Passing Encounters East and West: Comparing Japanese
and American Pedestrian Interactions
Miles L. Patterson ÆYuichi Iizuka ÆMark E. Tubbs Æ
Jennifer Ansel ÆMasao Tsutsumi ÆJackie Anson
Published online: 24 April 2007
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract This study examined the microinteractions of pedestrians in Japan and in the
United States as they walked past a confederate. Speciﬁcally, the effects of culture, con-
dition (avoid, look-only, and look plus smile) and sex of confederate on glances, smiles,
nods, and greetings by passing pedestrians were examined in a ﬁeld study on over 1000
participants. The hypotheses of (1) lower responsiveness in Japanese pedestrians than in
American pedestrians and (2) increased responsiveness as a function of condition were
supported in a series of log-linear analyses of pedestrian glances, smiles, nods, and
greetings. Both of these main effects were, however, qualiﬁed by Culture X Condition
interactions on smiles, nods, and greetings, with the large condition effects present in the
American pedestrians, but absent in the Japanese pedestrians. The results are discussed in
terms of the functions of glances, smiles, nods, and greetings in these brief encounters and
how differing cultural norms affect Japanese and American responsiveness. Finally, the
limitations of this study and the broader utility of this research paradigm are discussed.
Keywords Culture Nonverbal communication Pedestrian behavior
Parts of this study were presented as a poster at the meeting of Society of Personality and Social Psychology,
Palm Springs, CA, January 2006.
M. L. Patterson (&)M. E. Tubbs J. Ansel J. Anson
Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-St. Louis, One University Boulevard, St. Louis,
MO 63121–4400, USA
Department of Psychology, Shimane Nursing College, Izumo, Shimane, Japan
Department of Psychology, Shimane University, Izumo, Shimane, Japan
Department of Psychology,
University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166
Although we commonly equate interactions with conversations, there are many settings
where people interact without a spoken word. As people stand in a checkout line at a store,
choose a seat in a half-ﬁlled doctor’s waiting room, or enter a building at the same time,
they make behavioral adjustments to the people around them. That is, in the absence of
conversations, people interact. Goffman (1963, p. 24) called these situations in which
people simply share a common presence ‘‘unfocused interactions’’ and distinguished them
from ‘‘focused interactions’’ in which people share a common focus of attention around a
conversation. Unfocused interactions are interesting because individuals necessarily
negotiate their position and relationship to one another through their nonverbal behaviors.
In effect, these nonverbal adjustments regulate an individual’s limited contact with others
and, in the process, make these interactions more comfortable and predictable.
According to Goffman (1963, pp. 83–88), one way in which this may be accomplished
is through‘‘civil inattention.’’ This occurs when people recognize the presence of another
person with a brief glance and then look away to show that they (a) are not concerned
about the other person and (b) want to respect the individual’s privacy. Goffman suggested
that a common circumstance for civil inattention is the behavior of pedestrians as they
approach and pass one another on the sidewalk. Speciﬁcally, according to Goffman,
approaching pedestrians are comfortable glancing at one another until they reach they
reach a separating distance of approximately eight feet. At that point, people typically look
down, a reaction similar to dimming the lights for an approaching car (Goffman, 1963,
p. 84). Although there is research supporting civil inattention in elevators (Zuckerman,
Miserandino, & Bernieri, 1983), there is little evidence for civil inattention among
pedestrians approaching one another on sidewalks. In fact, in a series of four studies, Cary
(1978) found, in general, that pedestrians did not lower their heads and avert gaze as they
passed one another.
More recently, research has focused on the conditions affecting recognition and
avoidance as pedestrians approached and passed one another on the sidewalk. In these brief
encounters, a quick glance may signal different reactions, including a simple recognition of
the other’s presence, liking, curiosity, or even apprehension. If a brief glance is ambiguous
and serves a nonspeciﬁc activator (Ellsworth & Langer, 1976), then a smile might disarm
the potential negative effects of a look alone (Elman, Schulte, & Bukoff, 1977) and
increase intimacy, if only brieﬂy (Patterson, 1982). In general, two contrasting patterns of
reactions in these settings might be possible, that is, compensation and reciprocation
(Patterson, 1976). For example, if the confederate’s behavior (a glance or smile) precip-
itates discomfort, the recipient is likely to compensate by not gazing or smiling. In contrast,
if the same behavior from the confederate precipitates positive affect, then reciprocation is
likely in the form of glancing, smiling, or nodding back at the confederate.
