Issue 13, August 2007

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Research Impact and Funding Outlook
Beyond 2007
Examining the Interdependent Behaviour of MNCs in Foreign Direct Investment
New Cancer Drug Breakthrough for
Hong Kong
Cooperative Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Research Centre Established In Hong Kong
The Case for Better Corporate Governance
Gene Mapping fights "Cantonese" Cancer
The Effects of Culture on Decision Making and Judgement
A "Rising Star" in
Hong Kong
Research projects funded in Central Allocation 2006/2007 exercise

People with different cultural backgrounds have different expectations, norms and values, which in turn have the potential to influence their judgements and decisions as well as their subsequent behaviour. European Americans, for example, are generally influenced by the positive consequences of a decision, whereas Asians appear to be more influenced by the negative consequences that may occur due to a decision or line of action. Asians are therefore more "prevention" focused, manifesting a greater tendency to compromise, seek moderation or to postpone decisions if it is possible.

However, recent research shows that cultural norms and values are not the only criteria to influence behaviour. The extent to which they come into play also depend on situational factors, and how much the situation calls these norms and values to mind when the judgement or decision is being made.

The research commenced at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology over six years ago with two separate grants from the Research Grants Council (RGC). It set out to better understand how cultural and individual difference factors have an influence on consumers' decision-making processes, a relatively new area of study. Initial research in this area was stimulated by Professor Donnel Briley's dissertation on the subject. Published by the Journal of Consumer Research (JCR) in 2000, it won the Robert Ferber Award for the best dissertation-related paper published in the Journal that year.

Subsequent work examined the implications of this research, demonstrating that motivational as well as chronic culture-related differences have an impact on consumer choice behaviour.

Titled Effects of Cultural Salience on Goal Pursuits: Implications for Behavioural Decisions and Judgements, the research identified several factors that influence how cultural norms are applied – these include the language spoken as well as the perception of the criteria to be applied in a given situation. It was also found that while cultural norms are more likely to play a role if the decision makers are asked to think carefully about the decisions they are called upon to make, both groups become more "prevention" focused when their cultural identity is impressed upon them.

Proving that language does indeed play a part in cultural behaviour, the study found that different languages, Chinese and English for example, activated cultural norms associated with the language in question. Bilingual and bicultural Hong Kong participants in the study were more likely to engage in "prevention" focused behaviour when communicating in Chinese than when using English. This is attributed in part to the fact that presenting information in a given language activates expectations and perceptions of the norms and values that should guide their decisions. Participants thus tended to comply with these expectations – that is they would conform to what they considered was socially desirable behaviour for the situation.

The studies also showed that cultural differences existed when responding to "promotion versus prevention" focused advertising, but these differences disappeared when participants had an opportunity to think carefully about their judgements.

Commenting on these conclusions, Prof Briley said, "Our studies suggest that the effects of cultural norms and values on the processing of information are not ‘hard-wired' into our systems. Rather, their influence depends on situational factors and the extent and ease to which these situations bring the relevant norms and values to mind."

Prof. Donnel Briley