Category Archives: Articles

Let’s Work in Diyarbakir, August – 2015

A short story about our experience in Diyarbakir, written by our new member Pernille Koll.

Diyarbakir is not the typical destination for Danes going to Turkey and with the current rapprochement between the PKK and the Turkish government, it is not likely to become one either. Many friends thus acted skeptical when they heard where I was going and I chose not to be too specific when telling my parents about the location of the city. Fortunately, whatever fears and worries my friends managed to project onto me before departure, disappeared the moment I sat foot in the airport and was picked up along with fellow Danish participants by Serhat, the leader of the project. Sitting on the bus on our way to the camp, Serhat asked us if we were hungry. Not many people replied, as none of us wanted to seem greedy or cause any trouble for the staff at the hotel. Nonetheless, Serhat made sure that there was a great meal prepared for us upon our arrival and in that way we got a sneak peek at the unlimited friendliness we were about to witness everyday for the next week. We then greeted the other participants from Turkey and Lithuania and were taken to our rooms. Here my first expectation turned out to be far from true, since I were not to sleep with ten other people in one room with a shared bathroom but instead got my very own room. What a luxury! The following day we all met for breakfast at what was to be known as the garden. This area is very green and a swimming pool takes up the center. All around the grass field big blankets and pillows cover the ground and in the shades of the trees locals drink tea and smoke the shiza while Turkish music flows from the speakers. On a large balcony with a big table, there is room for everyone joining the project and here we would socialize and have three meals served each day. That day we played different games that helped me not only to learn all the new names of the approximately 60 participants but also functioned as an ice breaker since I found myself in situations where I had to hold hands, dance, clap and work together as a team with these people, whom I had only just met. The welcoming party that night served the same purpose and it was amazing how quickly people bonded and were talking across cultural backgrounds, gender and ethnicity. I personally learned a lot that evening, since I came to talk to one of the Kurdish people. In Denmark I believe there are many prejudices against Kurds and I cannot helped but have been affected by these and thus carry some unconsciously bias myself. For that very same reason it was amazing to listen to this young man telling me about his life in Turkey and the surpression Kurds have undergone and in many ways still are. In other words, it was an eye opener and for the rest of the trip I tried to take in as much knowledge as possible about this local people, who are being misunderstood great many places all over the world. The theme of the project was unemplyment in Europe, which we came to discuss through different work shops and practical lessons. By being divided into groups that had all three nationalities represented, I was not only forced to speak in English, I also had to communicate and collaborate with people that spoke English with various accents and on different levels. Furthermore, you cannot expect non-Danes to think and work like Danes, which meant I sometimes had to be patient and look beyond the specific methods and working ethics I am used to from back home. For that reason even though the group work seemed challenging at times it turned out to be beneficial as I got my cultural horizon widened and gained new perspectives with regards to professional and instructive matters. When we were not in the class room discussing globalisation, presenting our ideas of businesses that could work in the three countries or trying to solve the problem of the increasing amount of refugees, we were out exploring the beautiful, old streets of Diyarbakir. We got to know the history of the city and hear the stories from people who had actually been there. I clearly remember how we ended up in a yard with many chairs facing in the direction of four elderly men sitting on a bench singing. But it wasn’t any song. One by one the men sang songs about their Kurdish history, keeping the truth alive that they themselves had been told by older generations. Even though I didn’t understand a single word they were saying I could feel the agony and sorrow in their hearts. I will never forget that moment and I feel truly blessed to have heard their songs and gotten their point of view. Finally we also went on an amazing boat trip and never in a million years had I thought I would experience such beautiful nature while staying in Diyarbakir. The water was blue and green and the big mountains on each side of our boat made me feel so humble and small. We all jumped in the water and some of us swam from one coast to another, while others were diving or just splashing around. At that point I think we all realised that even though we are all so different, we do have something in common. Besides making new friends and acquaintances, exploring Lithuanian and Kurdish culture at the nightly presentations and events, I first and foremost left Diyarbakir wiser than when I arrived. The project gave me many laughs and it made me meet people I otherwise would never have met. Now I know why Lithuanian people work so hard to make ends meet and I understand what seperates the older generation from the young one. In the Lithuanians I have seen a drive, talent and ambitions that are never exposed to us otherwise in Denmark, and I am very grateful for having gained that knowledge. With regards to the Kurdish people I have experienced a warm and loving people who are much more than the ‘villagers’ some Danish people have the tendency to turn them into. I would without a heartbeat recommend anyone to go on the same journey as I have been on and hopefully they too will surrender to the smells, colours and atmosphere of Diyarbakir.

EPILOGUE Today I went to buy a pizza. As I am ordering, the man notices the henna in my hand and says: “What is that in your hand?” where to I reply: “It is henna”. “How come you know henna?” the man asks me, I smile and explains him about the cultural night, where I got to be a Kurdish bride. His eyes lit up when he hears that I have been participating in a project in Diyarbakir. “That is my hometown!” We both agree on the magic of the city and when I walk out of there I cannot stop smiling, it was like for a brief moment I was back in Diyarbakir sorrounded by amazing people.


Denmark’s Wind Energy Output Just Exceeded National Demand

Denmark's Wind Energy Output Just Exceeded National Demand


When it comes to renewable energy, Denmark is officially kicking ass. Yesterday, Denmark’s wind farms produced 116% of national electricity demands, allowing the country to export power to Norway, German, and Sweden. According to The Guardian, that figure had risen to 140% by early Friday morning.

“It shows that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is no fantasy,” the European Wind Energy Association’s Oliver Joy told The Guardian. “Wind energy and renewables can be a solution to decarbonization—and also security of supply at times of high demand.”

Denmark has long been a global leader in renewable energy. With almost unanimous political consensus, the 5.6 million-strong Danish population has in recent years pushed aggressively for the installation of new wind farms across the country, with the goal of producing half of its electricity via renewable sources by 2020. And in 2014, Denmark announced to the world that it aimed to end burning fossil fuels entirely—not just for electricity, but for transportation—by 2050.

This week’s wind energy milestone places what sounded to be a very audacious set of goals within reach for the small Nordic nation. The latest wind energy figures can be found on the Danish transmission systems operator website The site, The Guardian notes, showed that Danish wind farms weren’t even operating at their full 4.8GW capacity at the time of the recent peaks.

Keep on truckin’ Denmark. You’re giving the rest of us hope.

[The Guardian]

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20-Years Old Inventor’s Idea On How To Make The Ocean Clean Itself Will Be Launched In Japan

With augmenting industrial activities for the increase in human standard of living, our water systems have been jeopardized to a great extent. The waters which were formerly free from all sorts of waste materials are now heavily laden with effluent and pollutants of all sorts. The biggest problem perhaps is the pollution which constitutes of plastic bags and other plastic material. To prevent plastic accumulation on our land, it is usually disposed in the seas and oceans as an easier way of getting rid of all the used and unwanted plastic bags.

