“I’m the Decider.” Decision-Making & Coping Strategies in Individualist vs. Collectivist Cultures

Do you make good decisions?

Do you feel you do…and do you actually?

This study in the International Journal of Psychology strove to uncover whether individualist or collectivist cultures were more confident in their decision-making.

It also examined various cultures’ decision-making styles and coping strategies.

Here’s what the study found.

The Subjects

Researchers recruited students from three individualistic Western countries (USA, Australia, and New Zealand) and three collectivist Eastern Asian cultures (Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) to participate in their experiment.

The purpose of the study was to measure participants’ confidence in their decision-making abilities and the coping patterns they employ.

The Statements

Participants were handed a questionnaire that would unveil the way they view their own decision-making. 

Rating themselves from 0 to 12, the questionnaire prompted with thought-provoking statements like:

  • I think I am a good decision maker
  • I like to consider all of the alternatives
  • I avoid making decisions
  • Even after I have made a decision, I delay acting upon it

This self-reflection and self-reporting led to some exciting finds.

The Coping Strategies

The coping strategies identified by the study included:

  • Vigilance – a careful decision-making style, where every alternative is thoroughly considered. 
  • Buck-passing – dodging decisions and shifting responsibility to someone else. 
  • Procrastination – delaying action even after a decision has been made. 
  • Hypervigilance – a panic-induced decision-making style that makes you feel like time is about to explode.

The Results 

The students from the individualistic Western countries displayed confidence in their decision-making abilities, while their collectivist Eastern Asian counterparts scored higher in buck-passing, avoiding decisions, and hypervigilance.

But what was surprising about this study was that, despite these cultural differences, all six countries showed similar ratings. 

Across all countries, all participants who had higher decision-making self-esteem were more likely to adopt adaptive coping patterns like vigilance. 

On the flip side, those who doubted their decision-making abilities were prone to fall into the abyss of maladaptive coping strategies – buck-passing, avoidance, and hypervigilance.

Potential Flaws in the Study

Some things to keep in mind about the potential flaws in this study are that decision-making strategies depend on the situation.

You might make impulsive decisions in some cases and vigilant ones in others. 

The study did not account for the varied approaches to decision-making according to different scenarios.

Moreover, the difference in cultural values may impact the self-reporting. 

For instance, in many Asian cultures, boasting about oneself or decision-making prowess isn’t the norm. This could have influenced the participants’ responses, leading to hidden biases.

Lastly, self-reporting on decision-making is, of course, subjective and may not align with actual behavior. To get to the bottom of that, researchers would have to observe the participants’ decision-making in action. 

Regardless of the approach, this study uncovers the dynamic relationship between culture, self-esteem, and coping strategies.

The bottom line is decision-making is complex – influenced by context, societal expectations, and our true behavior in the face of tough choices.

Assertive vs. Avoidance Tactics: How Does Culture Determine Approach to Conflict Resolution?

How do you approach conflict resolution?

Are you tactically assertive or avoidant?

And is your approach determined by personality or culture?

Over the coming weeks, I’ll discuss scientific studies dealing with the six cultural constructs, the first of which is individualism versus collectivism.

This paper by cognitive and cross-cultural psychologist, C. Dominik Guess, takes a look at conflict resolution in individualist and collectivist cultures.

Japan Collectivism vs. US Individualism

One of the studies in Guess’ paper explores how cultural background shapes the way conflict is handled – specifically, American individualism versus Japanese collectivism.

A group of researchers, led by Ohbuchi, Fukushima, and Tedeschi, gathered American and Japanese students and unleashed the power of conflict recall. 

They asked participants to dig deep into their memories and recall a conflict they had experienced.

These participants were then asked to share their conflict experience – what they did, what they wanted to achieve, etc. 

Using rating scales, they were asked to measure various aspects of the conflict, like goals and tactics. 

In the battlefield of conflict, four major tactics emerged, each with its own arsenal of sub-tactics: conciliation, assertion, third-party intervention, and avoidance.

The Four Tactics

Let’s better understand the four tactics identified.

Conciliation this tactic involves finding common ground. It’s a way to indirectly communicate expectations and build bridges. 

Assertion this tactic is a bold and assertive move, where you fiercely demand what you want.

