Tag Archives: Culture

Asians love making choices

Many Asians live on rice rather than bread. Since it used to sell in heavy bags, they did not have options to choose. However, people nowadays decrease the amount of food to consume and increase the diversity of means to enjoy. A wide variety of small-portion “meal kits” become highly popular. Certainly, rice is not exceptional.

When I visited Tokyo, Japan, I found a store called Akomeya in Shinjuku area. This store is located across Blue Bottle and has more customers than it. When I entered this store out of curiosity, I found it sells small packages of numerous types of rice. In Akomeya, customers could make a choice out of many options, which does not usually happen when buying rice.

Although freedom of choice may not be a pillar of Western culture any more, it may still be attractive for Asians.

Mochon, D. (2013). Single-Option Aversion. Journal of Consumer Research, 40(3), 555–566.

This article documents single-option aversion, an increase in consumers’ desire to search when faced with a single option. This effect can lead to a product being chosen more often when competing alternatives are included in the choice set, contrary to various rational models of search, as well as to recent research on choice conflict showing that additional options can lead to higher deferral rates. A series of lab studies document this effect, differentiate it from other context effects, and test some of its boundary conditions. The results suggest that single-option aversion is not driven by the information provided by the additional options, that the desire to search is critical for this effect to occur, and that the effects of single- option aversion are not limited to the immediate choice set. These results have both practical and theoretical implications for the understanding of consumer search and choice deferral.

Chinese people need more than a drinking fountain

We know that westerners and easterners think differently. Markus and Kitayama (1991) argue that different cultural thoughts come from different self concepts. Roughly speaking, a US citizen has an independent concept whereas a Japanese citizen has a dependent one.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological review, 98(2), 224.

People in different cultures have strikingly different construals of the self, of others, and of the interdependence of the 2. These construals can influence, and in many cases determine, the very nature of individual experience, including cognition, emotion, and motivation. Many Asian cultures have distinct conceptions of individuality that insist on the fundamental relatedness of individuals to each other. The emphasis is on attending to others, fitting in, and harmonious interdependence with them. American culture neither assumes nor values such an overt connectedness among individuals. In contrast, individuals seek to maintain their independence from others by attending to the self and by discovering and expressing their unique inner attributes. As proposed herein, these construals are even more powerful than previously imagined. Theories of the self from both psychology and anthropology are integrated to define in detail the difference between a construal of the self as independent and a construal of the self as interdependent. Each of these divergent construals should have a set of specific consequences for cognition, emotion, and motivation; these consequences are proposed and relevant empirical literature is reviewed. Focusing on differences in self-construals enables apparently inconsistent empirical findings to be reconciled, and raises questions about what have been thought to be culture-free aspects of cognition, emotion, and motivation.

Although this research taught us Asians may think similarly to some extent, they do not necessarily behave in the same way. For instance, Asians seem to communicate in different modes depending on where they live. Recently, I have noticed that their preferences for water temperature differ greatly as well. At the Hong Kong international airport, for instance, no Chinese airline passengers used a drinking fountain. Instead they brought their own containers and stood in line for a hot water dispenser. I cannot imagine Koreans wait in line for hot water when cold water is available nearby. The world is full of different people!

Foreigners form impressions instantly about countries

In Berlin, Germany, I met a vending machine in a steel cage. Covering the machine with a cage surprised me because it was inside one of downtown subway stations. My friend told me the machine could be damaged at night by drunken people. I formed an impression that Germany was unsafe; juvenile vandalism, an action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property, was popular in this country.



A few days later, I met a public book shelf in another city. At a market in Frankfurt, people freely opened the window and picked up as many books to read as they wanted. Then, I corrected my impression and thought Germany is safe.



I find myself using trivial cues to quickly form an impression about a city or a country. A steel cage led me to think Germany was dangerous for tourists. However, as Brunswik suggested in his Les Model research, the first impression fails to reflect the truth. Soon after, leaning occurs. A book shelf changed my viewpoint about Germany; this country is safe for travel. I expect same things happen to foreigners. When Europeans come to an Asian country, they probably use a trivial cue to form an impression and use other cues to correct it. Learning should occur to understand different cities, countries, and culture correctly.


Brunswik, E. (1955). Representative design and probabilistic theory in a functional psychology. Psychological Review, 62(3), 193-217.

This is the core or basic paper in a symposium on the probability approach in psychology. The paper expands on earlier contentions of this author that the environment to which an organism must adjust is semi erratic and that therefore all functional psychology is inherently probabilistic, demanding a representative research design of its own, and leading to a special type of high-complexity, descriptive theory. “The expansions beyond the earlier publications… concern mainly the use of a behavioral example… ; the brief consideration of such semi representative policies as ‘canvassing’; certain comparisons with factorial design and the analysis of variance, as well as with non-functionalistic uses of probability in psychology; and a discussion of actual and potential applications to the clinical-social area and to related domains.”




Opt in vs. Opt out: Different defaults in different cities

I used to order the same sandwich at the Subway in Toronto (turkey-breast on a six inch, honey oat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and black olives). Subway opened a store recently in my campus in Seoul. 



I ordered the same meat and the same bread. Then, I said to a server the same vegetables, “lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and black olives.” She added cucumbers and peppers. I asked her why. She answered “I pull out the vegetables customers say.”



