Hispanic whites). Grimm and Church (1999) report increased use of extreme
responses in a collectivistic group of participants (Philippine students) com-
pared to an individualistic group of participants (US students) when pre-
sented with 8- or 9-point response scales, but not when presented with 2-,
5-, and 6-point response scales.

Culture and Acquiescence. As is the case for other of the response effects,
there is no clear evidence for the size or stability of acquiescence effects as a
function of individualism–collectivism. In general, acquiescence or yea-say-
ing is assumed to be a learned and functionally adaptive response, reflecting
nonresistance, deference, and a willingness to conform; characteristics that
may be more functional in collectivistic societies, especially in those that also
put emphasis on the observance of social hierarchy (e.g. Ross & Mirowsky,
1984). Lynch (1973) suggested that collectivism is likely to be associated
with acquiesce more than individualism because of the greater value col-
lectivism puts on smooth interpersonal relations. Smith (2004) suggested
that acquiescence might be higher in cultures characterized by anxiety and
uncertainty. Cultures where many rules and norms are imposed tightly may
also promote acquiescent response style (Triandis, 2004). Because acquies-
cence is likely to increase in the same contexts that enhance social desir-
ability concerns (see Knowles & Condon, 1999), the cognitive and
contextual factors we discussed above in relation to social desirability are
also applicable here. Similarly, to the extent that positive extreme values can
be considered as reflecting an acquiescent tendency, our discussion related to
extreme values are relevant to acquiescence.
A few studies explicitly examining acquiescence across cultures provide
evidence for the individualism–collectivism and acquiescence link. Smith
(2004) observed that correlations between estimates of acquiescent bias de-
rived from existing multi-nation studies (Hofstede, 2001; Schwartz, 1994;
Smith, Duggan, & Trompenaars, 1996; House et al., 2004) revealed that
acquiescent bias was high in countries characterized as high in collectivism.
Moreover, Smith showed that that question content made a difference in
acquiescent responses such that personally relevant scales (focused on be-
haviors, attitudes, beliefs, and especially values) were convergent estimates of
acquiescence, but that estimates derived from questions inquiring about one’s
perceptions of one’s own society as a whole was not correlated with acqui-
escence. Johnson et al. (2005) also reported that individualism was negatively
associated with acquiescent bias, such that individuals from individualistic
Question Comprehension and Response 195

countries were less likely to engage in acquiescent responding. They also

observed that that GNP was negatively associated with acquiescence – less-
affluent countries were more likely to manifest acquiescent bias in responding
to questions. Van Herk, Poortingda, and Verhallen (2004) examined data
from surveys on household domains and personal care in six countries in the
EU (Greece, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK) and found that
Greek respondents systematically scored higher in both acquiescence bias and
extreme responding than members of other European countries including
French and Italian.

In the present chapter, we focused on commonly discussed aspects of indi-
vidualism and collectivism and linked them to question comprehension and
response. Of course culture is not simply individualism and collectivism. As
other operationalizations of culture are brought to bear, other influences
may be discovered (e.g. influences of future–past orientation as discussed by
Armagan and her colleagues in Chapter 6 or of power and hierarchy as
discussed by Zhong and his colleagues in Chapter 3 on question compre-
hension and responses). We applied cognitive survey approaches to under-
standing how contexts influence answers to make predictions about the
implications of the research context on outcomes of cultural and cross-cul-
tural research. By thinking of research as a form of communication between
researcher and respondent, the cognitive approach has highlighted first that
questions, questionnaires, consent forms, previous questions, response scales,
and formats all provide clues as to the meaning of the current question and
what would constitute an appropriate response. We proposed that collec-
tivism would, in principle, increase sensitivity to these context effects. By
highlighting the interplay between autobiographical memory and responses,
we clarified likely culture effects on what would likely be salient vs. have to
be reconstructed on the spot as well as likely cultural effects on the subjective
theories used to reconstruct appropriate responses. In the final section, we
explored possible differential sensitivity to social desirability effects and to
response style tendencies. We noted that while the processes were likely to be
universal, they were likely to be cued in culturally relevant ways. Collectivism
increases sensitivity to situation, influences what is stored and accessible in
memory, subjective theories and what is socially desirable and requires ex-
tremity or modesty. Collectivism also influences what is salient enough to be
memorable and not require estimation.

As illustrated earlier in Fig. 1, language (a marker of distal culture) and

social situations are likely to influence the cultural lens brought to bear on
the research questions, but so are features of the questionnaire and research
context itself. It is this proximal cultural lens that will be drawn on in
responding. To the extent that cultural and cross-cultural researchers fail to
pay attention to the impact of the research context on what respondents
understand questions to mean and what appear to be reasonable answers to
questions, we may dramatically over- or underestimate actual cultural
differences in values and behaviors. To the extent that cultural and cross-
cultural researchers fail to pay attention to the impact of the research con-
text on the strategies respondents use to construct their answers, we may
dramatically over- or underestimate actual cultural differences in social and
non-social cognition – how we think.

We would like to thank the two reviewers for their helpful and constructive
comments as well as Ya-ru Chen for her editorial guidance and suggestions.
We also would like to thank the contributors of the Sheth Foundation/Sudman
Symposium on Cross-Cultural Survey Research that was held in October 2004
and Norbert Schwarz whose work inspired us to write the chapter. Ayse Uskul
was funded by a postdoctoral fellowship of the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada while working on the chapter.

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Wendi L. Adair, Catherine H. Tinsley and

Masako S. Taylor

We offer a conceptualization of third culture in intercultural interactions
and describe its different forms as well as its antecedents and conse-
quences. Third culture is a multicultural team’s shared schema that con-
tains not only team and task knowledge, but also a shared set of beliefs,
values, and norms grounded in the national cultures of the team members.
We develop a typology to distinguish third culture schema form on two
dimensions: third culture strength and third culture content. We then
propose both team process and team composition variables that influence
the emergence of these different forms. Furthermore, we use social iden-
tity formation and sensemaking mechanisms to propose the effects of
these third culture forms on team performance.

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 205–232
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09009-8

Globalization demands intercultural interaction. Culture, or the collective

mental programming of a group of people (Hofstede, 1980, 1991), influences
how people approach such interpersonal interaction. Cultural differences in
values and norms, for example, account for unique national behavioral rep-
ertoires that can clash and make for difficult intercultural interactions due to
a variety of misunderstandings, misattributions, and conflict (Brett &
Okumura, 1998; Adair, Okumura, & Brett, 2001; Morris et al., 1998; Adler
& Graham, 1989; Earley & Mosakowski, 2000; Ravlin, Thomas, & Ilsev,
2000; Thomas, 1999). Consequently, we have many accounts of the impor-
tance of understanding cultural differences and the need to manage the in-
tercultural interface (Adler, 1991; Brett, 2001; Graham & Sano, 1989;
Salacuse, 1991; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998). In a multicultural
team, a team member may manage the intercultural interface by adapting
his/her ways and beliefs to those of the other parties, by pushing the other
parties to adopt his/her ways and beliefs, or by meeting somewhere in the
middle (Weiss, 1994; Adair et al., 2001; Adair & Brett, 2005). Through these
processes, multicultural teams that come together for a common purpose
may develop not only shared knowledge about their team and task and
similar behaviors, but also a shared set of values and norms that underlie and
guide those behaviors. Such a shared knowledge structure, consisting of team
and task knowledge, as well as values and norms rooted in the traditional
cultural belief system of one or more team members, is what we call a third
culture. In this chapter we investigate the various ways by which multicul-
tural teams develop third culture, the different forms it may take, and the
implications of different forms of third culture for managing the intercultural
The chapter begins with our conceptualization of third culture as a shared
knowledge structure, or said otherwise, a shared schema. We discuss how
the inclusion of values, norms, and beliefs rooted in national cultural belief
systems makes third culture distinct from other team-level cognitive con-
structs. We then build on theories of schema formation and change in social
cognition (Fiske & Taylor, 1991) to model the process of third culture
building and the resultant forms that are distinguishable on two dimensions:
third culture strength and third culture content. We propose team compo-
sition and team process variables that predict whether team members em-
brace a common schema or maintain some unique, individual schema
elements, thus impacting third culture strength. We then propose team
composition and process variables that predict whether team members rely
on their preexisting schemas or engage in synergistic thinking that could
prompt the evolution of new schema elements, thus predicting third culture
Managing the Intercultural Interface 207

Team Composition Team

Individualism/collectivism Homogeneity
Low/high context
Field dependence/independence
Cultural intelligence Third culture Team Process Team
Strength Sensemaking Outcome
Content Identity Performance
Team Process
Relationship conflict
Task conflict

Fig. 1. Model of Third Culture in Multinational Teams.

content. Finally, we build on social identity (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994;

Earley & Mosakowski, 2000) and sensemaking (Levine & Mooreland, 1991;
Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Converse, 1993) functions of third culture to
address some of the positive and negative implications of third culture for
work teams. The model we will build is presented in Fig. 1.


We propose that third culture is a shared knowledge structure consisting of

team and task knowledge as well as values and norms rooted in the tra-
ditional cultural belief system of one or more team members. In this section,
we argue that third culture is a form of the broader construct Culture, that
resides in the shared cognition of a team that has come together for a specific
common purpose. We show that our conceptualization is consistent with
prior literature on third culture. We explain why multicultural teams are
likely to form a third culture. We define the content of a third culture schema
and show how it is different from other team-level cognitive constructs.

Review of Third Culture Literature

Culture is generally defined as the values, norms, and beliefs shared by a group
of people that defines their identity and coordinates their survival efforts
(Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961; Schein, 1997; Schwartz, 1994). According to
Schein’s model, culture resembles an iceberg in that only the tip (behaviors
and institutions) is visible, but these artifacts rest on a foundation of values,

norms, and beliefs that lies underneath. It is the part under water, the cognitive
side of culture that resides in the minds of its members, where many theorists
have focused their conceptualizations of culture. For example, a common
conceptualization of culture is a shared meaning system or mental program-
ming of a group of people (Hofstede, 1980; Geertz, 1973; D’Andrade, 1984;
Triandis, 1972) that acts as a lens that filters incoming stimuli and directs
outgoing reaction (Erez & Earley, 1993; Triandis, 1989). In other words,
culture is a shared schema, which is defined as a knowledge structure rep-
resenting one’s understanding of an environment that guides interpre-
tation and behavior (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Although culture is necessarily
a shared schema, not all shared schemas are cultures. For example, most
people share the event schema for how to eat at a restaurant (getting a table,
ordering, etc.), but since it is not a shared schema that embodies values and
belief systems that guide behavior for a socially distinct group, it does not
represent a culture.
Consistent with the cognitive models of culture, we conceptualize third cul-
ture as a shared schema. We define third culture as a knowledge structure
shared by a team that consists of traditional culture values, norms, and
beliefs as well as team- and task-relevant information. As a shared schema,
third culture, like other schemas, guides perception and directs behavior.
Third culture is a special form of culture that arises when people from different
national cultures interact for a specific common purpose. Thus team infor-
mation, e.g. who performs what functions, and task information, e.g. project
goals and timelines, are a part of third culture but may not be part of a general
culture schema that consists solely of shared values, norms, and beliefs.
Our conceptualization of third culture as a shared schema is consistent
with how others have talked about third culture. For example, Useem,
Useem, and Donoghue (1963) define third culture as learned and shared
behavior patterns of people from distinct teams who are interacting with
each other. They note that third culture includes a ‘‘shared understanding’’
that consists of work-related norms and worldviews. To illustrate third
culture, they use the example of the United Nations, which has a third
culture including norms for diplomacy and values for human rights and the
sovereignty of individual nations. These authors note that because third
culture is a composite of the individual cultures from which it transcends,
it is distinct from but cannot be understood without references to the
cultures in which group participants were socialized. Thus, although
third culture is a group-level construct that evolves as a function of team
interaction, it can only be understood by looking at the teams’ cultural
Managing the Intercultural Interface 209

composition (Hambrick, Davison, Snell, & Snow, 1998) and the team
members’ preexisting values, norms, and belief systems.
Earley and Mosakowski (2000) define third culture, which they call a
hybrid team culture, as an ‘‘emergent and simplified set of rules, norms,
expectations, and roles that team members share and enact [that] offers a
common sense of identity that becomes team specific y. And facilitates
team interaction.’’ (p. 26). And Casmir (1992) writes that third culture con-
sists of shared frameworks, value systems, and communication systems that
evolve when groups of individuals interact to share resources for a common
goal. He uses the example of a mixed-culture marriage and notes that such
couples develop a shared meaning system that involves the creation of
something new that is informed and influenced by each spouse’s individual
cultural values, norms, and beliefs. In all of these conceptualizations, third
culture exists at the level of cognition – a shared knowledge structure that
guides interaction for a specific team purpose. This purpose may be well-
being and survival, as in the case of a mixed-culture marriage, or task
completion and performance, as in the case of work teams.
Although theorists have discussed third culture at multiple levels including
nations and institutions (Useem et al., 1963), work teams (Earley &
Mosakowski, 2000; Earley & Gibson, 2002), and decision-making dyads
(Ickes, Stinson, Bissonnette, & Garcia, 1990), the limited empirical work on
third culture has focused on similar behaviors or team norms. For example,
research on hybrid team cultures (Earley & Mosakowski, 2000) builds on
social identity theory (Tajfel, 1982; Turner, 1985; Lau & Murnighan, 1998),
and measures team heterogeneity to predict team process and performance.
The work on mixed-culture negotiation repertoires (Adair & Brett, 2005)
measures dyad composition and sequences of negotiation strategies to pre-
dict negotiation performance. Together this work shows that in multicultural
settings, people cross cultural boundaries to develop reciprocity and team
norms. That cross-cultural teams develop shared and simplified sets of strat-
egies and behaviors may be evidence of third culture at the visible tip of the
iceberg. Yet, our tendency to look for third culture and measure it primarily
in behaviors has limited our understanding of the underlying cognitive side
of third culture, the merging and melding of values, norms, and beliefs often
deeply embedded in an individual’s national culture identity. Our work
extends this prior work on third culture by modeling the various possible
forms of third culture as a shared schema, developing the theoretical mech-
anisms of third culture building, and explicitly addressing the consequences
of third culture strength and composition for team process and outcome.

Why Do Third Cultures Form?

In a team context, there are several pressures that prompt a merging of in-
dividual schemas into a shared schema. First, teams have naturally occurring
tendencies toward consensus that should prompt the movement of individual,
idiosyncratic schemas into a shared schema (Levine & Moreland, 1999;
Brandon & Hollingshead, 2004). Second, for teamwork, a shared schema
is more efficient than a set of unrelated individual schemas (Fiske & Taylor,
1991). Shared schemas help improve information processing (Levine &
Mooreland, 1991; Rentsch & Hall, 1994), adaptation to changing task de-
mands (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Converse, 1993), sensemaking and the de-
termination and prediction of future events (Rouse & Morris, 1986), and team
performance (Walsh & Fahey, 1986; Walsh, Henderson, & Deighton, 1988;
Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Assuming team
members have some implicit notion of the advantages of a shared under-
standing, they should be motivated to develop a shared schema.
According to social identity and self-categorization theory, developing a
shared understanding or shared schema with team members should also
bolster individuals’ sense of self-esteem (Tajfel, 1982; Tajfel & Turner, 1979)
and belongingness (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). Thus
again, individuals should be motivated to update their schemas and develop
a shared understanding with team members. Earley and Mosakowski (2000),
however, note one case when team members may not be motivated to de-
velop a third culture. They found that moderately heterogeneous teams, as
opposed to homogenous or highly heterogeneous teams, tended to divide and
identify with subgroups instead of creating a superordinate group identity.
Yet, we might argue that a third culture is forming, it is simply a smaller
third culture (within the subgroups).

Third Culture Schema Content

In a work setting, people’s schemas contain information about their task, for
example goals, process, and equipment; and about their team, for example
roles, responsibilities, and members’ skills (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993; Levine
& Mooreland, 1991). Individual schemas also contain culturally determined
values, norms, and beliefs that underlie this knowledge and govern interaction
in the domain (Brett & Okumura, 1998; Erez & Earley, 1993; Gelfand &
McCusker, 2001). For example, an individual’s schema for a team task includes
not only information about who is who, but also the values, norms, and beliefs
Managing the Intercultural Interface 211

about hierarchy that define how people of higher status should interact with
people of lower status in the team. A third culture develops when individuals in
a team develop a shared schema that contains not only knowledge about task
and team, but also a shared set of beliefs, values, and norms that are rooted in
individuals’ national culture and guide interaction and behavior.
The recognition that individual schemas contain information not only
about task and team but also about cultural values, norms, and beliefs is what
allows us to distinguish third culture as a shared schema from team mental
models and transactive memory as shared schemas. Transactive memory is
‘‘the shared division of cognitive labor with respect to the encoding, storage,
retrieval, and communication of information from different knowledge do-
mains’’ (Brandon & Hollingshead, 2004, p. 633; also Wegner, 1987). Thus,
transactive memory is about how people in a team understand who has what
expert knowledge and assign responsibility for action. Transactive memory
may be part of a team’s third culture related to team and task information,
but transactive memory is not third culture because it does not comprise
shared values, norms, and beliefs guiding action. Similarly, a team mental
model is an emergent, shared, organized knowledge structure that is distinct
from third culture because it focuses on categorization of what people ‘‘know’’
(Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994). Transactive memory and team mental mod-
els contain task knowledge and team knowledge (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993;
Levine & Mooreland, 1991; Mathieu et al., 2000). Third culture is different
because it includes both information about task and team knowledge, but also
the cultural values, norms, and beliefs that underlie what they know.


In this section, we discuss how third culture forms, its two dimensions, and
propose variables that prompt different forms of third culture. We first
explain third culture formation through processes of schema updating and
adjustment (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). We propose two dimensions which dis-
tinguish the forms of third culture: third culture strength and third culture
content. We then discuss some team composition and process variables,
linking them to third culture forms.