Man is selfish when it comes to the exploitation of natural resources and their degradation; the plastic that he gets rid of by throwing it in the water systems plagues aquatic life and jeopardizes the survival of aquatic organisms. To address this issue, Boyan Salt has come up with an idea that helps in eradicating the pollution in oceans in a rather feasible and environmental-friendly fashion. At the mere age of 20, this genius has come up with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation which puts to use the oceanic currents which work in eliminating a considerable amount of plastic waste from these water systems.

This plan consists of setting up large floats which shall skim through the oceans, collecting the solid waste with them without posing any probable danger to the life underwater. The currents would be the driving force for these gigantic floats which would not be reliant on any kind of fuel or machinery for their operation. It isn’t only a pollution-free idea, but is also unbelievably economical.
Japan is to be the first country to implement this brilliant idea, and will hopefully deploy the 2000m float in early 2016, which would be the largest float in the world. It has been estimated that using these floats as a means of removing plastic waste would result in a 3% reduction in the amount of money spent on other, less effective methods of waste removal.



Beating poverty with a fist full of rice!

MS ARJINA Khatun was married off when she was only 13 years old.

After just 13 months of marriage, her husband divorced her because her family was unable to pay the dowry.

She did not let that wreck her life. Not only did she turn it around, she also transformed the lives of many women in Taraganj, a sub-district of Rangpur in Bangladesh.

Ms Khatun, now 47, said she became a household helper after her divorce. She saved until she could buy two goats and nine chickens.

A dream grew in her heart.

In 2002, she formed an association of 40 women, called the Panchayetpara Working Women’s Group.

Every day, they saved 40 fistfuls of rice. At the end of each week, they held a lottery and handed over the rice to one of the members, who would buy ducks and chickens with the money earned.

After 40 weeks, their village and their households were bustling with ducks and chickens.

The initiative brought in cash for the women and their families.

Next, Ms Khatun began saving two Bangladeshi taka (S$0.03) a day.

Every week, the women would save 560 taka. They would hold a lottery, and a goat would be purchased for the winner of the week. Gradually, their herd grew.

After reading about Ms Khatun’s efforts, two non­ governmental organisations came forward to help.

She also expanded her women’s group to 170 members. They would deposit 20 taka a week and divide up the money every three years.

They now have 500,000 taka in their savings fund.

Ms Khatun is continuing her fight against child marriages, dowries, unjust divorces and the oppression of women. So far, she has prevented 21 child marriages.

She said: “It is women who first have to come forward to help women in distress.”


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Effects of Collectivistic and Individualistic Cultures on Imagination Inflation in Eastern and Western Cultures

By Iulia O. Basu-Zharku

What do we remember from the vast quantity of events happening to us, involving us, and relevant to our life-story? For example, the fact that you went on a trip with your classmates in the 5th grade and the details of the trip might be relevant to your life-story if many of your current friends were still some of the children that back then were your classmates. People’s memories for their experiences are not a veridical recording of such experiences, however (e.g., Schacter, 2001), and can be influenced by many factors. An important and influential theory focusing on the emergence and content of autobiographical memory is the social cultural developmental theory (Nelson & Fivush, 2004), which emphasizes the role of society and culture in shaping people’s memories of their autobiographical past.

In essence, autobiographical memory is about defining the self in time and in relation to others, so that individuals gain a sense of who they are by relating to others within a culture and creating a shared past. This theory views autobiographical memory as a function of various socio-cultural factors that interact with basic memory systems, such as the acquisition of language, talk with parents, the style of parental talk, and psychological understanding. Autobiographical memory emerges gradually and is influenced by cognitive developments and social interactions, thus becoming a social-cultural-cognitive system.

One area that has received attention from researchers is the influence of cultural differences in collectivism/individualism on autobiographical memory. This introduction presents the definitions for collectivism and individualism and some of the studies that illustrate the particularities of collectivistic societies and individuals, as well as those of individualistic societies and individuals. The influence of the socio-cultural background on people’s autobiographical memory is then depicted in studies that show the influence of the linguistic and cultural environment on children’s autobiographical memories in Western (e.g., American) and Eastern (e.g., Chinese) cultural backgrounds.

Some studies look at the conversational style between mother-children dyads of different ethnicities, and others are more specifically focused on autobiographical remembering and look at the content and characteristics of the children’s and adult’s autobiographical memories. Studies focusing on bicultural individuals will be examined to show that these individuals integrate the norms of both cultures and apply them accordingly. Finally, the phenomenon of imagination inflation is discussed and evidence towards it is brought through studies that show its effect on past events and future expectations, for both children and adults. Moreover, it is noted that imagination can also create false memories, particularly if the events imagined are highly plausible or if the participants are children.


“Open up to imagination” by Ryan Hickox

Differences Between Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures

One important dimension of culture is the extent of individualism or collectivism exhibited (Desai, 2007). Collectivism puts an emphasis on distinguishing between in-groups and out-groups, engaging in cooperative tasks, and focusing on what people have in common. Conversely, individualism is characterized by engagement in competitive tasks, by public situations, and by an emphasis on what makes the individual distinct. In general, in societies in which agreeing on social norms is important and jobs are interdependent, collectivism is preponderant, whereas in complex, stratified societies, where affluence, independence, and differences are emphasized, individualism is preponderant.

In particular, individualism is mostly seen in the cultures of Western Europe and North America, whereas collectivism is mostly seen in the cultures of Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe and Latin America (Triandis, 1993; Nelson & Fuvish, 2004). The emphasis on one or another starts in the family, even with the very structure of the family: a large, multigenerational one emphasizes collectivism, whereas a smaller, nuclear family emphasizes individualism (Triandis, 1993). Studies examining differences in collectivistic and individualistic cultures often use either Asian Americans or people from Asian cultures, such as Vietnamese or Filipino and compare them to Caucasians or Americans (Skillman, 2000; Desai, 2007). These studies on families and intergenerational conflict show how individualistic societies value self-reliance, independence, autonomy, personal achievement (Skillman, 2000), and a definition of self apart from the group and personal goals (Desai, 2007).

Collectivistic societies value family cohesion, cooperation, solidarity, and conformity (Skillman, 2000), and thus people is these societies tend to make more references to others, emphasize group goals, and follow the expectations and regulations of the group (Desai, 2007).

Such cultural differences mean that people in different cultures have fundamentally different construals of the self and others. For more collectivistic societies, interdependent construals are the norm: The self is a part of a community, defined relative to others, concerned with belongingness, dependency, empathy, reciprocity and focused on small, selective in-groups at the expense of out-groups. The interdependent self exercises control to the interior, so that cognition and representation involve attentiveness to others, and personal attributes and actions are situationally bound. Autonomy becomes secondary, whereas relationships with others are emphasized, being ends in themselves.

