Cultural intelligence

Kevin Lewis

June 21, 2017

Russians Inhibit the Expression of Happiness to Strangers: Testing a Display Rule Model
Kennon Sheldon et al.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, June 2017, Pages 718-733


Cultural stereotypes and considerable psychological research suggest that Russians are less happy and more stoic than Americans and Westerners. However, a second possibility is simply that cultural norms deter Russians from displaying happiness that they actually feel. To test this second possibility, three studies compared the emotional inhibition tendencies in U.S. and Russian student samples. Although Russians and Americans were no different on subjective well-being (SWB), a consistent three-way interaction was found such that Russians (compared with Americans) reported greater inhibition of the expression of happiness (vs. unhappiness), but mainly to strangers (vs. friends/family). Russians also viewed their peers and countrymen as behaving similarly. Furthermore, a consistent interaction was found such that the degree of happiness inhibition with strangers was negatively correlated with SWB in the U.S. samples but was unrelated to SWB in the Russian samples. Given the equivalent levels of SWB observed in these data, we suggest that Russians may not be less happy than Americans, as this would illogically entail that they exaggerate their SWB reports while also claiming to inhibit their expression of happiness. Implications for emotion researchers and international relations are considered.

Kinship Systems, Cooperation and the Evolution of Culture
Benjamin Enke
NBER Working Paper, June 2017


Cultural psychologists and anthropologists argue that societies have developed heterogeneous systems of social organization to cope with social dilemmas, and that an entire bundle of cultural characteristics has coevolved to enforce cooperation within these different systems. This paper develops a measure of the historical tightness of kinship structures to provide empirical evidence for this large body of theories. In the data, societies with loose ancestral kinship ties cooperate and trust broadly, which is apparently sustained through a belief in moralizing gods, universally applicable moral principles, feelings of guilt, and large-scale institutions. Societies with a historically tightly knit kinship structure, on the other hand, exhibit strong in-group favoritism: they cheat on and are distrusting of out-group members, but readily support in-group members in need. This cooperation scheme is enforced by moral values of in-group loyalty, conformity to tight social norms, emotions of shame, and strong local institutions. These relationships hold across historical ethnicities, contemporary countries, ethnicities within countries, and migrants. The results suggest that religious beliefs, language, emotions, morality, and social norms all coevolved to support specific social cooperation systems.

Culture and Self-Esteem Over Time: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis Among Australians, 1978–2014
Takeshi Hamamura & Berlian Gressy Septarini
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Self-esteem is increasing in the United States according to temporal meta-analyses of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. However, it remains unclear whether this trend reflects broad social ecological shifts toward urban, affluent, and technologically advanced or a unique cultural history. A temporal meta-analysis of self-esteem was conducted in Australia. Australia shares social ecological and cultural similarities with the United States. On the other hand, Australian culture is horizontally individualistic and places a stronger emphasis on self-other equality compared to American culture. For this reason, the strengthening norm of positive self-esteem found in the United States may not be evident in Australia. Consistent with this possibility, the findings indicated that self-esteem among Australian high school students, university students, and community participants did not change between 1978 and 2014.

Reverse Ego-Depletion: Acts of Self-Control Can Improve Subsequent Performance in Indian Cultural Contexts
Krishna Savani & Veronika Job
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


The strength model of self-control has been predominantly tested with people from Western cultures. The present research asks whether the phenomenon of ego-depletion generalizes to a culture emphasizing the virtues of exerting mental self-control in everyday life. A pilot study found that whereas Americans tended to believe that exerting willpower on mental tasks is depleting, Indians tended to believe that exerting willpower is energizing. Using dual task ego-depletion paradigms, Studies 1a, 1b, and 1c found reverse ego-depletion among Indian participants, such that participants exhibited better mental self-control on a subsequent task after initially working on strenuous rather than nonstrenuous cognitive tasks. Studies 2 and 3 found that Westerners exhibited the ego-depletion effect whereas Indians exhibited the reverse ego-depletion effect on the same set of tasks. Study 4 documented the causal effect of lay beliefs about whether exerting willpower is depleting versus energizing on reverse ego-depletion with both Indian and Western participants. Together, these studies reveal the underlying basis of the ego-depletion phenomenon in culturally shaped lay theories about willpower.

Sexual regret in US and Norway: Effects of culture and individual differences in religiosity and mating strategy
Mons Bendixen et al.
Personality and Individual Differences, 1 October 2017, Pages 246–251


Sexual regret was investigated across two disparate cultures: Norway (N = 853), a highly secular and sexually liberal culture, and the United States (N = 466), a more religious and more sexually conservative culture. Sex differences, individual differences in preferred mating strategy, religiosity, and cultural differences in sexual regret were analyzed. Men were significantly less likely to regret having had casual sex than women and were significantly more likely to regret passing up casual sexual opportunities than women. Participants who were more religious regretted having had casual sex more and regretted passing up casual sex less. Sexually unrestricted participants were less likely to regret having had casual sex and were more likely to regret passing up casual sex. Finally, North Americans and Norwegians did not differ significantly in overall amount of sexual regret nor in patterns of sex differences in sexual regret. Discussion focuses the robustness of sex differences across cultures, the importance of explaining individual differences within cultures, and on future directions for cross-cultural research.

