A Universal Truth: Research Confirms That Giving Makes You Feel Good

Prosocial Spending – aka, Charity – is a Psychological Universal

You’re walking down the street, and you see someone holding a sign, asking for help.

Just $20 for gas, $5 for food.

You feel the urge to give. You want to help.

While you might assume generosity and giving is not a universal value, this tug on the heartstrings may be more common than you think.

Prosocial Spending

In the last post, we talked about prosocial behavior – i.e. care given to other people and one’s community.

Prosocial spending – or charity – is one part of prosocial behavior.

It’s defined as using one’s financial resources to help others.

One study of over 600 North Americans showed that those selected at random to spend a small windfall of money on others were significantly happier than those directed to spend it on themselves.

And this happiness derived from generosity was found to be universal.

Research on Prosocial Spending and Well Being shows that those who give have greater well-being, the world over.

When survey data was analyzed across 136 countries using Gallup World Poll data, the study found that humans on a whole derive happiness and other emotional benefits from helping others financially.

As the study reads,

“In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.”

Apart from the surveys, the researchers went on to conduct experiments for causality in two widely different countries: Uganda and Canada

Here’s what they found.

Uganda vs. Canada: Well-Being and Prosocial Spending

While controlling for household income, donating to charity had a positive effect on life evaluation/well-being across the board.

The study also found that while people in wealthier countries were able to donate at higher rates, the well-being was not greater.

Well-being based on giving monetarily is only weakened in less wealthy nations due to the infrequency of donations.

When investigating Canada (which falls within the top 15% of countries based on per capita income) and Uganda (which falls in the lower 15%), the study found that 66% of respondents in Canada reported donating frequently while only 13% did in Uganda.

However, the experimental study went on to assess prosocial spending in different cultural contexts other than charitable giving.

Approaching students at random on campuses in Uganda and Canada, researchers asked the participants to describe their experience after spending 10,000 Ugandan shillings or 20 Canadian dollars (each of which has equal buying power in these two countries) and also rate their happiness on the Subjective Happiness Scale.

Others were asked to rate self-spending and their corresponding happiness.

As past studies have shown, those who spent on others reported higher levels of happiness than those who spent on themselves.

But what emerged about the cultural differences in spending was interesting.

In Uganda, those who purchased something for themselves described a personal necessity at three times the rate as those in Canada. 

Additionally, Ugandans were more likely to have purchased something for others in response to a negative event, like medical services or supplies, while the same result was not met with at all in Canada.

Despite these differences in spending on others, the emotional benefits were the same in both countries.

The Five-Factor Model: Are Gendered Personality Traits Universal?

Do personality traits differ across gender

And do those differences translate across cultures?

Last week, we talked about how age differences in personality follow a universal pattern.

But are gendered personality traits also universal?

This study dives in.

NEO Personality Inventory-Revised

A standard questionnaire has been developed according to the Five Factor Model to provide a systematic assessment of the five major domains of personality in relation to motivational, attitudinal, experiential, interpersonal, and emotional styles.

Defining each domain are six traits/facets.

This questionnaire is known as the NEO-PI-R.

For the 2001 study by Costa, Terracciano, and McCrae, this questionnaire was distributed to college-age and adult men and women in 26 countries to collect a sample size.

Results of Cultural Gender Study

As a reminder, the five factors are Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness to Experience (O), Agreeableness (A), and Conscientiousness (C).

The data collected showed that men in the U.S. typically scored higher on E and O, particularly in facets of assertiveness and openness.

Women in the U.S. typically scored higher on N and A, but also scored higher on E and O in facets such as openness to aesthetics and warmth.

There was little difference in C between men and women in the U.S.

When compared to other countries, these gender differences appear universal.

Worldwide, men scored higher in the facets of openness to ideas, excitement seeking, assertiveness, and competence, while women scored higher in the facets of openness to aesthetics, straightforwardness, vulnerability, and anxiety.

Does this mean gender differences are biologically based, or are gender differences universally shaped in this way by each and every culture and thus adapted by each personality?

That’s a question waiting to be answered.

Progressive vs. Traditional

Was there a chasm between more progressive cultures and more traditional cultures regarding the magnitude of gender differences in personality traits?

Yes, but not how you’d expect.

You would think that the gap in gender differences in personality would be reduced in modern, progressive cultures and would be greater in traditional cultures.

But the opposite was found.

Modern European countries like The Netherlands saw a broader gap between genders than traditional countries, like South Korea.

One explanation for this may be the way such traits are attributed.