In our ﬁrst study, we examined the effects of sex of confederate and confederate
behavior on pedestrians’ reactions as they passed one another on the sidewalk (Patterson,
Webb, & Schwartz, 2002). In this experiment, pedestrians’ reactions were monitored as
they approached and passed male and female confederates. At approximately twelve feet,
the confederates initiated one of three conditions: (1) avoidance, that is, continued looking
straight ahead; (2) look, involving a brief glance of less than one second; and (3) look and
smile. An observer, walking approximately 30–40 feet behind the confederate, recorded
the reactions of the pedestrians in the ‘‘passing zone.’’ A clear condition effect was found
with 48% of the pedestrians in the look and smile condition glancing at the confederates,
whereas only 35% of the pedestrians in look condition and 33% in the avoid condition
glanced at the confederates. Among the pedestrians who did glance at the confederate,
there were similar condition effects on smiles, nods, and greetings. The effect was most
156 J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166
pronounced with increased smiles toward the confederates. In both the avoid and look-only
conditions, approximately 10% of the pedestrians who glanced at the confederate also
smiled, but in the look and smile condition, over 40% of those who glanced at the con-
federate also smiled at the confederate. Thus, the addition of a smile from the confederate
increased, not only glances from pedestrians, but also other positive reactions in the form
of smiles, nods, and greetings. Because a smile typically conveys an intention to be
friendly and afﬁliate (Fridlund, 1994), pedestrians are more likely to reciprocate with a
smile, nod, or greeting even in these brief encounters.
Of course, the gender of the participants and confederates may also qualify condition
effects. A meta-analysis of sex differences in gazing and smiling showed that adult females
glance and smile substantially more than adult males (Hall & Halberstadt, 1986). Never-
theless, because only 5 to 10 percent of the studies in the Hall and Halberstadt analysis
involved ﬁeld settings with strangers (like the present study), it is not clear that female
pedestrians would be expected to gaze and smile more than male pedestrians. In a study
that did examine gender and smiling in ﬁeld settings, Hinsz and Tomhave (1991) con-
ducted two experiments, in which male and female displayers initiated a smile, frown, or
neutral expression as they walked by strangers in a variety of settings in a small city. Over
half of the participants smiled in response to a displayer’s smile, but few frowned in
response to a displayer’s frown. Hinsz and Tomhave (1991) also found sex differences
consistent with Hall and Halberstadt’s meta-analysis. That is, females smiled signiﬁcantly
more than males did. In addition, participants smiled signiﬁcantly more at female dis-
players than at male displayers. Nevertheless, in the Patterson et al. (2002) study, there was
no main effect of sex of participants on either glancing or smiling. Female confederates did
receive more glances than male confederates, but this was qualiﬁed by a Sex of Confed-
erate x Sex of Participant interaction. Speciﬁcally, there were more glances at opposite-sex
than at same-sex confederates.
In a later study, the condition effect was replicated with more glances, smiles, and nods
in the look and smile condition than in the combined avoid and look conditions (Patterson
& Tubbs, 2005). Although the condition effects across these two studies were very similar,
both experiments were conducted on the same American midwestern urban campus. Iizuka
(2001), replicated the Patterson et al. (2002) experiment in an urban area in Japan.
results indicated a clear condition effect, with more glances toward the confederates in the
look and smile condition (M= 58%) than in the look (M= 44%) and avoid (M= 9%)
conditions. Although there was a much lower rate of glancing in the avoid condition in this
study than in the Patterson et al. (2002) study, the glancing rates for the other two con-
ditions were relatively similar across the two experiments. In addition, there was only one
smile and one nod toward the confederates (Iizuka, 2001), rates much lower than in the
Patterson et al. (2002) study. Caution is needed in simply attributing these differences to
culture because the Iizuka study used only female confederates and the sample size was
very small (N= 70) compared to the Patterson et al. study (N= 600+).
Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that there may be cultural differences in
the way that Americans and Japanese manage these passing encounters. For example, there
is evidence that, in some collectivistic cultures, like Japan, there are greater differences in
social interactions between ingroup members and outgroup members than in a more
The results of Patterson et al. (2002) study were completed and communicated to Iizuka several years
before the Patterson et al. (2002) study was published. Iizuka used the methodology in his own study in
Japan. Revisions and a long publication lag with the Patterson et al. (2002) study resulted in the Iizuka study
being published ﬁrst.
