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West vs. West like East vs. West? A comparison between Italian and US American context sensitivity and Fear of Isolation

Authors:
  • University of Perugia. Italy
  • Università degli Studi di Perugia e Università per Stranieri di Perugia

Abstract and Figures

Easterners tend to process information more holistically than Westerners. Kim and Markman (J Exp Soc Psychol 42(3):350-364, 2006) suggest that these differences are rooted in higher chronic levels of Fear of Isolation (FOI) for those cultures that process information more holistically. The goal of this study was to determine if these differences and their suggested cause could be found with two different Western cultures. Testing Italian (IT) and US American (US) adults, we found that IT participants processed information more holistically and had a higher chronic level of FOI than US participants; furthermore, the manipulation of FOI affected context sensitivity more for IT than for US participants. The results demonstrate that IT participants were more similar to previous research with Eastern populations than with Western populations (Kim and Markman in J Exp Soc Psychol 42(3):350-364, 2006) and indicate a within-Western culture difference for reasoning styles and support the hypothesis that this difference is due to different chronic levels of FOI.
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SHORT REPORT
West vs. West like East vs. West? A comparison between Italian
and US American context sensitivity and Fear of Isolation
Stefano Federici Aldo Stella John L. Dennis
Thomas Hu
¨nefeldt
Received: 18 June 2010 / Accepted: 4 October 2010 / Published online: 10 November 2010
Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2010
Abstract Easterners tend to process information more
holistically than Westerners. Kim and Markman (J Exp Soc
Psychol 42(3):350–364, 2006) suggest that these differ-
ences are rooted in higher chronic levels of Fear of Isola-
tion (FOI) for those cultures that process information more
holistically. The goal of this study was to determine if these
differences and their suggested cause could be found with
two different Western cultures. Testing Italian (IT) and US
American (US) adults, we found that IT participants pro-
cessed information more holistically and had a higher
chronic level of FOI than US participants; furthermore, the
manipulation of FOI affected context sensitivity more for
IT than for US participants. The results demonstrate that IT
participants were more similar to previous research with
Eastern populations than with Western populations (Kim
and Markman in J Exp Soc Psychol 42(3):350–364, 2006)
and indicate a within-Western culture difference for rea-
soning styles and support the hypothesis that this difference
is due to different chronic levels of FOI.
Introduction
Intercultural differences in reasoning styles
Westerners are said to reason using a linear and sequential
logic and focus mainly on the individuals involved in a
relationship. In contrast, Easterners are said to reason in
pursuit of a ‘‘middle way’’ and focus on the relationships
between individuals (Choi and Nisbett 2000; Gardner et al.
1999; Ji et al. 2000; Masuda and Nisbett 2006; Nisbett
2004; Spector et al. 2004).
If these East vs. West differences are based on indi-
vidualism vs. collectivism, or on how people from these
cultures are context influenced (Lewis et al. 2008; Nisbett
2004), then it could be that some Western cultures show an
Eastern style of reasoning. We examine whether this is the
case for Italians because Italians might be more collectiv-
istic than US Americans (the standard Western culture
examined in previous research) and because Italians have
been found to more context influenced (when communi-
cating) than US Americans (Ro
¨sch and Segler 1987).
In this paper, we begin by discussing two separate
approaches to cross-cultural research, one that focuses on
individualism vs. collectivism (e.g., Nisbett et al. 2001) and
another that focuses on chronic social/environmental fac-
tors (e.g., Kim and Markman 2006; Miyamoto et al. 2006).
Then, we discuss the possibility of a within-Western cul-
ture difference between Italian and US American reasoning
style and that the cause of this difference is, in part, due to
S. Federici
Department of Human and Education Sciences,
University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy
e-mail: stefano.federici@unipg.it
A. Stella
Department of Comparative Cultures,
University for Foreigners, Perugia, Italy
e-mail: aldostella@interfree.it
J. L. Dennis (&)
Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine,
Psychiatry Section, University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy
e-mail: j.lawrence.dennis@gmail.com
J. L. Dennis
Department of Psychology, Catholic University
of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy
T. Hu
¨nefeldt
Department of Psychology,
‘La Sapienza’’ University of Rome, Rome, Italy
e-mail: thomas.huenefeldt@uniroma1.it
123
Cogn Process (2011) 12:203–208
DOI 10.1007/s10339-010-0374-8
within-cultural chronic differences in Fear of Isolation
(FOI). We then present a study where manipulated FOI
lead to differences in context sensitivity.