Thus, it is crucial to be aware of other people’s desires, needs, and goals and to work towards them to help the other, even read their minds (Mark & Kitayama, 1991). For more individualistic societies, independent construals are the norm: The distinctiveness of people, the uniqueness of a person, autonomy, and independence are emphasized. This requires construing oneself as an individual and speaking one’s mind. Social responsiveness is determined by the need to assert and express the self, and thus the independent self exercises control to the exterior. The consequence is that larger, more inclusive but superficial in-groups are the norm, as opposed to the small, selective in-groups of the interdependent self construals (Mark & Kitayama, 1991).

Socio-Cultural Influences on Memory

According to the socio-cultural developmental theory, socio-cultural influences can be seen both in the formation and content of autobiographical memories (Nelson & Fivush, 2004). Research has examined this in several ways. One line of research has looked at cultural differences in autobiographical memory by comparing Caucasian Americans with various Asian ethnicities (e.g., Korean, Chinese, and Japanese). An analysis of conversations about reminiscing about one’s experiencess in Caucasian mother-child dyads and Korean mother-child dyads (the children’s age ranged between 3-4 years of age) revealed that Caucasian dyads talked on average as much as three times more than the Koreans dyads (Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995).

In addition, Caucasian mothers talked more during their turns and were more likely to portray the child as the protagonist in the talk, and to emphasize the child’s and others’ feelings and thoughts, whereas Korean mothers focused on norms, social roles, and emphasized behavioral expectations. This suggests that children’s linguistic experiences are related to the development of autobiographical memories, and that the latter are culturally modeled (Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995).

Another study that suggests the influence of the socio-linguistic environment on autobiographical memory at the early stages of childhood looked at conversations about children’s past experiences between American mother-child dyads and Chinese mother-child dyads (the children were 3 years old). The analysis of these conversations revealed that American mother-child dyads had an elaborative, independently oriented conversational style in which the focus was on the child’s predilections and opinions, whereas Chinese mother-child dyads had a low-elaborative, interdependently oriented conversational style in which the mother repeated factual questions and emphasized moral rules and behavioral expectations (Wang et al., 2000).

These results show that parent-child talk focuses on what types of events are considered memorable, on what aspects of those events are more important, on how to organize events in a temporal fashion, and on how to make inferences about people and causality. All these differ according to the values of a specific culture (Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Wang et al., 2000). Child talk appears to be more valued in Western societies, where children are encouraged to talk more about their experiences and talk more about themselves (Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995).

Other research also showing how the socio-linguistic environment in which children grow shapes their autobiographical memories has focused on memory specificity and the amount of detail found in young children’s memory reports. When American children (4 and 6 year old) were interviewed about a story presented to them a day before, they gave more voluminous and elaborate accounts for both their own experiences and for the story than did Korean children (Han, Leichtman & Wang, 1998). In addition, American children were more specific and descriptive about specific past events than both Korean and Chinese children, and the American children referred to emotions more and categorized negative emotions, whereas Asian children tried to emphasize the positive aspect of an event and talked more about other people than American children did.

This suggests that the content of memory differs with the cultural background of the individual (Han et al., 1998). Research involving preschoolers describing autobiographical events shows that American children’s memories are generally focused on specific events, individual experiences, and feelings (Wang, 2004). In addition, American children’s memories tend to be expressive, detailed and lengthy, and they focus on the child as being the protagonist in the narrative and present the child in a positive light. In contrast, Chinese children’s memories were found to be general, skeletal, less emotional, more neutral in their expression, and focused on routine events, on collective activities, on social interactions, on others or relations with others.

These patterns are seen because Western cultures promote autonomy and put an emphasis on the individual’s qualities, and children in these cultures are encouraged to stand out and talk about themselves, whereas Eastern cultures promote cohesiveness and put an emphasis on the group, and children in these cultures are discouraged to talk about themselves and the past and focus more on those around them (Han et al., 1998).

Cultural influences on memory persist into adulthood. In one study, American and Chinese college students were asked to recollect early childhood experiences, and they showed the same biases as American and Chinese preschoolers (Wang, 2001). In the study, the American and Chinese college students were asked to recollect their earliest childhood memories and provided self-descriptions. Results indicated that the American participant’s earliest childhood memories were from around the age of 3.5 years, whereas the Chinese participant’s earliest childhood memories were dating from approximately 4.1 years of age.

In addition, American college students’ memories were discrete, focused on specific events, and the individual’s feelings, whereas Chinese college students’ memories were more general, about routine activities, and focusing on family and in-groups. Americans also stressed personal preferences and autonomy in lengthier narratives than the ones reported by the Chinese.

When considering the influence of culture on autobiographical memory, it is important to realize that people can internalize more than one culture, in equal measure, so as to form a bicultural identity (Devos, 2006). For example, young adults in the United States in a Chinese family might be competitive and expose their achievements in the society at large, but inside their community and/or family, they will be respectful to their elders and try to blend in. Studies have primed bicultural individuals with one cultural identity or another, in order to see how that influences their behavior and cognition (Hong, Ip, Chiu, Morris & Menon, 2001; Wang, 2008). In one such study, Chinese Americans were primed with their Chinese cultural identity, by being given collective, Chinese-related statements. Results showed that the participants became more aware of their duties (e.g. “I ought to understand Chinese history,” “We have to pay taxes”).

However, Chinese Americans primed with their American cultural identity, by being given individualistic, American-related statements, they tended to become slightly more aware of their rights (e.g. “I can vote when I’m 18”) (Hong et al., 2001). Moreover, when Asian Americans were primed with their American self before recalling important autobiographical events, they were more likely to recall personal experiences in which they were the protagonists and they tended to emphasize their own perspective (e.g., “I got the acceptance letter for Cornell. I did not like my high school at the time and most of the people in, so this was very good news for me. […] I was getting out of town”) (Wang, 2008). However, when Asian Americans were primed with their Asian self before recalling important autobiographical events, their recollections were more likely to focus on social interactions, and persons from in-groups (e.g., “The day I got my letter of acceptance to Cornell gave me a sense of relief. […] So it’s not the fact of accomplishing that makes my parents happy […]. It’s the ability to plan”). These results point to an influence of the cultural dimension of collectivism/individualism on the mechanism of retrieval (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Wang, 2008).

Thus, previous research provides strong evidence that the cultural dimension of collectivism/individualism influences autobiographical memories, starting with their formation in early childhood and continuing its influence into adulthood, when it influences the retrieval of autobiographical memories.

Imagination Inflation

In autobiographical memories, connections between self and the past are made. The self, as a personality, is considered as having three levels: traits, characteristic adaptations (cognitive, motivational, developmental components), and a life story (McLean & Fournier, 2008). But how do we know that these memories that compose our life story are actually events that we experienced? Was it really me that had a costume party for my 10th birthday? Did I really go the museum on a class trip as I think I went to? How do people differentiate between events that really happened and events that they only thought about, inferred, or imagined?

