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Cultural Chameleons: Biculturals, Conformity Motives, and Decision Making

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Prior research suggests that bicultural individuals (i.e., individuals with 2 distinct sets of cultural values) shift the values they espouse depending on cues such as language. The authors examined whether the effects of language extend to a potentially less malleable domain, behavioral decisions, exploring the extent to which bilingual individuals shift the underlying strategies used to resolve choice problems. Although past research has explained language-induced shifts in terms of knowledge accessibility principles, the motivation to conform to observers' norms can also drive these shifts. This article focuses on shifts in the general strategy of avoiding losses rather than pursuing gains, which is more often exhibited by Chinese than by Westerners. Five studies of Hong Kong bicultural individuals found that language manipulation (Cantonese vs. English) increases tendencies to choose compromise options in a product decision task, endorse associated decision guidelines that advocate moderation as opposed to extreme paths, defer decision making in problems where it can be postponed, and endorse decision guidelines that advocate caution rather than decisive action. A motivational explanation of these effects was confirmed.
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Cultural Chameleons: Biculturals,
Conformity Motives, and Decision Making
CULTURAL CHAMELEONSBRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
Donnel A. Briley
University of Sydney
Michael W. Morris
Columbia University
Itamar Simonson
Stanford University
Prior research suggests that bicultural individuals (i.e., individuals with 2 distinct sets of cul-
tural values) shift the values they espouse depending on cues such as language. The authors ex-
amined whether the effects of language extend to a potentially less malleable domain, behav-
ioral decisions, exploring the extent to which bilingual individuals shift the underlying
strategies used to resolve choice problems. Although past research has explained lan-
guage-induced shifts in terms of knowledge accessibility principles, the motivation to conform
to observers’norms can also drive these shifts. This article focuses on shifts in the general strat-
egy of avoiding losses rather than pursuing gains, which is more often exhibited by Chinese
than by Westerners. Five studies of Hong Kong bicultural individuals found that language ma-
nipulation (Cantonese vs. English) increases tendencies to choose compromise options in a
product decision task, endorse associated decision guidelines that advocate moderation as op-
posed to extreme paths, defer decision making in problems where it can be postponed, and en-
dorse decision guidelines that advocate caution rather than decisive action. A motivational ex-
planation of these effects was confirmed.
Cultural differences in consumer decision making are often
traceable to the different ideals and values promulgated in the
societies in question (e.g., Briley, Morris, & Simonson, 2000).
In today’s ethnically diverse urban centers, however, many
consumers are bicultural; that is, they have internalized values
and practices from two cultures. Hong Kong Chinese individ-
uals, for example, are influenced by both Asian and Western
cultural traditions and often respond to the social demands of
each in their daily lives. Thus, a Hong Kong woman might or-
dera glass of merlotwhen meeting with coworkersfrom the of-
fice but might have jasmine tea when seeing her Chinese col-
lege classmates later that same evening.In addition to aligning
her preferences with those of her social set, she might also shift
her strategy for making a decision to fit with the norms of the
group at hand. So, when having dinner out she might be more
likely to select a “safe” dish if she is with Chinese friends (e.g.,
a dish she has had many times before) but to go with something
more risky if she is with Western friends (e.g., a new dish on the
menu).She switches from the Chinese norm of pursuing safety
to the Western norm of pursuing excitement, demonstrating a
malleability that is essential to effective social interaction
(Tetlock & Lerner, 1999).
Ethnographers have documented this tendency to switch
between cultural frames depending on the setting. A cultural
frame provides the “rules” that are associated with a particu-
lar cultural setting, and frame switching allows bicultural in-
dividuals to interpret their surroundings and determine ap-
propriate actions as they move between contexts that are
primarily associated with one culture or the other. For exam-
ple, bicultural Hispanic Americans tend to exhibit proto-
typically Western patterns of speech and behavior to a greater
extent when associating with European Americans than with
members of their own ethnic group (Padilla, 1994). In addi-
tion, bicultural individuals might shift toward prototypical
JOURNAL OF CONSUMER PSYCHOLOGY, 15(4), 351–362
Copyright © 2005, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Donnel A. Briley, School of Busi-
ness, University of Sydney, NSW2006, Australia. E-mail: dbriley@
gmail.com
decision strategies that fit with the group with which they in-
teract. Importantly, bicultural individuals do not just blend
the two ways; instead, they retain two distinct strategies that
they can shift between to resolve situations or problems.
In many groups of bicultural individuals, distinct sets of
behavioral tendencies become strongly associated with par-
ticular languages (Phinney, 1996). If languages and frames
are indeed connected in the minds of bilingual individuals,
then exposure to a particular language might bring into force
the related cultural frame, along with a set of decision the
strategies that are used for making behavioral decisions. This
influence could occur in two different ways. First, seeing,
hearing, or using a particular language might increase the
cognitive accessibility of the associated cultural decision
rules. This explanation has been offered by other researchers
of language-related phenomena (e.g., Ross, Xun, & Wilson,
2002). Another path through which this influence could oc-
cur is motivational in nature. Bicultural individuals might
seek to fit in with their social environs and could use lan-
guage as an indicator of the identity of the audience that will
observe their behaviors. Unlike the knowledge-activation ex-
planation, which suggests that biculturals shift frames auto-
matically as they cross cultural boundaries, this account em-
phasizes the deliberate, active role that biculturals take in
interpreting social situations they encounter and selecting ap-
propriate actions for each (cf. Chiu & Hong, 2004).
Prior studies have focused on the ways bilinguals describe
themselves in one language versus another (e.g., Ross et al.,
2002). In the research reported in this article, we examined
whether the effects of language extend to a potentially less
malleable domain: behavioral decisions. Specifically, we ex-
plored the extent to which bilingual individuals shift the un-
derlying strategies they use to resolve choice problems, and
we clarify the mechanisms through which these effects
occur.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Several studies have shown that the values that Chinese
Western bicultural individuals endorse are affected by
whether they are responding in Chinese or English. Re-
sponding in Chinese, for example, leads to increased en-
dorsement of traditional Chinese values (Bond, 1983; but see
Bond & Cheung, 1984; Yang & Bond, 1980) and increased
self-descriptions in terms of public roles and group member-
ships rather than private traits (Trafimow, Silverman, Fan, &
Law, 1997). Particularly striking are the findings of Ross et
al. (2002), who studied Chinese Canadian students’
self-descriptions, self-esteem, and values. By manipulating
the language in which the students communicated, Ross et al.
produced the patterns that are often observed in
cross-national comparisons (e.g., Heine & Lehman, 1997;
Heine et al., 1999). For example, participants who responded
in Chinese rather than English exhibited more public
self-descriptions and lower levels of self-esteem.