Demonstrating differences vs. causally understanding
differences
Research on cultural differences suggests that there are
significant differences in reasoning styles between-cultures
(Choi and Nisbett 2000; Masuda and Nisbett 2001,2006;Ji
et al. 2000). For instance, Masuda and Nisbett (2001) found
Easterners to be more strongly influenced by context in a
recognition memory task than Westerners. They asked
Japanese and US American participants to study animal
pictures against a background. Participants were later tes-
ted for recognition memory. At test, the pictures used either
the identical study background or a different one. Japanese
(but not American) participants were more likely to rec-
ognize an animal when it appeared with the original
background than when it appeared with a new background.
Nisbett and colleagues explain these cultural differences
as the result of individualism dominance in Western cul-
tures and collectivism dominance in Eastern cultures. The
attempt to demonstrate that collectivism vs. individualism
is the fountain of the Eastern vs. Western cross-cultural
differences underestimates the fact that there are much
greater within-culture variations on this dimension than
between-culture (Hong and Chiu, 2001). Unfortunately,
some intercultural studies do little in helping us understand
why Easterners and Westerners have different reasoning
styles (exceptions include, Chiu et al. 2010; Kim and
Markman 2006; Masuda and Nisbett 2006, Ross and Wang
2010).
Another approach is to consider environmental factors
as a causal mechanism for these observed cultural dif-
ferences. For example, Masuda and Nisbett (2006) found
that Japanese towns contained more objects and were
more complex than US American towns and that Ameri-
can and Japanese participants when primed with pictures
of Japanese towns performed better on a change-blindness
task than when primed with pictures of US American
towns.
Kim and Markman (2006) consider chronic social fac-
tors, like FOI, as a causal mechanism for cultural differ-
ences. FOI is the anxiety or fear of situations where one
feels lonely, alone, confined or quarantined (Baumeister
and Leary 1995). Kim and Markman (2006) not only
demonstrated that Easterners have higher levels of FOI
than Westerners but they also experimentally manipulated
FOI (for US Americans). In the low FOI group, participants
wrote about an experience in which they had isolated
another individual from their group, while in the high FOI
group, participants wrote about an experience of being
isolated from a group. Later, participants were shown
photographs of animals with either the same background
(Fig. 1a and b) or in a new background (Fig. 1c and d).
Inducing a high level of FOI lead participants to attend
more to relationships between context and focal objects
and resulted in participants being more likely to incorrectly
recognize an old animal when it appeared with a new
background than with an old background. Interestingly,
using identical materials used by Masuda and Nisbett
(2001) and Peng and Nisbett (1999), Kim and Markman
(2006) found that following the FOI manipulation, partic-
ipants in the high FOI group were more likely to rely on
context (as opposed to target) in a recognition memory
task. Thus, US American participants were more likely to
recognize an animal when it appeared with the original
background than when it appeared with a new background
following the FOI manipulation. In other words, by
manipulating FOI, one can produce reasoning preferences
in US Americans similar to those of Easterners.
Importantly, by inducing Westerners to reason similar to
Easterners, Kim and Markman (2006) demonstrated that it is
unlikely that differences in cognitive styles between these
cultures are due to differences in innate cognitive architec-
tures but rather the result of chronic social factors (among
other things) like the need to belong (Baumeister and Leary
1995). FOI, therefore, could play a causal role in cultural
differences. It is likely that the priming of FOI makes people
pay more attention to multiple individuals thus causing a
greater attention to the overall context. Therefore, members
of cultures with high chronic FOI (e.g., Eastern) should be
more interested in relations between people and between
people and their environment than members of cultures with
lower chronic FOI (e.g., Western).
