How those people are

Kevin Lewis

August 03, 2017

Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change
Paola Giuliano & Nathan Nunn
NBER Working Paper, July 2017

When does culture persist and when does it change? We examine a determinant that has been put forth in the anthropology literature: the variability of the environment from one generation to the next. A prediction, which emerges from a class of existing models from evolutionary anthropology, is that following the customs of the previous generation is relatively more beneficial in stable environments where the culture that has evolved up to the previous generation is more likely to be relevant for the subsequent generation. We test this hypothesis by measuring the variability of average temperature across 20-year generations from 500–1900. Looking across countries, ethnic groups, and the descendants of immigrants, we find that populations with ancestors who lived in environments with more stability from one generation to the next place a greater importance in maintaining tradition today. These populations also exhibit more persistence in their traditions over time.

Did Strategic Bombing in the Second World War Lead to ‘German Angst’? A Large-scale Empirical Test Across 89 German Cities
Martin Obschonka et al.
European Journal of Personality, May/June 2017, Pages 234–257

A widespread stereotype holds that the Germans are notorious worriers, an idea captured by the term German angst. An analysis of country-level neurotic personality traits (trait anxiety, trait depression, and trait neuroticism; N = 7 210 276) across 109 countries provided mixed support for this idea; Germany ranked 20th, 31st, and 53rd for depression, anxiety, and neuroticism, respectively, suggesting, at best, the national stereotype is only partly valid. Theories put forward to explain the stereotypical characterization of Germany focus on the collective traumatic events experienced by Germany during World War II (WWII), such as the massive strategic bombing of German cities. We thus examined the link between strategic bombing of 89 German cities and today's regional levels in neurotic traits (N = 33 534) and related mental health problems. Contrary to the WWII bombing hypothesis, we found negative effects of strategic bombing on regional trait depression and mental health problems. This finding was robust when controlling for a host of economic factors and social structure. We also found Resilience × Stressor interactions: Cities with more severe bombings show more resilience today (lower levels of neurotic traits and mental health problems in the face of a current major stressor—economic hardship).

Global Increases in Individualism
Henri Santos, Michael Varnum & Igor Grossmann
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Individualism appears to have increased over the past several decades, yet most research documenting this shift has been limited to the study of a handful of highly developed countries. Is the world becoming more individualist as a whole? If so, why? To answer these questions, we examined 51 years of data on individualist practices and values across 78 countries. Our findings suggest that individualism is indeed rising in most of the societies we tested. Despite dramatic shifts toward greater individualism around the world, however, cultural differences remain sizable. Moreover, cultural differences are primarily linked to changes in socioeconomic development, and to a lesser extent to shifts in pathogen prevalence and disaster frequency.

Corruption, Social Judgment and Culture: An Experiment
Timothy Salmon & Danila Serra
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, October 2017, Pages 64-78

Modern societies rely on both formal and social mechanisms to enforce social norms of behavior. Formal enforcement mechanisms rely on monetary or other tangible incentives while social enforcement mechanisms rely on some form of social judgment involving informal sanctions. We experimentally investigate the extent to which social observability and the possibility of social judgment affect individuals’ decisions to engage in corruption at the expense of others. We are also interested in the degree to which culture matters. We use a laboratory experiment with a sample of individuals who live in the U.S. but is also characterized by cultural heterogeneity due to the immigration of their ancestors to the U.S. We find that the possibility of social judgment reduces corruption only among individuals who identify culturally with countries characterized by low levels of corruption. Our findings suggest that the effectiveness of social enforcement mechanisms is at least partly dependent on the sociocultural norms prevailing in the target population.

Does culture create craving? Evidence from the case of menstrual chocolate craving
Julia Hormes & Martha Niemiec
PLoS ONE, July 2017

Craving is considered a key characteristic of diverse pathologies, but evidence suggests it may be a culture-bound construct. Almost 50% of American women crave chocolate specifically around the onset of menstruation. Research does not support popular accounts implicating physiological factors in menstrual chocolate craving etiology. We tested the novel hypothesis that greater menstrual craving prevalence in the U.S. is the product of internalized cultural norms. Women of diverse backgrounds (n = 275) reported on craving frequency and triggers and completed validated measures of acculturation. Foreign-born women were significantly less likely to endorse menstrual chocolate craving (17.3%), compared to women born to U.S.-born parents (32.7%, p = .03) and second generation immigrants (40.9%, p = .001). Second generation immigrant and foreign-born women endorsing menstrual chocolate craving reported significantly greater U.S. acculturation and lower identification with their native culture than non-menstrual cravers (all p < .001). Findings inform our understanding of food cravings, with important implications for the study of cravings in other domains.