A possible explanation of these effects is suggested by
cultural influences on cognition (for a review, see Morris,
Menon, & Ames, 2001). Hong et al. (2000) proposed that
frame switching can occur through the activation of knowl-
edge structures acquired through culture-specific experience.
If a given set of norms or behavioral dispositions has been
learned in a particular situational context, then factors that
are associated with this context are likely to increase the ac-
cessibility of these norms and, therefore, to increase the like-
lihood that they are applied in the situation at hand. For ex-
ample, Americans tend to attribute causality to the individual
actor, whereas Chinese individuals tend to attribute causality
to the group (Morris & Peng, 1994). Analogously, Hong et al.
(2000) found that when primed with images of Chinese ver-
sus American culture (i.e., the Great Wall vs. the U.S.
Capitol), Hong Kong bicultural individuals switched their at-
tribution pattern in the direction that is normative in the cul-
ture that is activated by these images. Exposing Dutch Greek
bicultural individuals to iconic images of the two cultures
(e.g., a windmill vs. the Acropolis) had conceptually similar
effects (Verkuyten & Pouliasi, 2002).
A Motivational Account
Although the preceding interpretation of language effects is
plausible, an alternative interpretation is also possible. Expo-
sure to a particular cultural context—or to cues or reminders
of that context—can influence behaviors not only by increas-
ing the accessibility of cultural rules but also increasing the
motivation to behave in a way that is consistent with these
rules. The effects of language on behavior may reflect moti-
vations, particularly when the behavior is socially conspicu-
ous. When making a behavioral decision, bilingual individu-
als may consider the language environment in which the
request is received and interpret this as an indication of the
general identity of the observing audience. To a Mexican
American resident of California, a communication in Span-
ish signals that the audience is likely to be Mexican, whereas
a communication in English signals that the audience is
likely to be (non-Mexican) American. Once the audience is
identified in this way, behavioral decisions might be adjusted
so that they align with those considered acceptable by this
group. Shaping one’s actions to fit the expectations of partic-
ular constituencies elicits social approval and avoids embar-
rassment or shame (Keltner & Buswell, 1997).
For example, a Mexican American beer drinker might like
both Heineken, a brand popular with European Americans,
and Negra Modelo, a favorite among Mexicans. Her choice
in any given instance might depend on whether the individu-
als with whom she is interacting are European Americans or
Mexicans. If a situation arises in which she must indicate her
beer preference without knowing observers’ expectations,
she might use the language in which she is addressed as an in-
352 BRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
dication of these expectations. The influence of these expec-
tations might extend beyond her preference for an American
versus a Mexican brand to behavior and judgments along
other important dimensions.
When bicultural individuals receive a communication in a
particular language, the social identity (Tajfel & Turner,
1979) associated with that language should become more sa-
lient; for example, a Mexican American often thinks of her-
self as Mexican in Spanish-speaking environments but often
thinks only of her American identity in English-speaking en-
vironments. Under these conditions, people self-stereotype,
or shift their behaviors to conform to the norms of the salient
in-group (Turner, 1987). According to self-categorization
theory, individuals construct images that detail prototypical
behaviors and attitudes of their in-groups. Thus, norms for
particular in-groups can be readily accessed and used as
bases for everyday life decisions. Note, however, that the re-
trieval and review of these norms is motivated by individuals’
desire to fit in with a particular in-group (Levine, Bonner, &
Coleman, 2002). Levine, Higgins, and Choi (2000) con-
ducted a demonstration of in-group influence of direct rele-
vance to our studies: In judgments of ambiguous perceptual
stimuli, individuals in three-member groups were more
likely to apply promotion- versus prevention-oriented ap-
proaches if other in-group members did the same.
The cognitive accessibility account for the effects of lan-
guage cannot explain “opposite direction” results. As men-
tioned earlier, Chinese Western bicultural individuals often
give responses that align with Chinese cultural traditions
when they communicate in Chinese and shift their responses
toward Western cultural ideals in English (e.g., Ross et al.,
2002). However, this language manipulation can sometimes
have the opposite effect; that is, it can lead to response pat-
terns that are inconsistent with the cultural norms associated
with the language (Bond & Cheung, 1984; Yang & Bond,
1980). A motivational account may be better able to explain
these conflicting findings.
Cultural Ideals and Decision Making:
Prevention Orientation in Chinese Culture
Past research has typically investigated the influence of lan-
guage on social judgments (i.e., bicultural individuals’ per-
ceptions of themselves or others). We address a phenomenon
of particular interest to marketing, namely, product prefer-
ences. This research focuses on two broad frames for deci-
sion making known as promotion focus and prevention focus
(Higgins, 1997). Promotion focus is generally characterized
by attention to positive outcomes of one’s behavior, whereas
prevention focus is characterized by sensitivity to negative
outcomes of one’s actions.
These orientations can be partly the result of social learn-
ing. Socialization that emphasizes duty and responsibility
(“oughts”) inculcates a prevention focus, a chronic concern
for security, protection, and avoiding losses. Socialization
that emphasizes rights and accomplishments (“ideals”) in-
stills a promotion focus, a chronic concern for advancement,
growth, and gain. Chinese socialization practices appear to
induce a prevention orientation (Miller, 1994), an emphasis
on duty- as opposed to rights-based moral teachings (Hong et
al., 2001), and interdependent self-construals (Lee, Aaker, &
Gardner, 2000).
The relevance of prevention frames to consumer choice
has been observed in several ways. Initial studies found that
individuals with varying degrees of prevention orientation
made different judgments about characters in situations in-
volving combinations of gains and losses (Aaker & Lee,
2001). Briley and Wyer (2001, 2002) found that inducement
of a prevention focus increased selections of loss-minimizing
options in decision situations and that measures of individual
differences in prevention orientation were correlated with
these choices.
