As a social and cultural psychologist, I have been investigating cultural differences between European North Americans and East Asians in perception, memory, categorization, prediction, judgment and decision making. In future research, I am hoping to expand the cultures of focus to include Europeans, Central Americans, and others.
My current research has focused mainly on the following themes:
(1) Cultural differences in lay theories of change, and their applications in various areas
People develop lay (or implicit) theories to make sense of how events develop over time. Such lay theories of change affect people’s predictions, decisions and subsequent behaviors. In a series of studies (Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001), we found that Chinese were more likely than Americans to predict changes in events, changes in the directions of change, and changes in the rates of change. Thus, relatively speaking, European North Americans hold a linear lay theory of change whereas Chinese hold a non-linear or cyclical theory of change.
Different lay theories of change across cultures have implications for information perception (Ji et al, 2001; Ji et al., 2008), stock market decisions ((Ji, Zhang & Guo, 2008), optimism (Ji, Zhang, Usborne, & Guan, 2004), relationship forecasting (Ji, in prep), and relationship development (ongoing project).
(2) Cultural differences in perception and representation of temporal information.
Past cultural research has shown that East Asians attend to a greater range of information in attention, attribution, and memory (e.g., Ji, Peng, & Nisbett, 2000; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001; Choi, Dalal, Kim-Prieto, & Park, 2003). However, time was not examined as a factor in these previous studies. We expected and found that Chinese are more likely to attend to a greater range of temporal information (pertaining to the past or future) than European North Americans when making judgments (Ji, Guo, Zhang, & Messervey, 2009; Ji, Guo, & Zhang, in prep). We also found that Chinese participants represented the past in greater detail than North Americans. In addition, we found that Chinese perceived past (and future) events as closer than did North Americans. These findings indicate that Chinese attend to a broader range of temporal information than do North Americans, which reflects different ways of thinking by Chinese and Canadians.
(3) Culture, decision making, and cognitive heuristics
One area of research I am becoming increasingly interested in is cross-cultural decision making. In a project with Yates and others, I found different decision making styles by Japanese, Americans, and Chinese, such that Japanese were much more indecisive than Americans and Chinese, whereas there was no difference between the latter two groups (Yates, Ji, et al., 2010). Cultural differences in decisiveness correspond to cultural variations in people's values of decisive behaviors, such that Japanese do not value decisiveness as much as Americans or Chinese. The findings suggest that cultural differences in values are plausibly an important means for motivating and sustaining cultural differences in indecisiveness. Decision making across cultures is a promising field, and I am developing new research programs in this area, especially on behavioral decision making (see also Ji, et al., 2008). I am actively seeking dialogues with researchers in business, health, and economics.
Our lab has also been examining cultural differences in cognitive heuristics. We have examined representativeness heuristics in the causal context (e.g., big cause leads to big effect). We have conducted a series of studies (Spina, Ji, et al., 2010) to test the hypothesis that North Americans would be more likely than Chinese to expect correspondence in magnitude between a causal event and an effect event. We presented participants with hypothetical scenarios or pictures suggesting events that were small or large in magnitude, and found that North Americans were more likely than Chinese to expect resemblance of cause and effect in magnitude when trying to understand social events. We also found that North Americans would respond more like Chinese when primed with holistic thinking than when primed with analytic thinking. This line of research has significant implications, and suggests that people’s thinking styles are malleable.
(4) The relationship among culture, language and behavior.
In one line of research, I have examined how language may affect the way people reason in addition to culture. We found that differences in reasoning styles between Chinese and European Americans held even when controlling for the language of testing. Bilingual Chinese organized objects in a more relational and less categorical way than European Americans, whether tested in English or in Chinese. Thus, culture affects reasoning independent of the testing language. Nevertheless, language affected some Chinese bilinguals’ categorization. The responses of Chinese from the Mainland and Taiwan were more relational when tested in Chinese than when tested in English. This suggests that language may activate different thoughts for the coordinate Chinese bilinguals (such as those in China and Taiwan, who learn English at a relatively late age) due to the dual social realities associated with the two languages respectively (see Ji, Zhang, & Nisbett, 2004). In an ongoing project, we are investigating how language used in a conversation by bilinguals may affect their behaviors and others’ perception of them.
(5) Culture, cognition, development and aging
I am curious about how children in different cultures develop their culture-specific way of reasoning, and when cultural differences in cognition start to emerge. I conducted a developmental study with Chinese and Canadian children (aged 7, 9, and 11 years) to answer these questions in the context of lay theories of change (see Ji, 2008). Overall, Canadian participants predicted stability more often than did Chinese participants, indicating that they believed more in stability than did Chinese. Moreover, cultural differences increased significantly with age, such that no significant cultural differences were found among 7-year-olds, and significant cultural differences started to emerge among 9-year-olds and remained among 11-year-olds and university students. This research suggests that cultural influences on reasoning processes follow a certain developmental pattern, and that a period may exist in which the acculturation process starts to exert significant influence.
In an ongoing project, I am investigating the impact of aging on temporal information representation and lay theories of change.