Is Italian reasoning style more Western or Eastern?
The present research attempts to demonstrate that perva-
sive differences in social environments across cultures may
play a causal role in observed cultural differences, even
when those cultural differences are within two Western
cultures. In particular, we attempt to extend previous
research (Kim and Markman 2006) that suggests that FOI,
or the fear/anxiety of being excluded from the group which
leads to loneliness (Baumeister and Leary 1995) has a
causal role in cultural differences between two Western
cultures.
In this experiment, we explore whether differences in
FOI between US Americans and Italians are similar those
previously found between Westerners and Easterners (Kim
and Markman 2006) and if those differences influence
context sensitivity similar to differences in recognition
memory found in the intercultural research by Masuda and
Nisbett (2001). In a pilot study, Kim and Markman (2006)
204 Cogn Process (2011) 12:203–208
123
found that Europeans have a higher chronic FOI
(M=12.82) than US Americans (M=11.54); therefore,
if Italians have a higher chronic level of FOI than US
Americans, then Italians, despite belonging to a Western
culture, could be more sensitive to context information
than US Americans. These findings would indicate a sur-
prising heterogeneity in cultures considered to be Western.
Experiment: effect of FOI and culture on recognition
memory
If attention to relationships between objects and context
influences recognition memory, then individuals with high
levels of FOI should increase memory for context due to a
decrease in attention for the focal object. Thus, participants
with both chronically and experimentally induced high
levels of FOI should be more influenced by background
information than participants with lower levels of FOI.
Thus, high levels of FOI will be associated with better
recognition memory for the original animal when presented
with the original background and poorer recognition
memory when the original animal is presented with a novel
background. If there are within-culture differences between
Italian and US American participants in terms of chronic
levels of FOI, then recognition memory performance
should be worse for Italian participants when the original
animals are presented with a novel background.
Method
Design
The experiment uses a 3 (FOI: Isolatee, Isolator, Con-
trol) 92 (background: Original vs. Novel) 92 (culture:
Italian vs. US American) design. FOI was manipulated
between subjects, while the background was manipulated
within subjects.
Participants
Twenty-four US American students from the Umbra
Institute in Perugia (all born in the United States, age
M=21, 3 men, 21 women) and 26 Italian students (all
born in Italy, age M=26, all women) from the University
of Perugia participated in the study.
Procedure
Participants were randomly assigned to one of three con-
ditions, Isolatee,Isolator or Control. In the first part of the
experiment, participants in the experimental conditions
wrote about their experiences with social isolation. In the
Isolatee condition, participants wrote about being socially
isolated from others, whereas in the Isolator condition
participants wrote about socially isolating someone else.
Fig. 1 a Study picture. bNovel animal, original background. cOriginal animal, novel background. dNovel animal, Novel background. (from
Kim and Markman 2006)
Cogn Process (2011) 12:203–208 205
123
Participants assigned to the Control condition wrote about
their daily morning routine. Participants in the Isolatee
condition were expected to have a higher FOI than par-
ticipants in the Isolator condition (Kim and Markman
2006).
Participants then completed the Fear of Negative Eval-
uation (FNE) Scale (Watson and Friend 1969)asa
manipulation check and as a measure of chronic FOI. The
FNE scale is a 30-item instrument that measures social
anxiety about receiving negative evaluations from others.
Scores on this scale are a reflection of a person’s fear of the
loss of social approval. People who have a high chronic
FOI are those who would be most susceptible to the
priming technique.
Following completion of the FNE scale, 24 animal pho-
tographs in naturalistic environments were presented ran-
domly for 5 s each (Fig. 1). Immediately following picture
presentation participants rated how much they liked each
animal on a 9-point scale, with 1 being extremely likeable
and 9 being extremely unlikeable. After having completed
the likability ratings, participants completed a 2-min dis-
traction task that consisted of starting with the number
1,000, counting backwards by 7 s. Then 96 animal photo-
graphs were presented in naturalistic backgrounds. Twenty-
four of the 96 photographs were identical to those used in the
first part of the experiment (Fig. 1a) while the remaining 72
were either 24 photographs of a new animal in the old
background (Fig. 1b), 24 photographs of the same animal in
a new background (Fig. 1c), or 24 photographs of a new
animal in a new background (Fig. 1d). All 96 pictures were
identical to those used by Masuda and Nisbett (2001).