J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166 157
individualistic culture, like the United States (Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, &
Lucca, 1988). In a cross-cultural study of relationship rules, Argyle, Henderson, Bond,
Iizuka, and Contarello (1986) found that the Japanese reported more rules for outgroup
relations than for ingroup relations. For example, the Japanese are likely to show greater
reserve in interacting with outgroup individuals than are Americans. Furthermore, the
Japanese seem to be especially concerned about maintaining adequate privacy around
strangers (Miyashiro, Inui, & Takeuti, 1984). In addition, compared to Americans, the
Japanese are more restrained in outwardly showing at least some expressive reactions
Overall, the contrast between Japanese and American social behavior suggests that
Japanese pedestrians may be less responsive as they pass strangers on the sidewalk. Thus,
the ﬁrst hypothesis is that Japanese pedestrians will respond with fewer glances, smiles,
nods, and greetings than American pedestrians will. Nevertheless, it is also expected that
the main effect of condition (avoid, look-only, look and smile) found in earlier studies
(Patterson et al., 2002; Patterson & Tubbs, 2005) will be replicated across the two cultures.
Thus, the second hypothesis is that there will be a main effect of condition with the
initiation of a look and smile signiﬁcantly increasing glances, smile, nods, and greetings
compared to the avoid and look-only conditions. Next, it was hypothesized that female
confederates would receive more glances from pedestrians than male confederates would
(Coutts & Schneider, 1975; Hinsz & Tomhave, 1991). But it was also possible that
pedestrians would glance more at opposite-sex confederates than at same-sex confederates
(Patterson et al., 2002; Zuckerman et al., 1983). Finally, the potential interactive effects of
culture, condition, sex of confederate, and sex of participant were examined, but no spe-
ciﬁc hypotheses were offered regarding these interactions.
Design and Participants
The experiment employed a 2 (culture) ·3 (condition: avoid, look-only, look and
smile) ·2 (sex of confederate) design. A total of 1055 pedestrians walking alone on several
campus sidewalks at Shimane University in Japan (N= 611) and on sidewalks in two
locations in St. Louis, Missouri (N= 444) were observed as they passed a confederate.
Approximately 60% of the St. Louis sample was observed on campus sidewalks at the
University of Missouri-St. Louis and 40% on sidewalks in downtown St. Louis. There were
18 participants dropped from the analysis due to procedural errors or observers’ problems
with seeing the participants clearly. This left a total of 1037 participants (600 in Japan and
437 in the U.S.) in the sample, with 643 men and 380 women included. The Japanese
sample was almost entirely composed of individuals of apparent Japanese ethnicity. The
U.S. sample appeared to be approximately 70% Caucasian and/or Hispanic, 20% African-
American, and 10% Asian. Across both samples, over 80% of the pedestrians appeared to
be in the 18–40 age range.
The experiment was conducted on several different sidewalks in each of the three loca-
tions. The chosen sidewalks were on level terrain and were straight, or only slightly
158 J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166
curving. This allowed unobstructed vision to identify approaching participants. Trials were
run during daylight hours when the weather was not too cold and there was no precipi-
tation. In the two campus locations, times immediately around class changes were avoided
because pedestrian trafﬁc levels were too high.
Six Japanese college students (3 males and 3 females) and four American college students
(2 males and 2 females) served as both confederates and observers in the experiment. The
students were trained in the confederate role and practiced the conditions on one another
before data were collected. The basic format required the confederates to initiate a look,
look and smile, or simply avoid the oncoming pedestrian (i.e., look straight ahead) at the
start of the approximate twelve-foot passing zone.
In order to make sure that each participant had a comparable opportunity to notice and
react to the confederate, a number of restrictions were placed on the potential participants.
These restrictions included the following circumstances: (a) the sidewalk had to be un-
crowded with no more than a few people in the oncoming trafﬁc; (b) the participant had to
be walking alone on the right side of the sidewalk; (c) there had to be a gap of at least 30–
40 feet between the participant and the person walking in front of him/her (i.e., in order for
the participant to have a clear view of the approaching confederate); (d) the participant
could not have just turned the corner on to the sidewalk; (e) participants could not be
involved in other activities while walking (wearing headphones, smoking, reading, eating,
carrying heavy or awkward objects); (f) participants could not be running or obviously
disabled; and (g) participants could not be wearing sunglasses because it was too difﬁcult
to monitor their gaze direction. In addition, participants could not be someone the con-
federate knew or someone who had been observed previously.
