Special Session Summary Emotive and Cognitive Effects of Culture


Donnel A. Briley and Jerome D. Williams (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Emotive and Cognitive Effects of Culture", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Kineta Hung and Kent B. Monroe, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 26-29.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 26-29



Donnel A. Briley, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong

Jerome D. Williams, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The landscape of the global economy has changed dramatically as southeast Asia and other regions have taken expanded roles. Recent widespread economic instability sparked by concerns about the purchasing power of southeast Asian consumers illustrates the extent to which some of these once-small markets have become important players. Though both Asian and Western consumers now have substantial influence, most consumer research comes from a Western perspective. Thus, it is important to determine what 'East-West’ differences exist so that global markets can be served effectively. The proposed session seeks to make steps toward developing a better cross-cultural understanding of consumer behavior. In particular, we will examine how cultural influence shapes both our emotional and cognitive make-up and draw implications relevant to the advertising context.

Culture’s Impact On Emotion And Cognition

Culture consists of the patterns of shared norms and values which characterize a group of people (Triandis, 1995). Because these cultural patterns direct our interpretations of the world around us (Bruner, 1984), the study of culture is a potentially fruitful realm for consumer researchers. Research has shown that culture influences fundamental aspectsof our being such our value systems (Hofstede, 1980, 1983; Chinese Cultural Connection, 1987) and the way the core of our being, the 'self’, is defined (Markus and Kitayama, 1991). Thus, our cultural 'training’ has a sweeping influence that could be expected to affect both the emotional and cognitive realms.

Emotion. The idea that emotions are tied to culture has received considerable attention from researchers in recent years (e.g., Campos, Campos and Barrett, 1989; Frijda, 1986; Lutz, 1988). While emotions are sometimes thought of as natural or biological events, a growing body of literature suggests that they are shaped through social and cultural processes (Ellsworth, 1994; Frijda and Mesquita, 1994; Kitayama and Markus, 1994; Markus and Kitayama, 1994). Individuals must adapt and adjust to their particular socio-cultural environment; and through this adaptation and adjustment, one discovers how to express and even experience emotions. Kitayama and Markus (1994) argue that culture and emotion are inextricably linked: cultural experience shapes one’s emotional experiences and emotions, in turn, play a pivotal role in bolstering and sustaining cultural construals.

This conceptualization suggests that emotions are constructed and experienced within a given social and cultural context. An individual’s cultural framework guides one’s sense of and attitudes toward emotions: when does one feel, where does one feel and how does one feel (Markus and Kitayama, 1994). Therefore, the appropriateness of a particular category of emotional response is often culturally defined. For example, many North Americans viewed with awe and confusion the tearful resignation speech of the CEO of Yamaichi Securities, the failed Japanese investment bank. To Westerners, open weeping seems completely inappropriate for a business executive, though many Japanese could empathize with the immense shame that the disgraced leader felt. Because culture guides us in determining which emotions are appropriate and how they should be expressed, one might expect that cross-cultural differences exist in consumer’s responses to some types of emotional appeals.

Cognition. The broad area of cognitive processing, also, is affected by culture. Researchers have found that culture influences the way in which some knowledge is processed, organized and retrieved (Markus and Kitayama, 1991); whether attributions for other’s behaviors are dispostional or situational (Lee, Hallahan and Herzog, 1996; Miller, 1984; Morris and Peng, 1995); the force of intrinsic motivation in choice (Sethi and Lepper, 1996); and the need for dissonance reduction (Heine and Lehman, 1997). These findings indicate that a variety of cognitive functions vary based on culture. Michael Posner, a noted cognitive scientist, supports this notion. He suggests that cultural knowledge and experience is an important input to problem solving (Posner et al., 1994).

Of particular interest here is the notion that knowledge and memory processes vary cross-culturally (Markus and Kitayama, 1991; Miller, 1994). Given the substantial role of memory in advertising effectiveness, it is important to thoroughly explore the differences across cultures in memory performance.