Third Culture Formation

Although the content of third culture is distinct from transactive memory

and team mental models, the form it embodies, i.e. a shared schema subject

to updating and adjustment, is similar. As Walsh and Fahey (1986) note, a

shared schema develops as a function of both individuals’ schemas and the
interactions within a team. When an individual encounters a schema-relevant
domain (e.g. a person, a situation, etc.), their schema for that domain be-
comes activated. Then, information that is consistent with their existing
schema reinforces and strengthens that schema (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). In-
formation that is inconsistent with their existing schema challenges the
schema, and in a process of updating and adjustment, the schema compo-
sition can change (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). When multiple individuals en-
counter the same stimulus domain, individual schemas can change and merge
or converge on a shared understanding or team-level schema (Klimoski &
Mohammed, 1994). This process of individual schema adjustment and con-
vergence explains how third cultures are formed. Third culture develops
when individuals discover, adjust, and integrate new beliefs and values
(Casmir, 1978, 1992). People develop a third culture ‘‘by way of their
interpersonal relationships, y. By way of the cultural patterns they create,
learn, and share’’ (Useem et al., 1963, p. 172). In other words, third culture
develops as a function of both the individual team member’s cultures and the
interactions within their team.
We propose to distinguish the different forms a third culture may take on
two dimensions: strength and content. The strength dimension is developed
directly from Klimoski and Mohammed’s (1994) work on team mental
models and refers to the amount of individual schema overlap or commonly
shared information in a team’s third culture. The content dimension dis-
tinguishes whether a third culture schema contains only information that
previously existed in team members’ individual schemas or contains some
information that is created as a function of the team interaction. We explain
and illustrate each dimension (Fig. 3) and offer both team composition and
team process variables that predict third culture schema form. Team com-
position refers to the characteristics of individual team members and the
level of similarity within the team. Team process variables refer to processes
embedded in the team’s interaction.

Third Culture Strength

In describing hybrid team cultures, Earley and Mosakowski (2000) note that
the more overlap there is across members’ cultures, the stronger the team’s
hybrid team culture will be. In the language of schemas, this means that
when individuals’ schemas completely merge into a shared third culture
Managing the Intercultural Interface 213

schema, the third culture should be stronger than when individuals’ schemas
only partly merge and some information continues to reside in the individ-
uals’ schemas that are not shared. Two forms from the mental model
literature define this dimension of shared schema strength: the overlapping
form and the identical form (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994).1
With the overlapping configuration, some aspects of the members’
schemas are similar and other aspects are different. The third culture shared
schema represents some but not all of the information activated in a mem-
ber’s mind given the team context as a stimulus domain. In contrast, with
the identical third culture schema, members share the same schema content
and structure. All members would have the same, identical schema activated
given their team context as a stimulus domain. Take, as a simplified
example, the case of Team Alpha consisting of a Japanese man and a
woman from the U.S. (Fig. 2). For the Japanese man, the team context
activates a schema that consists of collectivist values, cooperative beliefs,
and a norm for indirect communication. He comes together with the U.S.
woman whose team schema consists of individualist values, self-interest
beliefs, and a norm for direct communication. One example of an identical
third culture is when over time, the team members came to place a similar
value on collectivism, cooperation, and direct communication (Fig. 3a). In
other words, the U.S. woman realizes that in order to work efficiently with
her Japanese counterpart, she needs to put more emphasis on collectivism
and cooperation. The U.S. member’s individualist goals and self-interest
values are no longer salient in this team context. Likewise, the Japanese
team member realizes that indirect communication is inefficient in this team
environment and direct communication becomes the salient mode of com-
munication when working in Team Alpha. When they are doing work

Individualism Cooperation
Self interest Indirect
Direct communication

Japanese team
U.S. team member’s
member’s schema

Fig. 2. Team Alpha Prior to Interaction


Third Culture Strength

Identical Overlapping
a. b.

Collectivism Self Direct Com. Cooperation
Cooperation Interest
Third Culture Content

c. d.
Precedent Precedent
Emergent Collectivism
Direct Com.
Self Collectivism
Direct Com. Cooperation

Fig. 3. Third Culture Forms. Team Alpha After Interaction

related to Team Alpha, an identical third culture schema is activated in both

team members’ minds: collectivism, cooperation, and a norm for direct
communication. Of course, this is a simplified example that illustrates a
small set of values and norms. A true third culture schema should contain a
broader set of traditional culture values and norms (e.g. Hofstede, 1980;
Schwartz, 1994; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998) as well as both
team and task information. But the key distinguishing factor for the iden-
tical form is that all team members share the same schema form and content
with other team members.
Using the same case, an example of overlapping third culture is if Team
Alpha’s third culture schema consists of norms for direct communication
Managing the Intercultural Interface 215

and collectivism, but each team member maintains his own distinct con-
ceptualization of goals (self-interest versus cooperative) in the team context
(Fig. 3b). Team members’ schemas are overlapping, but not identical. The
overlapping information is what constitutes the third culture schema. This
form of third culture should be common in cross-functional teams which
develop a shared understanding of team information, task information,
team goals, and norms, while individual team members simultaneously
maintain identity and allegiance with their home department that is not
completely released in the team context. Because the overlapping form of
third culture involves individuals maintaining some individual schema
elements, it is not as strong as the identical form, in which team members
have the maximum possible amount of overlap in their shared cognition
(Rohner, 1987; Earley & Mosakowski, 2000).

Team Composition and Third Culture Strength

As Earley and Mosakowski (2000) note, team member characteristics in-

fluence the emergence of a shared culture because ‘‘personal characteristics
shape their expectations of appropriate interaction rules y [and] affect
expectations of how other members should act.’’ In a team setting, a more
dominant cultural trait shared by a majority of the members may influence
third culture formation. And just as some individual characteristics make
people contribute more or be more influential in a team (Walsh et al., 1988),
some individual culture traits may make people more susceptible to influ-
ence from others or more open to identify and embrace differences with
others. We propose that team members’ desire for ingroup harmony and
awareness of others that is captured in several well-known cultural values
and norms should impact third culture strength.

Third culture is likely to develop whenever individuals work toward a com-
mon team goal. However, third culture strength should vary depending on
the members’ orientation toward team membership. Cultural values for
collectivism (Hofstede, 1980; Schwartz, 1994) go along with strong ingroup
identification and harmony that should prompt embracing others’ schemas
and developing an identical third culture. The counterpart of collectivism,
individualism, reflects a strong sense of self and independence that should
prompt preservation of one’s own schemas and developing an overlapping
third culture.

Individualism–collectivism refers to the degree to which one’s self-concept

is defined as a unique individual or according to group membership
(Triandis, 1995; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Because collectivists are more
likely than individualists to have an interdependent self-concept, they are
more likely to strive for harmonious interpersonal relationships and adjust-
ment to others (Singelis & Brown, 1995; Morling, Kitayama, & Miyamoto,
2002). In contrast to individualists, collectivists are more likely to pursue
interests of the group (Parsons & Shils, 1951) and make individual goals
subordinate to group goals (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961; Triandis,
1995). While they may also be prone to discriminate against outgroup
members, in a multicultural team context intercultural members, otherwise
considered outgroup members may recategorize each other into an ingroup
member as they strive for a common team goal. Because collectivists are
more likely than individualists to embrace the interests and goals of the
group, they should also be more likely than individualists to embrace a
common team third culture. Individualists, on the other hand, will be more
likely than collectivists to maintain some elements of their individual schema
that are not integrated with the team’s third culture.

Proposition 1a. Teams whose members rank higher on collective values

are more likely to develop an identical third culture than teams whose
members rank higher on individualist values.

Proposition 1b. Teams whose members rank higher on individualist val-

ues are more likely to develop an overlapping third culture than teams
whose members rank higher on collectivist values.

High-/Low-Context Communication
Another cultural dimension that covaries with collectivism (Adair & Brett,
2004; Singelis & Brown, 1995) and has implications for the emergence of
third culture is high context communication. Communication is an impor-
tant antecedent to the development of team mental models like third culture
(Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994; Casmir, 1992), and some note it is critical to
the development of shared meaning systems in general (Donnellon, Gray, &
Bougon, 1986). Low–high context is a cultural dimension that defines the
degree to which people are in tune with others in interpersonal communi-
cation. In high context cultures, people prefer indirect forms of communi-
cation and they have an ability to intuitively understand others (Hall, 1976).
They are able to convey and gather information from subtle non-verbal,
situational, and contextual cues. This is in contrast to low-context cultures,
Managing the Intercultural Interface 217

where people prefer to use direct communication, using explicit words to

convey meaning (Hall, 1976).
When team members have high-context communication norms, they are
more likely to be able to ‘‘read’’ and understand other team members’
values, goals, and interests, even when they are not revealed directly with
words. Therefore, they should be able to read and incorporate schema el-
ements from other team members and develop a third culture more effec-
tively than when team members have low-context communication norms.
This should be particularly evident in face-to-face teams because in virtual
teams, it is uncertain the degree to which high-context communication is
hindered by context-free communication media (Eyring, 2001). In contrast,
when teams have low-context communication norms, they may have trouble
understanding others’ schemas and developing a strong third culture.

Proposition 2a. Teams whose members rank higher on high-context com-

munication norms are more likely to develop an identical third culture
than teams whose members rank higher on low-context communication

Proposition 2b. Teams whose members rank higher on low-context com-

munication norms are more likely to develop an overlapping third culture
than teams whose members rank higher on high-context communication
Field Dependence/Independence
The culturally based cognitive style of field dependence/independence
(Witkin & Berry, 1975; Witkin & Goodenough, 1979) dominant in a team
may also have implications for third culture forms. Field dependence/in-
dependence explains the different ways in which people process information
to guide their behaviors. While field-independent individuals rely on im-
personal information that is detached from the social context, field-depend-
ent individuals tend to take into consideration the social context when
interpreting information (Gibson, 2003). For example, field-independent
individuals focus on technical and physical information. They view the el-
ements of an environment analytically and are more able to separate parts
from a background field. As analytical processors, they may pay little at-
tention to the social aspects of intercultural interaction and be less sensitive
to the schema elements of the other party. Field-dependent individuals, on
the other hand, are highly sensitive to social context. They view the envi-
ronment more holistically with greater dependence on the referent others.
These individuals will more likely attend to the values, norms, and beliefs of

their other team members and consequently be more likely to develop an

identical third culture.
Proposition 3a. Teams whose members rank higher on field dependence
are more likely to develop an identical third culture than teams whose
members rank higher on field independence.
Proposition 3b. Teams whose members rank higher on field independence
are more likely to develop an overlapping third culture than teams whose
members rank higher on field dependence.
Team Homogeneity
Because team process is a function of both individual-level characteristics
and the interaction between individuals (Turner, 1987; McGrath, 1984), we
propose that team homogeneity with respect to the individual-level char-
acteristics introduced above will moderate the relationships proposed in
Propositions 1–3. For example, when all team members value collectivism, a
team is more likely to develop a strong identical third culture than when
some but not all team members value collectivism. When all team members
have high-context communication norms, a team is more likely to develop a
stronger third culture than when some but not all team members have high-
context communication norms. Thus, we propose that team homogeneity
moderates the effect of individual-level culture attributes on the strength of
third culture.
Proposition 4. Team homogeneity with respect to individual level culture
attributes moderates the attributes’ effects on third culture strength, in a
way that the effect will be stronger for more homogeneous teams.

Team Process and Third Culture Strength

Just as team members’ cultural characteristics may influence third culture

strength, the nature of team process should also influence the degree to
which team members merge and integrate their individual schema elements.
Teams engaged in processes that facilitate the development of common
cultural values, norms, and beliefs and common task and team information
should be more likely to develop an identical third culture than an over-
lapping third culture.

Relationship Conflict
Conflict is one team process that can either be detrimental and/or beneficial
to team performance and satisfaction (Tjosvold, 1993; Jehn, 1995). The two
Managing the Intercultural Interface 219

primary forms of conflict in teams are task conflict, that focuses on work
content and goals, and relationship conflict that focuses on interpersonal
relationships (Pinkley, 1990; Jehn, 1995). Of the two, we propose that
relationship conflict impacts third culture strength, because it takes away
from team sharedness. In contrast, task conflict has implications not for
schema strength but for schema composition, which we explain later.
Relationship conflict is related to interpersonal dynamics and is negatively
linked to performance and morale (Jehn, 1995, 1997), because members
spend time and energy in emotional battles rather than the tasks at hand
(Amason, 1996; Jehn, 1995, 1997; Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999; Pelled,
1996). Relationship conflict is likely to distract members’ schema integration
and detract from the development of a strong third culture. Thus, teams
experiencing relationship conflict should be less likely to discover and in-
tegrate team members’ different schemas into an identical third culture.

Proposition 5a. Teams with low levels of relationship conflict are more
likely to develop an identical third culture than teams with high levels of
relationship conflict.

Proposition 5b. Teams with high levels of relationship conflict are more
likely to develop an overlapping third culture than teams with low levels
of relationship conflict.

Third Culture Content

The second dimension we propose to distinguish the different forms that

third culture may take is its content. Third culture content refers to the
actual elements of the third culture shared schema. We propose that one
important way to distinguish shared schema content is whether it consists
solely of elements that previously existed in the individual’s schemas or
includes schema elements that were not previously represented in individ-
uals’ schemas. While individuals’ existing culture may have an important
role in building third culture, some elements of third culture may not come
from any of the members’ national cultures. In other words, there may be
components of a team’s shared schema that are not native to any of the
members’ national cultures. We use the dimension third culture content to
distinguish an intersection form, comprised of schema elements that pre-
viously existed in team members’ mind from an emergent form, comprised
of elements that previously existed in team members’ minds plus some
unique elements derived from the interaction itself.

With an intersection third culture, team members develop a shared un-

derstanding that is identical in each individual’s mind but is comprised
merely of elements that previously existed in each individual’s schema.
Using our Team Alpha example, an intersection third culture would consist
of collectivism, cooperation, and direct communication (Fig. 3a) or maybe
just collectivism and direct communication (Fig. 3b). What distinguishes the
two intersection forms of third culture is third culture strength.
In contrast, an emergent third culture also contains unique elements de-
rived through the interaction itself. Using our same example, an emergent
third culture may contain a shared focus on collectivism, direct communi-
cation, and also values for tradition and norms to look for precedent
(Fig. 3d). For example, when the U.S. and Japanese counterparts begin
working together, they realize that embracing tradition and looking for
previous team behaviors as guiding precedents enable them to work more
efficiently. Their shared third culture thus contains some schema elements
that evolve from and are a function of their working together. Alternatively,
a stronger form of emergent third culture is evident in the overlapping
model (Fig. 3c). Next we propose several team composition and process
variables that should affect whether third culture content takes on an in-
tersection or an emergent form.

Team Composition and Third Culture Content

Team composition variables that should affect third culture content are
those that affect individuals’ tendencies for creative and synergistic thinking.
We propose that experience and cultural intelligence (CQ) are two team
characteristics that should impact whether a team’s third culture schema
contains elements that are created and emerge as a function of the team

Prior research suggests that team norms develop as a function of members’
previous experience and experience with one another (Bettenhausen &
Murnighan, 1985). Likewise, the form of a team’s collective mind depends
on members’ experiences with one another (McClure, 1990; Earley &
Mosakowski, 2000). Hence, it is common for cross-cultural misunderstand-
ings to decrease as experience with another culture increases (Martin &
Hammer, 1989). The more experience one has working with members of
another national culture, the better one should be at recognizing differences
Managing the Intercultural Interface 221

and managing those differences by minimizing them or turning them into

cross-cultural synergies (Adler, 1991; Weiss, 1994). Creating cross-cultural
synergies is similar to creating an emergent third culture. The process con-
sists of noting and integrating schema similarities while also noting and
building off of schema differences to create something more than just the
sum of the individuals’ schemas. Team members with more experience with
the other cultures represented in the team should be better at creating
synergies or developing an emergent third culture than team members with
less experience with the other cultures.
The opposite may be true for experience working together as a team.
Literature on team process suggests that teams have strong tendencies to-
ward convergent thinking or thinking that moves toward a single answer as
opposed to divergent thinking or generating something new and different.
One reason for conformity in teams is the desire to be liked by others
(Leary, 1995). Thus team members’ concern for how other team members
are judging them can inhibit idea generation in teams (Camacho & Paulus,
1995). We propose that pressures for conformity in teams may cause teams
to rely on schema elements that are familiar as opposed to exploring new
values, beliefs, team, or task information. And over time these pressures for
conformity should narrow rather than expand the potential for new schema
elements emerging as a function of the team process.

Proposition 6a. Teams whose members rank higher on experience work-

ing with the other cultures represented are more likely to develop an
emergent third culture than teams with less cultural experience.
Proposition 6b. Teams whose members rank higher on experience work-
ing together are more likely to develop an intersection third culture than
teams with less experience working together.
Cultural Intelligence
Cultural intelligence (CQ) reflects one’s ability to adapt to new cultural
settings (Earley & Ang, 2003) and, like experience, should be related to one’s
ability to truly integrate and develop something synergistic from distinct,
individual schemas. People with high CQ can travel around the world and
make friends, fit in, and solve problems in any cultural environment. CQ
consists of cognitive skills (e.g. knowledge of how others do things), mo-
tivational factors (e.g. desire to engage others), behavioral repertoires (e.g.
ability to speak a language), and metacognition (e.g. ability to integrate
differences and discover new approaches). We propose that metacognitive
CQ has implications for third culture content. People with high cognitive,

behavioral, and motivational CQ should have knowledge of differences and

the ability to adopt different behavioral norms, suggesting that they would
develop third culture in general. However, people with metacognitive CQ
have an additional ability to create synergies. For example, when a team
seems to have two distinct problem-solving styles, someone high in meta-
cognitive CQ would not select one style for the team to embrace or use a
combination of the two approaches, but rather come up with a third way
that all team members can utilize effectively (Earley & Ang, 2003). The
metacognitive level of CQ describes the processes of both schema integra-
tion and creating a new understanding that characterizes emergent third
culture. Therefore, people with high metacognitive CQ should be particu-
larly strong at developing an emergent third culture.

Proposition 7. Teams whose members rank higher on metacognitive CQ

are more likely to develop an emergent third culture than teams whose
members rank lower on CQ.