Third-party intervention this tactic involves calling in reinforcements in the form of seeking help or advice from an outsider. 

Avoidance this tactic is the ultimate passivity, dodging confrontation like a pro.

Considering these differing approaches to conflict resolution, you can imagine the cultural clash that may result.

The Results: Assertive vs. Avoidant

As you may have guessed, the American students, with their individualistic spirit, generally used assertive tactics in their conflicts. 

On the flip side, the Japanese students, being the collectivist champions they are, took a more subtle approach overall. 

They opted for avoidance tactics, sidestepping confrontation and prioritizing harmony in their relationships.

This may be because each group’s main goal in these conflicts also differed.

The Japanese participants prioritized their relationships, while the American participants’ goal was more often geared toward achieving a sense of justice.

While the results confirm what most would have hypothesized, considering what we already know about individualist and collectivist cultures, the research could be adapted so that the type of conflict being discussed is more uniform. 

An individual’s approach (the tactics and goals) may vary based on the conflict.

As the students were allowed to choose whichever conflict they wanted to assess, their responses may have differed based upon the type they chose.

Regardless, this study may tell us something key about how individualists and collectivists approach conflict: individualists with justice in mind, and collectivists with harmony.

Do You Know Yourself? Individualist vs. Collectivist Self Insight

How do you see yourself?

Can you accurately self-reflect on your traits, behaviors, and ideology and use that knowledge to predict how you might behave in the future?

Do you see yourself clearly? Do you understand why you do the things you do?

And how does your culture influence that self-insight?

Over the next several weeks, we will dive headfirst into the six cultural constructs discussed in last week’s post, the first of which is individualism versus collectivism.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Individualists and collectivists often have different motivations


Because the societies and cultures that form these us provide us with different values, norms, dreams, desires, etc.

Individualist cultures generally prioritize personal achievement and independence.

Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, prioritize cooperation and group harmony.

These diverging priorities lead to diverging motivations.

And, according to the following study, a differing degree of self-insight.

Self-Knowledge & Culture

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this study by Balcetis, Dunning, and Miller examines how cultural differences influence people’s ability to predict their own behavior in situations with moral or altruistic overtones. 

The researchers found that collectivists were more accurate in their self-predictions compared to individualists. 

In three different studies, individualists overestimated their likelihood to act generously in situations involving redistributing rewards, donating money, or avoiding rude behavior, while collectivists were generally more accurate in their self-predictions. 

Both groups predicted peer behavior with similar accuracy, but even when samples were taken from the same cultural group, collectivists still demonstrated more precise self-predictions than individualists. 

This suggests that the accuracy of social insight and self-insight can be biased by culturally bound motivations.

Results, Discussed

Why do individualists have a harder time predicting their own behavior? 

One theory is that they focus on themselves too much and assume their behavior will be consistent with their personal traits, leading to inaccurate predictions. 

Individualists who are motivated to emphasize personal uniqueness tend to strive to be better than the group, and thus the best strategy for self-prediction is an internal one based on one’s dispositional nature. 

On the other hand, collectivists who prioritize fitting in with the group may be better at predicting their own behavior because they consider external factors and group behavior.

Collectivists are not motivated to emphasize personal uniqueness and instead strive to fit in with a comparison group, so the best approach to take when making predictions about the self is an external one based on distributional, group-level base rates.

Factors such as face-saving may also moderate these patterns of accuracy. 

This highlights how understanding what constitutes normative social behavior can inform personal self-understanding, but cultural differences may prevent people from knowing themselves precisely because they strive to be different from the norm or typical group member.

What is Cultural Psychology? And How Can We Apply It in Business Research?

How do you perceive the world? What are your values? How do they differ from those of your national neighbors?

What makes you happy? Sad? Angry?

What motivates you?

Each one of these answers can differ across cultures. And that’s where cultural psychology comes in.

Cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology is an exciting and rapidly-evolving field that has the potential to transform our understanding of human behavior and social practices across a range of disciplines. 

Cross-cultural business studies is one area in which cultural psychology is being applied. However, there is still a need to fully appreciate the theoretical and methodological convergence between cultural psychology and business-oriented studies.

Cultural psychology has primarily focused on basic processes such as emotion, cognition, and motivation.

Comparatively, social practices have been the focus of organizational and marketing behavior. 