Results
Likeability ratings for the US and Italian participants were
pooled, and no significant difference was found for these
ratings, t(48) \1. The Control and Isolator conditions did
not differ on the FNE for the US American participants
(US American control: M=11.13, US American Isolator:
M=10.88, t(14) \1) nor for the Italian participants
(Italian control: M=17.11, Italian Isolator: M=15,
t(15) =1.56, P[.05). Collapsing across these conditions,
average values on the FNE were significantly higher for the
Italian participants than for the US participants (Italian
Isolator/Control: M=16.12, US American Isolator/Con-
trol: M=11, t(31) =5.82, P\.05. The Isolatee condi-
tion differed significantly from the Isolator/Control
condition for the US American participants (US American
Isolatee: M=16.25, US American Isolator/Control:
M=11, t(24) =3.42, P\.05) as well as for the Italian
participants (Italian Isolatee: M=20.11, Italian Isolator/
Control: M=16.12, t(22) =7.03, P\.05).
A three-way ANOVA of FOI condition (Isolatee vs.
Isolator/Control) x background (Original vs. Novel) x
culture (Italian vs. US American) revealed a significant
interaction between these factors (F(2,48) =28.12,
P\.01). When US American participants viewed photo-
graphs with the original background, the Isolatee group
showed relatively greater accuracy than did the Isolator/
Control group (Isolatee: M=95.38%, Isolator/Control:
M=90%, t(22) =3.32, P\.05) (Fig. 2). These results
paralleled those for the Italian participants (Isolatee:
M=96%, Isolator/Control: M=90.69%, t(24) =3.36,
P\.05). When US American participants viewed photo-
graphs with a novel background, the Isolatee group showed
poorer recognition than the Isolator/Control group (Isola-
tee: M=81.88%, Isolator/Control: M=96.68%,
t(22) =3.97, P\.05). Again these results paralleled those
for the Italian participants (Isolatee: M=78.33%, Isolator/
Control: M=82.38%, t(24) =1.93, P=.066). However,
the difference between Italian and US American responses
was significant only for the novel background condition
(Italian Isolatee: M=78.33%, US American Isolatee:
M=81.88%, t(15) =2.36, P\.05; Italian Isolator/Con-
trol: M=82.38%, US American Isolator/Control:
M=86.69%, t(31) =2.68, P\.05).
Responses for new items were analyzed with a three-
way ANOVA of FOI condition (Isolatee vs. Isolator/Con-
trol) 9background (Original vs. Novel) 9culture (Italian
vs. US American). Consistent with both Masuda and
Nisbett (2001), and Kim and Markman (2006), the inter-
action of these factors was not significant (F(2,48) =.96,
P[.05). A main effect of background was revealed
(F(2,48) =23.11, P\.05). Both the Isolatee group and
the Isolator/Control group made fewer mistakes when they
saw novel objects with original backgrounds.
Discussion and conclusions
This study demonstrated that chronic as well-manipulated
FOI influenced context sensitivity and recognition
Fig. 2 Recognition accuracy for previously seen animals
206 Cogn Process (2011) 12:203–208
123
memory, replicating the results of Kim and Markman
(2006) as well as paralleling those of Masuda and Nisbett
(2001) who found cultural differences in attention and
memory. We found that higher levels of FOI were asso-
ciated with increased context sensitivity and reduced rec-
ognition memory much like that of previous research on
East Asian participants. Kim and Markman (2006) found
that participants in the Isolator condition (which was
associated with lower levels of FOI) performed better on
the recognition memory test and were therefore less
influenced by context information than those in the Isolatee
condition (which was associated with higher levels of FOI).
As seen in Fig. 2, our results are consistent with this pattern
across both Italian and US American cultures. These results
demonstrate for the first time a within-cultural difference on
context sensitivity between two Western cultures.
