Cross-cultural psychology

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Some psychologists have claimed to have uncovered important differences in the way people from different cultures reason. Nowadays, the most studied difference is that between 'Easterners' and 'Westerners'. 

     Jean-Baptiste Van der Henst and I have collaborated with Japanese and Chinese researchers to investigate the extent of these differences. 

    One strand of research looked at how people take others' point of view into account. Many experiments have shown that Westerners tend to discount advice: everything else being equal, they tend to overweight their personal opinion compared to a piece of advice. This can lead to non optimal answers. However, following the view that Easterners are more collectivistic, pay more attention to other members of their social group, it could have been predicted that they would not fall prey to this bias. Across several experiments, Japanese participants were found to discount advice nearly as much as French participants, disproving the cross-cultural hypothesis.

      I have also tried to link this work with the argumentative theory of reasoning. According to this theory, argumentation is the main function of reasoning. This is an evolutionary theory in which reasoning is an adaptation that we can expect to be universal. It would therefore be a problem if argumentation was lacking in some cultures, or if reasoning mechanisms differed widely across groups. 

    In this paper, I have tried to explain why the anthropological, sociological and historical bases for the claim that Easterners lack argumentation are flawed. Experiments purporting to show deep cross-cultural differences in reasoning are also criticized.

    With several colleagues, we conducted a set of experiments comparing the way Chinese and French students deal with contradiction. Kaiping Peng and Richard Nisbett suggested that Easterners treat contradiction in a way that is very different from that of Westerners: in particular, they are not supposed to be too bothered by it. Given the importance of contradiction in reasoning and argumentation, this clashes with the universalistic predictions of the argumentative theory of reasoning. In our experiments, we found that both populations dealt with contradiction in the same way. In the paper, we also review other studies that also suggest that Peng and Nisbett's initial results should be interpreted with caution.

    More recent experiments have also shown that Japanese participants can also benefit from argumentation to reach sounder logical and factual answers (the paper is submitted).

    Apart from these experimental studies, I have edited a special issue of the Journal of Cognition and Culture on argumentation. Here are links to the pre-proofreading versions of the papers (please cite the published versions).

Hugo Mercier
Introduction: Recording and Explaining Cultural Differences in Argumentation

Ian Hacking
What Logic did to Rhetoric

G. E. R. Lloyd
Reasoning and Culture in a Historical Perspective

Catarina Dutilh Novaes
A Dialogical Account of Deductive Reasoning as a Case Study for how Culture Shapes Cognition

Jos Hornikx ; Margje ter Haar
Evidence Quality and Persuasiveness: Germans Are Not Sensitive to the Quality of Statistical Evidence

Xin Zhang ; Richard C. Anderson ; Ting Dong ; Kim Nguyen-Jahiel ; Yuan Li ; Tzu-Jung Lin ; Brian Miller
Children’s Moral Reasoning: Influence of Culture and Collaborative Discussion


A garden in Tokyo

Mo zi (from a Chinese stamp, found here).


Mercier, H. Zhang, J., Qu, Y., Lu, P. & Van der Henst, J.-B. (2014) Do Easterners and Westerners treat contradiction differently? Journal of Cognition and Culture

Mercier, H. (2013) "Recording and explaining cultural differences in argumentation."Journal of Cognition and Culture 

Mercier, H., Yama, H., Kawasaki, Y., Adachi, K. & Van der Henst, J-B. (2012) “Is the use of averaging in advice taking modulated by culture?” Journal of Cognition and Culture.

Mercier, H. (In press) "On the universality of argumentative reasoning".Journal of Cognition and Culture.

Van der Henst, J-B., Mercier, H., Yama, H., Kawasaki, Y. & Adachi, K. (2006) “Dealing with contradiction in a communicative context: a cross-cultural study. Intercultural Pragmatics, 3-4, 487-502.

Mercier, H., Van der Henst, J-B., Yama, H., Kawasaki, Y. & Adachi, K. (2006) “Strategies for evaluating opinions: A cross-cultural study”. In Sun, R. Proceedings of the XXVIII Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 1817-1822.

Some more pictures:


Tokyo by night

Angkor engraving


Sunrise in Cambodia

Sunset in Cambodia


Monks at Angkor

Ta Prohm

Museum in Phnom Penh

Sunset on the Mekong

Dog in a temple in Bangkok

Another temple in Bangkok

Shanghai by night