Cultural differences in room size perception
Aurelie Saulton et al.
PLoS ONE, April 2017


Cultural differences in spatial perception have been little investigated, which gives rise to the impression that spatial cognitive processes might be universal. Contrary to this idea, we demonstrate cultural differences in spatial volume perception of computer generated rooms between Germans and South Koreans. We used a psychophysical task in which participants had to judge whether a rectangular room was larger or smaller than a square room of reference. We systematically varied the room rectangularity (depth to width aspect ratio) and the viewpoint (middle of the short wall vs. long wall) from which the room was viewed. South Koreans were significantly less biased by room rectangularity and viewpoint than their German counterparts. These results are in line with previous notions of general cognitive processing strategies being more context dependent in East Asian societies than Western ones. We point to the necessity of considering culturally-specific cognitive processing strategies in visual spatial cognition research.

The Southern Military Tradition: Sociodemographic Factors, Cultural Legacy, and U. S. Army Enlistments
Adam Maley & Daniel Hawkins
Armed Forces & Society, forthcoming


Throughout the history of the United States, the South has had higher levels of military service than other regions of the country. Scholars regularly refer to this phenomenon as a “Southern military tradition.” The reasons behind this overrepresentation are not completely understood. Do Southern sociodemographic characteristics make it a preferred recruiting area or is there something distinctive about the cultural legacy of Southern history that encourages and supports military service? Using a unique data set that includes county-level active duty army enlistments and sociodemographic information, we show that Southern counties have significantly higher enlistment rates than counties in the Northeast and Midwest. These differences disappear when sociodemographic factors, such as fewer college graduates and a prominent presence of Evangelical Christians, are taken into account. These findings suggest that population characteristics may be a stronger driver of current regional disparities in military service than an inherited Southern military tradition.

What Explains Personality Covariation? A Test of the Socioecological Complexity Hypothesis
Aaron Lukaszewski et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Correlations among distinct behaviors are foundational to personality science, but the field remains far from a consensus regarding the causes of such covariation. We advance a novel explanation for personality covariation, which views trait covariance as being shaped within a particular socioecology. We hypothesize that the degree of personality covariation observed within a society will be inversely related to the society’s socioecological complexity, that is, its diversity of social and occupational niches. Using personality survey data from participant samples in 55 nations (N = 17,637), we demonstrate that the Big Five dimensions are more strongly intercorrelated in less complex societies, where the complexity is indexed by nation-level measures of economic development, urbanization, and sectoral diversity. This inverse relationship is robust to control variables accounting for a number of methodological and response biases. Our findings support the socioecological complexity hypothesis and more generally bolster functionalist accounts of trait covariation.

Cross-country relationships between life expectancy, intertemporal choice and age at first birth
Adam Bulley & Gillian Pepper
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming


Humans, like other animals, typically discount the value of delayed rewards relative to those available in the present. From an evolutionary perspective, prioritising immediate rewards is a predictable response to high local mortality rates, as is an acceleration of reproductive scheduling. In a sample of 46 countries, we explored the cross-country relationships between average life expectancy, intertemporal choice, and women's age at first birth. We find that, across countries, lower life expectancy is associated with both a smaller percentage of people willing to wait for a larger but delayed reward, as well as a younger age at first birth. These results, which hold when controlling for region and economic pressures (GDP-per capita), dovetail with findings at the individual level to suggest that life expectancy is an important ecological predictor of both intertemporal and reproductive decision-making.

Eight-minute self-regulation intervention raises educational attainment at scale in individualist but not collectivist cultures
René Kizilcec & Geoffrey Cohen
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 April 2017, Pages 4348–4353


Academic credentials open up a wealth of opportunities. However, many people drop out of educational programs, such as community college and online courses. Prior research found that a brief self-regulation strategy can improve self-discipline and academic outcomes. Could this strategy support learners at large scale? Mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII) involves writing about positive outcomes associated with a goal, the obstacles to achieving it, and concrete if–then plans to overcome them. The strategy was developed in Western countries (United States, Germany) and appeals to individualist tendencies, which may reduce its efficacy in collectivist cultures such as India or China. We tested this hypothesis in two randomized controlled experiments in online courses (n = 17,963). Learners in individualist cultures were 32% (first experiment) and 15% (second experiment) more likely to complete the course following the MCII intervention than a control activity. In contrast, learners in collectivist cultures were unaffected by MCII. Natural language processing of written responses revealed that MCII was effective when a learner’s primary obstacle was predictable and surmountable, such as everyday work or family obligations but not a practical constraint (e.g., Internet access) or a lack of time. By revealing heterogeneity in MCII’s effectiveness, this research advances theory on self-regulation and illuminates how even highly efficacious interventions may be culturally bounded in their effects.

Cultural values and cross-cultural video consumption on YouTube
Minsu Park et al.
PLoS ONE, May 2017


Video-sharing social media like YouTube provide access to diverse cultural products from all over the world, making it possible to test theories that the Web facilitates global cultural convergence. Drawing on a daily listing of YouTube’s most popular videos across 58 countries, we investigate the consumption of popular videos in countries that differ in cultural values, language, gross domestic product, and Internet penetration rate. Although online social media facilitate global access to cultural products, we find this technological capability does not result in universal cultural convergence. Instead, consumption of popular videos in culturally different countries appears to be constrained by cultural values. Cross-cultural convergence is more advanced in cosmopolitan countries with cultural values that favor individualism and power inequality.

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