Research shows that memories of experienced events generally have more sensory and perceptual details than memories for events that did not really occur but were products of the imagination (Sporer & Sharman, 2006). Such qualitative details allow people to differentiate between memories of events that actually happened versus those that they only imagined happening (Johnson, Hashtroudi & Lindsay, 1993), and apparently people use the same criterion to judge the life-story narratives of other people (Sporer & Sharman, 2006).

Nonetheless, imagining events that never happened can have consequences, as the phenomenon of imagination inflation shows. Imagination inflation refers to an increase in confidence that a fictional event that was imagined actually happened (Garry, Manning, Loftus & Sherman, 1996; Garry, Sharman, Wade, Hunt & Smith, 2001). The classic way of testing imagination inflation is with the Life Events Inventory (LEI), and the methodology consists of three steps. First, participants complete an LEI consisting of a long list of possible childhood events that they rate their confidence that each event has or has not happened.

Second, participants are asked to imagine a series of events that were selected from those previously rated as unlikely to have happened to them in childhood. Lastly, participants complete another LEI that included the critical events they had earlier imagined (Garry et al., 1996; Garry et al., 2001; Henkel & McDonald, in press). When participants were asked to imagine target events that were rated on a previous LEI by the participants as unlikely to occur, a positive change in the ratings of confidence that these events actually happened was observed. Specifically, 34% of the events imagined had increased confidence ratings, as compared to only 25% of events not imagined that had increase confidence rating on the second LEI (Garry et al., 1996). It another study, some of the participants imagined adulthood events, whereas other imagined childhood events and both groups showed imagination inflation (Sharman & Barnier, 2008).

Imagination not only shapes people’s memory of the past but can also influence their expectations about the future. In one study, participants had to imagine for 1 minute various events, of which some were past events (e.g, “I fell asleep during a religious service”) and some were future events (e.g., “I will win a prize for a piece of art”).These events were ones that the participants had previously rated low in confidence that they had or will happen (Henkel & McDonald, in press). Some of the participants not only imagined but also described aloud what they had imagined. Afterwards all participants were asked to rate both the vividness and amount of detail for each imagined event.

On a subsequent LEI, participants gave higher confidence ratings for both past and future events that were imagined, compared to events that were not imagined, and imagined past events showed a greater change in confidence ratings than imagined future events. Interestingly, events that were only imagined showed a marginally greater change in confidence ratings than events that were both imagined and described aloud, and effects were stronger for the participants that imagined these events more vividly and detailed.

A natural question would be why does the phenomenon of imagination inflation happen? The source monitoring framework argues that people’s memory for an event (whether perceived or imagined) contains perceptual, emotional, and semantic information, and spatial and temporal details (Johnson, 1988; Mitchell & Johnson, 2009), and that people sometimes make misattributions based on those features. When imagining an event, especially if it is imagined vividly, the information about the details of the event may be more accessible for retrieval but the source can be confused, especially when the event has happened way back in the past and thus access to retrieval of the details and the source is harder to achieve. These processes can cause the phenomenon of imagination inflation (Garry, Manning, Loftus & Sherman, 1996).

For example, remembering you broke a window with your hand, although you did not, can be a consequence of imagining the event and thus making it more accessible and more vivid in your mind. The fact that the event is situated in a period of time when you were 6 or 7 years old and thus the source of the memory is less accessible than the details of the event aids to the appearance of this phenomenon. Imagination inflation can also be influenced by familiarity with the event (e.g., if the participant has ever seen anyone else doing the action or involved in the event he or she has to imagine) and the plausibility of the event (e.g., how likely is the participant to have seen an animal give birth if he or she has grown up in a metropolis) (Garry et al., 1996). Especially prone to this phenomenon are recent, positive events, probably because they support the sense of self and they make us feel as if we have improved over time (Sharman & Barnier, 2008).

Not only can imagination increase confidence levels that an event has actually happened but it can also create false autobiographical memories. One study asked participants to complete an LEI that contained a frequently occurring event and an event that does not occur (Mazzoni & Memon, 2003). Subsequently, participants were asked to either imagine the frequently occurring event and a read a passage about the nonoccuring event or to imagine the nonoccuring event and read about the frequently occurring event. Results showed that imagination alone increased the confidence that the nonoccuring event actually occurred and even produced false memories of the event. However, just increasing the familiarity with the event (i.e., reading about it) did not produce false beliefs and memories. Another study reflects similar results, but is more culturally relevant (Pezdek, Finger & Hodge, 1997). Catholic and Jewish high school students were read three true events and two false events (one Catholic and one Jewish), from the time they were 8 years old.

After a week, students were asked if they had any additional memories about the five events. Catholics tended to show recall for the Catholic false event, whereas Jews tended to show memories for the Jewish false event. These results suggest that false memories can be created for more plausible, culturally relevant events. In yet another study, participants were given an LEI and after a week were presented with four target events, out of which 2 were presented as plausible and 2 as implausible (Pezdek, Blandon-Gitlin & Gabbay, 2006). Participants had to imagine one of each category of target events. A week after this, the participants were asked to fill another LEI. Results showed that imagining events supposedly high in plausibility determined an increase in ratings from the first to the second LEI, whereas imagining events supposedly low in plausibility did not affect ratings.

In a laboratory study where careful control over participants’ experiences was possible, similar findings were obtained. Participants heard an action and then either performed or imagined it (Goff & Roediger, 1998). Later on, participants had to imagine once or several times either new actions or some of the actions that they had previously performed or imagined. The results showed that the more times the participants imagined the actions, the more likely they were to later state that they had initially performed those actions, although they did not do so the first session and even when they had never heard those actions mentioned before. This suggests that not only the plausibility of the event had a role in creating false memories, like the previous studies showed, but that the number of times the events are imagined influences this process, as well. Specifically, the more times the events are imagined, the more likely people are to now claim that the events really occurred in their childhood.

The good news is that if the memory of an imagined event has more than one character, aside from oneself, the person can confront these other characters (e.g., a sibling) and recant their previous “recollection” (French, Sutherland & Garry, 2006). The bad news is that, especially in the case of children, some of these memories take wildly unrealistic forms but are nonetheless experienced as something realistic that has actually happened to them. In one study, children were told about unlikely or impossible events (e.g., going on a trip to the moon) and some of them were let to draw at their leisure afterwards (Strange, Garry, & Sutherland, 2003). Finally, children were asked if those unlikely or impossible events previously presented had ever happened to them. Results showed that when recall is done after drawing something, even if the drawing is not at all related to the events previously presented, children had a strong tendency to “remember” those events happening to them.

The Present Study

Culture has a strong effect on how a person experiences the world (Desai, 2007; Ozawa et al., 1996; Skillman, 2000; Trafarodi & Smith, 2001; Triandis, 1993), and it also influences how a person remembers the world and what he or she will remember (Han, Leichtman & Wang, 1998; Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang, Leichtman & Davies, 2000; Wang, 2001, 2004, 2008). The present study investigates the influence of the cultural dimension of collectivism/individualism on autobiographical memories through the paradigm of imagination inflation.

