Reasons as Carriers of Culture: Dynamic vs. Dispositional Models of Cultural Influence on Decision Making
We argue that a way culture influences decisions is through the reasons that individuals recruit when required to explain their choices. Specifically, we propose that cultures endow individuals with different rules or principles that provide guidance for making decisions, and a need to provide reasons activates such cultural knowledge. This proposition, representing a dynamic rather than dispositional view of cultural influence, is investigated in studies of consumer decisions that involve a trade-off between diverging attributes, such as low price and high quality. Principles enjoining compromise are more salient in East Asian cultures than in North American culture, and accordingly, we predict that cultural differences in the tendency to choose compromise options will be greater when the decision task requires that participants provide reasons. In study 1, a difference between Hong Kong Chinese and North American participants in the tendency to select compromise products emerged only when they were asked to explain their decisions, with Hong Kong decision makers more likely and Americans less likely to compromise. Content analysis of participants’ reasons confirmed that cultural differences in the frequency of generating particular types of reasons mediated the difference in choices. Studies 2 and 3 replicate the interactive effect of culture and the need to provide reasons in a comparison of North American versus Japanese participants and in a comparison of European-American and Asian-American participants, respectively. Studies 4 and 5 found that Hong Kong Chinese participants, compared with Americans, evaluate proverbs and the reasons of others more positively when these favor compromise. We discuss the value of conceptualizing cultural influences in terms of dynamic strategies rather than as dispositional tendencies.