ESRC/RGC Joint Research Scheme - Fourth Round - Layman Summaries of Projects Funded

An Experimental Study of East-West Differences in Social Learning

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Prof Lei Chang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr Alex Mesoudi Durham University

Social learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge and behaviour from other people, in contrast to individual learning in which problems are solved independently with no social influence. Social learning is one of the defining characteristics of our species, whether we think of a prehistoric hunter 100,000 years ago on the plains of East Africa copying how to make a simple stone tool from an expert tool-maker, Isaac Newton attributing his success to having "stood on the shoulders of giants" (i.e. copied and built on what went before), or the recent "Arab Spring" uprisings where civil unrest spread rapidly from region to region via the internet. Whereas social learning is common, it is contingent on the environmental conditions with stable environment promoting social learning and changing environment promoting individual learning. Historical and contemporary evidence from multiple sources is reviewed that indicates smaller extents of environmental variability in East Asia including China than in Europe and North America, favoring social learning in the East and individual learning in the West. Chang theorized that cultures result from social learning and individual learning as primary means to adapt to the local environment and that East-West cultural differences (e.g., independent vs. interdependent self-construal; autonomy vs. harmony in values; hierarchical vs. egalitarian relationship) result from Asians being more social then individual learners and Westerners adopting more individual than social learning. The purpose of this project is to empirically test this hypothesis about East-West differences in using social vs. individual learning. Specifically,
Objective 1: to conduct learning experiments on both Western (British) and East Asian (Hong Kong) participants, to test whether the latter engage more frequently in social learning than the former.
Objective 2: to test whether participants respond to environmental change in the lab task in the way predicted to have occurred historically, i.e. social learning in constant environments and individual learning in changing environments.
Objective 3: to compare rural and urban Chinese participants to see whether a history of Western influence in Hong Kong, and/or Western mass media exposure, have eroded cross-cultural differences in learning style in Hong Kong.
Objective 4: to test the learning style of Chinese immigrants in the UK, to see whether they retain the learning style of their country of origin or whether they shift to the UK learning style.

How partner firms coordinate their environmental management practices? Green supply chain integration and its performance implication

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Christina Wing Yan Wong ((The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)
UK Principal Investigator: Prof Chee Wong (University of Nottingham)

In recent years many firms from developed and developing countries have seriously started to initiate green supply chain management to achieve greater efficiency and reduce environmental impacts of their supply chains. To become greener, many firms have now realized the need to collaborate or integrate with their supply chain partners to implement environmental management. Such efforts are noted from the participation of more than 120 companies, including British Telecom Group, Vospre Thornycroft Group Plc, Kraft Foods, IKEA, Levi Strauss and Co., and others, in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative, where firms measure carbon emissions of their product life cycle and supply chains. In the management literature, there is a paucity of knowledge about how firms may effectively coordinate environmental management across their supply chains, and most importantly, how firms can achieve desirable environmental performance throughout a supply chain without compromising their operational performance. Even though some recent studies indicate that environmental collaboration (collaboration with suppliers and customers in environmental management) could lead to both better operational and environmental performance, the effectiveness of such a concept is yet to be thoroughly proven and understood. This research elevates the concept of environmental collaboration to a novel concept called Green Supply Chain Integration (GSCI), which is a more strategic and integrative approach to achieving green supply chain performance. The research plans to identify the effective practices of Green Supply Chain Integration that can simultaneously improve operational and environmental performance of firms from developing and developed countries (Hong Kong, China, Thailand and UK). It will reveal the complementary effects of various Green Supply Chain Integration practices and factors such as regulation, competitive priority, supply chain structure which may support or inhibit such efforts. This research is importance because most supply chains are globally fragmented and yet every firm needs to simultaneously achieve superior operational and environmental performance. It is a timely research because the needs to effectively coordinate environmental practices in a global supply chain have now been recognised but there is a lack of insights into how breakthrough in operational and environmental performance can be achieved.

Reshaping Educational Practice for Improvement in Hong Kong and England: How Schools Mediate Government Reforms

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Prof Allan David Walker (The Hong Kong Institute of Education)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Qing Gu (University of Nottingham)

Raising standards of teaching and learning in schools is at the forefront of policy makers' minds internationally. The importance attached to learning outcomes is obvious in the substance of key educational reforms across societies and contexts. However, there is continuing uncertainty about how and to what extent schools implement these reforms and, most importantly, whether they really have a positive impact on student learning outcomes.

This project investigates whether government education reform policies make a real difference in schools, particularly to student outcomes, in Hong Kong and England. In order to build understanding we focus on three main areas - system policy, school leadership and the school community. The first area will detail and then compare systemic government reform models which seek to raise standards of pupil outcomes by changing teaching and learning, in school and classroom structures and cultures. This will involve an analysis of recent government reform documentation and interviews.