The Current Studies
In this research, we used a tendency to compromise as an in-
dication of prevention focus. We also explored other mea-
sures, such as endorsement of decision guidelines advocating
moderation (Briley et al., 2000), the tendency to defer deci-
sions when the alternatives available have negative features
(Dhar, 1996, 1997), and endorsement of decision guidelines
advocating caution rather than aggressive action. (The rela-
tion of these measures to prevention focus are elaborated in
the context of the studies in which they are used.)
To investigate language as a signal for bicultural individ-
uals to switch between Chinese and Western decision
frames, we studied Hong Kong Chinese, whose lives tra-
verse both contexts that are traditionally Chinese and those
that are very Westernized. Hong Kong’s Chinese commu-
nity absorbed many Western values during a century of
British rule (Bond, 1993), and these values have been per-
petuated by the presence of large British and American ex-
patriate communities. Nevertheless, the Chinese commu-
nity has retained a strong sense of Chinese identity and
values (Ho, 1986). English and Cantonese are both official
languages in Hong Kong, and both are taught in the educa-
tion system from an early age. Participants in our studies
were Chinese undergraduates at a major Hong Kong uni-
versity where all courses are taught in English. Students in
this population are fluent in both Chinese and English and
have substantial exposure to both Western (Bond &
Cheung, 1981) and Chinese (Hong et al., 1999) cultural in-
fluences. (For other bicultural research on Hong Kong uni-
versity students, see Bond, 1983; Bond & Yang, 1982;
Hong et al., 1997, 2000, 2001; Trafimow et al., 1997.)
Four experiments are reported. The first showed that in-
structing Hong Kong participants in Chinese versus English
led to a greater endorsement of decision guidelines that em-
phasized moderation and a greater tendency to compromise
in a product choice task. A second study showed that the lan-
CULTURAL CHAMELEONS 353
guage in which the experiment was conducted influenced the
tendency to avoid making a product selection when a choice
might have negative consequences. The last two experiments
tested alternative explanations for these effects.
STUDY 1: COMPROMISE DECISION
GUIDELINES AND CHOICES
Consumers are often confronted with a choice between a
product with a very favorable value along one attribute di-
mension and a very unfavorable value along a second dimen-
sion and a product with moderate values along both dimen-
sions. When both attribute dimensions are similar in
importance, the latter is sometimes particularly attractive to
individuals who seek to avoid the feeling of a large loss on
any dimension (Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler, 1991). Loss
aversion often outweighs excitement about the potential
large gain offered by extreme alternatives and leads people to
select compromise options (Simonson & Tversky, 1992;
Tversky & Simonson, 1993). People are often drawn to com-
promise options because they like to minimize the dissatis-
faction that might arise from a poor choice; compromise op-
tions are relatively safe alternatives.
Before examining choice behaviors (Study 1B), we ex-
plored whether endorsement of decision guidelines related to
this choice bias (Study 1A) might be affected by the language
in which the study is conducted.
Study 1A: Compromise-Related
Decision Guidelines
A cross-cultural comparison conducted by Briley et al. (2000,
Study 4) associated the endorsement of proverbs advocating
moderation (vs. extremeness) with compromise-oriented de-
cisions. They found that the relative attractiveness of extreme-
versus moderation-oriented proverbs was stronger among
North American individuals than among Chinese individuals.
We sought to replicate this pattern within a single, bicultural
group, using a language manipulation.
Method.
Seventy-two Hong Kong Chinese undergrad-
uates participated for course credit. They were told that they
would see proverbs or sayings from different cultures and
would be asked to evaluate each. They were presented with a
list of proverbs, each of which appeared with a brief explana-
tion that conveyed its meaning. Four proverbs encouraged
moderation and compromising behaviors, and four encour-
aged taking extreme measures to achieve one’s goals. These
eight key proverbs, which were of Chinese origin, were taken
from Briley et al. (2000, Study 4). Examples of moderation
proverbs and their meaning are “If you cannot catch fish,
catch shrimp” (It’s all right not to get what you really want,
because you can get something else), and “He who hurries
cannot walk with dignity” (It is better not to hurry so as to ap-
pear dignified and respectable). Examples of extremity-
oriented proverbs and explanations are “If you don’t climb
the high mountain, you can’t see the plain” (If you don’t take
the extreme challenges, you won’t have exciting discoveries)
and “To go yourself is better than to send others; to do it your-
self is better than to call upon others” (If you want something
done right, it is better to accomplish it yourself than through
others).
About half of the participants received an English ver-
sion of the questionnaire, and the others received a Chinese
version. These materials were developed in English and
translated into Chinese by Hong Kong Chinese bilingual in-
dividuals. After translators proofread and corrected their
work, the questionnaires were translated back into English
by another Hong Kong Chinese bilingual individual. The
original English and back-translated versions were then
compared, and few inconsistencies were found. Either the
English or Chinese version was corrected to remove dis-
crepancies, and all translators had to agree on the change.
Three translators were involved. All were born in Hong
Kong; have spent substantial time in a Western, Eng-
lish-speaking country; and were unaware of the experimen-
tal hypotheses. (This translation procedure was used for all
studies reported in this article.)
Participants, after reading each proverb, indicated how
much they liked the idea communicated in the proverb, how
much they would rely on it as a decision guide, and the ex-
tent to which they would draw on it as a basis for giving ad-
vice. The judgments were reported along a scale that
ranged from 1 (not at all)to7(very much) and were aver-
aged to give an overall indicator of each proverb’s useful-
ness to participants. Participants did not put their names on
the questionnaires and were assured that their responses
would remain anonymous.
Results and discussion.
Proverbs were generally en-
dorsed more strongly if they advocated extremity (M= 4.40)
than if they advocated moderation (M= 3.77), F(1, 69) =
77.08, p< .01. However, this difference was significantly
greater when the experiment was conducted in English (4.56
vs. 3.78) than when it was conducted in Chinese (4.25 vs.