Is the Lone Scientist an American Dream? Perceived Communal Opportunities in STEM Offer a Pathway to Closing U.S.–Asia Gaps in Interest and Positivity
Elizabeth Brown et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

The United States lags behind many Asian countries in engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). An unexplored factor in these country-level differences may be U.S.–Asia gaps in perceptions of the goal opportunities provided by STEM. Across four studies, U.S. students perceived fewer communal opportunities (working with/helping/relationships with others) in STEM than Asian students; this differential perception contributed to U.S.–Asia gaps in STEM interest. Perceptions of communal opportunities in STEM did not follow from a general orientation to perceive that all careers provided communal opportunities but from communal engagement in STEM. Perceptions about communal opportunities in STEM predicted STEM interest, and communal experience in STEM predicted STEM interest beyond quantity of STEM exposure. Experimentally highlighting the perceived communal opportunities in science closed the cultural gap in positivity toward a scientist career (Study 5). Perceptions of communal opportunities in STEM provide a new vantage point to improve U.S. engagement in STEM.

The Cultural Origin of CEOs’ Attitudes Towards Uncertainty: Evidence from Corporate Acquisitions
Yihui Pan, Stephan Siegel & Tracy Yue Wang
University of Utah Working Paper, June 2017

We examine how U.S. CEOs’ attitudes towards uncertainty as well as their corporate investment decisions are shaped by their cultural heritage – a potentially important aspect of their upbringing and early life environment. We find that CEOs with a more uncertainty avoiding cultural heritage are less likely to engage in corporate acquisitions. Conditional on making an acquisition, more uncertainty avoiding CEOs prefer targets in industries that they are familiar with and targets that can be integrated more easily. The impact of culturally transmitted uncertainty attitudes on M&A decisions is stronger when CEOs’ parents put more emphasis on the family’s cultural heritage. Finally, cultural differences with respect to uncertainty attitudes persist over multiple generations, but become less pronounced over time. Overall, our results highlight an important role of cultural heritage in shaping decisions under uncertainty by U.S. CEOs as well as of parents in transmitting cultural values, in particular attitudes towards uncertainty, to their children.

Asian Americans Respond Less Favorably to Excitement (vs. Calm)-Focused Physicians Compared to European Americans
Tamara Sims et al.
Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, forthcoming

Method: In Study 1, 198 European American, Chinese American, and Hong Kong Chinese community adults read a medical scenario and indicated their preference for an excitement-focused versus calm-focused physician. In Study 2, 81 European American and Asian American community college students listened to recommendations made by an excitement-focused or calm-focused physician in a video, and later attempted to recall the recommendations. In Study 3, 101 European American and Asian American middle-aged and older adults had multiple online encounters with an excitement-focused or calm-focused physician and then evaluated their physicians’ trustworthiness, competence, and knowledge.

Results: As predicted, Hong Kong Chinese preferred excitement-focused physicians less than European Americans, with Chinese Americans falling in the middle (Study 1). Similarly, Asian Americans remembered health information delivered by an excitement-focused physician less well than did European Americans (Study 2). Finally, Asian Americans evaluated an excitement-focused physician less positively than did European Americans (Study 3).

Neurocultural evidence that ideal affect match promotes giving
BoKyung Park et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, July 2017, Pages 1083-1096

Why do people give to strangers? We propose that people trust and give more to those whose emotional expressions match how they ideally want to feel (“ideal affect match”). European Americans and Koreans played multiple trials of the Dictator Game with recipients who varied in emotional expression (excited, calm), race (White, Asian) and sex (male, female). Consistent with their culture’s valued affect, European Americans trusted and gave more to excited than calm recipients, whereas Koreans trusted and gave more to calm than excited recipients. These findings held regardless of recipient race and sex. We then used fMRI to probe potential affective and mentalizing mechanisms. Increased activity in the nucleus accumbens (associated with reward anticipation) predicted giving, as did decreased activity in the right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ; associated with reduced belief prediction error). Ideal affect match decreased rTPJ activity, suggesting that people may trust and give more to strangers whom they perceive to share their affective values.

Egg White or Sun-Kissed: A Cross-Cultural Exploration of Skin Color and Women’s Leisure Behavior
Hsin-Yu Chen et al.
Sex Roles, forthcoming

The present study explores how culture-based meanings and values toward skin color, which are associated with women’s body image ideals and gender-role expectations, profoundly influence women’s leisure behaviors. Using in-depth interviews with East Asian, Asian American, and Euro-American women (n = 43), results revealed how leisure behaviors are tied to cultural perceptions of skin color. People from different cultural backgrounds construct meanings and values pertaining to skin color, including beauty-related standards, social class, gender roles, and lifestyles. Culture-based values, such as the preference for tanned skin among Euro-Americans and for lighter skin among East Asians, affect a wide range of daily behaviors. These behaviors include conscious as well as subtle daily decision-making regarding sun-seeking, sun-avoidance, and sun-protection behaviors; indoor versus outdoor leisure participation; and appearance modifications. The study’s results add knowledge to how perceptions and attitudes toward skin color and appearance manifest in women's daily behavior in general and leisure behavior in particular. In addition, the current study shows how individual behaviors reflect cultural meanings and values toward body image, specifically skin color, by emphasizing the links between cultural values and women’s day-to-day lives.

