Where you come from

Kevin Lewis

August 30, 2016

Long-Term Orientation and Educational Performance

David Figlio et al.

NBER Working Paper, August 2016

We use remarkable population-level administrative education and birth records from Florida to study the role of Long-Term Orientation on the educational attainment of immigrant students living in the US. Controlling for the quality of schools and individual characteristics, students from countries with long term oriented attitudes perform better than students from cultures that do not emphasize the importance of delayed gratification. These students perform better in third grade reading and math tests, have larger test score gains over time, have fewer absences and disciplinary incidents, are less likely to repeat grades, and are more likely to graduate from high school in four years. Also, they are more likely to enroll in advanced high school courses, especially in scientific subjects. Parents from long term oriented cultures are more likely to secure better educational opportunities for their children. A larger fraction of immigrants speaking the same language in the school amplifies the effect of Long-Term Orientation on educational performance. We validate these results using a sample of immigrant students living in 37 different countries.


Arab Responses to Western Hegemony: Experimental Evidence from Egypt

Elizabeth Nugent, Tarek Masoud & Amaney Jamal

Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming

Scholars have long held that Islamism — defined as a political ideology that demands the application of Islamic holy law and the deepening of religious identity — is in part a response to Western domination of Muslim lands. Drawing on the literatures on nationalism and international relations theory, we argue that Islamism is one of a menu of options that Muslims may adopt in response to Western hegemony — a menu that includes Arab nationalism and pro-Western accommodation. We hypothesize that a Muslim’s ideological response to Western domination is a function of the type of domination experienced — that is, military, cultural, or economic — as well as of individual-level characteristics such as intensity of religious practice. We test this hypothesis with a nationally representative survey experiment conducted in Egypt. We find that, among subjects in our study, pro-Western responses to Western domination were more common than “Islamist” or “nationalist” ones and that these were particularly driven by reminders of the West’s economic ascendancy. These findings suggest that foreign domination does not always yield defensive responses and often produces desires for greater cooperation with the hegemon.


Indifference to dissonance in native Amazonians reveals cultural variation in music perception

Josh McDermott et al.

Nature, 28 July 2016, Pages 547–550

Music is present in every culture, but the degree to which it is shaped by biology remains debated. One widely discussed phenomenon is that some combinations of notes are perceived by Westerners as pleasant, or consonant, whereas others are perceived as unpleasant, or dissonant. The contrast between consonance and dissonance is central to Western music, and its origins have fascinated scholars since the ancient Greeks. Aesthetic responses to consonance are commonly assumed by scientists to have biological roots, and thus to be universally present in humans. Ethnomusicologists and composers, in contrast, have argued that consonance is a creation of Western musical culture. The issue has remained unresolved, partly because little is known about the extent of cross-cultural variation in consonance preferences. Here we report experiments with the Tsimane’ — a native Amazonian society with minimal exposure to Western culture — and comparison populations in Bolivia and the United States that varied in exposure to Western music. Participants rated the pleasantness of sounds. Despite exhibiting Western-like discrimination abilities and Western-like aesthetic responses to familiar sounds and acoustic roughness, the Tsimane’ rated consonant and dissonant chords and vocal harmonies as equally pleasant. By contrast, Bolivian city- and town-dwellers exhibited significant preferences for consonance, albeit to a lesser degree than US residents. The results indicate that consonance preferences can be absent in cultures sufficiently isolated from Western music, and are thus unlikely to reflect innate biases or exposure to harmonic natural sounds. The observed variation in preferences is presumably determined by exposure to musical harmony, suggesting that culture has a dominant role in shaping aesthetic responses to music.


Individual Responsibility and Economic Development: Evidence from Rainfall Data

Lewis Davis

Kyklos, August 2016, Pages 426–470

This paper estimates the effect of individual responsibility on economic development using an instrument derived from rainfall data. I argue that a taste for collective responsibility was adaptive in preindustrial societies that were exposed to high levels of agricultural risk, and that these attitudes continue to influence contemporary social norms and economic outcomes. The link between agricultural risk and collective responsibility is formalized in a model of optimal parental socialization effort. Empirically, I find a robust negative correlation between rainfall variation, a measure of exogenous agricultural risk, and a measure of individual responsibility. Using rainfall variation as an instrument, I find that individual responsibility has a large positive effect on economic development. The relationships between rainfall variation, individual responsibility and economic development are robust to the inclusion of variables related to climate and agricultural and institutional development.