The second area focuses on the roles and qualities school leaders need to lead and manage change successfully. This will involve an examination of how school leaders at all levels mediate reforms to make them work in their school contexts. Information will be sought about the skills, knowledge and capacities they need to build and sustain a strategic and operational focus, on the leadership of learning and teaching. The third area looks at outcomes at the grassroots level. This will involve identifying the challenges school leaders, teachers and pupils face as they respond to systemic government reforms.

Drawing on existing and newly-collected data the project will compare and contrast the similarities and differences between schools both within and between Hong Kong and England. This comparative analysis will provide new insights into the nature of the leadership and management of change in educational practice. This will involve identifying similarities and differences in the social, cultural and societal values of the two countries as they reverse similar policy trajectories.

The effects of social pedagogic contexts in the teaching of primary mathematics: facilitating learning in two cultures

Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Prof Peter Kutnick (University of Hong Kong)
UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Linda Hargreaves (University of Cambridge)

This bilateral UK-Hong Kong project responds to government concerns about the teaching of mathematics in English primary schools and the desire to increase the use of groupwork in primary classes in Hong Kong. It capitalises on Hong Kong's consistent top ranking in international mathematics competitions, and English teachers' greater familiarity and expertise in using groupwork strategies. In both countries, however, children's attitudes to mathematics have declined. Groupwork, applied according to social pedagogic principles, has been shown not only to foster effective learning, but also to sustain children's attitudes to school subjects. The proposal, thus, seeks to examine the effects of social pedagogy on mathematics teaching in two different cultural contexts taking account of teachers' different mathematical knowledge. The specific objectives are:

  • To assess a sample of primary school teachers' level of mathematical and pedagogic knowledge and self-efficacy for teaching mathematics in Hong Kong and England;
  • To introduce and assess the use of social pedagogic-based groupwork skills with focused groups of primary school mathematics teachers in Hong Kong and England; and
  • To compare for effects over time and between cultures of effective groupwork skills on teachers' self-efficacy for teaching mathematics, and teachers' and pupils' mathematics achievement demanding higher order thinking.
    In this project, teachers will be trained in social pedagogy, which emphasises good communication and trusting relationships between children, and the adaptation of teaching strategies and classroom arrangements conducive to effective groupwork, as shown by the researchers' previous research ( The teachers will communicate across the two cultures using video conferencing. The project will run from July 2012 to December 2013.

    What Calculations and Strategies Drive Young Migrants? An Investigation of the Traffic between London, Hong Kong and Beijing

    Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Wing-chung Ho (City University of Hong Kong)
    UK Principal Investigator: Prof Caroline Knowles (Goldsmiths College)

    This research will investigate an emerging migration circuit with important implications for the UK, China and its Special Administrative Region (SAR) Hong Kong. Central to the examination are the calculations, strategies and reasoning of young migrants. Born between 1982 and 1992 the migrants in this study will be between 20 and 30 years old in 2012. The young migrants covered in this study will be university graduates who have migrated independently and no longer in education: young people at the launch-point of their careers. We want to know who these young migrants are and why they migrate along these routes. We want to know what resources or attributes they anticipate migration provides, and how they intend deploying them. And we want to know the thinking behind their journeys - do they compare departure and arrival cities and if so how? In short, we want to know how mobility plays-out in how young migrants think about themselves and their lives. In each city we will investigate young migrants from the other two cities. Though the use of mixed-methods - including street surveys and in-depth interviews, we expect to uncover new links between biography, geography and mobility and thus make an important theoretical contribution to migration studies. We expect to uncover new empirical data as no one has investigated this group of migrants or the routes they travel.

    The Professionalization of Human Resource Management in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom

    Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Paul Higgins (City University of Hong Kong)
    UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Ian Roper (Middlesex University)

    The aim of this research project is to contribute to theory and practice by investigating the professional standing of Human Resource Management (HRM) practitioners in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Designed to facilitate greater understanding of the nature of 'managerial professionalism' within the field of sociology the value of this bilateral collaboration is tied to the cross-national nature of the project and in particular its exploration of the homogeneity of 'next generation' HRM practices. Built around an innovative four-stage combined quantitative and qualitative research framework the research aims to:
    - Theoretically ground the basis of study in the context of the debate on HRM as being a form of 'managerial professionalism'
    - Evaluate the normative content and organizational influence of HR practitioners in each economy
    - Critically review the extent to which homogeneity of practice of HR associations might be observed across different national contexts
    - Evaluate the extent to which the aspirations of the professional institutes match the workplace experiences of HR practitioners
    - Compare and contrast the criteria for professional practice in each economy, including reference to codes of ethics, standards documentation and certification systems