We found that Italian participants have a higher chronic
FOI than US American participants mirroring previous
results which demonstrated that Korean participants have a
higher chronic FOI than do US American participants (Kim
and Markman 2006). Our findings indicate that Italians
have a high chronic level FOI that is more similar to
Eastern than to other Western, i.e., US American cultures.
We found that inducing a higher level of FOI influenced
recognition memory within two Western cultures similar to
what was observed in previous research comparing Eastern
and Western cultures (Masuda and Nisbett 2001). Italian
participants tended to perform worse than US American
participants on the recognition memory task much as Jap-
anese participants did in Masuda and Nisbett’s (2001)
study. FOI appears to have a more significant impact on
recognition memory when the background information was
novel and that this effect was more pronounced for Italian
participants compared to US American participants. Based
on previous research (Kim and Markman 2006; Masuda
and Nisbett 2001), our results indicate that Italian partici-
pants’ recognition memory performance is more similar to
Eastern than to other Western, US American participants.
Our research indicates that chronic social factors, like
FOI, can be promoted more or less within two Western
cultures as previous research has demonstrated between
Western and Eastern cultures (Kim and Markman 2006)
and that chronic differences in FOI between Italian and US
American participants can lead to large differences in
cognitive processing previously found between Western
and Eastern cultures.
Previous research that indicates central tendency dif-
ferences between Western (typically US Americans) and
Eastern (typically Korean, Chinese and Japanese) partici-
pants for contextual reasoning (Peng and Nisbett 1999),
recognition memory (Masuda and Nisbett 2001) and con-
tradiction recognition (Choi and Nisbett 2000) uses a
Western vs. Eastern between-culture explanation for those
central tendency differences. Troubling for previous
research is the criticism that within-culture differences are
often treated as random error (Hong and Chiu 2001) and
that oversimplified generalizations are used to explain
between cultural differences (Kim and Markman 2006).
This research demonstrates that terms like Western and
Eastern may be simplifications given that features that
supposedly distinguish East vs. West cultures can also be
used to distinguish two so-called Western cultures.
Therefore, this research indicates that before drawing
conclusions about Western and Eastern cultures more
research should be done comparing multiple Western and
Eastern cultures. This point is especially valid since most
previous research includes only US American participants
as representatives for Western culture central tendencies on
psychological measures (e.g., Choi and Nisbett 2000;
Gardner et al. 1999; Ji et al. 2000; Masuda and Nisbett
2006; Nisbett 2004). While this research helps demonstrate
that previously observed between-culture differences can-
not be due to members of Eastern and Western cultures
having different innate cognitive architectures as proposed
by Nisbett and colleagues (e.g., Nisbett et al. 2001,2004),
future research on within-cultural differences could disen-
tangle mechanisms (i.e., environmental, linguistic, political
and economic) that differentiate central tendency differ-
ences between Eastern and Western culture participants on
numerous psychological measures.
Acknowledgments This research was supported by Cassa di Ri-
sparmio di Perugia Grant # 2009.010.0344 to SF, a University for
Foreigners Research Grant to AS and a Cassa di Risparmio Perugia
Fellowship to JLD. We would like to thank Ori Friedman and Tyler
Davis for helpful discussions and comments on earlier manuscripts.
We would like to also thank Anna Selberg at The Umbra Institute for
enabling the participation of her students and providing us with two
able research assistants, Lauren Rockoff and Rosalie Paterson.
Finally, we would like to thank Piera Pandolfi for her extraordinary
grant assistance.
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... 최근 서로 다른 특성을 가진 집단들 간의 정보 처리 방식의 차이를 비교하는 연구가 활발히 진 행되고 있다 (Masuda, Nisbett, 2001;Kim, Markman, 2006;Kim., Kim, 2010;Federici et al., 2011;Dennis et al., 2014;Hyun et al., 2014;Yoo, Lee, 2015). 이러한 연구의 한 축은 문화 간 비교로 연 구자들은 주로 동양과 서양의 참가자들을 대상으로 주의 (Choi, Nisbett, 2000;Ji et al., 2000), 기억 (Kim, Markman, 2006;Federici et al., 2011), 그리고 범주화 (Chiu, 1972) 등의 다양한 인지 속성에서 의 차이를 검증하여 왔다. ...
