The Way They Are

Kevin Lewis

January 30, 2020

Fear Goliath or David? Inferring Competence From Demeanor Across Cultures
Albert Lee et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


We examined cultural differences in people’s lay theories of demeanor — how demeanor may be perceived as a straightforward and reliable reflection of reality (convergence theory) or as a deviating reflection of reality (divergence theory). Across different domains of competition, Euro-Canadians perceived greater competence in an opponent with a competent demeanor, whereas Chinese paradoxically perceived greater competence in an opponent with no signs of competence (Studies 1–4b). The results, unexplained by attributional styles (Study 1), likability (Study 3), or modesty (Study 3), suggest that Euro-Canadians endorse a stronger convergence theory than Chinese in their inferences of competence. Corroborated with qualitative data (Study 4a), such cultural differences were explained by the beliefs that demeanor can be a misleading reflection of reality, verified in college and community (Study 4b) samples. We discuss the implications for social perception, intergroup dynamics, and self-presentation in competitions.

Linguistic Traits and Human Capital Formation
Oded Galor, Ömer Özak & Assaf Sarid
NBER Working Paper, January 2020


This research establishes the influence of linguistic traits on human behavior. Exploiting variations in the languages spoken by children of migrants with identical ancestral countries of origin, the analysis indicates that the presence of periphrastic future tense, and its association with long-term orientation has a significant positive impact on educational attainment, whereas the presence of sex-based grammatical gender, and its association with gender bias, has a significant adverse impact on female educational attainment.

The Influence of Power on U.S. and Chinese Individuals’ Judgments and Reasoning About Intrasocietal Conflicts
Nan Zhu, Skyler Hawk & Judith Smetana
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, January 2020, Pages 77-105


This study used a social domain theory framework to investigate Chinese and U.S. individuals’ evaluations of intrasocietal conflicts (defined as situations where some individuals’ rights clash with collective interests), and how those evaluations might be influenced by concepts of high versus low power. Undergraduate students in both the United States (n = 92) and China (n = 98) received either a high-power or a low-power prime and then evaluated (a) the acceptability of actions taken by different parties in hypothetical scenarios about intrasocietal conflicts, (b) moral and societal justifications for these actions, and (c) the appropriateness of actions by outside, third parties aimed at affirming individual rights. Results showed that moral justifications for individual actions were positively associated with pro-individual-rights judgments in both societies, regardless of power condition. In addition, U.S. individuals primed with high power and Chinese participants primed with low power showed lower support for third-party actions, based on societal concerns from the collective perspective. Chinese participants primed with high power also accepted collective actions based on moral and societal concerns. These results extend social domain theory by demonstrating how different power concepts affect the relative importance of moral versus societal concerns in individuals’ judgments, especially when evaluating third-party actions.

Television consumption drives perceptions of female body attractiveness in a population undergoing technological transition
Lynda Boothroyd et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Perceptions of physical attractiveness vary across cultural groups, particularly for female body size and shape. It has been hypothesized that visual media propagates Western “thin ideals.” However, because cross-cultural studies typically consider groups highly differentiated on a number of factors, identifying the causal factors has thus far been impossible. In the present research, we conducted “naturalistic” and controlled experiments to test the influence of media access on female body ideals in a remote region of Nicaragua by sampling from villages with and without regular TV access. We found that greater TV consumption remained a significant predictor of preferences for slimmer, curvier female figures after controlling for a range of other factors in an ethnically balanced sample of 299 individuals (150 female, aged 15–79) across 7 villages. Within-individual analyses in 1 village over 3 years also showed an association between increased TV consumption and preferences for slimmer figures among some participants. Finally, an experimental study in 2 low-media locations demonstrates that exposure to media images of fashion models can directly impact participants’ body size ideals. We provide the first converging cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental evidence from field-based research, that media exposure can drive changes in perceptions of female attractiveness.

Mass Education, International Travel, and Ideal Ages at Marriage
Ellen Compernolle & William Axinn
Demography, December 2019, Pages 2083–2108


Opportunities to document associations between macro-level changes in social organization and the spread of new individual attitudes are relatively rare. Moreover, of the factors generally understood to be influential, little is known about the potential mechanisms that make them so powerful. Here we use longitudinal measures from the Chitwan Valley Family Study (CVFS) to describe the processes of ideational change across 12 years among a representative sample from a rural agrarian setting in South Asia. Findings from lagged dependent variable models show that (1) two key dimensions of social organization – education and international travel – are strongly associated with change in attitudes, net of prior attitudes; (2) reorganization of education and travel are associated with attitudes toward ideal age at marriage; and (3) this association varies by gender. Using the study’s prospective design, we document not only these important associations but also potential mechanisms of education and travel – exposure to the English language and friends’ international travel experience – as potentially powerful social influences on individuals’ attitudes, independent of their own experiences.