Session Objectives

While psychologists have gained some knowledge about the way culture affects our emotive and cognitive activities, marketing researchers have studied this area very little. The proposed session will aim to progress this area of marketing research. The three session papers attempt to understand cross-cultural differences and similarities related to fundamental, complex human functions: emotion and memory. While the theories presented in the papers have broad implications for cross-cultural psychology and marketing, we focus on the advertising context. These papers converge on the following questions:

1.  Do cross-cultural differences exist in particular emotional and cognitive activities?

2.  What are the implications of these differences or similarities for advertising?

To address these issues, each of the three cross-cultural explorations is interested in 'East-West’ differences or similarities. In each paper the individualism-collectivism dimension of culture is used, either explicitly or implicitly, to define and 'organize’ culture. Thus, this session avoids the common problem associated with culture research: incompatible definitions of culture and incomparable findings across studies. Because the session papers derive from a common theoretical construct, comparisons can be made and the session can hopefully offer some meaningful conclusions about this area of research.




Jerome D. Williams, National University of Singapore/Penn State University

Donnel A. Briley, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Sonya Grier, Stanford University

Geraldine Henderson, Duke University

Research on fear appeal as a persuasive technique dates back to the 1950’s (Janis and Feschbach 1953, 1954). Studies have shown that using fear can be a highly persuasive technique in certain situations, or counterproductive in others. Despite more than 40 years of research on whether fear appeal in advertising enhances or inhibits messages persuasiveness, Keller and Block (1996) indicate that an unequivocal answer is not possible.

Fear is generally classified as one of the "basic," "primary," or "innate," emotions. Such emotions are characterized by their early appearance and by the universal facial expressions associated with them (Lewis 1995). Many psychologists view such emotions as a universal set of largely pre-wired, internal processes of self-maintenance and self-regulation and believe that such emotions are experienced in the same way across all cultures (Jones 1995).

However, there is increasing feeling that emotional experience is not universal and that culture plays a pivotal role in shaping emotional experience (Marcus and Kitayama 1996). Rather than viewing emotions as natural or biological events that are pre-wired and self-contained, they are viewed as amalgams of component processes that reflect the functional relationship between the organism and the environmentCand in the case of the self-conscious emotions, the relationships between the self and the cultural environment (Kitayama, Marcus, and Matsumoto 1995). The extent of this cultural influence may be far greater than has previously been assumed in psychology. For example, for the emotion of fear, intensity ratings made by Asians and non-Asian cultures were significantly different (Matsumoto 1992).

In this paper, we investigate the impact of culture on the effectiveness of fear-appeal advertising. We employ an experiment in the context of advertising copy used in an anti-drug social marketing campaign. Data are collected from two countries, the Unites States and Singapore, as representative of two divergent cultures. These two countries represent an interesting cultural contrast to investigate effectiveness of fear-appeal advertising for two major reasons. First, the United States is generally recognized as an individualistic culture, and Singapore, with its heavy Chinese influence, is generally recognized as a collectivistic society. The individualism/collectivism construct (I/) is associated with a broad pattern of differences among cultures, and persuasive appeals in advertising often reflect a culture’s standing along this dimension. For example, a study by Han and Shavitt (1996) suggests that ads consistent with the underlying cultural themes of individualism and collectivism are more persuasive.

Secondly, collectivism often is associated with conformity (Kagitcibasi 1994). There is apparent similarity between social conformity and some cultural antecedents to collectivism. Singapore is generally viewed as a more paternalistic society/government, i.e., the state knows what is best for the individual and imposes this view on its constituents (Rothschild 1997). Social conformity is associated with such a paternalist approach to society. The United States, on the other hand, is generally viewed as a more libertarian society, i.e., the individual knows what is best, and should be left alone to freely make choices. Such a societal/cultural contrast provides an interesting setting to examine the effects of high versus low fear appeal advertising as part of a social marketing anti-drug campaign.

Various theoretical perspectives have been offered to explain the effects of fear on persuasion, e.g. the Drive Model (Janis 1967), the Parallel Response Model (Levanthal 1970), and Protection Motivation Theory (Rogers 1975, 1983; Tanner, Hunt, and Eppright 1991). In this study, we analyze the effects of culture on fear appeal advertising based on the appraisal theory approach to studying emotions suggested by (Ellsworth 1994). Appraisal theory defines the kinds of appraisals that are fundamental in generating and differentiating emotions. We therefore identify a set of dependent variables that fit into the appraisal theory framework. For the independent variable, we operationalize culture by using several I/C measures from previous research, including the self-construal scale (independent and interdependent self-construal), aspects of identity questionnaire (personal identity and collective identity), and the value survey (personal openness/autonomy and conformity).

