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Research Prompts Attention To Culture When Doing Business

Compiled By John Teresko When doing business with foreigners, considering cultural differences should be the first thing to consider, recent research shows. That's because cultural differences in the way the mind works may be greater than most people suspect, says Richard E. Nisbett, a social psychologist at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor. "When you have a diverse group of people from different cultures, you get not just different beliefs about the world, but different ways of perceiving it and reasoning about it, each with its own strengths and weaknesses." Nisbett says, for instance, East Asian thought tends to be more holistic, attending to the entire field, and making relatively little use of categories and formal logic. "Holistic approaches emphasize change, recognize contradiction and the need for multiple perspectives, and search for the middle way between opposing propositions." In one experiment, researchers found that Americans responded to contradiction by polarizing their beliefs whereas Chinese respond by moderating their beliefs. But Nisbett also notes that after a generation or less in the U.S. Asians move radically in an American direction. "But it might be a mistake to assume that it's an easy matter to teach one culture's tools to individuals in another without total immersion in the culture," adds Nisbett.

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