The overlap between these fields can allow cultural psychologists to contribute valuable insights to applied business research.

In the following weeks, we will explore six cultural constructs that have gained significant traction in business research. 

These constructs move beyond basic psychological processes to examine the intricate interactions between culture and social practices. 

We’ve covered several of these in previous posts, but we’ll refresh our memories and look at these constructs from different angles.

What are these constructs, you ask?

Six Cultural Constructs

The six cultural constructs include:

Integrating these cultural constructs into business research can provide a deeper understanding of how cultural factors shape everything from organizational structures to workplace dynamics to consumer behavior. 

Business challenges can be complex, particularly in a cross-cultural setting. This interdisciplinary approach has the potential to generate innovative solutions to cross-cultural communication, diversity management, and organizational performance. 

By leveraging the application of cultural psychology in business research, our understanding of human behavior in diverse settings will be transformed.

Social Capital & Promoting Development in Low-Income Communities

Picture this: You’re driving down a rural road, and suddenly your car breaks down. 

You’re stranded, with no phone signal and no idea what to do. 

But then, a friendly farmer pulls up and offers to help. She calls a mechanic she knows, and within an hour, your car is fixed and you’re back on the road. 

This is an example of social capital at work – the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively.

In their study, “Social Capital: Implications for Development Theory, Research, and Policy,” Michael Woolcock and Deepa Narayan explore the concept of social capital and its potential for promoting development in low-income communities. 

They argue that social capital can play a crucial role in creating positive outcomes, including economic growth, improved health and education, and reduced crime and violence. 

Let’s see how.

Social Capital, Defined

We’ve covered social capital extensively over the last several weeks, and similarly, the authors of this study define social capital as 

“the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively.” 

They emphasize that social capital is not just about individual connections but also about the broader social norms and institutions that support collective action. 

Some of these norms include trust, reciprocity, and social networks that help create social capital, which can vary by community, region, and country.

Further, the study notes that while bonding social capital can provide social support and a sense of belonging, bridging social capital is particularly important for promoting economic growth and reducing poverty. 

However, bridging social capital can be particularly challenging, as it often requires overcoming social and cultural barriers.

Regardless, social capital can be particularly important for marginalized communities, as it can provide a source of support and resources.

Social Capital vs. Individual Outcomes

According to research, social capital has several advantages over traditional development approaches that focus on individual outcomes or economic growth. 

Social capital can create “public goods” that benefit everyone in a community, which can be self-sustaining over time. 

The authors note that social capital can help to build trust and cooperation within a community, which can be particularly important in post-conflict or post-disaster contexts.

The Cons

While the study makes obvious the many benefits of social capital, it also notes potential pitfalls and emphasizes the need for a nuanced and context-specific approach to promoting it.

Social capital is not a universal remedy for development challenges – there are several potential disadvantages, including the possibility of exclusion and inequality within social networks, the risk of “elite capture” where social capital benefits only a select few, and the potential for social capital to be used for negative purposes such as corruption or discrimination.

Further research into social capital and its potential in low-income communities might give us a clearer idea of how to avoid these pitfalls.

How Can a Cross-Cultural Newcomer Leverage Power Distance to Build Social Capital?

Have you ever started a new job and felt overwhelmed by the social dynamics of the cross-cultural workplace?

Perhaps the structural hierarchy is more rigid than you’re used to?

Or maybe the norm for power dynamics is flat, leaving you confused about who’s in charge and how to gain social capital?

Last week, we talked about how fitting into a new cross-cultural company environment can be difficult, particularly in cases of transitioning from an individualist to a collectivist country – and vice versa.

But on top of that, power distance comes into play when making that transition.

Power distance refers to the degree of inequality among people that a culture considers normal.

Recalling this research from last week, we’ll cover some findings to keep in mind about power distance and social capital.

Person-Organization Fit

Person-organization (PO) fit refers to the extent to which an individual’s values, skills, and goals match those of the organization they work for.

The impact of PO fit on social capital varies depending on the cultural context. 

Not only will collectivism-individualism moderate this relationship but so will power distance.

High Power Distance versus Low Power Distance

Research shows that in cultures where power and influence are highly valued, building social capital is especially important for success.

But, here’s the catch: in high power-distance cultures, the distance between newcomers and their supervisors may be greater, making it harder to build close relationships with those in higher positions.