Cultures differ in the ability to enhance affective neural responses
Michael Varnum & Ryan Hampton
Social Neuroscience, September/October 2017, Pages 594-603

The present study (N = 55) used an event-related potential paradigm to investigate whether cultures differ in the ability to upregulate affective responses. Using stimuli selected from the International Affective Picture System, we found that European-Americans (N = 29) enhanced central-parietal late positive potential (LPP) (400–800 ms post-stimulus) responses to affective stimuli when instructed to do so, whereas East Asians (N = 26) did not. We observed cultural differences in the ability to enhance central-parietal LPP responses for both positively and negatively valenced stimuli, and the ability to enhance these two types of responses was positively correlated for Americans but negatively for East Asians. These results are consistent with the notion that cultural variations in norms and values regarding affective expression and experiences shape how the brain regulates emotions.

A Cross-Cultural Study of Risky Online Self-Presentation
Claire White et al.
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, forthcoming

The use of social media is pervasive among young adults. However, not all posted content is beneficial to their self-presentation, but can have negative and damaging consequences. This study investigated how individual differences in self-monitoring and impulsiveness influence risky online self-presentation in British and Italian samples. British participants (n = 88) were more likely to post comments and images related to their alcohol and drug use, whereas Italian (n = 90) participants posted more offensive content and personal information. High self-monitoring and high impulsiveness was positively predictive of risky self-presentation online regardless of nationality, highlighting the normative influence of social media culture, and the influence of both spontaneous and deliberative behavior on posting inappropriate content online. These novel insights regarding the way young adults present themselves on social network sites could help explain differences in self-presentation.

Frogs, Ponds, and Culture: Variations in Entry Decisions
Kaidi Wu, Stephen Garcia & Shirli Kopelman
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Would you rather be the big frog in a small pond or the small frog in a big pond? In three studies, we demonstrate that the entry preference depends on culture. Study 1 found a higher big pond preference for East Asian, versus European American, students. Studies 2A and 2B replicated this big pond preference in behavioral intent across educational and organizational settings for Chinese, as compared to United States, working adults. Study 3 demonstrated cultural variation in frog–pond decisions was not explained by comparison processes that characterize postentry self-regard but rather by concerns for prestige. Together, findings highlight how a cultural lens informs psychological processes that shape entry decision-making.

Natural Disaster Risk and Collectivism
Shigehiro Oishi & Asuka Komiya
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming

Previous research found that low levels of national wealth and high levels of historical pathogen prevalence are associated with collectivism. The main idea is that harsh economic and physical environments present a psychological threat, which evokes collectivism or the priority of protecting in-group members. To the extent that natural disasters pose a major threat, we hypothesized that natural disaster risk is also associated with collectivism. Consistent with our hypothesis, nations with higher levels of natural disaster risk were more collectivistic than those with lower risk using both Hofstede’s individualism–collectivism scores and Taras, Steel, and Kirkman’s meta-analytic individualism–collectivism scores from 1970 to 2010, and Taras et al.’s meta-analytic individualism–collectivism scores from the 2000s. This association remained significant when controlling for other climatic factors such as historical pathogen prevalence, climatic harshness, and distance from the equator, respectively, when Hofstede’s individualism–collectivism scores and Taras et al.’s scores from 1970 to 2010 were used. The association became marginal when Taras et al.’s scores from the 2000s were used. A multiple regression analysis showed that natural disaster risk was not a predictor of collectivism, above and beyond gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, pathogen prevalence, climatic harshness, and distance from the equator simultaneously. Finally, we found the interaction between GDP per capita and natural disaster such that the link between natural disaster risk and collectivism was present among wealthy but not among poorer nations.

Free will beliefs predict attitudes toward unethical behavior and criminal punishment
Nathan Martin, Davide Rigoni & Kathleen Vohs
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 July 2017, Pages 7325–7330

Do free will beliefs influence moral judgments? Answers to this question from theoretical and empirical perspectives are controversial. This study attempted to replicate past research and offer theoretical insights by analyzing World Values Survey data from residents of 46 countries (n = 65,111 persons). Corroborating experimental findings, free will beliefs predicted intolerance of unethical behaviors and support for severe criminal punishment. Further, the link between free will beliefs and intolerance of unethical behavior was moderated by variations in countries’ institutional integrity, defined as the degree to which countries had accountable, corruption-free public sectors. Free will beliefs predicted intolerance of unethical behaviors for residents of countries with high and moderate institutional integrity, but this correlation was not seen for countries with low institutional integrity. Free will beliefs predicted support for criminal punishment regardless of countries’ institutional integrity. Results were robust across different operationalizations of institutional integrity and with or without statistical control variables.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.