As with the individual culture attributes and third culture strength, we pro-
pose that homogeneity within a team will moderate the relationship between
experience and CQ and third culture content. When all team members have
high culture experience, the team will be more likely to form an emergent
third culture than when just some team members have high culture expe-
rience. When all team members have high metacognitive CQ, the team will
be more likely to form an emergent third culture than when just some team
members have high metacognitive CQ.

Proposition 8. Team homogeneity with respect to cultural experience and

metacognitive CQ moderates the attributes’ effects on third culture
strength, in a way that the effects will be stronger for more homogeneous

Team Process and Third Culture Content

One of the strengths of intercultural teams is the potential for creativity and
better decision making when members take advantage of the varied re-
sources that they bring to the team. As such, processes that build on cultural
differences should lead to an emergent third culture. Task conflict is one
process that is known to build positively on differences.
Managing the Intercultural Interface 223

Task Conflict
Task conflict is related to how work is done and can be quite functional by
generating insights and creativity that boost team performance (Pelled,
1996; Jehn, 1995, 1997). Task conflict is focused on work content and goals
rather than interpersonal dynamics. As we noted earlier, whereas relation-
ship conflict may have a negative effect on team process, task conflict can
actually boost team performance. One reason is that task conflict can cause
divergent thinking (Nemeth, 1994). For example, teams in which a single
member suggests an unusual solution generate more problem-solving strat-
egies and original arguments than teams that lack a vocal minority (Nemeth
& Kwan, 1987). In this way, task conflict can cause new insights into how
best to get the work done (Jehn, 1995, 1997). Task conflict should likewise
generate creative and synergistic thinking that should lead to the team’s
adoption of novel schema elements. Therefore, teams experiencing task
conflict should be more likely to develop an emergent third culture. When
there is low task conflict, members agree on work content and goals, and
divergent or synergistic thinking is not stimulated. As such, low task conflict
should be more closely related to the intersection form of third culture
Proposition 9a. Teams with high levels of task conflict are more likely to
develop an emergent third culture than teams with low levels of task conflict.
Proposition 9b. Teams with low levels of task conflict are more likely to
develop an intersection third culture than teams with high levels of task


Third culture development is generally assumed to be a useful process in
intercultural interaction (Earley & Mosakowski, 2000; Earley & Gibson,
2002). Researchers have proposed a variety of reasons why a shared under-
standing should promote effective teamwork (Hackman, 1987; Klimoski &
Mohammed, 1994), such as the fact that a shared understanding generates
positive affect, a propensity to trust (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994), and
group efficacy (Bandura, 1997). Hence a greater overlap in shared schemas
should lead to better prediction of team needs, adaptation to changing in-
ternal and external demands, and coordination of activity (Cannon-Bowers
et al., 1993). Shared collective belief structures should also improve the speed,
flexibility, and implementation of a team decision (Walsh & Fahey, 1986).

Empirical work on shared schemas and team performance has been limited
but supports the hypothesis that schema similarity improves team process
and outcome. Many authors measure shared schemas indirectly, for
example through self-reports of team identity or communication (Earley &
Mosakowski, 2000) or explicit planning and coordination (Orasanu & Salas,
1993). However, a few researchers have measured sharedness at the team level
using multidimensional scaling and cognitive mapping techniques. For exam-
ple, in a business decision-making simulation, teams with a focused and shared
understanding of the business decision environment were found to generate
optimum decisions and maximize firm performance (Walsh et al., 1988). In a
computer-simulated flight-combat mission, a greater shared understanding of
both task attributes and teamwork were also found to improve team strategy
coordination, cooperation, and coordination as well as team performance
(Mathieu et al., 2000). In a negotiation with integrative potential, dyads with
more similar negotiation schemas were more likely to generate high mutual
gain solutions than dyads with less similar negotiation schemas (van Boven &
Thompson, 2003). This previous work on shared schemas suggests that third
cultures will improve team process and performance through such mecha-
nisms as team identification, efficacy, and sensemaking.
Yet, third cultures may be dysfunctional as well. Though third cultures will
obviously enhance the level of shared understanding among a team of cul-
turally different people, there may be hazards in assuming a larger level of
shared understanding than what actually exists. Also, focusing too much on
commonalities and shared information may prevent teams from capitalizing
on individual expertise, the common knowledge effect (Stasser, 1992; Gigone
& Hastie, 1993). When individuals in teams have schemas that are too similar,
individual contribution, creativity, and team performance may suffer (Walsh
et al., 1988; Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993; Earley & Gibson, 2002). A strong
third culture may influence the future information processing on a team,
leading to inaccuracies and inabilities to adapt. To understand when third
culture will result in positive consequences for team process and outcome, we
focus on the different forms that third culture may take and subsequent
implications for sensemaking and group identity. We also address how third
culture content may affect the impact of third culture on team performance.

Third Culture Strength and Team Performance

The assumption that shared schemas will improve team process and out-
come is based on two primary mechanisms: sensemaking and group identity
Managing the Intercultural Interface 225

(Fig. 1). According to the sensemaking argument, teams with a shared un-
derstanding of task and social knowledge will be better able to assign work,
anticipate conflict, and coordinate decision making (Levine & Mooreland,
1991; Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993; Walsh et al., 1988; Hackman, 1987;
Rouse & Morris, 1986). According to the group identity argument, in teams
with a shared understanding of task and social knowledge, team members
will have a strong social identity. Although a group social identity can exist
side by side with individual identities that are salient in other contexts, in the
team context a strong social identity fosters self-esteem that should bolster
trust, positive affect, and cooperation (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994;
Earley & Mosakowski, 2000; Bandura, 1997).
The identical form of third culture is a strong third culture because
team members’ schemas are completely shared (Rohner, 1987; Earley &
Mosakowski, 2000). Because the identical form offers the highest degree of
shared cognition, sensemaking should be simpler. Teams with an identical
third culture should agree upon goals, norms, roles, etc., which should im-
prove team processes, such as information exchange and coordination, and
outcome more than for those with the intersection third culture. Thus, ac-
cording to the sensemaking mechanism, an identical third culture should
lead to more efficient team process than an overlapping third culture.
In contrast to predictions based on a sensemaking mechanism, social
identity arguments suggest that limited sharedness is better for team per-
formance than complete schema overlap. According to social identity theory
a strong social identity leads to self-efficacy (Turner, 1985; Tajfel, 1982) that
promotes positive interpersonal processes in teams (Klimoski & Moham-
med, 1994). Brewer’s theory of optimal distinctiveness (1991) goes on to
suggest that the strongest form of social identity occurs when individuals
have some shared and some unique identity elements. According to this
theory, people have needs for both inclusion and individuality, and they
trade off these needs in a team setting (Brewer, 1991). Social identity and
team loyalty are hypothesized to be strongest for a self-categorization that
provides both a sense of belonging and a sense of distinctiveness (Brewer,
1991). Because the overlapping third culture allows for both individual
and shared schema elements, it should produce a stronger social identity
than an identical third culture. Thus, optimal distinctiveness theory
suggests that an overlapping third culture will impact cooperation, trust,
and positive affect and subsequent team processes more than an identical
third culture. Together, these theories offer different predictions for the
identical versus overlapping forms of third culture through distinct
mediating variables.

Proposition 10a. An identical third culture will generate more efficient

team processes and outcomes through sensemaking than an overlapping
third culture.
Proposition 10b. An overlapping third culture will generate more efficient
team processes and outcomes through strong social identity than an
identical third culture.

Third Culture Content and Team Performance

Theory on cross-cultural synergy suggests that emergent third culture should

be more beneficial than intersection third culture for team process and per-
formance. The idea behind cultural synergy is that ‘‘the very differences in the
world’s people can lead to mutual growth and accomplishment that is more
than the single contribution of each party to the intercultural transaction’’
(Moran & Harris, 1981, p. 3). In other words, by taking advantage of the best
of each culture involved and creating something new at the system level,
cross-cultural synergy can generate potential that could not be realized by any
one culture alone (Adler, 1980, 1991). The formation of cross-cultural synergy
involves both identifying and embracing differences and then merging differ-
ences to create a novel approach that both unites and propels teams forward
(Adler, 1991). This formation process and the notion of synergy is similar to
our emergent third culture form. An emergent third culture occurs when
individual team members identify differences in their schemas, integrate
schemas where similar, and create something new in their shared under-
standing. By integrating schemas and creating novel, shared approaches,
multinational teams with an emergent third culture can create a shared
schema that embodies the most effective and efficient team, task, and culture
elements for their identity and purposes. Therefore, the emergent third culture
form should be more effective in promoting efficient team process and max-
imum potential outcome than the intersection third culture form.
Proposition 11. An emergent third culture form will generate more
positive team process and outcome than an intersection form.


The prevalence of intercultural interactions in organizational life both at home
and abroad demands understanding of what happens at the intercultural
interface. Our framework of third culture offers some first steps in modeling
Managing the Intercultural Interface 227

the complex ways that multicultural minds may converge in a team setting and
the possibilities for team process and outcome. Drawing from the schema
theory and prior research on third culture, we define third culture as a shared
knowledge structure that includes traditional cultural cognitions as well as
task and team knowledge. Thus, we move beyond prior research on third
culture focused primarily on the behavioral manifestations of sharedness (e.g.
Earley & Masakowski, 2000). We use schema theory to elaborate a theory of
third culture form and development.
First, we explain that third culture strength can be distinguished by the
identical versus the overlapping forms. Then we propose that third culture
content can be distinguished by the intersection versus emergent forms. We
discuss how various team composition and process variables can influence the
emergence and form of third culture. The team-level aggregation of individual
members’ collectivism, high-context communication, field dependence, CQ,
and angbexperience will all influence the form of third culture created.
Member homogeneity in these attributes is proposed to moderate the rela-
tionships. The presence of conflict will also affect how a third culture forms.
Each form of third culture has implications for team process and out-
come. We propose that an identical third culture will generate more positive
team processes and outcomes through sensemaking, while an overlapping
third culture will generate better processes and outcomes through an op-
timal distinctiveness social-identity mechanism. Also we draw from the
findings on cultural synergy to suggest that the emergent form of third
culture should lead to efficient team process and high performance.
Our framework for third culture provides ample opportunities for future
research. Propositions need to be operationalized and empirically tested in
the area of multinational work teams and intercultural negotiations. We
hope future research will expand and clarify the theoretical mechanisms
predicting third culture strength and content. For example, values for tra-
dition or discomfort with newness is a dimension we did not explore that
might explain why some teams stick with an intersection third culture and
others create synergies and develop something completely new in their third
culture. Moreover, our framework may further be extended to include ad-
ditional moderating factors. For example, task uncertainty may moderate
the relationship between different third culture forms and team perform-
ance. Finally, future research might address the conditions that would sug-
gest deviations from our model. For example, when does supervisory
intervention in group process hinder or help the development of a third
culture. Future research along these lines should continue to refine and test
our proposed model of third culture in intercultural interactions.

1. Klimoski and Mohammed (1994) also distinguish a distributed form, in which
group members each have a unique mental model for their team context. In fact, the
only thing shared may be the conceptualization of common group membership.
Since this form includes a common understanding of team membership but no other
shared knowledge (i.e. values, norms, beliefs), we argue that there is not a form of
third culture comparable to the distributed team mental model.

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Kristin Behfar, Mary Kern and Jeanne Brett

As a result of the increasingly global business environment, many compa-

nies are building teams that cross-national borders and/or include members
from different countries of origin. Although many of these teams are
designed to pool resources and increase operational efficiencies, the cultural
diversity of team members may create a longer learning curve for estab-
lishing effective processes than culturally homogeneous groups (Gibson &
Vermeulen, 2003). The small groups literature, for example, has documented
the propensity for process losses and conflict to increase as teams become
more demographically diverse (Bettenhausen & Murnighan, 1985; Jehn,
Northcraft, & Neale, 1999; Steiner, 1972; Williams & O’Reilly, 1988).
Managers and members of multicultural teams are therefore faced with the
challenge of how to access and utilize individual member’s strengths, while
at the same time minimizing coordination losses from communication
problems, language differences, varying work styles, and misunderstand-
ings. While the use of multicultural teams is a growing organizational reality
(Earley & Erez, 1997), our knowledge of how to most effectively manage
them is somewhat limited.

This research was supported by a grant from the Dispute Resolution Research Center at the
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 233–262
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09010-4

In this chapter, we explore such management issues by first comparing the

typical challenges faced by same-culture teams to those faced by multicul-
tural teams. Our purpose is to explore which kinds of challenges are com-
mon across teams in general, and which may be unique to multicultural
teams. We then focus on strategies used to address various types of mul-
ticultural team challenges. Specifically, we discuss the conditions under
which managers must intervene to address challenges, when team members
can create solutions for themselves, and when team members choose to exit.
We conclude with a discussion of opportunities for research that go beyond
our specific propositions but that were inspired by our analysis.


There are two broad approaches in the literature to studying challenges

faced in multicultural teams. One approach is to examine the effects of
demographic differences among individual team members (e.g., gender,
ethnicity, age) on group process. This literature supports the notion that
compositional heterogeneity can be both positive and negative in terms of
successful group process (Ely & Thomas, 2001). On one hand, heterogeneity
increases the chances that a group will bring a wide range of experiences and
consider multiple perspectives in solving problems (Ancona & Caldwell,
1992; Jehn et al., 1999). On the other, heterogeneity makes it more difficult
for groups to establish effective group process. For example, it is more
difficult for heterogeneous groups to communicate and to develop work
norms (Bettenhausen & Murnighan, 1985). They are also more prone to
conflict (Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Jehn et al., 1999). So, although the theo-
retical benefits of diversity to pool unique perspectives and resources exist,
they are more difficult to attain and sustain in practice.
The second approach to studying the challenges faced by multicultural
teams is to study how members’ cultural orientations, or dimensions of
behaviors that reflect norms in their country of origin, impact their pref-
erences for group process (e.g., Earley & Mosakowski, 2004; Hofstede,
1980). For example, different cultural orientations reflect varying levels of
tolerance for uncertainty, cooperation, and confrontation of conflict – all of
which are important aspects of coordinating group process (Hofstede,
1980). People from individualistic and low-context cultures prefer direct
confrontation of conflict, while those from collectivistic and high-context
cultures prefer indirect confrontation (Brett, 2001). Multicultural team
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 235

members with stronger values for collectivism tend to be more cooperative,

productive, and empowered in self-managing work teams than team mem-
bers with weaker values for collectivism (Kirkman & Shapiro, 2001). Teams
with members who have a strong value for hierarchy prefer having a strong
team leader, whereas teams with members who value egalitarianism prefer
participative team leadership (Leung, 1997; Tinsley & Brett, 2001).
Both of these approaches focus on understanding differences among in-
dividual team members to predict the challenges faced by teams. In this
chapter, we move away from an analysis of individual team members’
diversity and cultural orientations, and instead document culturally based,
team-level challenges and how those challenges can be addressed. That is, we
focus on identifying challenges and responses at the team level instead of
postulating which specific team composition variables created specific chal-
lenges. Our goal is to develop an understanding of how culturally diverse
teams get past their differences to get work done, rather than how their
differences can potentially get in the way of getting work done. Other than
having participants from a variety of cultures, we were not concerned with
participants’ cultural orientations as an explanation for why or how they
perceived a challenge. Therefore, we do not seek to draw conclusions parallel
to the research traditions mentioned above (e.g., the differences between
individualists versus collectivists). Instead, we seek to identify challenges that
are unique to multicultural teams, and to generate a better understanding of
the conditions under which management techniques might vary.
In the next section of this chapter, we compare the typical challenges
faced by same-culture teams to challenges typically faced by multicultural
teams. We make these comparisons based on research from two different
exploratory studies using the same methodology. The first study was based
on interviews with 40 managers who were members of multicultural teams
(Behfar, Kern, & Brett, 2005). We compare these results to a second study
exploring challenges facing 65 same-culture teams (Jackson, Mannix,
Peterson, & Trochim, 2002).


Overview of Studies

Both studies1 used the same concept-mapping procedure described by Jackson

and Trochim (2002). This procedure is a card sort based text analysis method

that combines multivariate analysis with participant judgment about how to

represent structure in the data. The method can be thought of as a ‘‘partic-
ipatory content analysis’’ and a brief overview of the steps in the method
include: Statements generated by participants are written on note cards, par-
ticipants are asked to sort these cards into conceptually similar piles, then
multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis is performed to produce a
final map with categories containing the participant-generated statements.
Students enrolled in MBA programs were sampled in both studies from which
we make comparisons, and they had similar backgrounds in terms of age
(average age approximately 28) and work experience (average approximately
6 years).
The sample of MBA teams we use as the ‘‘same-culture’’ group can
be considered culturally homogenous because the majority of members were
either from the United States or had significant periods of residence
and work experience in the United States. These 65 teams consisted of
four to six members, and worked together intensely in four of their core
courses. Data were generated from these teams’ responses to an open-ended
question asking them about the challenges they faced while working
The sample of MBAs we used in the multicultural teams study consisted
of 40 individuals with multicultural team experience in a variety of organ-
izational settings, including military, legal, high-tech, and business. Partic-
ipants had worked in a variety of countries on all continents except
Antarctica. Culturally, 47% were American/Canadian, 15% Latin Amer-
ican, 15% Asian (including Indian and Turkish), and 23% were European.
In order to identify typical challenges faced by these managers in their
multicultural teams, we conducted telephone interviews and asked each
participant to describe a challenging multicultural team experience as well as
how the challenge was addressed or managed.
We recognize that these two samples come from different organizational
contexts and that the teams were working on different types of tasks.
In addition, the same-culture MBA teams are highly homogenous in back-
ground, whereas the multicultural teams sample represents a wide variety
of cultures and functions. Thus, in this section we seek to identify high-level
differences rather than draw definitive conclusions about the differences
between these samples or the individuals in the teams. Both samples
generated data about typical challenges and/or problems the teams
faced while engaging in team work. These challenges are the focus of our
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 237



Concept mapping analysis (Jackson & Trochim, 2002) revealed that same-
culture teams typically faced five main challenges in working together: (1)
personality and communication conflict, (2) differences of opinion about
work, (3) deciding on a work method or approach, (4) issues with timing
and scheduling, and (5) problems with member contribution and workload
distribution. Each is described briefly below.