I noticed that most customers said nothing about vegetables. They considered the five vegetables on the window as the opt out, default options. Only few customers said “everything but…”



For the people who do not usually make a series of choices for a single meal, opt out default vegetables may relieve their burden. I expect choosing from meats and breads to vegetables and dressings are demanding for most Asians. For them, choosing which vegetables to add are additionally demanding. When they skip choosing vegetables, they may enjoy meals more even though they do not like to eat more vegetables.


Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010). Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 409–425.

The choice overload hypothesis states that an increase in the number of options to choose from may lead to adverse consequences such as a decrease in the motivation to choose or the satisfaction with the finally chosen option. A number of studies found strong instances of choice overload in the lab and in the field, but others found no such effects or found that more choices may instead facilitate choice and increase satisfaction. In a meta-analysis of 63 conditions from 50 published and unpublished experiments (N = 5,036), we found a mean effect size of virtually zero but considerable variance between studies. While further analyses indicated several potentially important preconditions for choice overload, no sufficient conditions could be identified. However, some idiosyncratic moderators proposed in single studies may still explain when and why choice overload reliably occurs; we review these studies and identify possible directions for future research.



Private Karaoke for two people

I have long believed Asians go to Karaoke for team spirit. When a popular song appears on the screen, they show companisonship by standing up and singing all together. When a song is new, they start their own conversations with the next person. Regardless of whether they sing or talk, Karaoke is the place people confirm they are in the same camp.



However, I changed my belief about the function of Karaoke after having met a private Karaoke for two people in ShenZhen, China. This facility named as M-Bar is of the same size with a phone booth. This small place is not designed for comradeship or loyalty. Instead, it is designed for people to become absorbed in their own singing experience, the core feature of Karaoke. Although no one waits outside for their turns, a few passers by silently watch two people singing inside through the transparent windows. This facility shows the power of single households. Alternatively, different from my thoughts based on the Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory, Chinese may not be collectivist but individualist.


Japanese pork and Canadian chicken?

Soup is a liquid food, generally served warm, that is made by combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water, or another liquid, according to Wikipedia. Warm soups are popular as a type of comfort food in the world.


DML_Soul food


People have their own favourite ingredients for soups, and different meats are welcomed in different countries. For instance, in Japan, I have seen many flyers promoting 100-yen ($1) “pork” soup. In Canada, “chicken” soups are highly common. Is this because different meats are priced differently in different countries? Or, more importantly, do Japanese people actually like pork although they are perceived to like fish, and Canadians actually like chicken although they are viewed to like beef? We *might* have developed a wrong belief what ingredients make dishes from different cultures distinctive. 🙂


Cafe: East vs. West

People often go to cafe not for coffee but for work. According to Mehta, Zhu, and Cheema (2012), an appropriate ambient noise (e.g., cafe noise) enhances work performance. Their five studies showed that people performed creative tasks better when surrounded by the moderate ambient noise (70db) than the low one (50db) or the high one (85db). They argue that when people are surrounded by the moderate ambient noise, people cannot process information easily and thus they focus on their work harder and think more abstractly and creatively.

One website picked up their findings and enables its visitors to play a pre-recorded coffee shop noise at your computer (Coffitivity).

20120708 @ Cafe bene
Cafe “Bene” @ Seoul

Cafe @ Seoul
Cafe “Gurunaru” @ Seoul

Many other space attributes beyond sound are discussed on how to create the ideal workspace. According to the Psyblog run by Jeremy Dean, for instance, there are six tips to do so: (1) avoid open-plan, (2) the great tidy-messy debate, (3) curvy is beautiful, (4) room with a (picture of a) view, (5) plants, and (6) decorates. When it comes to coffee shop chains, Starbucks seem to meet many tips while other competing Canadian coffee shop chains such as Second Cup or Tim Hortons seem to meet only few.

However, more space attributes (in a coffee place) will affect work performance. Two example attributes are whether a coffee place is indoor or outdoor and whether it is brand-new or run-down. Interestingly, most local coffee shops in Seoul are indoors and brand-new while many local coffee shops in North American cities are outdoors and relatively run-down. Since I generally worked more productively when I was at the local coffee shops in North America than when I was at those in Seoul, I expect [outdoor] and [run-down] might be extra critical attributes for a coffee shop to be an ideal workplace.

Cafe @ Boston
Cafe “Au Bon Pain” @ Boston

Cafe @ Virginia
Cafe “Aromas” @ Virginia

Street people: East vs. West

20130717_Street people @ Seoul

Street people are the people who live a public life on the streets of a city. Some ask us to view them as our community members (e.g., Homelessguide) and others consider them as business opportunities (e.g., Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid). Regardless of our objectives whether we want to help them or make money from them, we need to understand street people more deeply.

From the psychological point of view, their behavior differs depending on where they live. Most street people whom I have seen in Seoul have avoided interacting with me; they hide themselves from public. In contrast, many street people I have met in Toronto have tried to interact with me; they ask passers-by for change and sometimes chat briefly. It seems that social issues (e.g., losing faces or keeping distant from people) are more critical to relatively passive, Asian street people whereas economic issues (e.g., making money) are more desperate to relatively active, North American street people.

By Jonathan Jenkins, Toronto Sun, August 14, 2011
By Jonathan Jenkins, Toronto Sun, August 14, 2011

If their behavioral difference comes from how WE treat them, we should not ask street people to change their behavior: Instead, WE may need to change the way we treat them. In particular, Asians including me may need to invest social resources (e.g., smile) rather than economic resources (e.g., money) to befriend street people.