Is imagination inflation more prone to occur for culturally relevant events? Specifically, will people from Eastern cultures show greater imagination inflation for autobiographical events that emphasize the dimension of collectivism (e.g., “My family, my friends, and I drove across country”), and people from Western cultures show greater imagination inflation for autobiographical events that emphasize the dimension of individualism (e.g., “I won a gold medal or first place in a competition”)? The present study sought to answer these questions, drawing on previous research on imagination inflation and the influence of the cultural dimension of collectivism/individualism on autobiographical memory.

Participants completed a 36-item LEI, containing both collectivistic (e.g., “My grandparents used to help me with my homework”) and individualistic items (e.g., “I cheated on a test at school”). Twelve target, low-probability events (six collectivistic and six individualistic) were selected. Half of the participants were asked to imagine six of them (probed events), and their confidence levels on these were compared to their confidence levels on the other six events that they did not imagine (not probed). One week later, they completed another LEI containing the 12 target events but also new items not presented on the first LEI. The key variable of interest is the extent of changes in the participants’ confidence that the events occurred from the first session to the second session.

Imagination inflation is shown when people are more confident that events that were imagined (probed events) had happened when they were children, compared to the participants’ confidence levels on the not probed events, and we looked at this difference across the two sessions, as well as at the absolute levels of confidence in Session 2. It was also expected that participants coming from a Western background will show increased confidence levels for the individualistic events imagined than for the three collectivistic events.

For the participants coming form an Eastern background, the opposite trend is expected. Such findings would indicate that people are more susceptible to the impact of imagination on memory for culturally relevant events. To this end, the INDCOL scale was used, so as to decide the individualistic or collectivistic background of each participant and how this matched with their Western or Eastern background.



Forty participants (31 coming from a Western cultural background, and 9 coming from an Eastern cultural background) participated in the study, 29 females and 11 males. Participants were college students from Fairfield University, with an age range of 18-22 years (M= 19.18; SD= 1.11). They participated either to fulfill a class requirement or to receive extra credit.


Two separate Life Events Inventories (LEI) were created, each presenting a list of various childhood events and experiences. Some of the items selected were used in previous research (e.g., “I won a gold medal or first place in a competition”)Henkel & McDonald, in press), and some were generated specifically for this study (e.g., “I used to be afraid of spiders”). See Appendix A for a complete list of all events. Each inventory included both positive events (e.g., “I had my picture taken for a newspaper”) and negative events (e.g., “I broke or fractured a bone”), and ones that were more collectivistic (e.g., “My family, friends and I drove across country”) or more individualistic events (e.g., “I won a gold medal or first place in a competition”).

Collectivistic events were defined as general activities or related to general, on-a-daily-basis activities (e.g., “My grandparents used to help me with my homework”), involved the participant in a social context with the accent being put on the context not on the self (e.g., “A team I played on won a big game”), or involved only people of the ingroup (family, kin, friends) (e.g., “My sibling or cousin got in trouble for calling 911”). Individualistic events were defined as events involving only the participant and focus heavily on the self as an autonomous being. This included positive events relating accomplishments (e.g., “I won a stuffed animal at a carnival”), extraordinary events (e.g., “I saw a total solar eclipse”), and fears of the self (e.g., “I used to be afraid of spiders”).

The first LEI included a total of 36 events, out of which 12 target events were preselected as having a low probability of occurring in the lives of the participants before the age of 10. Six of these twelve target events were used as probed events for the imagination task and 6 as not probed events. The specific items were counterbalanced in two sets across participants. Two additional filler events (one collectivistic and one individualistic) were also used as probed events. Both were high probability events (e.g., “A team I played on won a big game,” “I cried the first time I went to the dentist”).

The second LEI consisted of 36 events. Sixteen of these events were new, not included on the first LEI. These events included positive and negative events, as well as more collectivistic or more individualistic events. Randomly intermixed were the 12 target events, and the 2 fillers.

The Social Orientation Inventory was presented to all participants for rating (see Apppendix B). It consisted in 28 statements (e.g., I would enjoy functioning in a high-level, decision making capacity”), that had to be rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Another scale presented to all participants was the Vividness of Visual and Auditory Imagery Questionnaire (see Appendix C). It consisted of 16 items (e.g., “The different colors worn in some familiar clothes”) that had to visualized and then rated on a scale from 1 (no image at all) to 5 (perfectly clear and vivid as normal vision). It also consisted of 7 items (e.g., “Imagine the sound of water dripping”) that had to be rated on a scale from 1 (no sound at all) to 7 (perfectly clear and vivid as normal hearing).

The shortened Individualism-Collectivism (INDCOL) Scale (36 items) was used for all participants, to assess their level of collectivism/individualism (Hui, 1994), and is included in Appendix D. The INDCOL is used to measure feelings, beliefs and behaviors at the individual level that are in line with collectivism or individualism. It consists of subscales addressing relations with one’s spouse (e.g., The decision of where one is to work should be jointly made with one’s spouse, if one is married”), parents (e.g., “I would not share my ideas and newly acquired knowledge with my parents”), kin (e.g., “When deciding what kind of education to have, I would definitely pay attention to the views of relatives of my generation”), friends (e.g., “To go on a trip with friends makes one less free and mobile. As a result, there is less fun”), neighbors (e.g., “I don’t really know how to befriend my neighbors”), and co-workers (e.g., “If a colleague lends a helping hand, one needs to return the favor”).

Participants had to read each of the 36 statements and rated it as T (True) or F (False), with the exception of the last item, which had 6 options to choose from. For the reliability coefficients and the validity values of the shortened form of the INDCOL refer to Hui and Yee (1994). The reliability coefficients of the test-retest, split-half and Cronbach of the original INDCOL were in the .60s, and were considered “a satisfactory value considering the complexity and multifacetedness of the construct” (Hui, 1988). For the validity values, refer to Hui (1988).

Design and Procedure

This study used a 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design where the participants’ cultural background (Western or Eastern) was a between-subjects variable, while the focus of the event (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and the imagery condition (imagined events vs. not imagined events) were within-subjects variables. The main dependent variable was the change in the overall confidence of the event’s occurrence from the first session to the second session. Many other studies using LEIs also examine the percentage of participants who showed increased confidence across the two sessions for probed vs. not probed events, and the absolute levels of confidence in session 2, so both of these dependent variables were examined, as well.

Participants were tested individually in a study advertised to them as being about people’s lifetime experiences and their personalities. All participants were asked to complete the first LEI. They were asked to evaluate how confident they are that each event listed has actually occurred in their life before the age of 10, by checking one of the options: Occurred or Did not occur. Then, they rated their option in terms of their confidence level, on a scale from 0 % (absolutely no confidence that the event occurred/did not occur) to 100 % (absolutely confident that the event occurred/did not occur). There was not time limit for rating all the events, but most people finished in about 5 minutes.