Personality and Communication Conflict

This category reflected interpersonal tension between members, ego clashes,

emotionally charged discussions, and anger or feelings of irritation between
team members. These conflicts were usually expressed or manifested explic-
itly and verbally with a condescending tone of voice, sarcasm, aggressive or
bullying delivery and/or language, and direct accusations. This type of
problem was also expressed implicitly and non-verbally through rolling eyes,
deep sighs of frustration, aggressive or angry facial expressions, and closed
or aggressive body language (e.g., folding arms, jumping out of a seat and
pacing, etc.). All of these behaviors were associated with aggression, tension,
and irritation and were reported as causing problems for the group in terms
of getting work done. These types of behaviors are commonly referred to as
relationship, or emotional, conflict in the teams literature (Jehn, 1995, 1997).

Differences of Opinion about Work

These challenges had to do with differing viewpoints about facts and pri-
orities for the task at hand. For example, team members had different
opinions about how to frame an argument, what to stress in building a
persuasive argument, which facts were considered true and most valid, and
how to discuss the pros and cons of each idea. Study participants mentioned
that this kind of challenge was constructive if emotion was kept out. How-
ever, if discussion was charged with emotion then this type of challenge
became disruptive (see De Dreu & VanVianen, 2001; DeChurch & Marks,
2001 for similar results). This type of challenge is often categorized in the
teams literature as task conflict (Jehn, 1995, 1997).

Deciding on a Work Method or Approach

This category was similar to the ‘‘differences of opinion’’ category, but with
a more procedural focus. For example, there were differences in opinion
about how to best structure a discussion, with approaches ranging from
starting with everyone stating ideas at once, to evaluating one idea at a time,
to writing down opinions and passing them by e-mail. There were also
differences of opinion about how to approach the writing process, including
what constituted good editing or an efficient editing methodology, estab-
lishing appropriate decision rules (e.g., consensus versus voting), and how to
reconcile different problem solving and writing styles. This type of challenge
is often categorized in the teams literature as administrative or procedural
conflict (Jehn, 1995, 1997).

Issues with Timing and Scheduling

These challenges also had a procedural focus, but had more to do with how
to spend team time, such as deciding how much time to spend on different
tasks and in meetings and when to spend time on different parts of the task
(e.g., beginning, middle, or end of work cycle). For example, some team
members preferred to hold group meetings for hours until the task was
accomplished, while others preferred quick meetings for the purpose of co-
ordinating (not accomplishing) work. Other teams had differences about
how to pace their work – some liked to do a lot of planning and work
methodically toward a deadline, other teams preferred to concentrate their
efforts closer to the deadline. This type of challenge is also categorized in the
teams literature as administrative or procedural conflict (Jehn, 1995, 1997).

Problems with Contribution and Workload Distribution

This category had to do with concerns over members disrupting group

process, such as lack of member commitment or members not upholding
responsibilities. For example, members often arrived late to meetings or had
to leave early, they did not complete their work and stalled group progress,
or they came with low-quality work and the group had to revisit the task
rather than proceed. This caused some members to have to do more work in
order to compensate for members who did not follow through on their
commitments. This type of challenge is also categorized in the team’s
literature as administrative or procedural conflict (Jehn, 1995, 1997).
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 239



The challenges that were mentioned by the multicultural teams were fairly
different from those described by the members of the same-culture teams.
Participants described a variety of culture-related challenges ranging from
those arising within their teams, to challenges stemming from the need to
coordinate between their team and other divisions of the organization, to
challenges stemming from the need to interact with clients, customers, and
counterparts from other cultures. Some interesting patterns, however,
emerged that indicate there are common teamwork problems that anyone
(from any culture) needs to address during teamwork. Concept mapping
analysis (Jackson & Trochim, 2002) resulted in nine categories of multicul-
tural team challenges, which we discuss below and compare to the same-
culture team results.

Direct versus Indirect Confrontation

This category of challenge involved cultural differences in preferences for

open disagreement and confrontation in communication versus a more
consensus building approach. Teams reported facing challenges when team
members with a preference for verbally ‘‘aggressive’’ communication styles
worked with members with a preference for more ‘‘consensus building’’ in
expressing their points of view. This challenge was associated with escalating
interpersonal tension and a tendency to focus more on the delivery of a
message rather than the content of the message.
The existence of interpersonal tension expressed both verbally and non-
verbally was a similarity between the challenges experienced by both same-
culture (the personality and communication conflict category) and multi-
cultural teams. Overly aggressive delivery and non-verbal cues expressing
annoyance seemed to increase the perceptions of incompatibility in both
same- and multicultural teams. The main difference seemingly caused by
culture was in how conversation tone and direct confrontation were per-
ceived. For example, managers from individualistic, low-context cultures
tended to interpret the ‘‘consensus building’’ style of team members from
high-context, collectivistic cultures as ‘‘less efficient,’’ ‘‘passive,’’ or as at-
tempting to evade the problem (especially in willingness to report bad news).
In contrast, managers from high-context, collectivistic cultures often per-
ceived the individualistic, low-context managers’ communication style as

‘‘impatient,’’ ‘‘bullying,’’ and unnecessarily rushed and rude. In egalitarian

cultures with emphasis on participative decision making, where everyone is
contributing ideas and challenging each other to try to identify the best idea,
open questioning of opinions and ideas is less likely to be interpreted as
personal disrespect than in more hierarchical cultures (Brett, 2000;
Hofstede, 1980). So, beyond interpreting the personal idiosyncrasies of
each team members’ communication styles, multicultural teams also had to
deal with different normative cultural expectations about what constituted
an appropriate expression of disagreement as well as attributions about the
other-culture’s level of engagement in problem solving.

Norms for Problem Solving and Decision Making

This category of multicultural team challenge identified differences in pref-

erences for a more analytical problem solving and relationship building
process versus a more efficiency focused approach to decision making. For
example, some members preferred to focus on the numbers and ‘‘hard facts’’
involved in the task, while others wanted to include ‘‘soft’’ variables in
decision making (e.g., labor relations, face saving, etc.). Some preferred a
more ‘‘holistic’’ and methodological approach, while others preferred a more
linear ‘‘checklist’’ and efficiency approach (see Hall, 1976, 1983). These
challenges did not seem to escalate interpersonal tensions, as they were more
easily identified by participants as being influenced by differences in cultural
preferences for structuring work. Although teams experiencing these chal-
lenges realized they had to manage cultural differences, advocacy for one
approach versus another was not perceived as interpersonally too aggressive
or too passive because they were equated with larger cultural customs.
Establishing norms for approaching work was a challenge faced by both
the same-culture (the work method and approach category) and multicul-
tural teams. Deciding how to structure and proceed with work is part of any
team’s process. These basic task strategies are part of coordinating work,
regardless of whether the team is same-culture or multicultural. The dis-
tinction is that the same-culture teams were challenged by more routine
procedural issues such as different writing styles and how to best evaluate
ideas. The multicultural teams’ challenges were compounded by fundamen-
tal procedural differences regarding legitimate approaches to problem solv-
ing. It is possible these teams also dealt with differences in writing style and
evaluation, however, our participants indicated that their attention was
directed toward the more fundamental problems of process legitimacy.
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 241

Time, Urgency, and Pace

These challenges focused on cultural differences in expectations for project

deliverable timelines, including what constituted delivering ‘‘on-time’’ versus
‘‘late.’’ The most severe of these challenges had to do with meeting deadlines
for deliverables and creating realistic timelines. For example, in some countries
a reasonable timeline was defined as six weeks, whereas in others a reasonable
timeline for the same project was six months. These challenges usually had
significant consequences because they had measurable and tangible costs (e.g.,
producing component parts, filing purchase orders, disrupting a serial process,
breaking contracts, etc.). Anger, misunderstandings, and reputation often
hung in the balance when these types of timing challenges arose and percep-
tions that the ‘‘other’’ group either had unreasonable expectations or was
working too slow or inefficiently were pervasive (e.g., Tajfel & Turner, 1986).
An important part of teamwork is coordinating the efforts and outputs of
individual members, so it is not surprising that both same-culture and mul-
ticultural teams faced this challenge. Issues of work pace, or how much time
to spend on different tasks, are endemic to group tasks and an important
part of clarifying team-level task strategies (Hackman, 1990). The additional
layer of complexity added by culture seemed to be about the size of the gap
in expectations for what a reasonable timeline was (e.g., Triandis, 1976).
That is, although same-culture teams had to reconcile differences about
more benign timing issues, multicultural teams faced differences in time
orientation (e.g., Hofstede, 1980). For example, same-culture teams faced
basic challenges (from the timing and scheduling category) such as deciding
whether to spend 2 h versus 4 h in a meeting. The multicultural teams had to
address asymmetries in time estimates that differed by significant time pe-
riods. For example, some considered a reasonable deliverable date to be one
month, while others considered a reasonable deliverable date to be one year;
or in some countries teams were under pressure to report quarterly sales,
while in other countries the reporting structure was not as time sensitive.

Differences in Work Norms and Behaviors

This category identified cultural differences about acceptable workplace

behavior and expectations for the separation of personal and business time.
The more benign of these challenges stemmed from national customs. The
custom of taking a siesta, for example, presented challenges for meeting
deadlines and organizing schedules. There were also etiquette norms in
different countries, such as not eating during meetings, different perceptions

of being ‘‘on time,’’ and norms for not interrupting others with questions.
The more serious challenge was in differing normative expectations for
separating versus not separating business and social time. For example,
what constituted ‘‘billable hours’’ or how to protect personal time away
from work (e.g., what constituted too many social events). This issue usually
escalated interpersonal tension because it induced perceptions about unfair
requirements or raised questions about a person’s commitment to the team.
The same-culture teams did not face these challenges with as much force
as the multicultural teams. Same-culture teams had problems with members
arriving to meetings late or failing to complete work on time (from the
contribution and workload category), but this was more of a violation of
team expectations rather than having cultural roots. For example, in the
same-culture teams there was usually one way to interpret a member ar-
riving late to a meeting: the latecomer does not value the time of other
members and is wasting or disrupting team time. In the multicultural teams,
there were differing perceptions. For example, our participants from Latin
America and Turkey described an on-time arrival to events as rude whereas
German and Dutch participants described late arrival to events as offensive
(Hofstede, 1980; Triandis, 1976). The more complex time-related challenge
faced by the multicultural teams was differing expectations for separating
personal and business time. For example, team members from more col-
lectivistic cultures expected that personal time after work hours would be
spent building relationships with clients and other team members, or that all
team members would stay at work and maintain a united front until the
team’s work was completed. In contrast, team members from more indi-
vidualistic cultures expected to put in their work effort only between com-
monly agreed upon work hours (typically an 8–12 h work per day) and to
leave work when their part of the task was complete.

Violations of Respect and Hierarchy

This set of challenges was caused by differing respect for status, the chain of
command, and business practices that created unorthodox power differen-
tials. The most serious violation of respect and hierarchy was not respecting
the chain of command – usually involving inappropriate contact by junior
managers from a low power-distance culture with senior management from
a high power-distance culture (Hofstede, 1980). These violations were
acutely visible and associated with important consequences (e.g., losing a
contract), so senior management usually intervened with dramatic symbolic
displays of respect for the other party such as sending a top-level executive
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 243

to the other country with an apology. Unorthodox reporting relationships

created by special organizational projects also posed status threats to re-
porting relationships. This typically included members from high power-
distance cultures being put on a project requiring them to report to a
younger, lower ranked person (often from corporate headquarters).
Our same-culture teams did not report experiencing these challenges.
This is most likely because the teams studied were from the same organ-
ization, composed of similar age members, and all had equal status. It is
possible that these status/respect-related challenges (especially around age
or tenure-related issues) might arise in same-culture teams with status

Inter-Group Prejudices

The challenges in this category stemmed from pre-existing (and non-work

related) hatred, anger, and distrust seeping into the workplace. The most
common problems were from pre-existing prejudice and discrimination
along divisions of gender, religion, and ethnicity. Sexism, primarily directed
at women by other-culture male superiors, was a problem that the partic-
ipants in our study were never able to resolve. These challenges ranged from
outright quid pro quo sexual harassment to more subtle and directed crit-
icism of women by male managers. Resentment over observing religious
practices (e.g., missing Friday work days due to prayer requirements or not
being able to have certain foods in the break room) were things team
members learned to accept, primarily because organizations created official
policies to respect these differences. However, resentment over what was
perceived to be a ‘‘privileged’’ status granted by these policies never really
dissipated. More commonly, there were serious stereotypes and prejudices
between the groups from countries with histories of political conflict or
when there were current clashes of ideology between countries.
These challenges of sexism, ethnic hatred, and religious differences were
never mentioned by the same-culture teams. Again, this was primarily a
function of the same-level, homogenous MBA sample we used. Another
reason for this may have been that the same-culture teams we studied had
inwardly focused tasks (as opposed to client or venture shared tasks) where
the pre-existing prejudices and stereotypes that plagued multicultural teams
would be unlikely to be activated. Racially homogeneous teams working in
a racially heterogeneous environment might experience these same inter-
group types of challenges as the multicultural teams we studied.

Lack of Common Ground (Language and Credit)

This category contained challenges stemming from behaviors or business

practices that interfered with coordinating work, but that were not based on
innate prejudices (e.g., sexism or racism). That is, the challenges arose from
behavior and practices that enhanced the perception of distance between
team members – not from pre-existing prejudices that generated mistrust.
For example, teams reported that challenges with language fluency often
lead to unfairness in practice. Often, more fluent members got a dispro-
portionate amount of credit because they were better able to articulate their
thoughts in client meetings than those who were using their second or third
language. Alternatively, less technically competent members were often
given the more prestigious work assignments because of their accents. One
participant, for example, employed at a London-based British bank
expressed frustration that those who spoke proper Queen’s English were
given ‘‘fast track’’ appointments and face-time with clients despite the fact
that others without that accent may have been more qualified.
The same-culture teams did not report experiencing these problems. The
same-culture team members all spoke fluent English. The additional com-
plexity of managing multicultural teams seemingly stems from the indirect
messages resulting from language differences. Team members who are all
fluent and proficient in the same language can contribute equally to con-
versations and articulate their points (without being held back by language
processing delays), therefore there is no special privilege or status granted
based on language ability.

Fluency (Accents and Vocabulary)

This category described challenges caused by negative reactions to accents

and the different meanings of some words. The more serious challenges
stemmed from members equating lack of fluency with lack of intelligence.
This was common within teams and with clients or customers, and was
usually associated with increased interpersonal tension. Within teams, less
fluent members were commonly shown less respect or treated with more
impatience because they were more difficult to understand. With customers
or clients, it was common for managers to receive complaints equating diffi-
cult accents with low-quality customer service. A less serious challenge was
when team members used words with different connotations across cultures.
For example, one team of Indian accounting auditors used the word ‘‘as-
sessment’’ in their communications to their American counterparts. In India
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 245

this indicates a pending investigation, in the United States this means that a
fine has already been levied. Similarly, one manager wrote a letter of rec-
ommendation describing an employee as ‘‘ambitious.’’ To the manager this
was a positive attribute, however, in the employee’s culture this word had the
connotation of being overly political and backstabbing.
The same-culture teams did not face these fluency or language problems.
In considering the challenges from this category and the previous category
together, language issues definitely seemed to add a layer of process com-
plexity that go beyond just being able to communicate with each other –
language differences create the need for multicultural teams to deal with
perceptions of unfair privilege, status, appropriately granting credit for
work, and how to allocate work (e.g., based on skill and qualifications
versus who has the ‘‘right’’ accent, see Beyene, 2005, for a good overview of
language problems in multicultural teams).

Thought you had Agreement? Implicit versus Explicit Communication

This category contained challenges about differences in interpreting the level

of commitment behind agreements. For example, in America ‘‘yes’’ means
‘‘I agree,’’ in Japan ‘‘yes’’ often means ‘‘Yes, I am listening’’ (Triandis,
1976). Similarly, when previously agreed upon issues were revisited, some
‘‘checklist-oriented’’ managers perceived this as signaling a lack agreement –
and thus experienced a great deal of frustration – and other ‘‘holistic’’
managers perceived this as a simple procedural norm.
The same-culture teams did not struggle with these issues. First, they were
primarily working in a face-to-face environment (although they did occa-
sionally work over e-mail, a face-to-face meeting was readily available and
there were no associated travel costs). In addition, since the same-culture
teams were based in the United States, there were no distinguishing cul-
turally based preferences for procedures.


The challenges faced by the multicultural teams were more complex and
often invoked more serious consequences than the challenges faced by the
same-culture teams. Part of this is a function of the samples used for com-
parison. There were, however, four main similarities the teams shared as
outlined in Table 1a. These similarities represent fundamental, perhaps
universal, aspects of teamwork. At the same time, they demonstrate the
additional complexity caused by cultural differences.