3.76), F(1, 69) = 4.06, p< .05. Planned comparisons indi-
cated that extreme decision guidelines were seen as more
useful to participants who were presented with proverbs writ-
ten in English (M= 4.56) rather than Chinese (M= 4.25),
F(1, 69) = 8.83, p< .025, whereas guidelines favoring mod-
eration were viewed as similarly useful regardless of lan-
guage (Ms = 3.78 vs. 3.76 for English vs. Chinese, respec-
tively, F< 1).
Thus, when we communicated with participants in Eng-
lish rather than Chinese, they became more likely to view ex-
treme, all-or-nothing actions as good general solutions to de-
cision problems. It is interesting that language had no effect
on participants’ view of moderate actions, the approach most
354 BRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
consistent with Chinese norms. We consider this result fur-
ther in the General Discussion.
Study 1B: Compromise Choices
Method.
Ninety bilingual Hong Kong Chinese under-
graduates participated for course credit. They completed a
choice task similar to that used by Simonson (1989); specifi-
cally, they were told that we wished to examine the choices
that people make after they have narrowed potential selec-
tions down to a few alternatives that differ along two primary
dimensions. They were told to assume that the available al-
ternatives were similar on all dimensions except the two on
which the products were described.
Participants were given two shopping scenarios: one in-
volving cameras and the other involving stereo receivers. The
order in which these scenarios were presented was counter-
balanced, and order of presentation did not affect the results.
Each scenario contained a short description of the category,
offered three alternatives, and described the features of each.
The features varied in such a way that participants were faced
with a decision between two extreme options (i.e., options
with a high value along one attribute dimension and a low
value along a second dimension) and a compromise alterna-
tive (i.e., an option with moderate values along both dimen-
sions). The camera scenario, for example, described three
digital models as follows:
Thus, a consumer who wishes to minimize losses should
select Option B, which offers a small loss on both dimen-
sions. In contrast, an individual who desires to maximize
gains, or positive outcomes, should select either Option A or
C, as these two alternatives allow the shopper to get a big gain
on one dimension or the other.
Approximately half of the participants were exposed to an
English language environment, and the remaining partici-
pants experienced a Chinese language environment. This
manipulation was further refined in this study, and the new
protocol was used for the remaining studies as well. The
study administrator, a Hong Kong Chinese bilingual individ-
ual who was unaware of the study’s purpose and predictions,
conducted each session in a single language. In the English
(Chinese) environment sessions, he greeted participants at
the laboratory, gave them instructions, and answered any
questions in English (Chinese). Also, the sign-in sheets for
these sessions and all questionnaire materials were in Eng-
lish (Chinese). The translation procedure described in Study
1A was used in this study as well.
Results and discussion.
First, we checked whether
participants were receptive to our language environment ma-
nipulation by observing the language in which they spoke
during the study and debriefing. Participants could ask ques-
tions in a group environment during the study, and they met
individually with the study administrator afterward to be de-
briefed and receive their pay. During the study, participants’
questions were all asked in the targeted language and, after
being addressed in the debriefing (in the target language), all
participants responded in the same language. These observa-
tions suggest that our participants were comfortable operat-
ing in both language environments.
We predicted that Hong Kong participants who experi-
enced a Chinese language environment would be more likely
to select compromise options than those who experienced an
English environment. This was the case for the proportion of
compromises selected in both the camera (.77 vs. .53; z=
2.47, p< .05) and stereo receiver (.46 vs. .23; z= 2.50, p<
.05) product categories. Those in the Chinese communica-
tion condition, compared with their counterparts in the Eng-
lish communication condition, were more likely to select the
compromise alternative, an action that minimized the poten-
tial losses they could incur from their decision.
STUDY 2: CHOICE DEFERRAL
In addition to compromising, decision makers can stave off
the experience of regret by deferring their choice (Dhar,
1996, 1997). For example, an individual might be consider-
ing the purchase of a new television to replace an older model
that still serves its purpose. In situations of this sort, consum-
ers can either choose among the new models for sale or de-
cide to purchase none of them, staying with the status quo
rather than running the risk of buying a new product that they
ultimately find to be unsatisfying. In Study 2, we examined
whether bicultural individuals who are exposed to Chinese
versus English become more or less likely to take this option.
In addition to a choice deferral task, participants were also
presented a proverb endorsement task. The task was similar
to the one used in Study 1A, except that proverbs were se-
lected to address the contrast between injunctions to be cau-
tious and deliberate, on the one hand, or to take dramatic ac-
tion to seize the moment, on the other hand. Thus, the
decision ideals examined in this study are more clearly re-
lated to the promotion–prevention distinction than those ex-
amined in Study 1A. A second refinement was a memory
measure: After a filler task, we asked participants to recall as
many of these proverbs as they could. Memory of proverbs
should be an implicit measure of one’s affinity for them.
Proverbs that one genuinely likes and finds useful should be
salient and, therefore, more easily recalled in the future.
CULTURAL CHAMELEONS 355
Reliability Rating
of Expert Panel
Maximum
Autofocus Range
Typical range 40–70 12–28 m
Option A 45 25 m
Option B 55 20 m
Option C 65 15 m
Thus, we expected that results for the memory measure
would parallel those for participants’ endorsements; that is,
one’s memory of prevention relative to promotion guidelines
should be stronger in a Chinese language environment than
in an English one.
Method
Sixty-one Hong Kong Chinese undergraduates participated
for HK $60 (U.S. $7.70). They completed our choice task, a
filler task, a proverb endorsement task, a second filler task,
and finally a recall task in which they listed as many proverbs
from the endorsement task as possible. They participated in
groups of 8 to 10. The same language environment manipula-
tion and translation procedure used in the previous study
were used in the present one.
Choices.
Participants were reminded that after shop-
pers have narrowed the available alternatives to a few that
they like, they sometimes decide not to make a purchase in
order to think more about what they want, to learn more
about the options available, or to search for new ones. On this
pretext, they were asked to consider four choice scenarios
(personal computers, mobile phones, restaurants, and vaca-
tion destinations).