To combat this, supervisors may need a strong motivation to invest in mentoring and supporting newcomers.

One such motivation could be the similarity between the supervisor and the new hire (PS fit).

In high power-distance cultures, this PS fit may be a crucial factor in building social ties and prompting supervisors to engage in active mentoring.

In contrast, in low power-distance cultures with fewer status differentials, PS fit may not be as crucial for building social capital. 

Supervisors may not need the motivation of PS fit to invest in their subordinates’ social capital building because the absence of status differentials means that everyone has equal access to social networks.

For example, in a start-up company where everyone is on the same level and working towards the same goal, PS fit may not be as important as in a traditional corporate setting where there are hierarchical structures in place.

So, next time you’re hiring or starting a new job in a different cultural context, remember that cultural differences can have a big impact on social dynamics and the importance of PO fit. 

By understanding these differences, you can build stronger relationships and succeed in your new workplace.

How Can a Newbie Leverage Social Capital to Fit into Their Company’s Cross-Cultural Environment?

So, you’ve nailed that job interview and earned your ideal job in a foreign country…

But now you’re worried about whether or not you’ll fit in.

Fitting into a new company environment can be difficult in your own culture, let alone in a foreign one with its cross-cultural complexities.

But don’t fret – while you will certainly have to work at it, this research gives us some ideas about how to build social capital and leverage it to achieve person-job and person-organization fit.


The study published in the International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management discusses the importance of identifying and recruiting employees who not only possess the necessary knowledge and skills, but also have values that align with those of the organization. 

This is known as person-environment (PE) fit theory, with person-job (PJ) and person-organization (PO) fit being particularly relevant. 

Existing research has largely focused on the outcomes of fit, but the dynamics and interrelationships among different types of fit are not well understood. 

The social dynamics of building and exercising social capital are critical for newcomers to achieve higher levels of fit with their job and organization. 

Two specific dynamics are identified: leveraging person-group and person-supervisor fit to build social capital and using social capital to achieve person-job and person-organization fit.


Without a doubt, developing a good fit with one’s direct supervisor and work group helps new employees to develop structural and relational social capital in the organization, which ultimately leads to greater person-job and person-organization fit.

These social processes, however, are culture-bound

For example, a study by Monge and Eisenberg (1987) found that Japanese employees form stronger connections with colleagues than French employees

In general, an individual’s cultural background can impact the development and dynamics of their social relationships. 

One aspect of this lies in the two cultural dimensions – individualism-collectivism and power distance – and how they influence social capital building and utilization. 

While these dimensions are not necessarily independent (collectivist societies tend to have higher power distances), they should be treated as distinct concepts.

Let’s take a look at individualism-collectivism first.


Collectivism and individualism refer to the extent to which people in a culture prioritize group or individual goals. 

The study found that those in individualist cultures are more selective about forming connections with people who share similar values and personalities, while in collectivist cultures, a broader range of commonalities may be relevant. 

This means that in collectivist cultures, surface-level similarities between individuals may be more important for social capital building, while in individualist cultures, deep-level similarities may be more critical.

The authors argue that in collectivist societies, where members of the in-group are expected to contribute to the benefit of the group rather than engaging in behaviors that reach beyond the group boundary, newcomers with a high level of person-group fit (PG fit) will be less likely to develop social relationships beyond their group in order not to jeopardize their social ties in their immediate work group. 

This means that PG fit will have a weaker effect on building social capital in collectivist societies than in individualist societies. 

In contrast, in individualist societies, competences and social ties are more important in determining the behavior of information exchange, which consequently enhances person-job fit (PJ fit). 

As a result, structural social capital may be more applicable in individualist cultures because it represents an exchangeable resource (in terms of the quantity/quality of ties one possesses). 

In contrast, in collectivist societies, people rely more on affective criteria in framing their exchange behavior, and thus relational social capital matters more in predicting PJ fit through knowledge and information sharing.

Next week, we’ll examine this fit further, in relation to power distance.

Social & Cultural Capital, Part 2: How to Benefit from Each in the Workplace

Cultural capital can be considered an important workplace resource, as it often shows a person in a certain light.

Although this type of capital is centered around competence, qualifications, and experience (universal assets), it is specific to each culture, because the values of society set the tone for what assets are most prized. 