Each confederate ran the three conditions in a block randomized order. Observers were
blind to the conditions. Confederates and observers were dressed casually, typical of their
age group. The confederate positioned him/herself at one end of a sidewalk, in a location to
identify a potential participant. The observer was behind and physically separated from the
confederate. No attempt was made to select participants by gender or age. That is, the ﬁrst
person meeting the requirements described in the previous paragraph was approached.
When the confederate started to move down the sidewalk, the observer followed at
approximately 30–40 ft behind the confederate. After the confederate and observer passed
the participant and reached the end of the sidewalk, they stopped in separate locations and
recorded their observations. Then they got ready for the next trial. Confederates were kept
blind regarding the hypotheses.
The observer’s data sheet contained items on the time of day, location, temperature,
weather, race and sex of participant, and approximate age of participant (18–30, 31–40,
The reactions of all of the pedestrians in the look and look and smile conditions were included whether or
not they actually turned and glanced at the confederates in the passing zone. Because this undoubtedly
included some pedestrians who did not notice the confederates’ look or look and smile, this constitutes a
very conservative test of condition effects.
J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166 159
41–50, 51–60, and over 61). The participant’s reactions toward the confederate in the
passing zone (12 ft to 0 ft) were recorded on the following dimensions: (a) glance, (b) nod,
(c) smile, and (d) a verbal greeting. In operational terms, a glance was deﬁned as visually
focusing on the confederate in the passing zone. This was usually very brief and typically
involved a slight, but noticeable, head turn in the direction of the confederate. A head nod
was deﬁned as down and up vertical head movement while glancing at the confederate. A
smile was deﬁned as a noticeable upward turn of the corners of the mouth while glancing at
the confederate. A verbal greeting was deﬁned as a verbalization directed toward the
On each of the measures, reactions were scored as present, absent, or
uncertain. For the look and look and smile conditions, confederates independently made
the same judgments as the observers on glance, nod, smile, and verbal greeting.
federates did not attempt any ratings in the avoid condition because they were not looking
in the direction of the oncoming pedestrians. In earlier studies, interrater reliabilities, based
on Kappa (Cohen, 1960) and computed on the judgments of the confederates and observers
in look and look and smile conditions, ranged from approximately .60 to .95. The interrater
reliabilities in the present study ranged from .66 to .80 for the American data and .66 to
1.00 for the Japanese data.
Because the effects of multiple categorical variables were examined, log-linear analyses
were employed. Speciﬁcally, a simultaneous entry procedure was conducted on SPSS, with
the relevant variables entered in a single step (see Howell, 2002, pp. 655–690). Partial v
the log-linear analysis tests the signiﬁcance of the relationships between predictor variables
and the dependent measures. Speciﬁc comparisons in log-linear analysis are usually made
in odds ratios, that is, the ratios of two conditional probabilities (the odds) for a dichot-
omous outcome. Because odds ratios can assume any value between 0 and inﬁnity and are
not affected by the marginal frequencies, they are particularly useful measures of effect
size (Fleiss, 1994). It should be noted that a signiﬁcant partial chi-square indicates that the
odds ratios are signiﬁcantly different from 1.0.
Preliminary analyses conducted on the American data examined the differences be-
tween the campus and downtown locations. The results indicated that only 3 interactions
involving location were signiﬁcant out of 28 main or interaction effects of locations across
the four different dependent measures of glancing, smiling, nodding, and greetings. Fur-
thermore, none of these effects was repeated across the different dependent measures. In
our earlier studies, effects found on one dependent measure (e.g., glances) were usually
Before the data collection was started in Japan, the second author visited the ﬁrst author in the U.S. and
discussed the details of the manipulations and the response measures so that the procedures would be
standardized in the Japanese sample.
It was not possible to compute a reliability coefﬁcient for the greeting measure with the Japanese data
because there was no variability in the observers’ judgments, i.e., they reported no greetings, while the
confederates reported a single greeting.
In those instances where there was a confederate and observer disagreement, two decision rules were
employed in determining a scored reaction. First, if either person made an uncertain judgment and the other
person judged that the behavior was present or absent, the present or absent judgment was selected as the
ﬁnal one. For any other disagreement (e.g., the confederate judging that a smile occurred and the observer
judging that a smile did not occur), the confederate’s judgment was selected as the ﬁnal one because the
confederate was closer to the participant when making the judgment.