First, perceptions of disrespect generated by stylistic differences in pub-

licly expressing or confronting different perspectives were either the direct or
indirect causes of anger and perceived incompatibility in both types of
teams. The complexity added by culture extended beyond the personality
differences experienced in same-culture teams. Different cultural preferences
for confrontational versus consensus-building communication lead to attri-
butions of either being indecisive and passive or being overly aggressive and
bullying. Second, both types of teams experienced challenges around how to
structure group process. The multicultural teams had to overcome different
ideas about what constituted a legitimate approach to decision making
(holistic versus checklist), whereas the same-culture teams had to overcome
more simple individual style issues. Third, both types of teams had to create
and adhere to timelines in accomplishing and coordinating work. The same-
culture teams had to deal with more simple issues about how to manage
meetings, whereas the multicultural teams faced larger asymmetries around
what constituted a fair and legitimate period for accomplishing work.
Fourth, both types of teams had to create agreements about appropriate
team and workplace behavior. The same-culture teams had to address dis-
ruptive individual behavior such as being late to meetings. The multicultural
teams had to address more fundamental issues such as how to separate work
versus personal time and work around observing cultural customs.
The unique culture-based challenges originated either from pre-existing
stigmas among team members or from team behaviors that increased the
salience of in-group versus out-group distinctions (Tajfel & Turner, 1986).
Table 1b outlines these five main challenges. Violations of respect and hi-
erarchy pervaded teams where members were either unfamiliar with nor-
mative communication protocols or the structure of special project teams
violated reporting relationships. Inter-group prejudices such as sexism,
different perceptions of religious practices, and tension among team mem-
bers from politically conflicting countries often spilled over to the workplace
in the form of being hyper critical, overtly devaluing one party’s contribu-
tions, or socially ostracizing one or more members. Language and fluency
issues also created unique challenges beyond having difficulty understanding
one another and misunderstandings of certain words. Perceived favoritism,
devaluation of intelligence, and perceptions of unfair work assignments were
directly related to different levels of fluency among members. Finally, teams
were greatly challenged by differing perceptions of having reached a secure
agreement, and the commitment they could expect from those agreements.
These teams had to deal with the frustration and anger that resulted from a
seeming inability to reach negotiated agreements.
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 247

Table 1a. Multicultural Team Challenges Not Unique to Multicultural

Teams and Responses to those Challenges.
Multicultural Team Challenge Multicultural Team Response

Direct versus. indirect confrontation: Stylistic Team adapts: if the other style cannot or will
differences in publicly expressing and/or not adapt. Members learn to work within
confronting different points of view, their differences
resulting in escalation of interpersonal Manager intervenes: to refocus group on the
tension superordinate goal, to smooth over
interpersonal tensions, or serve as the final
decision maker
Norms for problem solving and decision Team adapts: if it is able to blame cultural
making: Differences in preference for a influences rather than individual
more slow-paced analytical problem preferences. Allows different approaches to
solving and relationship building process co-exist, even uses different approaches to
versus a more efficiency focused approach get different perspectives on the problem
Manager intervenes: to impose structure
when team is blocked by such differences
Time, urgency, and pace: Differences in time Team adapts: if it recognizes it cannot change
estimates to deliver products and the culturally based time structure like siestas,
definition of ‘‘on-time’’ delivery religious holidays, and nationally
mandated vacations
Manager intervenes: to make a final decision
about how long work should take
Differences in work norms and behaviors: Team adapts: if it can blame etiquette
Differences about what is acceptable violations on culture, ‘‘didn’t know any
workplace etiquette stemming either from better;’’ and socializes member whose
national customs or national norms for norms are different
separating personal time and work time Manager intervenes: when offender will not
be socialized, to set expectations about
norms for attendance, lateness, etc., and to
monitor or enforce adherence to those

In the next section, we discuss five broad conditions under which mul-
ticultural teams are able to address these challenges for themselves – and
four broad conditions under which multicultural teams require the inter-
vention of a manager.


The strategies we report in this section for managing multicultural team
challenges come directly from interview participants. Note that ‘‘managed’’

Table 1b. Challenges and Responses Unique to Multicultural Teams.

Multicultural Team Challenge Multicultural Team Response

Violations of respect and hierarchy: Challenges Team adapts: if unorthodox practices can be
stemming from different expectations for ‘‘blamed’’ on special situations. Team
respecting hierarchy and other status member exits if this can not be done
indicators Manager intervenes: to show respect where
violations have occurred
Inter-group prejudices: Challenges stemming Team adapts: (i.e., accepts prejudice) because
from innate or pre-existing stigma, cannot change organizational policy
prejudices, and judgments spilling over into Manager intervenes: to create a very
the workplace deliberate and structured process of getting
work done that may use subgroups
Lack of common ground (language, credit): Team adapts: if offensive practices can be
Challenges stemming from perceived ‘‘framed’’ as providing some type of
favoritism or lack of recognition for advantage for the team. If not
contribution based on how or how well interpersonal tension escalates and requires
members expressed themselves managerial intervention
Manager intervenes: to assign work according
to principles that team may consider unfair,
but which move task accomplishment
Fluency (accents and vocabulary): Challenges Teams adapts: if it is able to recognize how
caused by negative reactions and/or words with double meanings originated
misunderstandings due to language issues from differences in social or legal systems
such as heavy accents and words with Manager intervenes: to stop the escalation of
different connotations interpersonal tension by rejecting the idea
that a lack of fluency indicates lack of
Thought you had agreement? Implicit versus Team adapts: when it is able to recognize
explicit communication: Challenges cultural root of the problem such as ‘‘yes’’
stemming from differences in interpretation did not mean ‘‘yes I agree’’, it means ‘‘I am
about the level of commitment and/or listening’’
agreement reached Manager intervenes: to encourage or enforce
that parties listen to each other. Manager
takes over and essentially imposes
agreement on the team

does not necessarily mean ‘‘resolved,’’ or that the team’s outcome was suc-
cessful. The methods of the interview study do not allow for a formal eval-
uation of resolution effectiveness. The management strategies reported here
are what teams and their managers did to address the challenges they faced.
We categorize the management strategies identified by the participants in
three general approaches: adaptation, intervention, and leave or exit.
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 249


Adaptation refers to the team adjusting to a challenge without managerial

intervention. Teams seemed best able to adapt under five broad conditions.
A common theme among these conditions was that the teams were able to
attribute the cause of the challenge to external cultural factors that were
‘‘bigger’’ than the team or individual members personalities.

Adaptation Condition #1
First, when there was a ‘‘home court advantage,’’ teams seemed to be able to
adapt. For example, when teams would meet in the home country of some
of the members, it was common for members of that culture/country to
numerically dominate meetings or to have high-status members attend only
those meetings. Minority members were often able to ‘‘write off’’ and accept
majority dominance as due to a numerical advantage rather than perceive it
as overly aggressive – and to attribute high-status attendance of these
meetings only in the interest of saving travel costs and time. However, some
teams adapted by correcting for the numerical majority with attendance or
‘‘invitation only’’ rules for meetings that might be easily dominated by a

Adaptation Condition #2
On a related note, when there was a dominant numerical coalition (regard-
less of location) with an aggressive communication style, less-aggressive
team members reported adapting by being more vocal and assertive in sup-
port of their same-culture teammates (or those with a similar culturally
based profile) than they ordinarily would have been if the dominant ma-
jority did not exist. In this way, they were able to help each other get ‘‘air
time’’ during meetings and react to the dominance without an escalation of
interpersonal emotion.

Adaptation Condition #3
A third condition that fostered team-initiated adaptation was when mem-
bers realized they could not ‘‘beat’’ the other style. This commonly arose
when the typical Western ‘‘checklist’’ approach to decision making clashed
with the Eastern ‘‘holistic’’ approach to decision making. Those with a more
‘‘checklist’’ approach realized they could not force a meaningful agreement
without adapting to the more holistic approach. For example, Western
participants often reported that the ‘‘holistic’’ approach could be, and often
was, used as a tool to stall and frustrate them into agreement. They reported

either learning to be patient or learning how to use the style to their ad-
vantage. One participant, for example, described how his team would either
withhold information or under-bid on initial negotiation issues because they
knew once the next issue was addressed, all previous agreements would be

Adaptation Condition #4
A fourth condition for adaptation occurred when teams could blame the
source of the problem on a factor such as national customs (e.g., taking a
siesta), country-specific work practices (e.g., different accounting practices),
or when a mandate came from headquarters (e.g., this helped team members
‘‘explain away’’ violations in status in project-based reporting relationships).
This made it easy for teams to recognize that challenges stemmed from a
source larger than the team or any of the individuals in it, therefore making
it easier not to take differences personally.

Adaptation Condition #5
Finally, teams were able to adapt when they were able to set norms to
eliminate offensive or disruptive behavior (e.g., setting a common language
standard, agreeing not to tell political jokes, setting guidelines for notifying
about lateness, etc.).


Many challenges identified by interviewees described incidents that required

managerial intervention. Managerial intervention refers to the active in-
volvement of a manager or leader in dealing with the challenge. Managerial
intervention was required under four broad conditions, which have the
common theme of decreasing interpersonal tension and increasing percep-
tions of fairness.

Intervention Condition #1
First, when emotions or behaviors distracted team members or disrupted the
process of getting work done, manager intervention was necessary. This
commonly happened when aggressive communication styles were perceived
as insulting or disrespectful, when the goal clarity of the team began to fade
(often as a result of interpersonal tension and blame), and frustrations
stemming from different perceptions about commitments behind agree-
ments escalated.
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 251

Intervention Condition #2
Second, when language issues resulted in perceptions of disrespect or in-
justice, managerial action was required. For example, lack of fluency was
often equated with lack of skill, customers often equated difficult accents
with a lack of concern for customer service quality, and more fluent mem-
bers often received a disproportionate amount of recognition because they
were better able to articulate their thoughts to clients. In these cases, man-
agers intervened to recognize and remind team members and customers of
team member qualifications and to set norms that encouraged team mem-
bers to seek clarification during communication (rather than pretend to
understand accents out of politeness). Many participants mentioned that
this type of norm setting intervention was more successful than, for exam-
ple, giving team members dialect training.

Intervention Condition #3
Third, managerial intervention was required when irreconcilable differences
became apparent, such as when pre-existing prejudices spilled over into
work behaviors or when serious violations of status were committed. These
events required strong structural intervention by a manager to rebuild trust
through carefully controlled and monitored group process. For example,
one participant we interviewed was part of a four-country peace-keeping
military operation where one of the military groups was considered ‘‘low
status,’’ but had the most expertise for the task at hand. The commanding
officer recognized this problem and decided to create task forces composed
of one member from each country to work on elements of the task. Officers
interacted with their multicultural subgroups and then returned to their
respective same-culture base camps. Not surprisingly, they compared expe-
riences, and the expertise of the ‘‘low-status’’ members slowly became rec-
ognized. Only through a carefully controlled set of circumstances were the
groups able to work beyond their prejudices.

Intervention Condition #4
Finally, managers tended to intervene when there was a challenge with a
considerable and measurable consequence (either financial, human resource,
or relationship). This usually happened when there were differences about
how to set timelines and what constituted an ‘‘on time’’ deliverable. Again,
these differences tended to increase interpersonal emotion, lead to compe-
tition or sabotage in the teams, communicate a lack of respect, or cause a
‘‘loss of face’’ – all forces for which managerial intervention was necessary
to correct.

Leave or Exit

Finally, if neither adaptation nor managerial intervention were possible or

effective, team members relied on a third strategy – they left the team. This
strategy was most commonly applied to larger system challenges that team
members were not willing to ‘‘take on’’ such as sexism or racism. Team
members also decided to exit if they felt the team was not willing to, or
effective at, accommodating them.


This chapter set out to identify how multicultural teams manage or address
the additional layer of complexity they often encounter due to cultural
differences. Although multicultural and same-culture teams face similar
procedural and interpersonal challenges, the sources and consequences of
multicultural teams’ challenges are more complex. Our analysis of the chal-
lenges, and the approaches that team members and managers took to deal
with these challenges, has left us with a set of propositions to be formally
tested in future research. In the previous section, we outlined conditions
under which teams addressed their management challenges through (1) ad-
aptation, (2) managerial intervention, or (3) leaving or exiting the team. This
section translates these conditions into testable propositions.


Adaptation occurred in response to a variety of different challenges that had

a common underlying characteristic: the challenge can be characterized as
arising from factors beyond individual team members’ control. When team
members recognized that for whatever reason (e.g., cultural embeddedness,
a headquarters mandate, or national customs) the challenge was beyond
their control, teams were able to avoid escalation of interpersonal tension by
attributing their differences to an ‘‘external source’’ rather than an individ-
ual motive or personality. This allowed them to engage in creating solutions,
norms, or procedures that minimized the impact of cultural differences
without a manager’s intervention. In some instances it appears that this
‘‘external blame’’ mechanism may give multicultural teams a better way of
managing some problems than same-culture teams who do not have culture
as an excuse. Same-culture teams were more likely to attribute challenges to
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 253

individual personality, with concomitant risks of increased emotional con-

flict. Therefore, our first proposition stipulates that when multicultural team
members can classify a challenge as caused by a larger ‘‘external source’’
rather than as a ‘‘personal affront,’’ they will be more successful in inde-
pendently managing that challenge.
A1. When team members are able to attribute the cause of a challenge to
factors beyond their control, they are able to successfully adapt their
practices without the intervention of a manager.
This proposition is embedded in attribution theory and is enhanced by
research that has studied attributions across cultures. Attributions are
causal interpretations of events (Kelly & Michela, 1980). They answer the
social interaction question, Why did this event occur? that is extremely im-
portant when interpreting novel or equivocal events and motivating sub-
sequent behavior (Brett & Gelfand, 2005). There are two dimensions of
causal attributions, situational and dispositional, that have different impli-
cations for change, and that occur with differential frequency across cul-
tures. People making causal attributions about events, including others’
behaviors, frequently make the fundamental attribution error – they un-
derestimate the impact of situational factors and overestimate the impact of
dispositional factors (Ross, 1977). Ironically, in individual motivational or
learning situations it is the attribution of setbacks and negative outcomes to
situational factors that inhibits change (Kelly & Michela, 1980). Something
like ‘‘since I did nothing wrong, I’ll just do the same thing again in the next,
hopefully more supportive environment.’’ Yet, in multicultural teams the
attribution of challenges to situational factors beyond team members’ con-
trol – that is, the attribution of causation to situational factors – seems to
facilitate change. The presence of multicultural team members from cultures
that tend to make more situational attributions than is typical in the U.S.
(Morris & Peng, 1994) may also facilitate this phenomenon.
Although in theory adaptation can take many different guises (Janssens &
Brett, 2005), in the research cited here the pattern of adaptation was pri-
marily one of some members of the group conceding to the approach taken
by others. This mainly occurred when there was a numerical majority or
dominant coalition, when team members accepted the reality posed by a
particular situation, or when it became clear that one preference could not
‘‘beat out’’ a more engrained or persistent preference (e.g., the Eastern
‘‘holistic approach’’ for problem solving versus the Western ‘‘checklist’’
approach for problem solving). Again, as stated in Proposition A1, these
forms of adaptation seemed to be associated with an ability to ‘‘blame’’ a

source bigger than individual team members. However, team members

seemed to be more willing to adapt when they recognized that (a) not only
was the source of the problem bigger than the team, but also (b) that stim-
ulating a change in the other party’s behavior was impossible, therefore
making it necessary to find middle ground in order to get work done. For
example, American managers often reported feeling frustrated by the East-
ern ‘‘holistic’’ problem-solving approach, yet they realized that using tactics
to force their ‘‘checklist’’ approach (e.g., trying to impose written documents
to secure increments of agreements, or imposing ultimatum time deadlines)
were rarely successful in moving agreements forward. Similarly, when team
members with a less confrontational communication style were outnum-
bered by members with a more confrontational communication style, they
tended to adapt by expressing more verbal support for their similar- or
same-culture team members than they otherwise would have felt comfort-
able doing. Therefore, building on Proposition A1, we propose that when
team members realize they are up against a highly embedded or engrained
cultural difference, they will recognize the need to adapt their own behavior
in order to create functional team work processes or norms.
A1a. When some team members simply will not change their behaviors,
the rest of the group will adjust to work with those behaviors.
This second proposition is consistent with the research on social motives
and behavior in prisoner’s dilemma games, in that it recognizes that initially
unsuccessful attempts to cooperate with the other party will result in an
adaptation or behavioral change. For example, research suggests that a
strategy driven by a cooperative motive is more fragile or changeable than
one driven by an individualistic motive (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970a,b;
McClintock & Liebrand, 1988; Schlenker & Goldman, 1978). Kelley and
Stahelski (1970b) proposed that cooperative players would be more likely to
shift from cooperation to competition when confronted with an opponent
making competitive choices, than an individualistic player would be likely to
shift from competition to cooperation when confronted with an opponent
making cooperative choices. They suggested this asymmetric behavior
occurs because cooperative players are more sensitive than individualistic
players to the social motives of others (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970b; Van
Lange, 1992). Cooperative players encourage cooperation by signaling their
cooperative motive with an early cooperative move, but if their cooperative
signal is not reciprocated, they are quick to shift their strategy to avoid
exploitation. Thus, cooperative players are facile at shifting their strategy
depending on the actions of the other player (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970a,b).
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 255

There is evidence of these shifts in other literatures as well. For example,

Weingart, Brett, and Olekalns (2004) show that in four person mixed-motive
negotiation groups, cooperatively oriented team members adjusted their use
of integrative and distributive strategy in response to the social motive
composition of the group. Adair and Brett (2005) show that in negotiations
between people from high- and low-context communication cultures, com-
munication patterns parallel those of same-culture low-context negotiations
more than those of high-context negotiations. They explain their findings by
suggesting that low-context communication which is direct and context free
is the lowest common denominator for understanding; that people from
low-context communication cultures do not have the history and contextual
knowledge to be able to correctly interpret high-context communication, so
high-context communicators adapt.

Management Intervention

Managerial intervention took a variety of forms in addressing the multi-

cultural team challenges discussed in this chapter, but there seemed to be a
common characteristic to the challenges that were approached in this way.
Managerial intervention was necessary to resolve interpersonal tension in
order to ‘‘save face’’ of members in the team. For example, sometimes
managers used the power of their positions and made substantive decisions
that unblocked the group and let it move forward. This was particularly
important when teams had reached an impasse about procedures, agree-
ments, responsibilities, and timelines. Other times managers imposed strong
process control or structure on the multicultural team. This seemed impor-
tant when there were pre-existing prejudices, a severe lack of trust, or a lack
of respect among members. Structures worked sometimes because they
buffered warring team members from one another, and sometimes because
they forced team members to see beyond their cultural stereotypes and
understand each other’s value to the team. Managers also tried to reduce
emotional tensions in the group by taking specific group members aside to
talk, by reminding the group of its superordinate goal, and by conveying
respect and legitimacy to certain group members. Each of these tactics
served to restore perceptions of justice, reduce interpersonal tension, and
help members recover from the indignities they perceived. Therefore, our
third proposition is

MI1. When face needs to be saved, managerial interventions into team

processes are necessary.