Robert R. McCrae explains,

“In countries where women are expected to be subservient, they attribute their low Assertiveness to their role as a woman rather than their traits. By contrast, European women who are equally low in Assertiveness identify it as a part of their own personality.”

Further studies might take a closer look at this seeming contradiction to get a clearer idea of this gap.

We’ll talk more about personality profiles of cultures next week.

Is It Worth the Risk?: Different Cultural Takes on Risk Perception

Are some cultures greater risk-takers than others?

This study dove in to find out.

Analyzing the data of respondents from Germany, Poland, the US, and China, the study measured respondents’ risk preference for pricing financial options.

These are their findings.

Hypothesis

Studies have shown a correlation between a culture’s position on the individualism-collectivism scale and its risk preference.

Called the Cushion Hypothesis (Weber & Hsee, 1998), the theory suggests that those from collectivist cultures are more likely to take financial risks.

Why?

Due to the perceived support from their collectivist culture and, thus, the reduced negative consequences such a risk might have on the individual.

While this study did arrive at the same conclusion – that the collectivist society of China was less risk-averse than its American counterpart – it did identify a more specific reason for it.

Risk-Averse

The majority of respondents in all four cultures were identified as risk-averse (i.e. they were willing to pay more for options they saw as “less risky”).

When you look at a risk-return conceptualization, it is natural that most people, no matter what culture, would perceive risk this way.

When risk preference was evaluated in the traditional expected-utility framework, Chinese respondents were considerably less risk-averse in pricing than Americans.

But what this study found was that the difference in risk preference may not be due to a cultural attitude toward perceived risk; instead, it appears largely due to the perception of the financial options’ risk itself.

Chinese participants simply did not find the options as risky as their counterparts.

Conclusion

The study states:

“Chinese respondents were closest to risk neutrality in their pricing of the financial options and judged the risk of these options to be the lowest, but were not significantly less perceived-risk averse.

“American and Germans offered the lowest prices and also perceived the risk of the options to be highest, but were not significantly more perceived-risk averse.”

One might practically apply this knowledge to commerce and negotiation when working across these particular cultures, affording both negotiators joint gains.

The study concludes that while cultures do vary on a collectivism-individualism continuum which undoubtedly impacts perceived risk, other cultural factors in risky decision-making – locus of control, differences in achievement motivation, etc. – may also come into play in risk preference.

Further studies into the subject might provide more insight.

6 Basic Emotions & How They Are Viewed by Different Cultures

Happiness. Sadness. Fear. Anger. Surprise. Disgust.

According to this study, titled “Two Sides of Emotion: Exploring Positivity and Negativity in Six Basic Emotions across Cultures,” universal emotions can be perceived positively or negatively by different cultures.

The study tested the affective and cognitive components of these emotions on Korean, Chinese, American, and Canadian students.

What the study found was that each of these emotions contain both positivity and negativity but were viewed differently among cultures.

Study’s Findings

Canadians and Americans (Westerners) and Chinese and Koreans (Easterners) have different thinking styles.

As the study notes

“Easterners tend to be dialectical when thinking about a situation in a manner that balances the positives and negatives. When things are going well, Easterners might expect a change for the worse, and when things are going badly, they might expect things to get better.”

On the other hand, Westerners’ thinking style can lead to imbalance.

“Westerners tend to focus more on one pattern—things will tend to stay as they are, good or bad. This thinking style may lead Westerners to think that things are rather consistent, leading them to concentrate on one side of an issue.”

Let’s see how this affects each group’s perspective on these six basic emotions.

Sadness

Stronger positivity of sadness was reported by Easterners, and stronger negativity was reported by Westerners.

This complies with past studies’ findings that negative emotions have motivational and cognitive utility

Other studies have found that Westerners tend to feel they shouldn’t have to face sadness, while Easterners embrace the experience of sadness.

Happiness

All four countries rated happiness as positive, though Easterners reported stronger negativity of happiness, while Westerners reported stronger positivity.

Past studies have found that happiness may be experienced differently and mean different things across cultures.

The study suggests that while happiness may be a bright sunny day in the West, it may be balanced with the negativity of a drizzle in the East.

Anger

Anger was viewed more positively by Easterners than by Westerners. 

A 2013 study found that anger was expressed more by those with lower social status in the U.S., while it was expressed by those with higher social status in Japan, probably to demonstrate authority. 

This may be one reason why Easterners view anger more positively than Westerners.

Fear

Americans were the only group to report stronger cognitive fear than affective fear.

Their thoughts and conceptualization of fear were more negative, as fear was anticipated more and felt less, or maybe suppressed, while the other three groups felt fear as more negative.