... 최근 서로 다른 특성을 가진 집단들 간의 정보 처리 방식의 차이를 비교하는 연구가 활발히 진 행되고 있다 (Masuda, Nisbett, 2001;Kim, Markman, 2006;Kim., Kim, 2010;Federici et al., 2011;Dennis et al., 2014;Hyun et al., 2014;Yoo, Lee, 2015). 이러한 연구의 한 축은 문화 간 비교로 연 구자들은 주로 동양과 서양의 참가자들을 대상으로 주의 (Choi, Nisbett, 2000;Ji et al., 2000), 기억 (Kim, Markman, 2006;Federici et al., 2011), 그리고 범주화 (Chiu, 1972) 등의 다양한 인지 속성에서 의 차이를 검증하여 왔다. 관련된 연구들에서 일관되게 나타나는 특징은 동양인이 서양인에 비해 정보를 전체적으로 처리하는 경향이 있으며, 대상들 간의 관계에 더 민감하게 반응한다는 것이다 (Masuda, Nisbett, 2001;Chua et al., 2005). ...
... Chua et al. (2005) (Morris, Peng, 1994;Scheufele et al., 2001). Kim, Markman(2006) (Federici et al., 2011;Dennis et al., 2014). 예를 들어, Federici et al.(2011) (Inderbitzen-Nolan, Walters, 2000;Storch et al., 2004;Paik, 2010), 기존 연구결과들 (Kim, Markman, 2006;Federici et al., 2011;Dennis et al., 2014) (Shin, 1998;Lee, 2011). ...
... Our study showed that, when there are difficulties in understanding items, the assistance of a cultural mediator and/or the administration of the MMPI-2 in native languages can be beneficial. Second, this paper makes a contribution for parental competency examinees in relation to the Italian population; future research can cover other countries of Europe in order to highlight possible cultural differences between European countries and between American and European people, which may impact their performance on the MMPI-2 as suggested by Federici, Stella, Dennis, and Hünefeldt (2011). Third, in this study there is a lack of information about additional variables outside the MMPI-2, such as the ultimate court decision about proceedings in both groups (e.g., lose custody in the PR group or sole custody to father or mother in the CCL group), parents' criminal history, documented substance misuse, and other evidence to support or refute the accusations. ...
... First, we need to go beyond North American vs. East Asian comparisons by covering other cultures and regions in order to fully understand the relationship between culture and cognition [66][67][68]. Besides being the proxy for nationalities, culture can also be defined and examined at other socio-structural levels, such as religions [69], and social classes [70]. ...
... First, we need to go beyond North American vs. East Asian comparisons by covering other cultures and regions in order to fully understand the relationship between culture and cognition [65][66][67]. Besides being the proxy for nationalities, culture can also be defined and examined at other socio-structural levels, such as religions [68], and social classes [69]. ...
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... Research examining cultural differences posits that Easterners and Westerners have different cognitive and reasoning styles [14,15,20]. It was found that central tendencies in contextual reasoning were different between Westerners (typically Americans) and Easterners (typically Chinese) [21]. ...
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... Europe is expected to be culturally heterogeneous, with some countries approaching more North America and other, like Italy, being different at many respects. In fact, there are cultural differences in information processing between American and Italian people (Federici, Stella, Dennis, & Hünefeldt, 2011) as well as specificities in their perception of motherhood (Welles-Nystrçm, New, & Richman, 1994), which may impact their performance on the MMPI-2. Furthermore, US women were found to perform better than men in social cognition skills (Hall, 1978), while German women rated themselves as more empathic on questionnaires in one study (Derntl et al., 2010) and Spanish female adolescents rated themselves increasingly more empathic than their corresponding male classmates at two different timepoints (Mestre, Samper, Frías, & Tur, 2009). ...
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