Culture and Healthy Eating: The Role of Independence and Interdependence in the United States and Japan

Cynthia Levine et al.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Healthy eating is important for physical health. Using large probability samples of middle-aged adults in the United States and Japan, we show that fitting with the culturally normative way of being predicts healthy eating. In the United States, a culture that prioritizes and emphasizes independence, being independent predicts eating a healthy diet (an index of fish, protein, fruit, vegetables, reverse-coded sugared beverages, and reverse-coded high fat meat consumption; Study 1) and not using nonmeat food as a way to cope with stress (Study 2a). In Japan, a culture that prioritizes and emphasizes interdependence, being interdependent predicts eating a healthy diet (Studies 1 and 2b). Furthermore, reflecting the types of agency that are prevalent in each context, these relationships are mediated by autonomy in the United States and positive relations with others in Japan. These findings highlight the importance of understanding cultural differences in shaping healthy behavior and have implications for designing health-promoting interventions.


Gender preference and age at arrival among Asian immigrant mothers in the US

Ben Ost & Eva Dziadula

Economics Letters, August 2016, Pages 286–290

We examine gender preference assimilation by comparing fertility patterns of Asian immigrants according to their age of arrival. Past work has shown that U.S. natives appear to value mixed sex composition whereas families in many Asian countries exhibit a strong son preference. We find that Asian immigrants who arrive to the US late in life show evidence of son preference since they are much more likely to have additional children if their first two children are girls. Asian immigrants who arrive early in life, however, exhibit a fertility pattern quite close to that of U.S. natives. Our results are suggestive of complete assimilation of gender preferences for immigrants who arrive as children, and very little gender preference assimilation for immigrants who arrive at later ages.


Cooperation, Decision Time, and Culture: Online Experiments with American and Indian Participants

Akihiro Nishi, Nicholas Christakis & David Rand

Yale Working Paper, June 2016

Two separate bodies of work have examined whether culture affects cooperation in economic games and whether cooperative or non-cooperative decisions occur more quickly. Here, we connect this work by exploring the relationship between decision time and cooperation in American versus Indian subjects. We use a series of dynamic social network experiments in which subjects play a repeated public goods game: 80 sessions for a total of 1,462 subjects (1,059 from the United States, 337 from India, and 66 from other countries) making 13,560 decisions. In the first round, where subjects do not know if connecting neighbors are cooperative, American subjects are highly cooperative and decide faster when cooperating than when defecting, whereas a majority of Indian subjects defect and Indians decide faster when defecting than when cooperating. The same is true in later rounds where neighbors were previously cooperative (a cooperative environment) although the Indian decision time difference does not reach significance. Conversely, when connecting neighbors were previously not cooperative (a non-cooperative environment), a large majority of both American and Indian subjects defect, and defection is faster than cooperation among both sets of subjects. Our results imply the cultural background of subjects in their real life affects the speed of cooperation decision-making differentially in online social environments. 


Do Institutions Affect Social Preferences? Evidence from Divided Korea

Byung-Yeon Kim et al.

Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming

The division of Korea is a historic social experiment that randomly assigned ex ante identical individuals into two different economic and political institutions. About 70 years after the division, we sample Koreans who were born and raised in the two different parts of Korea to study whether institutions affect social preferences. We find that those from North Korea behave in a less self-interested manner and support the market economy and democracy less than those from South Korea. A follow-up study shows that social preferences did not change considerably in two years. We check robustness against sample selection and potential confounding factors such as income differences. Our findings indicate that preferences are rooted in institutions.


The relationship between momentary emotions and well-being across European Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans

Eunsoo Choi & Yulia Chentsova-Dutton

Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming

Cultural differences in the emphasis on positive and negative emotions suggest that the impact of these emotions on well-being may differ across cultural contexts. The present study utilised a momentary sampling method to capture average momentary emotional experiences. We found that for participants from cultural contexts that foster positive emotions (European Americans and Hispanic Americans), average momentary positive emotions predicted well-being better than average momentary negative emotions. In contrast, average momentary negative emotions were more strongly associated with well-being measures for Asian Americans, the group from a cultural context that emphasises monitoring of negative emotions. Furthermore, we found that acculturation to American culture moderated the association between average momentary positive emotions and well-being for Asian Americans. These findings suggest the importance of culture in studying the impact of daily emotional experiences on well-being.


Give me liberty and give me control: Economic freedom, control perceptions and the paradox of choice

Boris Nikolaev & Daniel Bennett

European Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming

We explore the relationship between individual control perceptions and the degree to which a country's institutions and policies are consistent with the principles of economic freedom. Using data from the World Values Surveys (WVS) and the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index, we find that people living in more economically free countries are more likely to perceive greater control over their lives. This effect is not diminishing at higher levels of economic freedom. One possible channel that explains this relationship is the perception of procedural fairness and social mobility. Decomposing the EFW index, we further find that the area of sound money is what drives the results.