Koreans reported a stronger positivity of fear, which may be due to their history. 

As a threatened nation, they may view fear as a norm that they must simply live with.

Disgust

Similarly to fear, Americans were the only group to report stronger cognitive disgust than affective disgust.

This means that others felt disgust more negatively, while Americans thought and conceptualized it more negatively. 

Easterners reported a stronger positivity of disgust, which might suggest their duality of thinking/feeling that even “bad” things can be beneficial.

Surprise

Surprise was reported by Easterners to be more negative, while by Westerners it was reported to be more positive.

Unexpected events are viewed as more negative by Easterners, and although they expect change more than Westerners, it’s not as welcome.

Emotion Words: How Different Languages Express Feelings

Does the emotion word for happiness mean the same thing in all languages?

How about grief? Angst?

A scientific study looked at the semantic patterns in some 2,500 languages and discovered that emotion words may mean different things according to the language family from which they originate.

We’ve talked about emotion and culture over the past few weeks: how emotions are perceived differently and expressed differently.

Now, we learn that even the language of emotion is diverse.

Let’s take a look.

Universal Emotions

Some emotions, which English speakers might consider primary emotions – think happiness, sadness, anger, love, hate, etc. – are quite universal across world languages.

Most languages have words to describe the primary feelings shared by all humans.

However, just as cultures see color differently, even these primary emotions may be nuanced.

The primary emotion of anger blends into other feelings in different cultures.

Indo-European languages link anger to anxiety, while Austroasiatic languages link it to regret or grief.

Austronesian languages connect anger to pride and hate, while Nakh-Daghestanian languages connect it to envy.

This seems to indicate that cultures see even primary emotions in different shades.

But where culture and emotion become even more interesting is in the specificity of the language surrounding it.

German Specificity 

Some languages, like German, have words expressing very specific feelings for which other languages have no equivalent vocabulary.

“Sehnsucht,” for instance, means to yearn deeply for another life, while “schadenfreude” means to feel pleasure from another’s misfortune.

There are no direct translations in English, and the nuance would be lost in describing these feelings in pretty much any other language but German.

You might consider that these feelings, therefore, are deeply rooted in German culture.

Papua Guinea’s Hospitality

The word, “awumbuk,” is another example of a feeling expressed with language that is deeply rooted in culture.

This word comes from the Baining people of Papua Guinea.

It expresses the feeling felt after guests leave following an overnight stay.

According to cognitive scientist, Asifa Majid, it describes a feeling of listlessness, like a “social hangover.”

The different experiences of emotion across cultures are emphasized in language.

As the study’s senior author, psychologist and neuroscientist, Kristen Lindquist, put it,

“We walk around assuming that everyone else’s experience is the same as ours because we name it with the same word, and this suggests that that might not be the case.”

“Are You Angry?” How One Can Identify Norm Violations Through Emotional Expression

A group is completing a task.

Each participant takes a turn doing the task. Most do it the same way, but then one does it completely differently.

When this individual steps out of place, the others look at him angrily.

If you observed this, what would you deduce?

What would you think if the others didn’t look angry but appeared sad instead?

This is the scenario put forth by the study we’ll be discussing in this post.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about societal emotional environments and cultural emotional arousal levels.

As a foreigner in a new country, how do you adapt your behavior so that you don’t have a monkey moment in another culture?

Often, you can read into others’ emotional expressions which may indicate to you whether you’ve upset a social norm.

The Study

This study takes a look at observations of norm violations using four countries – Germany, Greece, Israel, and the US – each of which has different rules and norms for negative emotions.

Each group observed the two interactions described above.

In general, the anger shown suggested to the observers that if you want to be part of a group, you should complete the task the same way as the others (see, norms).

However, when the observers saw sad reactions instead, they weren’t universally sure how the participant should have behaved in this social context.

Anger vs. Sadness

Anger is generally a strong signal about societal norms and behaviors.

Anger suggests a behavior that’s both undesirable and incongruent to the emoter’s norms.

Sadness, however, though it may indicate unpleasantness or goal obstruction, does not necessarily emphasize a norm violation.

Performance of All Groups

For all four groups, anger was more indicative of a norm violation than expressions of sadness or neutrality.

Greek participants were better at perceiving sadness as a sign of a norm violation, while German participants were most prone to perceive anger.

American participants were most likely to consider the expressers indifferent.

Israeli participants differentiated best amongst the three expressions…although that may be because the study was Israeli-created (and so, the expressions were too).

The study also found that participants were more likely to recognize the norm and see the violation if anger was the expression shown.