    Cultural and Individual Influences on Parenting During Infancy

    Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Prof Terry Kit-fong Au (The University of Hong Kong)
    UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Merideth Gattis (Cardiff University)

    To evaluate how parenting affects early child development, valid measures of parenting principles and practices are crucial research tools. Two potentially important dimensions are: structure and attunement. Structure refers to reliance on routines and schedules, and attunement refers to reliance on the infant's cues. Structure and attunement are often presented as opposites, contrasting parents who follow strict routines (schedulers) with parents who are infant-led (huggers). Recent research indicates, however, that although structure and attunement are weakly related, they each make a distinct contribution to parenting. Earlier research conducted by Winstanley and Gattis (2011) discovered that some parents were high in structure and low in attunement, while others were high in attunement and low in structure, but importantly, some parents were high in both structure and attunement, and other parents were low in both structure and attunement. To see how well these two dimensions characterize parenting for infants, it is important to develop valid measures cross-culturally. The proposed research will evaluate a new measure - the Baby Care Questionnaire (BCQ) originally developed by Winstanley and Gattis (2011) - in the UK, Hong Kong, and Mainland China.

    We propose a series of three studies to address the need for an economical and culturally valid measure of parenting during infancy. In these studies we will develop and evaluate a Chinese version of the BCQ, and use it to investigate cultural and individual influences on parenting during infancy. A cross-culturally valid parent-report measure of parenting principles and practices, when validated with labor-intensive observations, will be extremely cost-effective as a research tool for future studies. Once developed, this instrument could be used for a wide range of studies investigating other theoretical and practical questions concerning the influences of parenting during infancy on child health and development.

    Theory of mind development and use in children from Hong Kong and the UK - A latent variable study

    Hong Kong Principal Investigator: Dr. Zhenlin Wang (The Hong Kong Institute of Education)
    UK Principal Investigator: Dr. Claire Hughes (University of Cambridge)

    Acquiring a theory of mind (i.e., recognizing that human behaviour is governed by mental states such as beliefs and desires) enables young children to understand and engage in a wide range of sophisticated social interactions, including lies, jokes and shared pretend play. The litmus test for having a theory of mind has, for many years, been success on tasks involving predicting or explaining mistaken beliefs. In the West, children typically begin to pass such tasks between their 3rd and 5th birthdays. Yet findings from a recent meta-analysis suggest that Chinese preschoolers pass false belief tasks up to 2 years later, with children in Hong Kong performing even more poorly than their peers in mainland China. These findings have led to concerns that the intensely academic focus adopted by Hong Kong preschools may be constraining children's sociocognitive development. However, before seeking explanations for this striking cross-cultural contrast, at least two sets of methodological issues need to be addressed.

    First, very few studies have used carefully matched samples or applied statistical tests to establish whether contrasts simply reflect inappropriate translations or differing response styles/social norms. In addition, such studies rarely include direct measures of the environment (e.g., parental practices and expectations), even though these are needed to explain WHY there are group contrasts. Second, new task paradigms have shown that from as early as 15- to 18-months of age, children show looking and helping behaviours that appear to indicate false-belief awareness, such that failure on traditional false-belief tasks does not necessarily mean poor understanding of mind. To date, these novel paradigms have yet to be used in direct cross-cultural comparisons. Moreover, research with adults suggests that Chinese adults actually show superior use of 'theory of mind' skills, suggesting that any cultural contrasts observed in pre-schoolers are likely to be developmentally specific.

    There is, therefore, a pressing need both to increase the methodological rigour of existing research and to integrate cultural and developmental perspectives. This proposal uses two psychometric studies to address these twin challenges. Study 1 extends the developmental scope of this research field by comparing theory of mind use in 10-year-old children from the UK and Hong Kong, using a task battery that includes a newly developed silent film task. Study 1 also includes a battery of other cognitive tests (e.g., tests of language ability and executive function) and multi-informant, multi-measure ratings of social competence. In this way, Study 1 will also shed light on the cultural universality/specificity of the correlates of variation in older children's understanding of mind. Study 2 also has twin aims. The first of these is to test competing theoretical accounts of why children's spontaneous behaviours (e.g., looking, helping) appear to indicate a rudimentary understanding of mind long before they respond correctly to traditional false-belief tasks. Next, the most robust paradigms will be administered to pre-schoolers in Hong Kong (matched with their UK peers for age and verbal ability) to investigate the nature, magnitude and origins of cultural contrasts in children's understanding of mind.