We talked about social capital last week, which is all about who you know.

But cultural capital is about what you know and can do – the skills and knowledge you bring to the table as an individual. 

This can include anything from being a master wordsmith to having an eye for art that’ll blow your socks off.

In that way, you have more control over cultural capital than you do social.

But…cultural capital is like a secret weapon that not everyone knows how to wield. 

And that weapon comes in several forms, including embodied and institutionalized cultural capital.

Embodied & Institutionalized Cultural Capital

Embodied cultural capital refers to the skills and knowledge that you’ve acquired through personal experience, training, and education

This type of cultural capital is highly subjective, as it’s shaped by your unique experiences and background.

Think language skills, artistic talent, physical coordination, social grace, and more. 

View embodied cultural capital as the foundation of who you are as an individual.

It’s something that can have a significant impact on your social class, career prospects, and overall success.

Institutionalized cultural capital, on the other hand, refers to the formal credentials and recognition that you’ve acquired through institutions such as universities, colleges, and professional organizations.

Institutionalized cultural capital can include degrees, certificates, and other formal qualifications. 

It can also include the prestige and reputation of the organizations with which you’re affiliated.

But it’s not just about what you know and what you can do. It’s also about who you know and where you belong. 

Institutionalized cultural capital can give you access to certain social networks, job opportunities, and higher-paying positions.

How Can You Earn Cultural Capital?

Understanding the cultural capital that holds value within your environment is crucial, as certain skills and attributes are prized and can lead to greater opportunities, career success, and social status. 

For example, if you want to make it big in a high-wheeling law firm, you’ll need to be able to flaunt your fancy degree and show off your deep understanding of legal culture.

Or if you’re in the tech industry, having skills in programming languages like Java, Python, or C++ will be a game changer. 

The bottom line is: You need to know what skills and attributes are highly valued within your environment, and then develop those skills and cultivate those attributes. 

You also need to make connections and build relationships with people who can help you advance in your career. 

And, of course, you need to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in your field.

Who knows, if you build up enough social and cultural capital, maybe someday you’ll be able to cash it all in for a fancy corner office and a solid gold stapler.

Social & Cultural Capital, Part 1: How to Benefit from Each in the Workplace

Your success on the job often relies on the type of capital you possess. 

We’ve been discussing social and cultural capital over the past few weeks, and these two types of capital are what matter at work. 

To review, social capital is all about the strength of relationships and connections within a group, whereas cultural capital is the shared values and goals that bring a group together.

Social capital can help you achieve more or reach objectives more easily at work. 

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at social capital and see how to assess and build upon it.

Assessing Your Social Capital

Maybe you don’t even know where you stand with your social capital.

After all, it’s not exactly something tangible that you can measure.

The following questions might help you identify where you’re at with your social capital:

  • Do I carry influence? What is my reputation like? Do others see me as strong or weak, reliable or flakey, positive or negative? Do they want to work with me?
  • How strong are my relationships within my team and without? Do I build connections with others across departments? Do I network?
  • Do I build strategic and enduring relationships or just transactional ones?
  • Do I have the energy and influence to mobilize resources and colleagues to support and achieve my goals? 
  • Do I keep abreast of important news and developments within my workplace and industry?

Improving your social capital can enhance your job performance, satisfaction, and career prospects. 

To do so, networking with peers and colleagues in your industry, cultivating relationships based on mutual interests and values, and offering help and support to others are paramount to banking more social capital. 

Aggregate Benefits

Not only does social capital improve individual success and potential, but the entire workplace improves.

Successful workplaces cultivate social structures in which everyone benefits.

This happens through social intercourse, empathy, fellowship, compassion, consideration, and most importantly, trust.

If the social structure benefits only a small group within the workplace, the organization’s aggregate benefits from their social capital decrease.

It feeds into a negative company culture, in which trust is lost, along with the sense of community.

When none of these things are there, those in the social structure can’t rely on each other and cooperation and society collapses.

If you look at your workplace and you cannot identify its values, then that’s a problem.

It means you’ll have a hard time personally building social capital there…as will the workplace, itself.

Building your cultural capital, which relates to your knowledge, skills, and understanding of cultural norms and practices, is also important for career success.

We’ll talk more about that next week.