160 J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166
seen on other dependent measures (e.g., smiles or nods) and were easily interpretable
(Patterson et al. 2002; Patterson & Tubbs, 2005). This was not the case here and, conse-
quently, we decided to collapse the data from the two St. Louis locations.
A 2 (culture) ·3 (condition: avoid, look-only, look and smile) ·2 (sex of confederate) ·2
(sex of participant) log-linear analysis indicated a near signiﬁcant effect of culture on
(1, N= 1037) = 3.56, p< .06, with the Americans (M= 42%) tending to glance
more than the Japanese (M= 36%) did. Next, similar 2 ·3·2·2 log-linear analyses were
conducted on the smiles, nods, and greetings of the participants who glanced at the con-
federates (N=397, 38% of the total N). There were signiﬁcant effects of culture, with
American pedestrians smiling more frequently, v
(1, N= 397) = 50.32, p< .0001, nodding
more frequently, v
(1, N= 397) = 19.50, p< .0001, and greeting more frequently, v
N= 397) = 30.70, p< .0001, than the Japanese pedestrians. The results from all of these
analyses are shown in Table 1.
In fact, as seen in Table 1, only 1–2 % of Japanese smiled, nodded, or made a greeting,
whereas 9–25% of Americans showed the same reactions. The odds ratios (i.e., the odds of
Americans reacting divided by the odds of Japanese reacting) on each of these behaviors
ranged from ranged from 10 to 29, reﬂecting large effects. Thus, although Americans
glanced at the passing confederates only marginally more than the Japanese did, the
differences in smiling, nodding, and greeting were much larger. In other words, a sub-
stantial minority of the Americans complemented a glance with some combination of a
smile, nod, and greeting, but very few Japanese showed such reactions. In fact, there were
too few smiles (5), nods (2), and greetings (1) by the Japanese to apply the log-linear
analysis in testing interaction effects involving culture.
The 2 (culture) ·3 (condition: avoid, look-only, look and smile) ·2 (sex of confeder-
ate) ·2 (sex of participant) log-linear analysis indicated signiﬁcant effects of condition on
(2, N= 1037) = 16.47, p< .001, smiles, v
(2, N= 397) = 24.26, p< .001, nods,
(2, N= 397) = 15.89, p< .001, and greetings, v
(2, N= 397) = 9.45, p< .001. The
speciﬁc condition effects on glances, smiles, nods, and greetings can be seen in Table 2.
Thus, the second hypothesis, that the look and smile condition would produce greater
responsiveness than the avoid and look-only conditions, was clearly supported. Never-
theless, with the glance measure, there was no difference between the look and smile
Table 1 Percentage of Japanese and American Responsiveness
Behavior Japan U.S. v
qAmerican / Japanese
Glances 36 42 3.56 .06 1.30
Smiles 2 25 50.32 .0001 14.00
Nods 1 9 19.50 .0001 10.67
Greetings 1 13 30.70 .0001 28.75
J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166 161
condition (M= 43%) and the look-only condition (M= 42%). The odds ratios for the look
and smile condition compared to the combined avoid and look-only conditions were
noticeably smaller for glances (1.36) than for smiles (3.81), nods (3.40), and greetings
(4.17). Thus, the effect of look and smile condition, relative to the combined avoid and
look-only conditions was much larger for smiles, nods, and greetings than for glances.
Culture X Condition
First, there was no Culture X Condition interaction on pedestrian glances, v
N= 1037) = 1.70, p> . 40. Because there were so few smiles, nods, and greetings among
the Japanese, the expected frequencies across conditions were too low to conduct log-linear
analyses on the Culture X Condition interactions. Nevertheless, the Culture X Condition
interactions on smiles, nods, and greetings are obvious in Figure 1. In the avoid condition,
American and Japanese pedestrians react similarly with a few smiles, no nods, and no
greetings, but this similarity ends in the look-only and look and smile conditions. Spe-
ciﬁcally, the Japanese participants continued their nonresponsiveness in the look-only and
look and smile conditions, whereas the American pedestrians substantially increased their
responsiveness in those two conditions. The patterns were similar across all three depen-
dent measures, but were particularly distinct with smiles. As the lower panel of Figure 1
shows, among those pedestrians who glanced at the confederates, the differences between
American and Japanese pedestrians increases across conditions, with 44% of the Ameri-
cans and only 5 % of the Japanese smiling in the look and smile condition. Thus, the
predicted main effects of culture and condition were supported in the analyses of glances,
but qualiﬁed by Culture X Condition interactions on the smile, nod, and greeting measures.