This suggests that different cultures are more perceptively sensitive to different emotions and that anger is more pointed in making one note a norm violation.

Expressing Emotions in Culture: Do More Emotive Cultures Experience Greater Life Satisfaction?

Does expressing positive emotions make a person happier?

Does a society that embraces expression breed a population that’s more content?

Before you answer, let’s look at this forty-nine-country study on societal emotional environments and cultural differences in life satisfaction and well-being.

Societal Emotional Environments

First off, what is a societal emotional environment?

The paper defines it as

“the emotional climate of a society (operationalized as the degree to which positive and negative emotions are expressed in a society).”

In other words, our individual “emotional environment” is influenced by the emotions those around us express

This, in turn, influences our well-being.

The study looks at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal effects of emotion expression.

  • Intrapersonal – the well-being of those who express the emotions
  • Interpersonal – the quality of interactions with others for those who express emotions
  • Extrapersonal – the well-being of those around the expresser as a result of their expression

Emotion Valuation

Not only do different cultures express emotions differently, but they value them differently too.

Particularly when it comes to intensity of emotion.

Latin American cultures, for example, tend toward high arousal positive emotions, like joy and excitement, and these are shared often, intensely, and openly.

Confucian Asian cultures, on the other hand, value low arousal positive emotions, like calm and serenity, and therefore will more often suppress expressive emotions.

The Study’s Results

While identifying the average PSEE (positive societal emotional environment) and the NSEE (negative societal emotional environment) of each society surveyed, the study evaluates the participants’ life satisfaction and well-being.

Participants self-reported the frequency of positive and negative emotional expressions.

The study found that all countries expressed positive emotions more frequently than negative emotions, some more so than others.

Italy, El Salvador, and Ghana were countries with the highest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a day,” while Japan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom had the lowest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a week.”

High PSEE country scores were in the regions of Latin America, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe, Latin Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, while low PSEE scores occurred in the Anglo region, as well as Southern Asia and Confucian Asia.

Negative emotions were expressed frequently in countries like Guatemala, Bhutan, and Pakistan, averaging “a couple of times a week,” while those countries with the lowest scores – Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland – expressed them “a couple of times a month.”

The study found that societies with high NSEE scores reported lower life satisfaction on the whole (although individuals were often independently more satisfied), while societies with high PSEE scores reported higher life satisfaction but not significantly.

This seems to indicate that having negativity vocalized around you affects your life satisfaction to a greater extent than having positivity vocalized around you.

Next week, we’ll take a further look at emotions in culture.

Self-Esteem & Future Time Perspective: How One’s Orientation Affects Their Sense of Self

When you look to the future, what do you see?

Are you positive about it? Negative? Confused? Certain?

And how does this predict your level of self-esteem?

That’s what one study by Southwest University and Ohio University set out to determine by examining Chinese and American college students and their feelings about the future.

Future & Past Time Perspective

We’ve talked about time orientation in past posts.

Americans generally have a future time perspective, while the Chinese favor a past time perspective.

Future time perspective involves goal-setting and forward-thinking. 

Future-oriented cultures are progressive and look toward – you guessed it – the future.

They try to see the big picture.

They plan and are driven by aims and goals.

Past-oriented cultures are conservative and risk-averse. 

They look at the past and present as interchangeable.

The past is revered and directs the future. 

Tradition is important, as are family values.

As you can see, each culture views time – and the future – very differently.

The Study

Using the FTP Scale (Future Time Perspective) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, 340 American undergrads and 460 Chinese undergrads were tested.

The study found that the American undergrads were more negative and confused about the future, as well as more positive, perspicuous, and perseverant about it.

American students also exhibited higher self-esteem than their Chinese counterparts.

What do these results mean?

The study has some answers.

Results Analysis

Why are young Americans more pessimistic about the future than their Chinese counterparts?

The study suggests that ever since the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. GDP has suffered, while China, as a developing nation, has a higher growth rate.

These socioeconomic factors may impact both groups’ levels of pessimism.

As for the Americans’ higher levels of optimism, this could be due to an innate belief in the economic development and national trends of the country.

American individualism may also impact the undergrads’ level of confusion about the future.

Those from individualist cultures more often believe that the future is in their hands. This makes for both isolation and uncertainty.

Those from collectivist cultures have a social safety net.

Their future is also viewed from a collective perspective (parents, friends, teachers, etc.), so this group involvement may reduce feelings of uncertainty for Chinese undergrads.

Self-Esteem

In both the American and Chinese groups, self-esteem was linked to future-negative or future-positive sub scale scores.