Each scenario contained descriptions of two products,
each of which consisted of two favorable features and two
unfavorable ones. In each scenario, the same two favorable
features were shared by both of the available options. But the
unfavorable features were unique to the options they de-
scribed. By making unfavorable attributes unique and there-
fore salient, we expected decision makers to focus on losses
and potential regret from their decision. The restaurant sce-
nario, for example, offered the following options:
In each scenario, participants were told they could select
one of two available options, or choose neither. The order in
which the scenarios were presented was counterbalanced,
and order did not affect the results.
Endorsement of decision guidelines.
The procedure
used for this task was similar to that used in Study 1A. Partic-
ipants were presented with a list of proverbs, each of which
appeared with a short explanation, and indicated their en-
dorsement of each. In this case, 10 key proverbs were pre-
sented, each encouraging either promotion- or preven-
tion-focused solutions to problems. Five of these key
proverbs were promotion oriented, emphasizing boldly tak-
ing action to take advantage of life’s opportunities, and 5 of
them were prevention oriented, emphasizing a cautious ap-
proach to ensure security. Examples of caution-oriented
proverbs and meanings are “Ponder your faults and you will
avert misfortune” (To avoid problems, one should focus on
his failings) and “Going beyond is as bad as falling short”
(Actions that take one beyond one’s goal are as bad as inac-
tion that leave one short of the goal). Examples of ac-
tion-oriented proverbs and meanings are “Try any doctor
when critically ill” (Try any action in a desperate situation)
and “If you want to cross the river, you must first build a
bridge” (Necessary actions must be taken to achieve one’s
goals).
Participants indicated how much they liked the idea com-
municated in the proverb, how much they would rely on it as
a decision guide, and the extent to which they would draw on
it as a basis for giving advice. These judgments, each re-
ported on a scale that ranged from 1 (not at all)to7(very
much), were averaged for each proverb to give an overall in-
dication of the usefulness of each proverb. After indicating
their endorsement of proverbs, the participants handed in the
proverb questionnaires and completed a 10-min filler task.
Then they were asked to list as many of the proverbs from the
previous task as they could, and they were told to be as accu-
rate as possible.
Results
As in Study 1B, we checked whether participants were recep-
tive to our language environment manipulation by observing
the language in which they spoke during the study and de-
briefing. All conformed to the target language during the
study and debriefing.
Choice deferral.
The proportion of deferrals made by
each participant was computed and analyzed as a function of
the language environment (Chinese vs. English). As ex-
pected, participants deferred more often when the language
of communication was Chinese (M= .44) than when it was
English (M= .29), F(1, 59) = 5.52, p< .025.
Decision guidelines.
The mean endorsement of ac-
tion-enjoining proverbs and the mean endorsement of cau-
tion-enjoining proverbs were correlated –.54 (p< .01).
Analyses of these endorsements indicated that although par-
ticipants endorsed action-oriented proverbs more strongly
than caution-oriented ones (4.95 vs. 4.54), F(1, 59) = 23.64,
p< .001, this difference was significantly greater when the
experiment was conducted in English (5.11 vs. 4.46) than
when it was conducted in Chinese (4.79 vs. 4.61), F(1, 59) =
7.11, p< .01. Proverbs that advocated action were endorsed
more strongly in an English language environment (M=
5.11) than in a Chinese environment (M= 4.79), F(1, 59) =
5.48, p< .025; however, language had little influence on the
356 BRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
Option A Option B
Long wait (45 min) Good variety of foods on the menu
Good variety of foods on the menu Staff is not particularly friendly
High quality food (4 stars) View is not very attractive
Service is very slow High quality of food (4 stars)
endorsement of caution-oriented proverbs (4.46 vs. 4.61,
F< 1).
Recall data are also of interest. Participants recalled a
greater proportion of both types of proverbs when the experi-
ment was in Chinese than when it was in English (.22 vs.
.16), F(1, 59) = 17.81, p< .001. This is not surprising as the
proverbs are of Chinese origin and are likely to be more eas-
ily encoded and retrieved in Chinese than English. More im-
portant, however, is that language interacted significantly
with proverb content, F(1, 59) = 5.02, p< .05. Participants re-
called a larger proportion of action than caution proverbs
when the experiment was in English (.18 vs. .04), t(27) =
2.40, p< .01, but recalled similar proportions of action and
caution proverbs when the experiment was in Chinese (.26
vs. .29), t(32) < 1.
Correlation between deferrals and proverb endorse-
ments.
If choice deferrals and proverb endorsements re-
flect a common mechanism (a general prevention frame),
they should be correlated. This was the case. The overall ten-
dency to defer decisions was correlated .25 with endorse-
ments of caution-oriented proverbs and –.27 with endorse-
ments of action-oriented proverbs (p< .05 in each case).
Discussion
These results suggest that the language environment that
bilingual individuals encounter affects not only the types of
choices they make (compromise vs. extreme) but also
whether they make a selection at all. Participants’use of gen-
eral decision rules favoring action versus caution is influ-
enced as well. This influence is reflected not only in their ex-
plicit endorsements of proverbs advocating these strategies
but also in their recall of these proverbs. Consistent with the
findings of Study 1A, endorsements of promotion-related
(action-oriented) proverbs were affected by language,
although endorsements of prevention-related (cau-
tion-oriented) proverbs were not. We discuss this pattern in
the General Discussion.
STUDY 3: DIRECT MANIPULATION
OF AUDIENCE NATIONALITY
Our first two studies established a robust pattern: Chinese
versus English language environments are associated with a
more cautious approach to decision making. In Studies 3 and
4 we explored whether these shifts in decision frames are due
to direct links between language and cognitions or to more
active efforts on the part of bicultural individuals to address
self-presentation concerns. If language triggers frame
switching by prompting different sets of presentational con-
cerns, then a direct manipulation of such concerns should
have similar effects. We tested this idea in Study 3 by manip-
ulating the nationality of the audience who would ostensibly
have access to participants’ responses. Participants were
given a choice scenario similar to that used in Study 2, where
they had the option of choosing none of the available alterna-
tives. Decisions were made in either a Chinese or English
language environment, and participants expected that these
decisions would be observed by either a group of Chinese or
Western college students from another university, or did not
expect any observers.
Method
Participants were 150 bilingual Hong Kong college students
who received course credit for the study. During their time in
the laboratory, they experienced either an English or Chinese
language environment. The language manipulation and
translation procedure were the same as that used in previous
studies.