This proposition is consistent with the literature on face saving and pro-
cedural justice in a cultural context. Face as used in Asian psychology seems
best translated into Western psychology as respect. When groups get into a
tangle and emotions of one or more members are running high, the conflict
management literature suggests that it is very difficult for the group mem-
bers involved to deescalate it themselves (Ting-Toomey, 1988, 1998). This is
because once negative emotions have been engaged, two factors emerge that
make it difficult to un-engage. The first is disrespect or loss of face. Negative
emotions, whether conveyed verbally or non-verbally, convey disrespect
(Hecht & LaFrance, 1998). They signal that each individual’s ideas, as well
as the individual him or herself, are unworthy of the team. Such a signal is
likely to be perceived as an injustice and to stimulate reciprocity and re-
venge, which is the other factor that makes it difficult for parties to dis-
engage from a spiraling exchange of negative emotions. For example, prior
research on disputes has found that parties engage in cycles of reciprocal
negative emotion (Brett, Lytle, & Shapiro, 1998; Friedman et al., 2004),
although some other research (and a good deal of lay theorizing) suggests
that a signal of negative emotion might also be answered by a concession
(Van Kleef, De Dreu, & Manstead, 2004).
There seem to be two underlying mechanisms that explain why mana-
gerial interventions are needed and should be helpful in such situations. The
first stems from the procedural justice literature where it has been shown
repeatedly and in many different settings that a third party who treats
parties with respect is often able to restore feelings of justice (Lind & Tyler,
1988) and help them resolve their differences (Shapiro & Brett, 1993). Sim-
ply stated, managers and mediators need to listen to convey respect. The
more theoretical explanation is that the behavior of the third party provides
relational information about status and membership in the group (Tyler &
Lind, 1992). The second reason why managerial intervention should be helpful
in these situations where group members have become emotionally entangled
is that the party listening is not a peer but a manager. In egalitarian cultures,
like the United States, there may be a stigma associated with involving a
manager in a conflict between peers. However, in hierarchical cultures, like
Asian cultures, deference is given to higher level managers and it is normative
to involve them in the resolution of conflict (Tinsley & Brett, 2001). As Brett
(2001) explains, acquiescing to the desires of a higher level manager in hier-
archical cultures preserves relationships and restores respect between emo-
tionally entangled peers, because – and note the similarity with proposition A1
– neither person imposed the outcome on the other. Once again when the
outcome is out of people’s hands, they adapt to the manager’s solution.
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 257

Leaving or Exiting

Members of multicultural teams who are unwilling to adapt either to the

initiatives of the group itself or of management may leave. This is the exit
voice and loyalty strategy made famous by Mancur Olson in his book, The
Logic of Collective Action (1971) that identified options for disgruntled em-
ployees. In our research, we saw team members leaving groups when the
team adapted but they personally could not; when managerial intervention
was unsuccessful; and when environment or system pressures were such that
managerial intervention was impossible.
The leave or exit option was not the dominant response to the challenges
of being a member of a multicultural team; it was also understandably not
an option that happened immediately. Team members who left the team to
go back to a former job risked being stigmatized as not being a ‘‘team
player.’’ Members who left teams and/or organizations supporting those
teams frequently waited until they had another option. However, there
were occasions when team members found themselves so marginalized (an
American woman assigned to a storage closet as her workspace during her
assignment in Japan) that they had no choice but to leave the team. We have
speculated whether in such a situation the team member should just leave
quietly, or whether there is anything to gain, versus too much to lose, by
evoking Olsen’s voice option very loudly (Olson, 1971).

L1. Team members will leave when the team adapts but they cannot;
managerial intervention is unsuccessful in reintegrating them into the
team; or managerial intervention does not or cannot occur.


As with any research, our conclusions should be interpreted with caution.

However, we believe that our findings identifying the challenges faced by
multicultural teams, the similarities and differences of these challenges to
those faced by same-culture teams, and the management strategies used in
association with these challenges make important contributions to the lit-
erature on multicultural teams.
First, we have identified nine challenges that managers and members of
multicultural teams face. Although a different array of multicultural teams
and a different methodology would likely generate a somewhat expanded or
contracted set of challenges, the challenges we identified are consistent with

prior research on multicultural teams. For example, the challenges around

respect/hierarchy violations closely resonate with cultural differences in hi-
erarchy versus egalitarianism (Hofstede, 1980). The differences in commit-
ment behind agreements and aggressiveness in communication style reflect
cultural differences in high- versus low-context communication styles (Hall,
1976, 1983). In addition, some of the team adaptation strategies, such as
norm setting or the creation of rules, have been reflected in previous studies
(e.g., Earley & Mosakowski, 2000). Our findings regarding the use of sub-
groups to manage challenges in multicultural teams is consistent with re-
search by Gibson and Vermeulen (2003). Subgrouping is not a panacea, but
Gibson and Vermeullen argue that to be successful subgroups need to be
linked with multiple ties. Beyene (2005) reviews language challenges in
multicultural teams that are consist with our findings.
Second, by contrasting the findings from the multicultural team study to
those of a same-culture team study using similar methodology, we were able
to identify challenges that appear to affect teams regardless of their cultural
heterogeneity. The delivery style of a message, deciding on a work approach,
setting and adhering to timelines, and agreeing on acceptable team behavior
are universal elements of teamwork (e.g., Hackman, 1990; Homans, 1950).
Our results show that same-culture and multicultural teams share these
challenges, but that multicultural teams have to overcome an additional
layer of complexity due to culture-related differences. Challenges that were
identified as unique in the multicultural teams study included pre-existing
prejudices or specific behaviors that exacerbated the perceptions of incom-
patibility among team members, such as perceptions of disrespect and un-
fairness from team decisions, blatantly disrespectful behavior toward
women or religious practices, and unfairness around language fluency
(e.g., determining how work assignments were made, giving appropriate
recognition, making offensive jokes or using offensive words).
Tying the challenges experienced by multicultural teams to the manage-
ment strategies they used to address these challenges allows us to begin to
isolate the circumstances when members of a multicultural team can adapt
and respond to challenges for themselves versus when they need managerial
intervention. This distinction seemed to depend on the degree to which
cultural differences were perceived as ‘‘a personal affront’’ versus ‘‘a fact of
life/work.’’ When the challenge could be framed as a fact of life/work, teams
were more likely to adapt because they could blame it on a source ‘‘bigger’’
than the team. But, when the challenge was accompanied by the perception
of a personal attack or a perceived injustice, managerial intervention was
Managing Challenges in Multicultural Teams 259

Our analyses suggest several areas for future research. It seems to us that
responding to challenges in multicultural teams often requires a patient,
iterative, deliberate response, and occasionally a rather dramatic interven-
tion, if differences in work norms, racial and ethnic prejudices, communi-
cation styles and language fluency are to be managed. One interesting idea
for future research might be to investigate the underlying mechanisms that
create challenges in multicultural teams. In our sample, strong reactions
developed around challenges stemming from pre-existing stereotypes as well
as prejudices or attributions that emerged out of group process. They often
required an equally strong intervention. Another area for future research is
to investigate whether managerial interventions and the different types of
team adaptation mentioned in this study represent long-term versus short-
term solutions – and to better isolate when team adaptation strategies ac-
tually serve as substitutes for leadership. Finally, many of our participants
mentioned that the training they received from their organizations was not
effective. They mentioned that training about cultural differences often did
little more than increase awareness about why others were different from
one’s native culture, rather than identifying how to manage those differ-
ences. The broad conditions we identified for team adaptation versus man-
agerial intervention suggest that training team members and managers to
identify work conditions that require managerial intervention can save a lot
of frustration and money, and make coordinating work across cultures
much more satisfactory.

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Hillary Anger Elfenbein and Aiwa Shirako

The impact of emotion in organizations has been an increasingly popular –

and increasingly popularized – topic in recent decades. In light of the often-
sweeping claims that have been made in the name of ‘‘emotional intelligence’’
(e.g., Goleman, 1995), excitement among practitioners, academics, and the
public alike has brought greater attention to the affective element
of workplace life. Emotion is a particularly important concept for teams –
in which members work interdependently toward a common goal, with
emotions often running high as teammates experience, for example, affec-
tion, delight, interest, relief, disappointment, irritation, and rage. The emo-
tional life of a team is an area in which national differences among members
can make a uniquely challenging impact. Although emotion is an evolu-
tionary adaptation of the human species, largely universal across cultural
groups, the cultural differences that do arise can be both pervasive and
insidious. Given the automatic and fundamental nature of emotional proc-
esses, we can be profoundly aware of the result of a cultural difference with
little awareness of its source.
Colloquially when one refers to emotion, typically this entails the feeling
state that can accompany a noteworthy experience. However, rather than
referring broadly to emotion as a single concept, researchers in psychology
have developed component process models (e.g., Frijda, 1986; Scherer, 1984)
that map the stages of emotion into a series of separate chronological steps.
These steps unfold so quickly that they can appear together to represent a

National Culture and Groups

Research on Managing Groups and Teams, Volume 9, 263–297
Copyright r 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1534-0856/doi:10.1016/S1534-0856(06)09011-6

single phenomenon. However, each is distinct, and researchers’ attempts

to develop theory concerning the role of emotion in teams benefit from
considering separately each step and its potential impact on team members.
The current chapter attempts to make two contributions to the literature
on emotion and culture in teams. The first goal is to present an integrated
process model of emotion and to review succinctly the psychological
research on cultural differences that are infused into each stage of the emo-
tion process. The second goal is to examine multicultural teams through the
lens of this emotion process model and, in doing so, to shed light on some of
the challenges and opportunities for the culturally diverse team.
The emotion process model draws heavily from Frijda (1986), Mesquita
and Frijda (1992) and Scherer (1984), and further incorporates components
elaborated by Ekman (1972), Gross (1998b, 2001), and Matsumoto (1989).
Component models generally focus on particular processes of interest to
theorists. However, because each component or stage of emotion is relevant
to the effective functioning of teams, we attempt to achieve breadth by
integrating past descriptions into a single model. The emotion process model
builds upon previous conceptualizations by incorporating the processes
from all stages, and reviewing the cultural differences present at each. Fig. 1
illustrates this emotion process model, in which each box represents an event
that takes place during the chronological sequence. The next four sections
of this chapter define and describe each major stage in turn: emotional
appraisal, experience, expression, and recognition. Each stage is part of a
sequential process through which emotions unfold. Although these stages
are distinct, they are interconnected with each other, such that similar
processes can affect more than one stage in the model. In the sections that
follow, we discuss cultural differences in both the core automatic component
of each process, as well as the regulation processes that include all of
the ‘‘conscious and non-conscious strategies we use to increase, maintain, or
decrease one or more components of an emotional response’’ (Gross, 2001,
p. 215). Although models of emotional intelligence often consider emotion
regulation to be a unitary concept (Law, Wong, & Song, 2004; Mayer,
Salovey, Caruso, & Sitarenios, 2001), as with the core processes, each stage
of the emotion process corresponds to distinct and interrelated processes of
regulation (Gross, 1998b; Campos, Campos, & Barrett, 1989; Mesquita &
Frijda, 1992). To conclude each stage in the process model, we discuss its
implications for multicultural teams.
The second section of the chapter discusses how multicultural teams are
impacted by the cultural differences that arise in each stage of the emotion
process. Diversity, and diversity in particular in terms of national origin, is
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams
Person A Person B

1. Appraisal 2. Emotional 3. Emotional 4. Emotion

Stimulus Experience Expression Recognition etc.
Automatic -Attention
components -Schema -Feeling state -Special case
-Feeling rules -Physiology of appraisal

Controlled Situation Suppression Display Rules Decoding Rules

Components Selection

Action tendencies:
Instrumental behavior
Cognitions: Affect-as-

Fig. 1. An Emotion Process Model.


growing as the modern workplace becomes increasingly multicultural (Black

& Mendenhall, 1990; Milliken & Martins, 1996). Multicultural teams face
unique challenges in that cultural background is often visible and highly
salient. It is the salience of these differences among team members that
strongly encourages members to draw categories and create distinctions
between those in the in-group versus out-group (Tsui, Egan, & O’Reillly,
1992; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998), with a general preference for those
who are in-group members (e.g., McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001;
Newcomb, 1956). The challenges faced by teams that are demographi-
cally diverse – such as communication difficulties, failure to understand
new perspectives, and misunderstandings resulting from different values
and norms (Bond & Smith, 1996; Earley & Ang, 2003) – are likely to be
amplified for groups that differ in terms of members’ national culture.
Despite these challenges, few researchers have opened up the ‘‘black box’’
of organizational demography (Lawrence, 1997) to explain exactly how
diversity inhibits effective organizational outcomes. There is relatively little
guidance in particular on the processes that differentiate the single-culture
team from the multicultural team. In this chapter, we attempt to address this
gap by examining the intra-personal and inter-personal aspects of the emo-
tion process model in an effort. We argue that with increasing cultural
diversity comes diversity in emotional dynamics. Because the emotional
dynamics of teams are inherently social, after outlining each step in the
emotion process model we identify and elaborate on two themes relating to
the social sharing of emotion – the communication of internal states through
the expression and perception of emotion, and group mood that can result
from the convergence of emotional states across individual members.


Emotional Appraisal

Emotional appraisal is an act of sense making: What does a particular event

mean for me? It is not the event itself – but rather an individual’s subjective
evaluation of the event – that elicits and shapes emotions (Scherer, 1997b).
Thus, appraisal is the crucial first step in the emotion process, and describes
how we attend, interpret and ascribe meaning to a given event or stimulus.
First, emotional appraisal requires attention; given cognitive limits, we must
prioritize which events are even worthy of our notice. Second, we must code
the event, interpreting its meaning, and in particular its implications for the
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 267

self (Mesquita & Frijda, 1992). If another person in a team environment is

being rude, how one interprets the personal significance of this behavior
may change significantly the emotional response – for example, whether the
rude individual is a teammate, a customer, a supplier, or a competitor,
and whether the rude behavior is directed at an innocent bystander or
an instigator. Likewise, a bear approaching a campsite may elicit fear, but
the same bear in a zoo could result in delight. Often the cognitive evalua-
tion of stimuli associated with emotional appraisal occurs so quickly and
automatically, before our conscious awareness, that we may be unaware of
this individual component of the unfolding process. However, even in such
cases, we can see the role of appraisal processes by examining, for example,
how emotional reactions change over time and vary from person to person.
An event that may have caused great embarrassment during youth might in
adulthood leave one unfazed, and an event that makes one person angry
might make another person sad. Indeed, it can be the lack of conscious
awareness of the appraisal process – and the sense that appraisal is clear and
lacking a subjective interpretive lens – that prevents individuals from ques-
tioning and evaluating it. This results in a particular challenge to reconciling
colleagues’ often vastly differing emotional appraisals.
Models of the appraisal process focus on the schema we use to convert
evaluations of events into corresponding emotional states, by considering
the personal meaning of events in terms of a series of dimensions. Scherer
(1984) elaborated a stimulus evaluation check model that focuses on the
questions posed by events, for which the answers determine the resulting
emotional state. For example, we ask ourselves whether an event has
positive or negative implications for the self, who caused the event, and
how well we are able to respond. Further efforts have extended these cate-
gorization systems, and the models have been tested to varying degrees
across cultural groups (Campos, Frankel, & Camras, 2004; Karasawa, 1995;
Mauro, Sato, & Tucker, 1992; Mesquita & Walker, 2003; Scherer, 1997a;
Smith & Ellsworth, 1985). Relevant dimensions within these models include
novelty, pleasantness, goal relevance, goal compatibility, and responsibility
and control. For example, an event must be novel to result in surprise, it
must be pleasant to result in joy, and it must connect with relevant goals to
result in eagerness. The dimension of control distinguishes a number of
emotions. Given a team facing a major failure such as the loss of a client or a
botched presentation, the perceived locus of control might distinguish
among experiences of anger (control by others), guilt (control by the self), or
sadness (control by no one). In this manner, differentiated emotional states
arise from the outcomes of stimulus evaluation checks.