Sex of Confederate
The predicted effect of sex of confederate on glances was signiﬁcant, v
N= 1037) = 4.98, p< .05, with female confederates (M= 43%) receiving more glances
than male confederates (M= 35%). This effect was, however, qualiﬁed by a Sex of
Confederate X Condition interaction on glances, v
(2, N= 1037) = 8.59, p< .05, with the
difference between female confederates (M= 53%) and male confederates (M= 35%)
greatest in the look and smile condition. There were no signiﬁcant sex of confederate
effects on nods and greetings, but the sex of confederate effect approached signiﬁcance on
(1, N= 397) = 3.39, p< .07, with female confederates receiving smiles on 18%
of the trials and male confederates receiving smiles on 7% of the trials. There were no
other signiﬁcant interactions involving sex of confederate. Finally, there was a sex of
pedestrian effect on glances v
(1, N= 1037) = 9.15, p< .01, with male pedestrians
(M= 41%) initiating more glances than female pedestrians (M= 33%).
Table 2 Condition Effects on Percentage of Responsiveness
Behavior Avoid Look-Only Look & Smile v
Glances 30 42 43 16.47 .001
Smiles 4 9 22 24.26 .0001
Nods 0 4 8 15.89 .001
Greetings 0 5 13 9.45 .001
162 J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166
The results of this experiment provided support for the ﬁrst hypothesis of lower respon-
siveness among pedestrians in Japan than among pedestrians in the United States. Spe-
ciﬁcally, Japanese pedestrians glanced marginally less than American pedestrians, but the
contrast was much larger with smiles, nods, and greetings. Whereas only 1–2% of Japanese
pedestrians smiled, nodded, or verbalized a greeting, 9–25% of Americans showed
the same reactions. There was also support for the hypothesized main effect of condition,
that is, greater responsiveness in the look and smile condition than in the look-only and
Both of these main effects were, however, qualiﬁed by Culture X Condition interactions
on the frequency of smiles, nods, and greetings. These interactions indicated that, although
the Japanese and Americans reacted comparably in the avoid condition with few, if any,
smiles, nods, and greetings, the similarity ended there. Japanese responsiveness remained
Fig. 1 Culture X Condition Interactions on Smiles, Nods, and Greetings
J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166 163
at very low levels across the three conditions, consistent with the results of Iizuka’s (2001)
earlier study. In contrast, Americans’ responsiveness increased dramatically from the avoid
to the look-only to the look and smile condition. Almost half of the American pedestrians
who glanced at the confederates in the look and smile condition, returned a smile, com-
parable to that found in the same condition in the Patterson et al. (2002) study. Further-
more, Hinsz and Tomhave (1991), using a similar look and smile manipulation, also found
approximately 50 percent of their participants reciprocating a confederate’s smile. More
generally, the pattern for the American pedestrians in this study closely approximated the
condition effects in earlier studies (Patterson et al. 2002; Patterson & Tubbs, 2005),
especially in showing the power of the look and smile condition in prompting smiles, nods,
and greetings from pedestrians.
It is important to appreciate that the marginal difference in glances between the
American and Japanese pedestrians was relatively small and was not qualiﬁed by
condition, whereas the differences in smiles, nods, and greetings between the American
and Japanese pedestrians were very large and were qualiﬁed by condition. Thus, it is
useful to consider the two types of reactions – glances on the one hand and smiles, nods,
and greetings on the other – and what they may mean for the American and Japanese
pedestrians. First, the two categories of reactions may well serve different functions
in these microinteractions (Patterson, 1983). The brief glance is an efﬁcient means
of getting information about a passing stranger and in itself is relatively ambiguous
(Ellsworth & Langer, 1976). That is, depending on the circumstances and the individ-
uals involved, a quick glance may indicate interest, liking, apprehension, or simple
In contrast, a smile, nod, or greeting clearly reduces the ambiguity of a glance alone
and increases intimacy (Patterson, et al., 2002). The contrasting pattern of smiles, nods,
and greetings between the Japanese and Americans across conditions is consistent with the
suggestion that the Japanese are more sensitive to the ingroup-outgroup distinction than
Americans are (Triandis et al., 1988). In fact, the Japanese are more likely to see clearly
different norms and expectations as a function of the closeness of a relationship and
behave accordingly. For example, outside of the close relationships with one’s family
members, ‘‘enryo,’’ or holding back in relating to others, is typical (Doi, 1973, 36–40). As
one moves from the enryo of outer circle relationships to casual contacts with strangers,
simple indifference is common (Doi, 1973, pp. 40–44). The Japanese pattern of greater
caution in dealing with those outside of the inner circle provides a way of limiting
inadvertent social exposure and potential embarrassment, consistent with the value of
saving face (Lebra, 1976, pp. 219–220). Thus, it seems that in Japan there is little pressure
to reciprocate the smile of the confederate because there is no relationship with the
confederate and because it might risk unwanted exposure to a stranger. Of course, this
could also be a reﬂection of the apparent overall lower expressive reactivity of Japanese
compared to Americans (Matsumoto, 2006). In contrast, in the American sample, there
was more evidence for reciprocity, especially in the look and smile condition. This was
most commonly done with a smile and less frequently with a nod or a greeting in the
present study and also in the earlier experiments (Patterson et al., 2002; Patterson &
Next, there was support for the hypothesis of greater glancing at female than at male
confederates, although this was qualiﬁed by a Sex of Confederate X Condition interaction.