In addition, some participants were made sensitive to how
others would view their choices. These participants were told
that a professor from another university was conducting the
study. A cover letter, ostensibly from this professor, was at-
tached to these questionnaires. The letter’s language con-
formed to the language manipulation. The letter indicated
that participants’ responses would be used as examples for a
series of seminars on decision making and suggested that the
seminar audience would be either American or Chinese col-
lege students. In the American audience conditions the letter
was written on a California university’s letterhead, signed by
Prof. William Smith (a fictitious individual), and indicated
that the seminar series would be held at various universities
around the United States. In Chinese audience conditions the
letter was written on a Beijing university’s letterhead, signed
by Professor Wu Yuk-shi (a fictitious individual), and indi-
cated that the seminar series would be held at various univer-
sities around mainland China. To remind participants of the
audience that would be seeing their choices, the question-
naire pages had “U.S. seminar” or “China seminar” printed at
the bottom. In a third, control condition, an unsigned cover
letter with no letterhead accompanied questionnaires; it sim-
ply thanked students for participating. No special labeling
appeared on control condition questionnaires.
After reading the cover letter, participants completed a
choice task similar to that used in Study 1B. They were
shown three scenarios in which they chose among mobile
phone hand sets, vacation destinations, and personal comput-
ers. Two options were presented in each set, and participants
could choose one of them or take neither.
Results
The proportion of deferrals made by each participant was an-
alyzed as a function of the language in which the study was
conducted and the type of the audience they expected to re-
view their selections (Chinese, American, or none). Cell
means are summarized in Table 1. As expected, the effects of
CULTURAL CHAMELEONS 357
language on choices varied according to the audience condi-
tion, F(2, 144) = 3.32, p< .05. Among participants who did
not expect an audience to view their choices, the effects of
language seen is a replication of Study 2: The Chinese envi-
ronment (M= .297) elicited more deferrals than the English
environment (M= .133), F(1, 144) = 7.22, p< .01. When par-
ticipants expected that Chinese students would see their se-
lections, however, they were likely to defer regardless of
whether their language environment was Chinese (M= .237)
or English (M= .309, F< 1). It is interesting that participants
who expected an American audience were as sensitive to lan-
guage as participants in no-audience conditions; that is, the
Chinese language environment elicited more deferrals (M=
.315) than the English language environment did (M= .184),
F(1, 144) = 4.50, p< .05.
We also conducted a supplementary analysis involving
only participants who were told that an audience would ob-
serve their selections. In this analysis, the interaction of audi-
ence and language environment was highly significant, F(1,
86) = 13.52, p< .001, and indicated that participants deferred
more frequently when the language environment and audi-
ence had different implications (i.e., participants reported
their decisions in Chinese to a Western audience, or reported
their decisions in English to a Chinese audience), than when
they had similar implications (.314 vs. .213, respectively).
The implications of this effect are discussed presently.
Discussion
In Study 3, the expectation of a Chinese audience overrode
the effects of language, causing individuals in English lan-
guage environments to defer as frequently as those in Chi-
nese language environments. However, participants in Amer-
ican audience conditions were sensitive to language. The
persistence of language effects here suggests that both the
audience and the language in which participants were ad-
dressed were used as signals on which they relied to deter-
mine appropriate behaviors. However, signals suggesting
that the audience was Chinese (vs. Western) apparently have
precedence. This interpretation suggests that when inconsis-
tent signals are encountered, Hong Kong Chinese are more
sensitive to the concerns of fellow Chinese who might ob-
serve their choices than to the concerns of Westerners.
Another possibility should be considered: Participants
who made choices in an environment where the language and
audience were inconsistent (e.g., Chinese language and
Western audience) might have felt drawn in two different di-
rections. Uncertainty might have resulted, leading to a cau-
tious disposition and relatively high levels of deferral. In
comparison, those who made choices in an environment
where these two signals were consistent (e.g., English lan-
guage and Western audience) might have felt more comfort-
able. Thus, as implied by the aforementioned interaction,
participants deferred more frequently if they received con-
flicting signals than if they received consistent signals. Al-
though this pattern was not predicted, it is nicely consistent
with our primary proposition: Bicultural decision makers are
sensitive to the identity of decision observers, and this iden-
tity information has important effects on choices. Further-
more, conflicting or ambiguous identity information appar-
ently induces participants to be cautious in making choices.
A last issue should be addressed: Participants who ex-
pected that an American audience would review their choices
had responses similar to participants who were not given any
explicit information regarding any audience; that is, in both
of these conditions participants were sensitive to the lan-
guage manipulation. This similarity could suggest that the
default response of these participants is to assume that a
Western audience is the observer. Given that a number of
marketing faculty are indeed Westerners at the university
where the study was administered, this assumption is perhaps
not surprising.
STUDY 4: ATTENTIONAL LOAD
An important distinction between the motivational and
cognitive accessibility explanations of language effects lies
in the amount of deliberation or attention that is assumed;
that is, a knowledge accessibility account suggests that frame
switching occurs through effortless, automatic processes (cf.
Uleman & Bargh, 1989). In contrast, the motivational per-
spective assumes that bicultural individuals attend to their so-
cial environs to understand relevant expectations and choose
appropriate behaviors (cf. Chiu & Hong, 2004). The latter
processes are deliberate, requiring attention.
In this study, we observed whether cognitive effort has a
role in the process through which language effects obtain. As
in Study 1B, participants were asked to choose from among
three options, a compromise and two extremes, and the lan-
guage in which the study was conducted was either English
or Chinese. In addition, we manipulated the attentional re-
sources that participants could commit to this task. Spe-
cifically, participants in one condition were asked to remem-
ber a series of numbers, limiting their attention available for
358 BRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
TABLE 1
Proportion of Choice Deferrals as a Function
of Language Condition and Audience
Nationality: Study 3
Language Environment
Audience English Chinese
Chinese audience .309b.237b
No audience .133a.297b
Western audience .184a.315b
Note. Means with different subscripts in the same row and column are
significantly different at p< .05.
other processes. In a second, control condition, they did not
have this task.
