Culture Wars

Kevin Lewis

June 23, 2020

How Does Collectivism Affect Social Interactions? A Test of Two Competing Accounts
Shi Liu et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


How does the cultural construct of collectivism impact social interactions? Two accounts of collectivism offer diverging predictions. The collectivism-as-values account proposes that people in collectivistic cultures prioritize their ingroup relationships; accordingly, this account predicts that collectivistic cultures will have more harmonious ingroup interactions than individualistic cultures. The socioecological account holds that individualistic cultures have high relational mobility, which requires people to invest in their ingroup relationships, whereas collectivistic cultures feature more fixed relationships that do not require positive engagement. To test these competing hypotheses about ingroup relationships across cultures, we sampled the daily interactions of college students in China and the United States. Results revealed that the individualistic culture (United States) had more positive ingroup interactions, more gratitude, and more emotional support than the collectivistic culture (China). The current findings are consistent with the socioecological account of collectivism and the effects of relational mobility on social relationships.

Cultural roots of family ties
Lewis Davis & Claudia Williamson
Journal of Institutional Economics, forthcoming


We forward the hypothesis and empirically establish that variations in the strength of family ties are rooted in culture. In particular, we show that individualism is associated with looser family ties. We exploit the associations between contemporary individualism and historical climatic and disease environments to establish a causal relationship. At both the individual- and country-levels, we find strong support that individualism reduces family ties. The estimated effects are economically large and robust to a wide variety of potentially confounding variables.

Cultural Differences in the Tendency to Seek Practical versus Theoretical Information
Roy Spina et al.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming


Western thought stems from the ancient Greeks, who were intensely interested in pondering abstract information and generating theories to explain natural phenomena. East Asian thought stems from the ancient Chinese, who focused on concrete information directly perceived by the senses and on generating practical information relevant to their daily lives. Would contemporary Western and East Asian people differ in their tendency to seek practical versus theoretical information? In a series of studies, we found that Canadians showed greater interest in theoretical information than Chinese, who showed greater interest in practical information. To explain the cultural differences in information seeking, we found that Canadians were more likely to endorse an intrinsic motivation for learning (focused on fun) whereas Chinese were more likely to endorse a utilitarian motivation toward learning (focused on benefits). And these differences in motivation for learning mediated the effect of culture on information seeking.

Culture and adult financial literacy: Evidence from the United States
Maddalena Davoli & Núria Rodríguez-Planas
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming


Using a US nationally representative sample of over 6000 adults from 26 countries of ancestry, we find a strong association between their financial literacy in the US and the financial literacy level in their self-reported country of ancestry. More specifically, if an individual from a country of ancestry with ‘average’ financial literacy had instead come from a country with financial literacy one-standard deviation above the mean, his or her likelihood of answering correctly basic financial literacy questions regarding inflation, risk diversification, and interest rate in the US would have increased by 4 percentage points, a 9% increase relative to the average financial literacy in our sample of 43%. The cultural components behind this observed association include a strong emphasis on patience, long-term orientation and risk-aversion in the country of ancestry. We also find that the association is driven by financial literacy on risk diversification and interest compounding.

Growing collectivism: Irrigation, group conformity and technological divergence
Johannes Buggle
Journal of Economic Growth, June 2020, Pages 147–193


This paper examines whether collaboration within groups in pre-industrial agriculture favored the emergence of collectivist rather than individualist cultures. I document that societies whose ancestors jointly practiced irrigation agriculture historically have stronger collectivist norms today. This finding holds across countries, sub-national districts within countries, and migrants, and is robust to instrumenting the historical adoption of irrigation by its geographic suitability. In addition, I find evidence for a culturally-embodied effect of irrigation agriculture on economic behavior. Descendants of irrigation societies innovate less today, and are more likely to work in routine-intensive occupations, even when they live outside their ancestral homelands. Together, my results suggest that historical differences in the need to act collectively have contributed to the global divergence of culture and technology.

When the Sorting Hat Sorts Randomly: A Natural Experiment on Culture
Joan Ricart-Huguet & Elizabeth Levy Paluck
Princeton Working Paper, April 2020


Culture is a central but elusive concept in the social sciences, and so are its effects. We leverage a natural experiment in the oldest university in East Africa -- a cradle of economic and political elites -- where students are randomly assigned to live in halls of residence that have maintained distinct student cultures since the 1970s. A broad consensus at the university characterizes certain halls as sociable and activist, and others as academically-minded and respectful. Using an original survey of current students and behavioral games, we find that hall cultures influence a mixture of individual and interpersonal outcomes, specifically students' time preferences, identity, and interpersonal trust and generosity. However, they do not influence students' academic performance, social habits, or political preferences. An alumni survey suggests that some cultural effects endure, notably participation in activism. Our results provide novel evidence that cultural influence extends to several social domains.