Burnett and Wilkes (1980) have suggested that fear appeal research be applied in the context of alternative market segments. However, a review of the literature reveals that previous fear appeal studies have focused on various segments, at the exclusion of cultural segments. For example, there have been fear appeal studies on segments of cigarette smokers (Quinn, Meenaghan, and Brannick 1992), gender segments (Johnson and LaTour 1991), and demographic and psychographic segments (Burnett and Oliver 1979). Also, the effectiveness of fear appeal on various segments based on individual traits has been studied, e.g., self-esteem (Elliott and Frampton 1977), anxiety (Wheatley 1971), copers and avoiders, and locus of control (Burnett 1981). Our study represents the first published attempt in consumer research, to our knowledge, to examine the effectiveness of fear-appeal advertising on cultural segments.



Jennifer L. Aaker, UCLA

Patti Williams, UCLA

This research examines the persuasive impact of different types of emotional appeals on members of collectivist vs. individualist cultures. In two experiments, cultural differences were found where ego-focused (e.g., pride, happiness) versus other-focused (e.g., empathy, peacefulness) emotional appeals led to more favorable attitudes for members of a collectivist culture, while other-focused versus ego-focused emotional appeals led to more favorable attitudes for members of an individualist culture. In addition, individual thoughts mediated the effect of ego-focused emotional appeals on attitudes for collectivists, while collective thoughts mediated the impact of other-focused emotional appeals on attitudes for individualists. Experiment 2 was conducted to test two possible explanations for these unexpected results: Novel Advertising Style and ovel Thought Type. The findings suggest that the generation and elaboration on a relatively novel type of thought (individual thoughts for collectivists, collective thoughts for individualists) accounts for the persuasive effects found in this research. These results are interpreted within an Ability-Motivation framework, and theoretical implications involving cross-cultural persuasion effects are discussed.



Carolyn Yoon, University of Toronto

Lynn Hasher, Duke University

Tamara A. Rahhal, University of Illinois

Gordon Winocur, University of Toronto

Levy and Langer (1994) proposed that a major factor contributing to age-related memory loss in Americans is the negative stereotypes about aging that are prevalent in the United States. They conducted a study comparing the memory performance of three groups of younger and older subjects: American Deaf, American hearing, and Chinese hearing individuals. They found that older participants from the American Deaf and mainland Chinese communities outperformed the older American hearing participants, while no such differences were found for younger participants. They suggested that the more positive cultural beliefs about aging among the Deaf and Chinese cultures accounted for the better memory skills exhibited by older individuals from these communities compared to older adults from the American mainstream.

In the present study, we seek to further examine the cross-cultural differences in memory performance between younger and older adults by comparing members of the mainstream Canadian culture to those of the Chinese culture who have recently immigrated from Hong Kong. Mainstream Canadians were selected for the study because their attitudes toward aging were found to be as negative as those of Americans. By contrast, the Chinese participants that were recruited in our study were more similar to the mainland Chinese, particularly with respect to their positive views of aging. We assessed the cognitive performance of younger and older subjects from the Canadian and Chinese cultures by administering four different memory tests. Contrary to what was reported by Levy and Langer (1994), the results of our study suggest that stereotypic views of aging do not play a significant role in accounting for age-related memory loss. Possible explanations to account for the discrepant results are discussed.

Cross-cultural studies on cognition have traditionally adopted the view that cognitive processes are universal (i.e., share in common some underlying psychological processes; Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen 1992). What is less clear is the extent to which cultural factors affect the development and display of behavior rooted in the common underlying processes. The present study offers insights about the extent to which cultural beliefs play a role in cognitive functioning across different cultures. Potential implications for marketers as well as consumer researchers are discussed.


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Donnel A. Briley, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong
Jerome D. Williams, National University of Singapore, Singapore


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998

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