We expected that participants in control conditions, like
those in Study 1B, would be more likely to select compro-
mise alternatives in the Chinese language environment than
in the English language environment. However, our compet-
ing explanations have different implications for the effects of
limiting participants’ attentional resources. If knowledge
activation processes are primarily responsible for these ef-
fects, and these processes are relatively effortless, then
cross-language differences in compromising should not be
appreciably different when attentional resources are limited
than when they are not (Bargh & Thein, 1985). If the effects
of language are mediated by motivational, impression-
management concerns, however, these effects should be
reduced when participants are presented from engaging in
the cognitive activity required to consider the social implica-
tions of their choices than under control conditions.
Method
Participants were 65 bilingual Hong Kong Chinese college
undergraduates who took part in the study for course credit.
All participants were told that the study pertained to decision
behaviors and that they would be completing several unre-
lated tasks. The language environment manipulation and
translation procedure were the same as in previous studies. In
the high processing load condition, participants began the
study with a “memory test.” They were told that we were in-
terested in testing students’ memory abilities, shown an
eight-digit number, and instructed that they would be asked
to recall it later in the study. The number was shown on a
screen for about 15 sec, and participants were explicitly in-
structed not to write it down. In the control condition, no
memory task was included.
All participants then completed four choice scenarios
similar to those described in Study 1B. In this study, the prod-
uct categories were 35-mm cameras, stereo speakers, restau-
rants, and the timing of a job bonus. Three options were
available in each scenario: a compromise and two extremes.
Results and Discussion
We examined the proportion of compromise alternatives se-
lected by experimental condition. Consistent with the results
of Study 1B, participants were more likely to compromise in
Chinese (M= .51) than English environments (M= .36), F(1,
60) = 8.40, p< .005. As expected, however, this effect was
contingent on processing load. Participants who were not un-
der cognitive load chose compromise options more fre-
quently when the experiment was in Chinese (M= .61) than
when it was in English (M= .25), F(1, 60) = 19.97, p< .001.
In high-load conditions, however, this difference was
nonsignificantly in the opposite direction (1.65 vs. 1.89, F<
1). The interaction of language and processing load was quite
significant, F(1, 60) = 16.79, p< .001.
Thus, the effects of language environment were evident in
control conditions but disappeared when participants had lit-
tle available cognitive capacity. This pattern suggests that
participants expended effort to shift their choice strategies
and is consistent with the impression-management explana-
tion.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
In our studies, the language used to communicate to bicul-
tural consumers affected their use of particular decision
guidelines and, consequently, their choices. Conducting ex-
periments in Chinese rather than in English disposed partici-
pants to adopt a prevention focus, as reflected in both their
preferences for compromise alternatives and tendency to de-
fer choices when the options run the risk of negative conse-
quences. Although these tendencies are qualitatively differ-
ent, they both arise from the motivation to avoid the
experience of loss or disappointment that might result from a
negative decision outcome. In addition, participants’ en-
dorsements of decision guidelines were consistent with their
choices. In the Chinese context versus English context, the
relative attractiveness of proverbial injunctions toward mod-
eration (Study 1A) and caution (Study 2) increased. Further-
more, the pattern of participants’ recall of proverbs in Study 2
paralleled the pattern of their proverb endorsements.
However, these effects reflect individuals’ desires for so-
cial approval and acceptance in the communication situation
at hand and are not simply the result of culture-related norms
that might be activated by this language. We predicted that by
manipulating language, we would affect bicultural individu-
als’ perceptions of the audience that would observe their se-
lections and that their behavior would reflect a tendency to
respond in a manner of which this audience would approve.
According to this perspective, bicultural individuals who re-
ceive communications in Chinese infer that Chinese individ-
uals will observe their decisions and consequently respond in
a manner that is consistent with Chinese behavioral ideals.
Consequently, those who receive communications in English
infer that Westerners will observe their decisions and conse-
quently conform to Western behavioral ideals. These two
cultural traditions encourage different choice strategies
(Briley et al., 2000). So, bicultural consumers who seek to
make a decision that is viewed favorably by onlookers shift
not only the product category they favor (e.g., merlot wine vs.
jasmine tea) but also the choice strategy applied (e.g., take
action by selecting vs. choosing nothing).
Consistent with this interpretation, participants who had
reason to believe that Chinese audiences would review their
selections—either because they had been advised in the
study instructions that this would be the case or because they
received Chinese language communications—were more
CULTURAL CHAMELEONS 359
likely to conform to Chinese ideals by displaying relatively
high levels of deferral (Study 3). Those who experienced an
English language environment in the study and were told that
Americans might review their choices had relatively low de-
ferral rates. These processes, which involve the identification
of likely audiences and a construal of their values, require
attentional resources. Therefore, when these resources are
limited, as in Study 4, the effects of language are less evident.
Other interpretations of our findings should be consid-
ered. For example, because Chinese was the first language of
our participants, they may have had more difficulty commu-
nicating in English than in Chinese. This could perhaps affect
deferral rates; however, it would work against our findings;
that is, if communications in English were less well under-
stood than those in Chinese, the English environment should
have elicited increased uncertainty and, therefore, should
have increased participants’inclinations to exhibit caution in
their decisions. In other words, if proficiency differences
across languages played a role, then the tendency to compro-
mise and defer choices should have been greater in English
than Chinese conditions. In fact, the opposite was true.
Implications for Culture Research
Previous work has shown the effects of language-triggered
frame switching on bicultural individuals’ self-views, offer-
ing a knowledge accessibility explanation (e.g., Ross et al.,
2002). Our research suggests that such effects extend to the
goals that these individuals pursue and the decisions they
make. Moreover, our evidence suggests that this influence
derives from individuals’ motivational concerns. It is possi-
ble that bicultural individuals’ motivations have some role in
the effects documented in other language-related research.
However, the mechanisms that underlie the influence of
language could differ across variables of interest.
Impression-management motives may drive frame switching
in consumer decisions, but more automatic, accessibility-
driven processes may drive it in self-perceptions.
