Effects of Social Context on Holistic Versus Analytic Orientation

A Cross-Cultural Experiment

Published in: International Journal of Sociology, Volume 47, Issue 4 (November 2017), Pages 296-316. doi: 10.1080/00207659.2017.1372100

Posted on RAND.org on February 27, 2018

by Jeffrey W. Lucas, Carmi Schooler, Delei Zhao, Marek N. Posard, Hsiang-Yuan Ho, Yu Guo

An experiment carried out in the United States and China investigated how social context affects cognitive orientation. Explanations for cultural differences in cognitive orientation is that they are rooted in agricultural practices that encourage relatively more holistic or analytic orientations. Recent work has proposed that social network structures might lead to more holistic orientations in two ways — by leading individuals to feel strong social bonds, or by encouraging individuals to be concerned about happenings in distal relationships. This research attempted to adjudicate between these explanations by experimentally varying conditions of social exchange in an effort to make participants more or less concerned about other relationships in the network and more or less attached to fellow group members. Results indicate potential support for both explanations, although they reveal a process more complex than that theorized. In particular, participants receiving gifts from partners led to more holistic orientations, but it did not appear to do so through stronger affective attachment. Alternatively, the manipulation of concern about other relationships did not predict holism, but measures of the extent to which participants felt control over their situations did. Results also show that exchanging gifts with partners produced significantly different responses in participants across cultures.

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