Violence Against Women: A Cross‐cultural Analysis for Africa
Alberto Alesina, Benedetta Brioschi & Eliana La Ferrara
Economica, forthcoming


Using a new dataset, we investigate violence against women in Africa. We focus on cultural factors arising from pre‐colonial customs, and show that these factors determined social norms about gender roles, family structures and intra‐family violence, which persisted even when the initial conditions change. A first set of ancestral characteristics relates to women's economic role: ethnic groups where women participated less in production (e.g. due to plough agriculture, husbandry or fishing) have higher levels of violence against women today, and more acceptance of it. A second set of ancestral characteristics pertains to marriage patterns and living arrangements. Endogamy and co‐residence with the husband's family are strongly positively associated with both the level and the acceptance of domestic violence. We also uncover a sizeable gender gap in attitudes towards violence, with women being more likely to justify violence compared to men. This gap is predicted by differences in demographic characteristics and by ancestral characteristics, such as co‐residence with the husband's family and the use of the plough. Our analysis sheds light on the origin, and long‐term persistence, of gender norms conducive to gender‐based violence.

Cultural differences in coping with interpersonal tensions lead to divergent shorter- and longer-term affective consequences
Gloria Luong, Carla Arredondo & Susan Charles
Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming


Culture influences how people cope with interpersonal tensions, with those from more collectivistic contexts (e.g. Chinese Americans (CA)) generally opting for strategies promoting social harmony whereas those from more individualistic contexts (e.g. European Americans (EA)) preferring confrontational strategies. The current study examined cultural differences in coping strategy choices and their linkages to immediate affective reactions and subsequent affective memories. Participants (N = 159) discussed hypothetical dilemmas with a disagreeable confederate matched by age group, gender, and cultural group. CA exhibited less positive affect reactivity (i.e. smaller decreases in positive affect) and greater positive affect recovery (i.e. greater increases in post-task positive affect) compared to EA, which was explained by CAs’ appraisals of greater emotional support from the confederate and lower endorsement of defending one’s opinions. In contrast, one week later, EA, but not CA, recalled experiencing more task positive affect and less task negative affect than originally reported. Cultural differences in negative affect memory discrepancies were explained by EAs’ greater tendency to defend their opinions, relative to CA. Culture shapes coping choices, which predict affective consequences over different time scales.

Where does a ‘foreign’ accent matter? German, Spanish and Singaporean listeners’ reactions to Dutch-accented English, and standard British and American English accents
Warda Nejjari et al.
PLoS ONE, April 2020


How well L2 English is understood and how L2 English speakers perceive one another within varying communication contexts has been studied relatively rarely, even though most speakers of English in the world are L2 speakers. In this matched-guise experiment (N = 1699) the effects of L1 and L2 English accents and communication context were tested on speech understandability (intelligibility, comprehensibility, interpretability) and speaker evaluations (status, affect, dynamism). German (N = 617), Spanish (N = 540), and Singaporean listeners (N = 542) were asked to evaluate three accents (Dutch-accented English, standard British English, standard American English) in three communication contexts (Lecture, Audio Tour, Job Pitch). The main finding is that the Dutch-accented English accent was understood as well as the two L1 English accents. Furthermore, Dutch-accented English evoked equally positive evaluations to the two L1 English accents in German listeners, and more positive evaluations than the two L1 English accents in Spanish and Singaporean listeners. These results suggest that accent training aimed at achieving an L1 English accent may not always be necessary for (Dutch) English language learners, especially when they are expected to mostly interact with other L2 speakers of English. More generally, our results indicate that L2 English speakers’ understanding and their evaluation of L1 and L2 Englishes would not seem to reflect traditional language norms. Instead, they seem to reflect the socio-cultural embedding of a language norm in a Lingua Franca English speech community that does not view accent varieties as a hindrance to successful communication.

The “Perfect Failure” of Communal Genocide Commemoration in Cambodia: Productive Friction or “Bone Business”?
Carol Kidron
Current Anthropology, June 2020, Pages 304-334


Drawing on participant observation at communal sites of genocide memory and ethnographic interviews with villagers, monks, and nongovernmental organization stakeholders, I longitudinally trace (over a five-year period) the localization of Euro-Western genocide commemoration in the Cambodian landscape. Hybrid Khmer-Western communal memorials that display victim remains and promote genocide pedagogy signify elite capitulation to Western cosmopolitan memory and reap the rewards of atrocity tourism. Despite the facade of successful localization, my data point to elite and nonelite resistance to cosmologically dangerous or semiotically meaningless commemorative practice and to the failure of hybrid memorialization. A close reading of Cambodian Buddhist conceptualizations of memory, commemoration, and relations between living and dead reveals how and why facades of localization culturally work to sustain simulacra of engaged universals, creating a “perfect failure” of global-local translation. My findings problematize the globalization of a Holocaust model of commemoration and the human right and duty to remember as a pillar of global genocide pedagogy in today’s postconflict memoryscapes. I consider implications for understandings of intercultural friction and the productive dynamism of global-local encounters while deconstructing contemporary anthropological frames that occlude critique of global-local engagement.


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