Predictors of Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbian Women in 23 Countries
Maria Laura Bettinsoli, Alexandra Suppes & Jaime Napier
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Dominant accounts of sexual prejudice posit that negative attitudes toward nonheterosexual individuals are stronger for male (vs. female) targets, higher among men (vs. women), and driven, in part, by the perception that gay men and lesbian women violate traditional gender norms. We test these predictions in 23 countries, representing both Western and non-Western societies. Results show that (1) gay men are disliked more than lesbian women across all countries; (2) after adjusting for endorsement of traditional gender norms, the relationship between participant gender and sexual prejudice is inconsistent across Western countries, but men (vs. women) in non-Western countries consistently report more negative attitudes toward gay men; and (3) a significant association between gender norm endorsement and sexual prejudice across countries, but it was absent or reversed in China, India, and South Korea. Taken together, this work suggests that gender and sexuality may be more loosely associated in some non-Western contexts.

Cross-Cultural Comparison of Sensory Preferences in Romantic Attraction
Victor Karandashev et al.
Sexuality & Culture, February 2020, Pages 23–53


Various physical characteristics of a partner — visual, auditory, tactile and kinetic, olfactory, and gustatory — can affect human mate choice and romantic attraction. Evolutionary factors, as well as socioeconomic and cultural parameters play their role in these sensory preferences. A series of studies in societies varying in social, economic, and cultural parameters (10 samples in six countries with 2740 participants in total) explored cross-cultural similarities and differences of sensory preferences that people have in their romantic attraction. The results revealed that social development of countries and their cultural parameters allow prediction of preferences of certain sensory parameters in one’s romantic partner’s appearance. The most general distinctions of sensory preferences are in the societies with different degree of modernization, along with corresponding social and cultural parameters. The stable biologically and evolutionarily determined characteristics of physical appearance, such as smell, skin, body, etc., are important for one’s sensory preferences in romantic attraction in less modernized societies, which are characterized by greater power distance, lower individualism, indulgence, and emancipative values. On the other hand, the characteristics of romantic partner’s appearance, which are more flexible and easier to change, such as expressive behavior, dress, dance, etc., are more important in more modernized societies with lower Power Distance, high value of Individualism, Indulgence, and Emancipation.

Patterns of paternal investment predict cross-cultural variation in jealous response
Brooke Scelza et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, January 2020, Pages 20–26


Long-lasting, romantic partnerships are a universal feature of human societies, but almost as ubiquitous is the risk of instability when one partner strays. Jealous response to the threat of infidelity is well studied, but most empirical work on the topic has focused on a proposed sex difference in the type of jealousy (sexual or emotional) that men and women find most upsetting, rather than on how jealous response varies. This stems in part from the predominance of studies using student samples from industrialized populations, which represent a relatively homogenous group in terms of age, life history stage and social norms. To better understand variation in jealous response, we conducted a 2-part study in 11 populations (1,048 individuals). In line with previous work, we find a robust sex difference in the classic forced-choice jealousy task. However, we also show substantial variation in jealous response across populations. Using parental investment theory, we derived several predictions about what might trigger such variation. We find that greater paternal investment and lower frequency of extramarital sex are associated with more severe jealous response. Thus, partner jealousy appears to be a facultative response, reflective of the variable risks and costs of men’s investment across societies.

Cultural Variability in the Association Between Age and Well-Being: The Role of Uncertainty Avoidance
Smaranda Ioana Lawrie et al.
Psychological Science, January 2020, Pages 51-64


Past research has found a mixed relationship between age and subjective well-being. The current research advances the understanding of these findings by incorporating a cultural perspective. We tested whether the relationship between age and well-being is moderated by uncertainty avoidance, a cultural dimension dealing with society’s tolerance for ambiguity. In Study 1 (N = 64,228), using a multilevel approach with an international database, we found that older age was associated with lower well-being in countries higher in uncertainty avoidance but not in countries lower in uncertainty avoidance. Further, this cultural variation was mediated by a sense of control. In Study 2 (N = 1,025), we compared a culture with low uncertainty avoidance (the United States) with a culture with high uncertainty avoidance (Romania) and found a consistent pattern: Age was negatively associated with well-being in Romania but not in the United States. This cultural difference was mediated by the use of contrasting coping strategies associated with different levels of a sense of control.


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