The impression-management perspective might explain
conflicting findings regarding the effects of language. As
shown here and in other research (Bond, 1983; Ross et al.,
2002), manipulations of bicultural individuals’ language en-
vironments can cause assimilation effects, where partici-
pants’ responses align with the language setting. However,
such manipulations have also resulted in contrast effects
(Bond & Cheung, 1984; Yang & Bond, 1980), in which the
opposite pattern occurs. Whether language manipulations
produce assimilation or contrast effects might depend on the
type of impression that bicultural individuals wish to make.
Assimilation effects occur when individuals want to fit with
the expectations of their audience. Contrast effects, on the
other hand, might reflect one’s need to assert an aspect of
one’s identity that distinguishes oneself from others. When
do individuals seek to distinguish themselves from the others
in a setting? Efforts of this sort are made by individuals in
out-group settings (Hogg & Abrams, 1988), because their
cultural identities become salient under these conditions
(Rhee et al., 1995). For example, when Hong Kong Chinese
find themselves in an English (Western) setting, their Chi-
nese identity may be salient to them; that is, they might feel
like Chinese persons who are being scrutinized by West-
erners. Under these conditions, they might engage in more
typically Chinese behaviors than usual in order to affirm their
Chinese identity.
The variables examined in studies of the effects of lan-
guage might be useful in identifying the conditions under
which these contrast effects are likely to occur. It is interest-
ing that contrast effects often obtain for variables that have a
fairly obvious relationship to culture (traditional Chinese
values and beliefs), whereas assimilation effects are more ev-
ident when a relationship to culture is less obvious (dogma-
tism and self-concept measures). In cases where normative
expectations are clear and one’s group identity is salient, in-
dividuals are probably likely to express this identity (Turner
et al., 1987), yielding contrast effects. When normative ex-
pectations for responses are less clear, individuals are likely
to rely on more subtle processes for determining responses.
In this case, the motivation to fit in might take over as inter-
nalized representations of the audience in question offer up
meta-cognitive ideals that help resolve the decision problem.
In one’s daily life, a great deal of effort goes into manag-
ing others’ impressions (Tetlock, 1999). Our findings suggest
that this effort pays off. Bicultural individuals become quite
good at determining which responses will fit with the expec-
tations of various onlookers. Even when no obvious connec-
tion exists between a response type (e.g., deferring choice)
and the audience (Chinese), individuals have mechanisms
that identify appropriate actions. Some methodological im-
plications arise from these conclusions. First, the selection of
language when running studies with bicultural individuals
can affect results. On the other hand, participants may also
use other aspects of the study environment to ascertain the
audience that is likely to see their responses. For example, the
national or ethnic background of the administrator chosen to
run the study could shift participants’ vision of who will ob-
serve their laboratory behaviors. Other, more subtle cues in
the laboratory environment could also have an effect. For ex-
ample, responses might depend on the choice of paper size
(e.g., 8½ × 11 vs. A4), or the use of British versus American
spelling conventions.
Our research contributes to the accumulating evidence that
self-regulatory frames are crucial determinants of decision
making (Briley & Wyer, 2001, 2002; Liberman et al., 1999;
Markman & Brendl, 2000). An array of choice phenomena, in-
cluding those that have been linked to loss aversion
(Kahneman et al., 1991), are greatly affected by the general
orientations toward prevention or promotion that decision
makers bring to the problem. Factors other than cultural back-
ground might shift people in the direction of prevention versus
promotion. For example, reminding people of groups, such as
360 BRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
their family, may increase their prevention orientation and as-
sociated security concerns (Briley & Wyer, 2002).
Finally, research on consumer choice deferral has shown
that the likelihood of deferring is affected by the composition
of the choice set (Dhar, 1997; Tversky & Shafir, 1992) and by
whether the task provides uncertainty (Dhar, 1996), or time
pressure (Dhar & Nowlis, 1999). Our work adds to this body
of literature by showing that peripheral situational factors
can have an influence by priming a prevention as opposed to
a promotion frame.
Directions for Further Research
Although these results are decisive with regard to our imme-
diate hypothesis, a number of issues require further investi-
gation. One question is whether some frames are more easily
manipulated than others. In our studies of proverbs, partici-
pants’ endorsements of promotion-related injunctions (ex-
tremity and dramatic action) were stronger in English vs.
Chinese environments. However, our language manipulation
had minimal effects on participants’endorsements of preven-
tion-oriented injunctions (moderation and caution). This
may reflect something inherent about prevention frames as
opposed to promotion frames. For example, prevention
frames may be more consistent and stable, as this orientation
is more fundamental to human existence than is a promotion
focus (Higgins, 1997). Alternatively, this pattern may reflect
something about the greater stability of frames associated
with one’s first culture versus one’s second culture.
Frame-switching studies using different kinds of bicultural
populations might be able to sort this out.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Donnel A. Briley was affiliated with the Hong Kong Univer-
sity of Science and Technology and the Stanford University
Graduate School of Business during completion of this re-
search. We acknowledge the financial support of the Hong
Kong government (Grants RGC HKUST 6194/04H and
DAG 02/03.BM70). We thank Emma Seppala for comments
on a draft of this manuscript.
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Received: October 24, 2003
Revision received: April 12, 2005
Accepted: May 16, 2005
362 BRILEY, MORRIS, SIMONSON
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... The term 'bicultural-bilingual' emphasizes the point that the frame switching phenomenon entailed far more than merely switching languages. This is because biculturals possess distinct cognitive frameworks associated with each language and underlying culture (Briley, Morris & Simonson, 2005;Luna, Ringberg & Peracchio, 2008;Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997). Studies demonstrate this cultural frame switching. ...
... The term 'bicultural-bilingual' emphasizes the point that the frame switching phenomenon entailed far more than merely switching languages. This is because biculturals possess distinct cognitive frameworks associated with each language and underlying culture (Briley, Morris & Simonson, 2005;Luna, Ringberg & Peracchio, 2008;Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997). Studies demonstrate this cultural frame switching. ...
... The term 'bicultural-bilingual' emphasizes the point that the frame switching phenomenon entailed far more than merely switching languages. This is because biculturals possess distinct cognitive frameworks associated with each language and underlying culture (Briley, Morris & Simonson, 2005;Luna, Ringberg & Peracchio, 2008;Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997). Studies demonstrate this cultural frame switching. ...
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