Exploring the Motivations for Punishment: Framing and Country-Level Effects

Jonathan Bone, Katherine McAuliffe & Nichola Raihani

PLoS ONE, August 2016

Identifying the motives underpinning punishment is crucial for understanding its evolved function. In principle, punishment of distributional inequality could be motivated by the desire to reciprocate losses ('revenge') or by the desire to reduce payoff asymmetries between the punisher and the target ('inequality aversion'). By separating these two possible motivations, recent work suggests that punishment is more likely to be motivated by disadvantageous inequality aversion than by a desire for revenge. Nevertheless, these findings have not consistently replicated across different studies. Here, we suggest that considering country of origin — previously overlooked as a possible source of variation in responses — is important for understanding when and why individuals punish one another. We conducted a two-player stealing game with punishment, using data from 2,400 subjects recruited from the USA and India. US-based subjects punished in response to losses and disadvantageous inequality, but seldom invested in antisocial punishment (defined here as punishment of non-stealing partners). India-based subjects, on the other hand, punished at higher levels than US-based subjects and, so long as they did not experience disadvantageous inequality, punished stealing and non-stealing partners indiscriminately. Nevertheless, as in the USA, when stealing resulted in disadvantageous inequality, India-based subjects punished stealing partners more than non-stealing partners. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that variation in punitive behavior varies across societies, and support the idea that punishment might sometimes function to improve relative status, rather than to enforce cooperation.


Watching Subtitled Films Can Help Learning Foreign Languages

J. Birulés-Muntané & S. Soto-Faraco

PLoS ONE, June 2016

Watching English-spoken films with subtitles is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. One reason for this trend is the assumption that perceptual learning of the sounds of a foreign language, English, will improve perception skills in non-English speakers. Yet, solid proof for this is scarce. In order to test the potential learning effects derived from watching subtitled media, a group of intermediate Spanish students of English as a foreign language watched a 1h-long episode of a TV drama in its original English version, with English, Spanish or no subtitles overlaid. Before and after the viewing, participants took a listening and vocabulary test to evaluate their speech perception and vocabulary acquisition in English, plus a final plot comprehension test. The results of the listening skills tests revealed that after watching the English subtitled version, participants improved these skills significantly more than after watching the Spanish subtitled or no-subtitles versions. The vocabulary test showed no reliable differences between subtitled conditions. Finally, as one could expect, plot comprehension was best under native, Spanish subtitles. These learning effects with just 1 hour exposure might have major implications with longer exposure times.


I Am Dumber When I Look Dumb in Front of Many (vs. Few) Others: A Cross-Cultural Difference in How Audience Size Affects Perceived Social Reputation and Self-Judgments

Minjae Seo et al.

Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, September 2016, Pages 1019-1032

People from all cultures are averse to looking dumb in front of others, especially if there is a large audience. However, there could be a difference between Face and Dignity cultures in the extent to which their members see themselves as dumb when they perform poorly before a large versus small audience. In the present study, Chinese and Americans were asked to imagine themselves performing poorly on tasks either in front of 10 others or one other and make judgments about how poorly (a) they thought and (b) others would think they performed on the tasks. Chinese were found to judge their performance more negatively in the large (vs. small) audience, but Americans were not. Audience size effect on self-judgments was mediated by how the Chinese perceived others to judge their performance in the large (vs. small) audience. Findings are discussed in the context of the logic of Face and Dignity cultures.


Why household inefficiency? An experimental approach to assess spousal resource distribution preferences in a subsistence population undergoing socioeconomic change

Jonathan Stieglitz et al.

Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming

Two disparate views of the sexual division of labour have dominated the representation of intra-household resource allocations. These joint and separate interests views differ in their interpretation of the relative roles of men and women, and make different predictions about the extent to which marriage promotes economic efficiency (i.e. maximized household production). Using an experimental “distribution task” stipulating a trade-off between household efficiency and spousal equality in allocating surpluses of meat and money, we examine factors influencing spousal distribution preferences among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists of Bolivia (n = 53 couples). Our primary goal is to understand whether and how access to perfectly fungible and liquid resources – which increases with greater participation in market economies – shifts intra-household distribution preferences. We hypothesize that greater fungibility of money compared to meat results in greater squandering of money for individual fitness gain at a cost to the family. Money therefore requires costly strategies to insure against a partner's claims for consumption. Whereas nearly all Tsimane spouses prefer efficient meat distributions, we find a substantially reduced efficiency preference for money compared to meat controlling for potential confounders (adjusted OR = 0.087, 95% CI: 0.02–0.38). Reported marital conflict over paternal disinvestment is associated with a nearly 13-fold increase in odds of revealing a selfish money distribution preference. Selfish husbands are significantly more likely than other husbands to be paired with selfish wives. Lastly, Tsimane husbands and wives are more likely than Western Europeans to prefer an efficient money distribution, but Tsimane wives are more likely than Western European wives to exhibit a selfish preference. In sum, preferences for the distribution of household production surplus support joint and separate interests views of marriage; a hybrid approach best explains how ecological-, family-, and individual-level factors influence spousal preferences through their effects on perceptions of marginal gains within and outside the household.


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