Following the LEI, participants were told that the next task would require them to imagine several events as clearly and vividly as possible as if they had actually happened to them in childhood. Twelve events from the initial Life Events Inventory were preselected for the imagination task. Three collectivistic events and three individualistic events were given, in randomized order for participants on the imagination task. Participants were asked to imagine each event for 60 seconds, as vividly and detailed as possible, and to picture themselves in the situation, thinking about the surroundings, about other people that might be involved, and the emotions the participants felt in relation to these events.

Half of the participants received 6 of the 12 target events as probed events and the other half received the other 6 events as probed events. In addition, there were two more events (one collectivistic and one individualistic) that were imagined by all participants (“fillers”), as the first and last events to be imagined, with the order counterbalanced between participants. All participants rated on a questionnaire how vivid and detailed they imagined each event, on a scale from 1 (not at all vivid/not at all detailed) to 7 (extremely vivid/extremely detailed). At the end of Session 1, participants also received the Social Orientation Inventory. Overall, the first session did not extend beyond 20 minutes.

Participants returned for a second session one week later and were told that past events were again examined in another Life Events Inventory. Participants were told that this inventory was different from the first one, including a number of new items. Subsequently, participants were asked to complete a Vividness of Visual and Auditory Imagery Questionnaire, by imagining each statement and rating it on a scale of clarity and vividness of imagine or sound and the INDCOL scale, by reading each statement and rating it as either T (True) or F (False).


This study sought to determine whether the participant’s cultural background might influence how confident the participant became that an event happened to them as a child after imagining that event. Participants’ confidence was calculated by multiplying their confidence ratings from 0-100% for events rated as “did not occur” by -1. This scalar confidence score therefore associates scores of-100 with high confidence ratings that the event did not occur. Moreover, scores of 0 correspond to a total lack of confidence in that the event has or has not happened (participant is guessing), and 100corresponds to a total confidence that the event did happen.

Changes in Confidence of Event’s Occurrence

Two different measures of confidence were used to examine the extent of imagination inflation exhibited. One measure was based on the levels of confidence from the second session for the targeted events, and the other measure was based on the change in the overall confidence of the event’s occurrence from the first session to the second session for various events. A 2 x 2 x 2 mixed factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted on scaled confidence scores from the second session, with the participants’ cultural background (Western or Eastern) as a between-subjects variable, and the focus of the event (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and the imagery condition (being imagine vs. not being imagined) as within-subjects variables (see Tables 1 and 2). The main effect of the imagery condition on confidence scores was significant, F (1, 38) = 7.22, p = .01, with greater confidence levels for probed events (M = -16.14) than for not probed events (M = -38.46). Moreover, the main effect of the event type on the confidence scores was marginally significant, F (1, 38) = 3.10, p = .09, with greater confidence scores for individualistic events (M = -20.78) than for collectivistic events (M = -34.10). The main effect of cultural background on confidence scores was not significant, F (1, 38) = 0.05, p = .83, with no overall difference in confidence scores between participants coming from a Western cultural background (M = -26.26) and participants coming from an Eastern cultural background (M = -28.61).

However, there was a significant interaction between the participants’ cultural background and the focus of the event, F (1, 38) = 7.40, p = .01. When the focus of the event was individualistic, people from an Eastern cultural background were slightly more confident (M = -11.67, SE = 11.28) than people from a Western cultural background (M = -29.89, SE = 6.08). However, when the focus of the event was collectivistic, people from an Eastern cultural background (M = -45.56, SE = 12.27) were much less confident than the people from a Western cultural background (M = -22.63, SE = 6.61).

Table 1.

Means and Standard Errors for Main Effects of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Confidence Levels from The Second Session

Variable   Marginal Means Standard Errors
Ethnicity Western -26.26 5.24
Eastern -28.61 9.72
Type of event Individualistic -20.78 6.41
Collectivistic -34.10 6.97
Imagination condition Probed -16.14 7.17
Not probed -38.74 6.70

Table 2.

Means and Standard Errors for Ethnicity x Type of Event Interaction of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Confidence Levels from The Second Session

Ethnicity Type of event Means Standard Errors
Western Individualistic -29.90 6.08
Collectivistic -22.63 6.61
Eastern Individualistic -11.67 11.28
Collectivistic -45.56 12.27

A separate 2 x 2 x 2 mixed factorial ANOVA was conducted on changes in confidence from Session 1 to Session 2 by taking into consideration the difference between the scores form the second LEI and the scores form the first LEI, for the targeted events. A positive number represents an increase in confidence, whereas a negative number represents a decrease in confidence from the first to the second session that the event actually occurred in the participant’s childhood. A score of 0corresponds to a lack of change in scores from the first to the second session. Participants’ cultural background (Western or Eastern) was a between-subjects variable, and the focus of the event (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and the imagery condition (being imagine vs. not being imagined) were within-subjects variables (see Tables 3 and 4).

The main effect of cultural background on change in confidence ratings was significant, F (1, 38) = 6.08, p = .02, with greater positive change in confidence ratings for participants coming from an Eastern cultural background (M =18.15) than for participants coming from a Western cultural background (M = 2.37). Moreover, the main effect of the imagery condition on change in confidence ratings was significant, F (1, 38) = 6.59, p < .05, with greater positive change in confidence ratings for probed events (M = 17.05) than for non-probed events (M = 3.46). Finally, the main effect of the event type on the change of confidence ratings was marginally significant, F (1, 38) = 2.99, p = .09, with greater positive change in confidence ratings for individualistic events (M = 15.68) than for collectivistic events (M = 4.84).

There was also a significant interaction between the participants’ cultural background and the focus of the event, F (1, 38) = 5.50, p < .05. When the focus of the event was individualistic, people from an Eastern cultural background showed a greater change in confidence ratings (M = 30.93, SE = 8.11) than people from a Western cultural background (M = 0.43, SE = 4.36). However, when the focus of the event was collectivistic, people from an Eastern cultural background (M = 5.37, SE = 7.66) did not differ in their change in confidence ratings much from the people from a Western cultural background (M = 4.30, SE = 4.13).

Table 3.

Means and Standard Errors for Main Effects of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Changes in Confidence Levels from The First to The Second Session



Table 4.

Means and Standard Errors for Ethnicity x Type of Event Interaction of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Change in Confidence Levels from The First to The Second Session



Correlational analyses were also run to assess whether the change in confidence ratings was related to the participants’ overall imagery abilities, as shown by their score on the VVIQ scale. A marginally significant positive correlation was found between the mean vividness of visual imagery and the change in confidence ratings for individualistic, probed events, r = .29, p = .07.