Cultural Differences in Emotion Appraisal

Cultural groups can differ dramatically in the events that capture the at-
tention. That is, what even counts as a stimulus? Triandis (2000) argued for
cultural differences in this fundamental process, noting ‘‘members of differ-
ent cultures sample with diverse probabilities different kinds of things in
their environment’’ (p. 145). Masuda and Nisbett (2001) argue that cultures
differ in context sensitivity, such that individuals in some cultures pay at-
tention to objects as part of their larger context, whereas others pay atten-
tion only to the object itself. What elicits emotion in one culture may escape
notice entirely in another (Mesquita & Frijda, 1992). In a multicultural
team, for example, one member might accept a phone call in the middle of
a meeting. Some teammates may not appraise this event as significant or
direct any attention to it. Others may be mildly irritated by the teammate’s
lack of respect, and others may be angered. Thus, the same antecedent event
can be appraised in various ways. It is our expectations about the ordinary
state of the world – often culturally derived – that determine which events
we appraise in a team environment, and how we appraise them.
Appraisal theorists have argued that there is a universal tendency to cat-
egorize events in terms of a series of stimulus evaluation checks. Evidence
for these claims results largely from studies in which participants from
various cultures describe examples of antecedent events leading to specific
emotions, and later participants from other cultural groups judge with good
accuracy the emotional state resulting from the descriptions of antecedent
events (e.g., Boucher & Brandt, 1981; Mauro et al., 1992). Many antecedent
events, particularly extreme events, are shared universally – if someone
dies, most people will be sad. However, many stimuli are more complicated,
more open to interpretation, and therefore more difficult to appraise. In
these situations, individuals will often rely on situated cognition to make
sense of a situation (Fiske & Taylor, 1991), and in the process will rely upon
their cultural norms.
Just as there are situations that appear to result in the same emotions
across cultures, there are dimensions of appraisal that appear to be used
across cultures as well. This is particularly the case for the most basic
dimensions of appraisal. For example appraising the pleasantness of a
stimulus tends to result in the same emotions cross-culturally (Mauro et al.,
1992). By contrast, cultural differences emerge more strongly for dimensions
requiring more complicated evaluation processes, such as control, respon-
sibility and anticipated effort (Mauro et al., 1992; Scherer, 1997b; Mesquita
& Walker, 2003). Not only are these dimensions more challenging to eval-
uate, their meaning is more open to culturally specific scripts. For example,
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 269

control can be difficult to determine – who is to blame for what takes place?
Members of individualistic cultural groups attribute greater agency to the
individual (Morris & Peng, 1994), and thus may evaluate events to have
greater attributed control, resulting in greater anger and less disappoint-
ment. Together, these findings imply that complex events with multiple
potential meanings for those involved are the most likely stimuli for mem-
bers of multicultural teams to appraise differently – with different resulting
emotional states – following the same event. Differing cognitive appraisals
of the same events can lead to conflict for team members (Fisher, 1998;
Garcia-Prieto, Bellard, & Schneider, 2003; Pinkley & Northcraft, 1994).
Lest this discussion of the emotional appraisal process make it seem
excessively analytical, it is worth noting that appraisal occurs with emotional
goals in mind. Feeling rules guide one’s aspirations for emotional experience,
and these rules tip the appraisal process in favor of desired states. Feeling
rules can differ greatly across cultural settings (e.g., Campos et al., 1989). For
example, individualistic cultures such as those of Western Europe and the
United States have been found to think about emotions largely in terms of
positive versus negative states – and to value positive experiences – whereas
collectivistic cultures such as China and Japan more often think of emotions
in terms of socially engaged (e.g., anger) versus disengaged states (e.g., pride)
– and to value engaged experiences (Kitayama, Karasawa, & Mesquita,
2004; Kitayama, Markus, & Kurokawa, 2000; Scollon, Diener, Oishi, &
Biswas-Diener, 2004). If the leader of a team praises one member publicly for
great work, depending on the feeling rules engaged, the member could ap-
praise this praise to result in pride for standing out, or embarrassment for
not better fitting in.
Although attention, schemata, and feeling rules are theoretically distinct
constructs, they are intertwined and mutually reinforced. We pay attention
to those events that our schemata argue have the greatest potential impor-
tance and impact on us. Likewise, feeling rules describing our desired states
influence the schemata we use to determine those states, and therefore the
events that we are vigilant to notice.

Regulating the Emotional Appraisal Process

One of the most powerful methods for ensuring adaptation to one’s envi-
ronment is to select environments for which one is already well adapted. The
chronologically earliest form of regulating emotion is to limit exposure to
situations that evoke undesired emotions, and to increase exposure to those
evoking desired states. Situation selection by individuals, or nitchpicking, is
the tendency of individuals to select preemptively the situations to which

they wish to expose themselves, often without conscious knowledge of doing

so (Campos et al., 1989, 2004). Although appraisal is an intrapersonal
process, individuals may regulate their interpersonal environments as a
means of regulating appraisal. For example, teammates may avoid those
individuals whose emotional reactions they find aversive. Individuals are
more likely to find others’ reactions aversive if they lack the meta-cognitive
awareness required to anticipate those reactions in a multicultural environ-
ment – a key component of cultural intelligence (Earley & Ang, 2003).
Accordingly, team members tend to self-select into positions and roles that
require more or less exposure to stressful situations. Affective events theory
argues that nitchpicking within teams or organizations can lead to a kind of
emotional division of labor across individuals (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996).
For example, a team norm dictating impersonality in certain business re-
lationships may limit exposure for some employees to situations where oth-
ers act in an affectively charged manner. Nitchpicking also rises to the
level of national cultures, leaving an imprint on members’ typical exposure
and habituation to the range of emotion-eliciting events. Differences in
feeling rules that encourage the experience particular states lead, over time,
systematically to differences across cultures in the presence of elicitors for
those states.
Once an individual is exposed to an event, next in the regulation of the
appraisal process is the choice of whether to notice. Attention deployment is
the process by which individuals selectively choose to attend to elements of
the situation (Gross, 1998b). Whereas situation selection involves altering
exposure to a situation, attention deployment involves selectively attending
to the situation. For example, upon receiving both good and bad news from
a colleague, a team member may choose to ignore the negative information
and attend to only the positive feedback. Such attention deployment can
occur consciously – as it does in a conversation that ends with the individual
putting the outcome out of his or her mind – or can occur automatically and
with little awareness.
Differences in attention deployment at the cultural level may result
from cultural differences in beliefs about the importance of given events
(Triandis, 2000). That is, we tend to scan the environment for what we
believe is important, and such beliefs are informed by cultural norms. For
example, some firms in Silicon Valley encourage employees to bring their
dogs to the office. Although a dog walking into a room with a team meeting
might not draw attention from members of some cultural groups, this may
attract significant attention from members of cultures in which dogs are
considered dirty, and it could evoke feelings of disgust. What may have first
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 271

seemed novel and elicited emotion can become, if repeated, hardly worth
excitement. On the other hand, for someone who finds the dog sufficiently
aversive, its continuous presence may produce a negative reaction that
builds over time. In both cases, we are more likely to attend to stimuli that
seem outside of the ordinary, and the novelty of stimuli varies across
cultural groups.
The next step chronologically for individuals to regulate their appraisal
process is to revise their schemata for appraising emotions. For example, a
teammate may be horrified by a colleague’s outburst the first time, but then
develop a situation-specific schema to dismiss such outbursts from the same
colleague in the future. Because change to the schema itself typically occurs
after an emotion is experienced, we discuss this phenomenon more in the
section on regulating emotional experience.

Emotional Appraisal in Groups and Teams

Taken together, cultural differences in situation selection, attention deploy-
ment, and the application of schemata to the emotion appraisal process have
powerful implications for diverse teams. Members of multicultural teams
can work in the same objective environment yet find their emotions driven
by different stimuli within that environment, and they may even have
a range of different emotions evoked by precisely the same stimuli. For
example, team members from different cultures will have different norms for
events as simple as daily pleasantries. ‘‘How are you?’’ in the US is generally
answered with ‘‘good, and you?’’ On the other hand, Germans ask the same
question only when they truly want to know how the other feels. German
members of a team might feel that Americans behave superficially by asking
a caring question without actually wanting to know the answer. A German
team member who is unaware of American norms might appraise the lack of
follow-through to the question as an insult, while American team members
might be taken aback by a German who provides a genuine response to this
rhetorical question or who stops and listens after asking it. These differences
in norms will lead to the same event resulting in different appraisals, and
consequently eliciting different emotions.
It is important to note that appraisal is only the first step in the emotion
process. Although, for the sake of conceptual clarity, we examine each stage
in the process as distinct – in practice it is nearly impossible to separate the
implications for teams of this one stage in the process without examining
all others. In order to continue this discussion, therefore, we move to the
next stages in the emotion process model.

Emotional Experience

Emotional experience is the closest process to what is colloquially described

as emotion. This is the stage associated with the psychological and phys-
iological sense of being affected emotionally by an event (Frijda, 1986).
Although there is a long debate regarding whether mental awareness pre-
cedes physiological arousal or vice versa (e.g., Zajonc, 1998; James, 1884;
Schachter & Singer, 1962), the experience of a situation and the physiolog-
ical aspects of emotion cannot easily be separated. Indeed, James (1884)
argued that fear without awareness of one’s heartbeat, breathing, muscle
tenseness and trembling can hardly be thought of as fear. Experience is
a crucial stage of the emotion process because it is experience that leads
directly to the behavioral and cognitive responses to emotion. One evolu-
tionary role for emotion is to respond to survival challenges with action –
captured in the origin of the term emotion from the Latin word promoti-
onem, to move forward. Emotions are means to move us, to propel us to
response. Action tendencies are ‘‘action and the impulse for action, or their
absence y one wants to hit, destroy, or retaliate, or jump and shout, to
regain a lost person’’ (Frijda, 1986, p. 231). In addition to these behavioral
action tendencies, emotion has an impact on cognition by providing infor-
mation about the world around us (Clore & Tamir, 2002; Schwarz & Clore,
2003). For example, the sensation of fear provides information about the
likely safety of surroundings. Thus, emotional experience serves a valuable
role for adaptation.

Cultural Differences in Emotional Experience

Although there is great overlap in the emotional experience of individuals
from diverse cultural groups (Scherer & Wallbott, 1994), cultural differences
in appraisal processes result in cultural differences in the tendencies to ex-
perience different emotional states. For example, focusing on the appraisal
dimension of control, Soloman (1978) explained the low incidence of anger
among the Utku Eskimos by citing a reluctance to blame another person for
a negative event. Although this example may be extreme, it serves to illus-
trate how cultural groups can vary widely in their norms about the appro-
priateness of experiencing various emotional states, which feeds into the
frequency of actual experience. We focus primarily on those cultural differ-
ences in experience that result from differences in the chronologically earlier
process of emotional appraisal. However, it is also possible for people
from different cultural groups to differ in their habitual emotional expe-
rience due to the presence of systematically different elicitors – for example,
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 273

as close-knit communities offer more opportunities than war-torn regions to

experience joy. Further, it is also possible for members of different cultural
groups to appraise the same emotional state and yet experience it in subtly
different ways (Matsumoto, 1993). A variety of studies have catalogued
variation across cultural groups in the frequency of particular emotional
states and the intensity of those states (e.g., Aune & Aune, 1996; Buunk &
Hupka, 1987). Culturally influenced feeling rules can govern variation in
the typical emotional states experienced.
Theoretically based approaches have focused on the ways in which higher-
order dimensions of culture can influence conceptions and categorizations of
emotional experience. We focus here on three such accounts, the classifica-
tion of emotions in terms of valence, social engagement, and dialecticism. As
discussed above, individualistic cultures tend to classify emotions largely in
terms of positive versus negative valence, and value positive experiences more
highly. By contrast, collectivistic cultures tend more to classify emotions in
terms of those that are socially engaged – that is, emotions that ‘‘belong to
the self–other relationship rather than being confirmed to the subjectivity of
the self’’ (Mesquita, 2001, p. 73) – which are more desirable than socially
disengaged emotional states signifying independence from others (Kitayama
et al., 2004). Members of collectivistic cultures tend to rate their emotional
lives as less pleasant (Mesquita & Karasawa, 2002), but more socially en-
gaged (Scollon et al., 2004). This tendency results, for example, from the
tendency of members of interdependent groups to rate emotions like shame
as more desirable than pride, given the inherent disengagement of a state like
pride that sets one apart from the group. A variety of empirical studies have
replicated such findings, albeit using a range of terminology to explain these
effects (e.g., Grazzani-Gavazzi & Oatley, 1999; Kitayama et al., 2004;
Mesquita, 2001; Tsai, Simeonova, & Watanabe, 2004). Dialecticism refers to
comfort with the simultaneous experience of states or traits that might be
considered contradictory (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001; Peng &
Nisbett, 1999). Members of individualistic groups tend to categorize emo-
tions in an oppositional or bipolar manner, largely considering multiple
emotional states to be mutually exclusive, whereas members of collectivistic
groups more often report multiple emotions simultaneously (Bagozzi, Wong,
& Yi, 1999). Along these lines, empirical findings show a generally negative
correlation for the experience of positive and negative emotion among
Americans, but a generally positive correlation among Chinese (Bagozzi
et al., 1999).
Although much of cross-cultural research has taken place in the individ-
ualistic–collectivistic dimension, recent research has connected cultural

differences in values with the appraisal and experience of different emotions

(Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt, 1999). Rozin and his colleagues build on
Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park (1997) rhetoric of morality – focusing
on the values placed on community, autonomy, and divinity – and argue
that different cultures have differential patterns for defining and appraising
morally unacceptable behavior. In a series of studies, they show that
experiences of contempt, anger, and disgust, which are three moral emo-
tions critical to relationships with others, are linked to the appraisal of
a situation based on a culture’s moral rhetoric (Rozin et al., 1999). For
example, in a culture such as India where purity is central to the moral
code, morally inappropriate behaviors related to purity can elicit feelings
of disgust (Shweder et al., 1997). In the US where autonomy is prized,
including individual freedoms and rights, moral violations of autonomy
results more often in feelings of anger. Thus, underlying differences in
something as fundamental as moral perceptions of what is right and wrong
can result in differences across groups in the frequency of experiencing
particular emotions.

Regulating Emotional Experience

Once we experience an emotion, the regulation of that experience can take
two forms: reappraisal – changing how we think about a situation – and
suppression – attempting to banish the feelings themselves (Gross, 2001).
Reappraisal involves cognitively transforming a situation to alter its emo-
tional impact (Gross, 1998b). For example, a teammate may be upset in-
itially that an important meeting has been rescheduled. That individual
might rethink this reaction and decide that, perhaps, rescheduling is helpful
for allowing additional time to prepare. Over time, attempts at reappraisal
are incorporated into the very appraisal schemata governing initial evalu-
ations. By contrast, suppression does not attempt to turn back the clock of
the emotion process model and to revisit the appraisal process – a deep
method of regulation – but attempts to exert individual control at the stage
of emotional experience, by muting or denying the emotion. For example,
the teammate upset about being rescheduled may decide to try not to think
about the meeting. Despite attempts at suppression being relatively com-
mon, studies show that they are rarely successful and often result in leakage.
In fact, through ironic processes, attempting to deny an emotion often
backfires into increased physiological activity (Gross & Levenson, 1997). On
a routine basis using suppression to regulate one’s emotional states generally
corresponds to negative health, decreased job satisfaction and greater in-
tentions to quit a job (Gross & Levenson, 1997; Gross, 1998a; 2001; Coté &
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 275

Morgan, 2002). By contrast, reappraisal appears to be a more healthy

method of handling undesired emotional states, associated with positive
health benefits and job satisfaction (Gross, 1998a; Coté & Morgan, 2002).
It would seem likely that cultural differences in appraisal process would
lead to corresponding cultural differences in reappraisal as well – governed
by the same schemata and feeling rules. Those cultures in which feeling rules
are the most strong and tightly governed would be likely to exercise greater
regulation over emotional experience. Members of independent cultures
may be less inclined to suppress their emotions, and may react to unpopular
emotional states either by choosing to change them through reappraisal or
standing firm in their experience. By contrast, members of interdependent
cultural groups would likely attempt greater regulation in order to adapt to
the expectations of others (Ekman, 1972). Indeed, in an interdependent
cultural context, attempts at suppression may not be associated with nega-
tive health problems. Given a more dialectic form of emotional experience,
members may feel no discomfort with the contradiction arising from feeling
an emotional state that is different from the one considered appropriate.
Thus, even if members of a culturally diverse team are in the same situ-
ations, and appraise them the same way, they may differ in the extent to
which they manage their resulting experience of emotion.

Emotional Experience in Groups and Teams

Much of the research on emotion in teams has focused on the experience
component within the emotion process. We argue that it would be valuable
to extend this research to culturally diverse contexts. Although every person
is capable of a wide range of emotional experiences, there are also systematic
individual differences in the frequency of experiencing particular states. This
construct of affectivity – largely conceptualized in terms of positive versus
negative tendencies (Watson Clark & Tellegen, 1988) – has been a powerful
influence on the field. Staw et al. (e.g., Staw & Barsade, 1993; Staw, Sutton,
& Pelled, 1994; Wright & Staw, 1999) found that individuals who self-
reported more frequent positive emotional experience tended to be more
effective in their workplaces. Within teams, affectivity has been an increas-
ingly powerful lens for studying emotion. Groups frequently converge in the
tendencies of individuals to experience particular emotional states and this
convergence generally has beneficial consequences for teams (e.g., Barsade
& Gibson, 1998; Barsade, Ward, Turner, & Sonnenfeld, 2000; Bartel &
Saavedra, 2000; George, 1990; Kelly & Barsade, 2001; Totterdell, 2000).
A limitation of the existing body of studies is the sampling exclusively from
Western cultural groups, so the applicability to other cultures remains

untested. We hypothesize that group convergence will be less likely to occur

in multicultural teams – in which team members are less likely to start by
sharing the same emotional state following the same events, and in which
team members are less likely to ‘‘catch’’ each other’s feelings through emo-
tional contagion. We discuss this hypothesis in greater detail below.
Given these types of differences, members of multicultural teams may
differ in their likelihood of experiencing particular emotional states and
combinations of states (Aune & Aune, 1996; Bagozzi, Verbeke, & Gavino,
2003; Zammuner & Fischer, 1995). Taken together, differences in the fre-
quency, intensity and type of emotions experienced by different cultures
leave the potential for mismatch in the emotions experienced by individuals
in multicultural teams.
The above discussion focuses on stages of the emotion process that
are largely intra-personal. That is, these first stages takes place within a
single person’s perception and experience. However, given that emotion
adapted largely for us to manage our relationships with others, in the next
section we begin a discussion of the inherently interpersonal elements of the
emotion process.

Emotional Expression

Emotional expression consists of the outward displays of one’s internal

state, taking place largely via nonverbal channels such as facial expres-
sions, vocal tone, and body posture and movement. This is perhaps the
most crucial component of emotional functioning in team contexts, given
that emotional expressions are visible directly to others, and therefore
have the most potential to affect teammates’ interpersonal interactions.
Psychologists within a social functionalist perspective have even argued that
emotions evolved largely for their signaling value, providing an adaptive
mechanism for individuals to communicate and thus coordinate their
relationships and interactions with others (DePaulo & Friedman, 1998;
Ekman, 1992; Keltner & Haidt, 1999; McArthur & Baron, 1983). As such,
the expression of emotion is an act of social sharing – a message intended to
provide others with information to use as feedback. Indeed, this feedback
function is so strong that, according to the facial feedback hypothesis,
individuals themselves experience emotion resulting from their own facial
expressions, vocal tones, and body postures (Blairy, Herrera, & Hess, 1999;
Hatfield, Hsee, Costello, & Weisman, 1995; Zajonc, Murphy, & Inglehart,
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 277

Although there is an active debate regarding the extent to which emo-

tional expressions appear spontaneously as accurate readouts of one’s in-
ternal state – versus the extent to which they serve as emblems with
an intended social audience (Ekman, 1972; Fridlund, 1991; Hess, Banse, &
Kappas, 1995; Kappas, 2003) – members of teams are impacted by both
these phenomena; the presence of spontaneous readouts of members’ emo-
tional states as well as intentional acts attempting to portray such states.