Furthermore, male pedestrians glanced at the confederates more than female pedestrians
did. None of these effects interacted with culture, suggesting that these sex differences are
relatively similar across these two cultures.
164 J Nonverbal Behav (2007) 31:155–166
Limitations and Prospects
The limitations to this study are fairly obvious and merit some attention. Two different
locations were sampled in St. Louis, Missouri; speciﬁcally the campus of an urban uni-
versity and the streets of downtown St. Louis. The Japanese location was also the campus of
urban university, in Matsue City, a small size city of approximately 190,000. Of course,
regional differences in each country might well yield somewhat different patterns of
responsiveness. For example, it is likely that residents of the southern U.S. might be more
responsive than those in the northeastern states, consistent with the Levine, Martinez, Brase,
and Sorenson (1994) ﬁndings of regional differences in helping. Nevertheless, in the present
study, it is interesting that the rates of smiling at the confederates in the look and smile
condition were very similar to those reported by Hinsz and Tomhave (1991) in various
locations in Fargo, North Dakota. Furthermore, residents of large urban areas are more
likely to experience social overload and be less sensitive to others than residents of smaller
cities and towns (Milgram, 1970). In fact, there is evidence that eye contact toward strangers
decreases with increased population density (Newman & McCauley, 1977). It should be
noted, however, that the lower responsiveness by the Japanese in the present study occurred
in an urban setting that was much smaller than St. Louis. Another important limitation is
that the confederates employed in this study were all college age and from majority ethnic
groups, as were most of the pedestrians. It is quite possible that minority confederates would
precipitate different reactions. In spite of these limitations, the differences found between
the Japanese and American pedestrians probably do reﬂect some basic cultural contrasts. It
is also worth noting that the Japanese sample seemed to be very homogeneous in ethnicity,
while the American sample was much more diverse and undoubtedly included a number of
people who were not born in the U.S., especially among the student subsample.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the passing encounters paradigm employed in the
present study may be an especially useful means of studying subtle interpersonal processes in
a way that is both unobtrusive and nonreactive (Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, & Sechrest,
1966). In this study and two earlier ones (Patterson & Tubbs, 2005; Patterson, et al., 2002),
we have found that in the 1–2 seconds of moving through the 10–12 foot passing
zone, pedestrians respond selectively to the confederates’ behavior. Although some people
may be consciously aware of what they are doing under these circumstances, much of what
happens in these subtle and ﬂeeting exchanges probably reﬂects automatic social behavior
(Bargh, 1997). To the extent that such automatic behavior reﬂects underlying attitudes and
dispositions, this paradigm may provide, in a real world setting, an alternative approach to
studying racial and ethnic attitudes. Furthermore, if these brief exposures serve to prime
attitudes, similar to the subliminal exposure to faces of outgroup individuals in the laboratory
(e.g., Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996), they may also have consequences for subsequent
interactions. Although we have only started the systematic study of these microinteractions,
there is considerable potential in applying this paradigm to a variety of different issues.
Acknowledgements We want to thank the students who served as confederates and observers: Kazuaki
Maehara, Masaki Miyata, Seiji Nishimura, Akiko Seno, Kayo Sakaguchi, Masumi Imano, Susan Heine, Sara
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