No significant correlation was found between the mean VVIQ and the change in confidence ratings for collectivistic, probed events, r = 0.00, p = 1.00. Also, no significant correlation was found between the mean VVIQ and the change in confidence ratings for individualistic, not probed events, r = 0.12, p= .45. Finally, no significant correlation was found between the mean VVI and the change in confidence ratings for collectivistic, not probed events, r = -0.12, p = .46.

Qualitative Characteristics of Imagery

Ratings of overall vividness and amount of detail generated during the imagery task were examined to determine whether participants were indeed able to create mental images of past events and whether cultural differences existed. No significant difference in vividness and amount of detail were seen between people coming from a Western cultural background (M = 4.24, SD = 0.94) and people coming from an Eastern cultural background (M = 4.48, SD = 0.92), t (38) = -0.66, p = .51. Ratings of4 corresponded to “somewhat vivid and detailed,” while ratings of 7 corresponded to “extremely vivid and detailed.” Hence, overall, people did create relatively vivid and detailed images.

We also examined overall imagery abilities based on the standardized VVIQ scale. The mean VVIQ score was not significantly different for people coming from a Western cultural background (M = 3.86,SD = 0.46) than for people coming from an Eastern cultural background (M = 3.90, SD = 0.65), t (38) = -0.20, p = .84. Average ratings correspond to “moderately clear and vivid” to “clear and reasonably vivid” images.

Collectivism/Individualism Analysis

The INDCOL Scale was used to assess the degree of collectivism/individualism exhibited by each participant. The scoring was done by giving one point to each answer that was collectivistic in nature (see Appendix D for information on items that were reverse coded). Thus, the higher the score, the more collectivistic the person is. Unexpectedly, the degree of collectivism exhibited was significantly higher for people coming from a Western cultural background (M = 23.68, SD = 3.72) than for people coming from and Eastern cultural background (M = 19.67, SD = 2.74), t (38) = 3.00, p = .01.


This study sought to determine whether the participant’s cultural background might influence the magnitude of the change in confidence levels for the dimension of collectivism/individualism that is emphasized by that cultural background. That is, the two significant main effects of the imagery condition on confidence levels from the second session and on the change of confidence ratings from the first to the second session demonstrate the imagination inflation effect.

Overall, people had higher confidence that the events happened from the probed events, compared to the not probed events. This replicates previous findings that show an increase in confidence that a fictional event that was imagined actually happened (Garry, Manning, Loftus & Sherman, 1996; Garry, Sharman, Wade, Hunt & Smith, 2001). Imagining the event makes it more accessible and more vivid in your mind. The fact that the event is situated in a period of time when you were 10 years old and thus the source of the memory is less accessible than the details of the event aids to the appearance of this phenomenon.

Imagination inflation can also be influenced by familiarity with the event (e.g., if the participant has ever seen anyone else doing the action or involved in the event he or she has to imagine) and the plausibility of the event (e.g., how likely is the participant to have seen an animal give birth if he or she has grown up in a metropolis) (Garry et al., 1996).

The two marginally significant main effects of the event type on the confidence levels from the second session and on the change in confidence ratings from the first to the second session illustrates that the type of event had somewhat of an effect but not in the direction predicted, as the interaction between the participants’ cultural background and the focus of the event will show. Previous studies reflect similar results (Pezdek, Finger & Hodge, 1997), such that Catholics tended to show recall for the Catholic false event presented to them at a previous session, whereas Jews tended to show memories for the Jewish false event.

These results suggest that false memories can be created for more plausible, culturally relevant events. Thus, collectivistic and individualistic events had different effects on the participants, such that participants were more confident that the individualistic events happened in their childhood than the collectivistic events. This may be due to the fact that many of the individualistic events were more straightforward and probably more relevant than the more general collectivistic events.

The main question that this study set to answer was if a person’s cultural background does have an effect on imagination inflation. The contradictory results on the main effect of the participants’ cultural background on the confidence levels from the second session and the change in confidence ratings from the first to the second session, such that the former was not significant and the latter was significant, is probably due to the small sample of people from an Eastern cultural background.

Nonetheless, it was expected that an interaction will be seen, so that participants would show an increase in confidence ratings for the collectivistic events when the participants who rated them were from an Eastern background. Conversely, participants coming from a Western cultural background were expected to show an increase in confidence ratings for individualistic events. This interaction would indicate that the phenomenon of imagination inflation was influenced by the cultural background of the participants, and specifically by the collectivism/individualism dimension.

This could be due to the fact that a culture-specific way of encoding autobiographical information is learned since childhood (Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Wang et al., 2000). Thus, because the cultural dimension is so pervasive, it was to be expected that participants would show a tendency to be more confident that an event really happened after imagining it, provided that the event corresponds with the individual’s background. Of course, multiple processes can be involved, aside from the processes already considered by the socio-cultural developmental theory (Nelson & Fivush, 2004), but influenced by the latter, such as the vividness, plausibility of event and amount of detail, all which can be related back to the source monitoring framework. This shows that not only cultural processes are at work, but cognitive ones, as well.

The interaction was, indeed, significant, but it showed the opposite trend from the one expected, such that when the focus of the event was individualistic, people coming from an Eastern cultural background were slightly more confident when considering their confidence levels form the second session and showed a greater change in confidence ratings form the first to the second session. However, when the event was collectivistic, the people coming from an Eastern cultural background were less confident when considering their confidence levels from the second session and did not differ in the change of confidence ratings from the first to the second session.

This is the opposite of what was hypothesized, namely that participants coming from a Western background will show increased confidence levels for the individualistic events imagined than for the three collectivistic events. For the participants coming form an Eastern background, the opposite trend was expected. However, even these surprising results might actually find their answer in the culturally specific childhood memories encouraged in a specific society.

Previous research had shown the influence that culture has on autobiographical memory. Parents, and especially mothers, are the ones that in the first years of life provide the structure and content of discussion with the children (Han et al., 1998; Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang et al., 2000; Wang, 2004). Some mothers are more elaborate in their style, talk frequently, and give rich information with each question they put to their children, even when the latter do not answer, and consequently their children incorporate more information in their narratives about the past and overall recall more, whereas mothers with a less elaborate style pose more redundant questions and consequently their children talk less and incorporate little information in their narratives.

Eastern cultures use personal narratives to express moral and social standards, while Western cultures use them for the entertainment value, and focus more on the emotions of the protagonist(s) (Han et al., 1998; Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang et al., 2000; Wang, 2004). This trend continues into adulthood, and is observable among people with bicultural identity (Devos, 2006; Hong et al., 2001; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang, 2000, 2008).

This suggests that people coming from an Eastern cultural background tend to have few, more general memories, whereas people coming form a Western cultural background tend to have more clear, cohesive, highly specific memories. For this reason, it may be that the people from an Eastern cultural background are especially susceptible to highly specific and clear childhood memories, of which they do not have any recollections, but that they can easily incorporate in their more general memories. However, the people coming from a Western cultural background, because of their much clearer and specific memories, are not as susceptible to show imagination inflation on individualistic type of events.