Cultural Differences in Emotional Expression

The scientific study of emotion has been intertwined with the question of
emotional expression’s universality versus cultural specificity. Clearly, a
large component of expression must be universal: for example, people from
different cultures can watch foreign films and understand much of their
original feeling. Likewise, people can develop strong bonds with pets while
communicating largely through nonverbal displays of emotion. Thus, mes-
sages on an emotional level can cross barriers of culture and even species.
Classic studies have supported this intuition, demonstrating that posed
photographs of facial expressions from the United States are recognizable in
many countries around the world, even to those groups with nearly no
exposure to western civilization (Ekman, 1972; Ekman, Sorensen, & Friesen,
1969; Izard, 1971; but see also Fridlund, 1994 and Russell, 1994 for critiques
of this work). Much of the empirical evidence used to support claims that
emotional expressions appear identically across cultures has been indirect,
coming from research on the recognition rather than expression of emotion.
If facial expressions are well recognized across cultural groups, many the-
orists have concluded, they must be produced identically across groups as
well (e.g., Ekman, 1972). After all, it would be difficult to recognize a display
that is completely different from anything produced nearby. Additional re-
search recording spontaneous facial expressions across cultures and coding
the expressions’ muscle movement has focused on patterns of convergence
across cultural groups, documenting great similarity in responses to simi-
lar stimuli provoking the expressions (Camras, Oster, Campos, Miyake, &
Bradshaw, 1997; Ekman, 1972; Ekman & Rosenberg, 1997). On the basis
of these and related studies, many psychologists have concluded that emo-
tional expression has a largely biological basis, with relatively little room
for differences across cultural groups.
However, the presence of commonalities in expressive style does not pre-
clude systematic local variations across nations as well, with large overlap
yet also subtle distinctions. Further, subtle cultural differences in emotional
expression can have important implications for the members of teams.

Taking as a starting point Tomkins and McCarter’s (1964) metaphor that

cultural differences in emotional expression are like ‘‘dialects’’ of the ‘‘more
universal grammar of emotion’’ (p. 127), a recently proposed dialect theory
of emotion argues for the presence of automatic and spontaneous differ-
ences in the style of expression across cultures that are subtle enough to
allow generally accurate communication across groupsyet substantive
enough to result in greater potential for miscommunication (Elfenbein &
Ambady, 2002, 2003). Even in laboratory tasks in which participants at-
tempt to pose expressions with the goal to be clear and intelligible to others
– thus revealing culturally normative styles – systematic yet subtle differ-
ences in expression style emerge across national groups (Elfenbein, Beaupré,
Leveque, & Hess, 2005). These expressive dialects may have a particularly
strong impact on emotions that frequently signal social intent to an audi-
ence, such as anger and contempt, rather than those that are more biologi-
cally determined – for example, strongly linked to reflexes or highly similar
across species – such as surprise and fear (Elfenbein et al., 2005). As such,
dialects may impact those emotional states most frequently communicated
in team settings. Dialects may also be particularly strong for those aspects of
nonverbal communication that are under greater conscious control, and
therefore used the most voluntarily within a team interaction. Given the
largely automatic nature of emotional expression, it can be challenging to
develop the meta-awareness of one’s culturally influenced style (Earley &
Ang, 2003) needed to select elements from one’s expressive repertoire that
are clear and intelligible to teammates from other cultural groups.

Regulating Emotional Expression

Deliberate regulation processes are another source of variation – at times
dramatic – in emotional expression across cultural groups. Ekman (1972)
referred to display rules as ‘‘management techniques’’ (p. 225) allowing
individuals to ‘‘decouple their expressions from their feelings.’’ (p. 127).
They are defined ‘‘as procedures learned early in life for the management of
affect displays and include deintensifying, intensifying, neutralizing, and
masking an affect display. These rules prescribe what to do about the dis-
play of each affect in different social settings; they vary with the social role
and demographic characteristics, and should vary across cultures’’ (Ekman
et al., 1969, p. 87). That is, display rules interrupt the coherence between the
emotional experience and the emotion that is displayed. Display rules can
become over-learned to the point where the expressor is barely aware of
their impact on modulating an emotional display. Even under such circum-
stances, however, they are distinct from cultural dialects in that display rules
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 279

change the intensity or category of emotion displayed, whereas dialects are

qualitative differences in the appearance of the same intended emotion.
Thus, the two concepts are independent of each other.
Examples of display rules abound in teams even within a single culture.
Display rules include an airline flight attendant smiling at a rude passenger
(Hochschild, 1983), or a bill collector showing anger to an indifferent debtor
but a sympathetic display to an apologetic debtor (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1989;
Sutton, 1991). In teams, norms can emerge regarding the appropriateness of
expressing various emotional states. Display rules are thus adapted to serve
a function within social relations. Corresponding to social goals that can
differ tremendously across cultures, display rules in emotional expression
vary greatly across cultures as well. For example, Ekman (1972) argued that
display rules in collectivist societies such as Japan serve to promote greater
harmony and cooperation by suppressing the display of negative senti-
ment. Display rules are connected closely to feeling rules; individuals are
more likely to intensify or use as a mask those emotional states consistent
with feeling rules, and to deintensify, neutralize, or mask over the display of
emotions against those rules. Individuals from some cultures do not expect
their feeling to match their expressions, but instead they expect to express
what is appropriate, no matter how they feel.1 For example, there are cross-
cultural differences in the extent to which individuals feel a need to follow
emotional regulation norms (Gordon, 1989; Grandey, Fisk, & Steiner, 2005,
p. 895). In customer service jobs, the ‘‘impulsively’’ oriented French, who
value authentic emotional expression, and consequently less need for reg-
ulation, experience less pressure to adhere to ‘‘service with a smile’’ norms.
In contrast, members of the U.S. are more ‘‘institutionally’’ oriented, sug-
gesting ‘‘strong norms about regulating emotions to fulfill institutional roles
and standards’’ (Grandey et al., 2005, p. 895). Thus, multicultural teams are
likely to include wide variation among members in their emotional expres-
sions – resulting both from differences in underlying feelings as well as the
regulation of their outward displays. Even those experiencing the same
emotional state may express it slightly differently, not express it at all, or
express a different emotion entirely.

Emotional Expression in Groups and Teams

Cultural differences in emotional expression can have profound effects on
culturally diverse teams. Although cultural differences in appraisal and ex-
perience are important, largely their impact is downstream in that such
differences lead to visible behaviors. The expression of emotion is a signal
that is available for consumption by colleagues. Members of multicultural

teams can be confused by differences in emotional expression that violate

their expectations. For example, Japanese businesspeople often respond to
unreasonable requests with the display of smiles and affirmative nods as a
display rule to signify politeness rather than agreement. The misinterpre-
tation of these displays as assent has created confusion for many US team
members who have expected their Japanese counterparts to follow through
with these requests. One might expect similar difficulties in a team com-
prising of American and French members, in which French are less likely to
adhere to norms of regulating emotional display (Grandey et al., 2005). In
this case, members of both cultural groups might experience surprise and
confusion over the perceived emotional experience of the other group. These
perceptions of difference may heighten the already-salient cultural differ-
ences that may, in turn, lead to negative outcomes such as dissatisfaction
and desire to leave the group (Milliken & Martins, 1996; Tsui, Egan, &
O’Reillly, 1992).

Emotion Recognition

The expression of emotion does not occur in a vacuum; rather, other people
are inherently connected as an audience. Although people can and do ex-
press emotions alone, indeed often when this occurs there is another person
in mind, an implicit audience member (Fridlund, 1994). The impact of
emotional expression is not direct, but rather mediated through others’
perception. Emotion recognition is the flip side of expression’s coin – if
the display of emotion is an act of social sharing, then the question arises
whether others get the message. As such, the outward expression of per-
son A’s emotion may serve as a stimulus for person B, inspiring the rep-
etition of the chronological stages of the emotion process in another person.
Thus, individual sensitivity to others’ emotional states – frequently auto-
matic, implicit and unaware – is the building block for dyadic-level phe-
nomena such as empathy, and group-level emotional phenomena such
as group mood and emotional contagion (e.g., Barsade, 2002; Bartel &
Saavedra, 2000; George, 1990). Even for primitive contagion processes that
are mediated by the unconscious mimicry of others’ expressions (Hatfield,
Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994), at some level facial feedback via mimicry
still requires others’ expressions to appear similar enough to our own
that their mimicry results in an expression that evokes a particular emo-
tional state. In team settings, perceiving the expressive behavior of the
people around us is a window into their reactions and attributions, their
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 281

inclinations and intentions, their likely future behaviors, and at a basic

and evolutionary level whether they should be approached or avoided. Even
in the modern world, knowing when someone is having a bad day can
greatly improve survival. Understanding the emotions of others can assist in
coordinating activities and in working interdependently, can facilitate in
the construction of effective interpersonal networks, can make relation-
ships more predictable, and can provide a powerful source of feedback
(e.g., Ashkanasy, Hartel, & Zerbe, 2000; Fineman, 1993; Riggio, 2001).
These social functions are particularly important for high-functioning
teams. A teammate may wonder, for example, whether or not colleagues
support a proposal, whether a particular colleague is angry about a mistake
or disappointed by the quality of a work product, and whether a remark was
sarcastic versus sincere. As these examples illustrate, the emotion being
perceived is often related directly to the content of a team’s work.
Given its functional value, most people develop reasonable accuracy at
detecting the emotional states of others. However, there are also individual
differences. The ability to perceive emotion is a core component of emo-
tional intelligence (EI), (Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999; Mayer, DiPaolo,
& Salovey, 1990), and so far it is the component of EI with the most reliable
and extensively validated measures (Ciarrochi, Chan, & Caputi, 2000;
Davies, Stankov, & Roberts, 1998; Roberts, Zeidner, & Matthews, 2001).
Some of the most robust evidence for EI’s predictive validity in organiza-
tional settings has come from the positive relationship between job per-
formance and emotion recognition accuracy (Elfenbein, Marsh, & Ambady,
2002). For example, in one study, business executives and Foreign Service
officers who were better at identifying the emotional content expressed in
voice samples and video clips also achieved greater performance ratings
and were promoted to higher-level positions (Rosenthal, Hall, DiMatteo,
Rogers, & Archer, 1979). The overall positive association between nonver-
bal decoding skill and workplace effectiveness has replicated in counseling
settings (Campbell, Kagan, & Krathwohl, 1971; Costanzo & Philpott, 1986;
Schag, Loo, & Levin, 1978), medical settings (DiMatteo, Friedman, &
Taranta, 1979; Tickle-Degnen, 1998), and public service settings (Elfenbein
& Ambady, 2002b).

Cultural Differences in Emotion Recognition

Given the importance of recognizing others’ emotions accurately for effec-
tiveness in team settings, it is worth considering cultural variations in ac-
curacy levels. Although much of an emotional message is retained across
cultural barriers, some does appear to get lost along the way. The loss can

present a challenge for multicultural teams. Much of the evidence for cul-
tural differences in the recognition of emotion come from the same classic
studies, described above, that were designed to demonstrate its universality.
Although participants from many nations recognized posed emotion
expressions better than one would expect by chance, samples outside the
United States rarely achieved accuracy rates as high as American samples
when viewing these American stimuli. For example, Ekman et al. reported
accuracy rates ranging from 86% for Americans (Ekman, 1972) down to
53% for tribespeople in New Guinea (Ekman et al., 1969) when viewing
American emotional expressions. In the most extreme case, the Bahinemo
tribe they tested could not respond to the individual photographs, and
labeled them all as ‘‘angry’’ (Sorensen, 1975). In a meta-analysis of cross-
cultural research on emotion recognition using a wide range of methods,
Elfenbein and Ambady (2002a) found evidence for an in-group advantage,
in that individuals were better at recognizing emotions expressed by mem-
bers of their own cultural group. Greater geographical proximity and/or
opportunities for cross-cultural contact seemed to reduce the extent of this
advantage. This pattern had gone largely unnoticed due to the Western
background of most researchers and experimental materials, and a goal
among researchers to demonstrate that work originating in the West was
‘‘universal’’ (Matsumoto & Assar, 1992).
The recently developed dialect theory attempts to reconcile within a single
conceptual framework the range of empirical evidence for cultural univer-
sals and differences in the expression and recognition of emotion. Elfenbein
et al. (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2003) have argued that subtle dialects in the
universal language of emotion result in a potential for greater misunder-
standing when communication takes place across cultural boundaries.
Judgments of other people’s emotional expressions are faster and more ac-
curate for perceivers familiar with these subtle dialect variations. Although
prototypical displays of emotion are recognizable in many countries around
the world, they are recognized with lower rates of accuracy outside of the
country in which researchers developed these displays. This suggests a limit
to inferring indirectly that emotions must be produced identically across
groups due to their recognition across groups. According to dialect theory,
emotional expressions can still be largely recognizable to perceivers from
foreign cultures, even if the perceivers themselves might produce a slightly
different display.
Dialect theory emphasizes cultural learning as a source of differences in
emotion recognition across national groups. Although evidence is mixed
whether acquaintance with any given individual improves the accurate
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 283

perception of that individual’s displays (e.g., Ansfield, DePaulo, & Bell,

1995; Kenny & Acitelli, 2001; Sabatelli, Buck, & Dreyer, 1982; Zuckerman,
Lipets, Koivumaki, & Rosenthal, 1975), across cultural groups there is
consistent evidence that greater exposure and familiarity improves emo-
tion recognition (Ducci, Arcuri, Georgis, & Sineshaw, 1982; Elfenbein &
Ambady, 2003; Sorensen, 1975). These findings provide a hopeful message,
in that greater cross-cultural contact for the members of multicultural teams
can serve to reduce the challenge of perceiving accurately each other’s
emotional states.
Even when the cultural differences in perceiving emotion are relatively
subtle, they can still have important real-world consequences. Elfenbein and
Ambady’s (2002a) meta-analysis revealed that in-group nation judgments of
emotions were, on average, 16% more accurate than out-group nation
judgments. Small misunderstandings can accumulate over time, and can
lead to cross-cultural interactions that are slightly less smooth than same-
culture interactions. In some cases, the nature of a misunderstanding can be
dramatic. In Bond, Omar, Mahmoud, and Bonser (1990), perceivers from
the USA and Jordan were unable to distinguish between displays in which
out-group posers attempted to convey great liking versus great disliking
for another person.2 In their study, within-culture judgments were rela-
tively accurate, whereas cross-cultural judgments were basically no better
than flipping a coin. A team could be derailed by misattributions on such a
basic level.

Regulating Emotion Recognition

Regulation processes also impact the recognition of emotion, and provide a
platform for further cultural differences. Decoding rules (Buck, 1984) refer
to norms about the appropriate perception of others’ emotions. Matsumoto
(1989, 1992) argued that negative emotion can be so damaging for social
harmony that members of collectivistic cultural groups do not merely
attempt not to experience it and attempt to limit its display, but they also
inhibit their ability to understand such displays that do occur. Likewise, in a
workplace setting, the flip side of Hochschild’s (1983) airline flight attend-
ants display rule to smile at rude passengers is the decoding rule of over-
looking these passengers’ hostile behavior. Note that decoding rules can be
deliberate – such as a team member telling another that they should ignore
an unintended blurt – or, as with display rules, they can be over-learned and
practiced so frequently that they occur largely outside of the perceiver’s
awareness. The regulation of emotion at this stage is sometimes difficult to

distinguish, because the individual can regulate emotion recognition or

regulate the reactions that occur upon recognizing others’ emotions.
A further regulated process in the recognition of emotion comes from the
preconceived notions that perceivers may have about the emotional reper-
toire of another individual, for example based on the individual’s cul-
tural group. Indeed, the first researchers to note an in-group advantage in
their data referred to it as ethnic bias (e.g., Kilbride & Yarczower, 1983;
Markham & Wang, 1996), suggesting that individuals may be less motivated
to decode accurately emotional expressions from members of visibly different
cultural groups. This notion fits with evidence that decoders are more ac-
curate in their judgments of emotions the experimenter leads them to believe
have been expressed by in-group rather than out-group members (Hess,
Senecal, & Kirouac, 1996; Thibault, Bourgeois, & Hess, 2005), presumably
due to greater engagement in the task. Likewise, in a multicultural team,
colleagues may be more attentive to the emotional states of in-group mem-
bers, due to greater motivation to understand and respond to them. Further,
stereotypes about the likely emotions experienced by members of different
cultural groups (Hess et al., 2000) may introduce specific biases that alter the
base rates of the states attributed to individuals across cultural groups. For
example, African American team members may find themselves presumed to
be angry more often than their peers. In a judgment study, participants more
frequently rated Japanese expressions as happy or neutral, and American
expressions as angry or fearful (Elfenbein, Mandal, Ambady, Harizuka, &
Kumar, 2002). Individuals are particularly less likely to attribute to out-
group members those secondary emotions that are uniquely human char-
acteristics, such as the experience of love (Leyens et al., 2000, 2001). To the
extent that these stereotypes are incorrect, perceivers who use them will
decrease their accurate recognition of colleagues’ emotional states.

Emotion Recognition in Groups and Teams

The recognition of emotional expression is crucially important in teams,
where teammates depend on these subtle signals in order to work inde-
pendently with colleagues. However, in teams with members from multiple
cultural groups, such signals can get crossed, with negative consequences for
the team. For example, in a case study of Russian and American business
collaborations, researchers found that both groups frequently cited com-
munication and misunderstanding as a primary source of frustration with
their work together (Millhous, 1999). Speaking to the importance of rec-
ognizing emotional expressions, the Russians in this sample reported ex-
amples of frustration going unnoticed, e.g., ‘‘we finally asked the Americans
An Emotion Process Model for Multicultural Teams 285

to say goodbye properly before they raced out the door, but it took them a
while to catch on’’ (p. 305). Minor and major difficulties may arise when
members of cross-national teams fail to understand their teammates’ emo-
tional signals.


At this point in the chapter, we turn from a discussion of the stages of
the emotion process model to their implicati