Those who had a positive view of the future had higher self-esteem, while those with a negative view of the future had lower self-esteem.

Similarly, those confused about the future had lower self-esteem, while those perspicuous about the future had higher self-esteem.

The higher degrees of optimism and perspicuity about the future in the American group led to a higher average level of self-esteem overall.

Culture and Self: How Self-Esteem is Based on the Fulfillment of Dominant Cultural Values 

Does one’s culture influence self-regard?

This article by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) suggests that it actually informs it.

How?

Everyone bases their success or level of achievement on the dominant values of their culture.

Even if a person’s personal values differ from the norm, their self-esteem is often based on fulfilling cultural values.

Let’s see why.

The Survey

Fulfilling one’s personal values has long been viewed in psychology as the greatest influence on self-esteem.

But that may not be the case.

A global study, conducted by social psychologist, Maja Becker, at the CLLE (Laboratoire Cognition, Langue, Langages, Ergonomie) department of the Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail, surveyed 5,000 teenagers and young adults from 19 different countries.

200 young people from countries in Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East took part.

Questions in the survey covered personal and cultural values and to what degree they impacted the students’ self-esteem.

Key Factors of Cultural Influence

What the survey found was that four key factors drove self-esteem in all cultures:

  • Earning social status
  • Fulfilling one’s duty
  • Controlling one’s life
  • Benefitting others

The study also found that the students’ own personal values had little to do with their level of self-esteem.

Rather, self-esteem is measured against our ability to fulfill dominant cultural values.

Fulfillment of Values = Self-Esteem

Each culture places different degrees of importance on these four factors.

For instance, those from Middle Eastern, African, or Asian cultures that value tradition and conformity might place more importance on doing one’s duty and benefitting others.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating this fulfillment of duties.

And those from Western cultures whose values lie in individualism and freedom might place more importance on controlling one’s life.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating such control.

Even if one doesn’t personally subscribe to their own culture’s values, they are still influenced by them on a deeply personal level.

Subtly, societal expectations can make or break an individual’s psyche and self-worth.

Next week, we’ll discuss how a culture’s time perspective might also influence self-esteem.

How to Design the Most Effective Global Virtual Team

In our increasingly international and virtual environment, working and collaborating with global teams has become commonplace.

Harvard Business Review quotes a 2018 survey of white-collar employees from 90 countries in which 89 percent said that they complete projects via a global virtual team (GVT) “at least occasionally.”

And that was pre-pandemic; I can only imagine the frequency and prevalence of working on GVTs have only increased in the last four years.

There are obvious benefits to working globally and virtually.

For instance, you have a broader scope of creative insight and perspective on a global team, and you can maximize productivity and have a flexible support structure due to teammates working in multiple time zones.

But there are also many challenges.

A study by Harvard Business Review identified some of the ways cultural differences can shape how GVTs function.

Personal Diversity & Contextual Diversity

The study evaluated the interactions and behaviors of 804 remote international 6- to 8-member teams over multiple months of business consulting projects. 

The teams relied completely on digital communication and featured members from different countries.

Two categories were tracked: personal diversity and contextual diversity.

  • Think of personal diversity as involving such characteristics as gender, age, skills, values, and language.
  • Think of contextual diversity as the environments of team members, including the countries’ political systems, their institutions, and their levels of economic development.

Task Performance & Team Climate

Task performance and team climate were also monitored and evaluated.

  • Think of task performance as the quality and timeliness of the team’s efforts, as judged by industry experts.
  • Think of team climate as team member satisfaction, team cohesion, their enjoyment of the process together, as indicated in weekly surveys.

The Results

The study found that a deep contrast in contextual diversity can be incredibly advantageous to task performance, particularly when it comes to tasks requiring creativity and problem-solving.

The varying points of view due to different backgrounds and experiences can lead to unconventional approaches and innovative solutions.

On the other hand, personal diversity was found to be disadvantageous to team climate.

Different ages, values, language levels, etc., leads to less trust, less understanding of others’ motivations, less enjoyment in working together, and less general communication.

Conflicts arise, while cohesion sinks.

How Managers Can Benefit

These takeaways can help managers design an effective global team.

Creative projects benefit from teams that are contextually diverse, so seeking out team members from diverse backgrounds and cultures can produce the unconventional approaches desired for such projects.

Projects that are routine but that need a quick turnaround would do well with a team that is low on personal diversity, but other cultural differences don’t impact the results of these types of projects as much.

In the end, building a GVT is not a science but using this data can only improve your odds of designing an effective global virtual team.