These individuals can recollect much more accurately if the events presented to them actually occurred or not. On the other hand, if the event presented was a collectivistic one, there seems to be no difference between people coming from these two different cultural backgrounds, and when there is a difference, the people who actually show more confidence are the ones coming from a Western cultural background, compared to those coming from an Eastern cultural background. This phenomenon is probably due to the fact that people coming form an Eastern cultural background are not so susceptible to these types of events, since their childhood memories are more general, and since their main focus falls on the individualistic events, of which they probably are attracted and tend to pay more attention to.

Conversely, people coming from a Western cultural background might be more susceptible to show imagination inflation on such events, since their memories are highly specific and these general, collectivistic events might seem probable.

Finally, it should be noted that the ratings of overall vividness were moderately high, indicating that the participants were able to create real and vivid imagery. Another surprising result was rendered by the INDCOL scale. According to this scale, people from a Western cultural background were more collectivistic, when compared to people from an Eastern cultural background. This might have occurred because of the small number of people from an Eastern cultural background, but also because the scale was not really appropriate (e.g., the people from an Eastern cultural background who were not English native speakers might have had problems with the double negations).

Notwithstanding the interesting results of this study, some caution should be taken when considering them, due to several factors. One possibility would be that the methodology was flawed, such that the items should have been more specific, or that additional personality variables should have been controlled for before administering the LEIs. Another possibility is that the sample might have been insufficiently large or biased in the sense that individuals that are bicultural, for example, might adapt to both sets of target items, “switching” between their two cultural identities, as need be.

Many of the people coming from an Eastern cultural background had actually been born in an Asian country but had lived for many years in the United States. Also, this adaptation to both cultures is a documented phenomenon, since it is necessary for bicultural individuals to react in this way in society, according to which community they find themselves in (Devos, 2006; Hong et al., 2001). Previous research has shown that when Asian Americans were primed with their American self before recalling important autobiographical events, they were more likely to recall personal experiences in which they were the protagonists and emphasized their own perspective. Conversely, when Asian Americans were primed with their Asian self before recalling important autobiographical events, their recollections were more likely to focus on social interactions, and persons from in-groups (Wang, 2008). Accordingly, bicultural individuals might have adapted to the events they had to imagine, and ultimately showed an increase in confidence levels for both types of events.

Thus, future research should employ a larger overall sample, but also a specifically larger sample of people coming from an Eastern cultural background. Also, considering the adaptations that bicultural individuals can employ, it might also be important to use a more distinct sample, comparing, for example, American individuals with Chinese individuals (who did not live in a Western country). Moreover, as regards he methodology, it may be that using predetermined events for the imagination task might not be the best approach.

Thus, considering each participant’s answers on the first LEI, events that received lower confidence ratings can be chosen, and each set of events will be unique to each individual. The INDCOL scale might be another issue, because of its double negations. Therefore, a more culturally and linguistically sensitive scale might be needed in order to correctly assess the individualism/collectivism dimension of culture for each individual.


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Individualistic vs. Collectivistic cultures (Short version)


There are two contrasting cultural orientations: one values individualism, and the other values collectivism. In a worldwide study of 116,000 employees of IBM, Geert Hofstede (1980) found that the most fiercely independent people were from the US, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, in that order. In contrast, the most interdependent people were from Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru, and Taiwan.

Individualism and collectivism are so deeply ingrained in a culture that they mold our very self-conceptions and identities. According to Markus and Kitayama (1991), most North Americans and Europeans have an independent view of the self as an entity that is distinct, autonomous, self-contained, and endowed with unique dispositions. Yet in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, people hold an interdependent view of the self as part of a larger social network that includes one’s family, co-workers and others to whom we are socially connected.

Consequently, Markus and Kitayama report, Americans are more likely to express jealousy, pride, and other ‘ego-focused’ emotions that affirm the self as an autonomous entity, whereas non-westerners are more likely to experience ‘otherfocused’ emotions that promote social harmony. In Japan, e.g., people often report feelings of oime (‘idebtedness to someone’), fureai (‘connection with someone’), and shitashimi (familiarity to someone’).

What determines whether a culture becomes individualistic or collectivistic? Speculating on the origins of these orientations, Harry Triandis (1994) suggests that there are three key factors.

1. The first is the complexity of a society. As people live in more complex industrialized societies (compared to e.g. food-gathering nomads), there are more groups to identify with, which means less loyalty to any group and a greater focus on personal rather than collective goals.

2. Second, is the affluence of society. As people begin to prosper, they gain financial independence from each other, a condition that promotes social independence as well as mobility and a focus on personal rather than collective goals.

3. The third factor is heterogeneity. Societies that are homogenous or ‘tight’ (where members share the same language, religion, and societal customs) tend to be rigid and intolerant of those who veer from the norm. Societies that are culturally diverse or ‘loose’ (where two or more cultures coexist) are more permissive of dissent – thus allowing for more individual expression.

However, what about individual variations within a culture? Research conducted in North America indicates that men are more likely to derive positive self-image by fulfilling the goals of independence and autonomy, while women define themselves somewhat more by their social connections. Is this gender difference universal?

Excellent paper on intercultural communication by Jens Alwood

English translation of: “Tvärkulturell kommunikation” (1985) in Allwood, J. (Ed.) Tvärkulturell kommunikation, Papers in Anthropological Linguistics 12, University of Göteborg, Dept of Linguistics.

Intercultural Communication
Jens Allwood

1. Introduction
1.1 Terminology
Intercultural communication or communication between people of different cultural backgrounds has always been and will probably remain an important precondition of human co-existance on earth. The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework of factors thatare important in intercultural communication within a general model of human, primarily linguistic, communication. The term intercultural is chosen over the largely synonymousterm cross-cultural because it is linked to language use such as “interdisciplinary”, that is cooperation between people with different scientific backgrounds. Perhaps the term also has somewhat fewer connotations than crosscultural. It is not cultures that communicate, whatever that might imply, but people (and possibly social institutions) with different cultural backgrounds that do. In general, the term”cross-cultural” is probably best used for comparisons between cultures (”crosscultural comparison”).

1.2 What is a culture?
Let us more closely analyze the concepts that can be found in the expression intercultural communication. One of them is culture which has been analyzed in several different ways by different researchers. See Kroeber and Kluckholm (1952) for an account of about 200 ways to to define the concept. It will be used here in the following way. The term “culture” refers to all the characteristics common to a particular group of people that are learned and not given by nature. That the members of a group have two legs is thus not a cultural characteristic but a natural one, while a special but common way of walking would probably be cultural. Analytically, we can differentiate between the following four primary cultural dimensions:

(i) Patterns of thought – common ways of thinking, where thinking includes factual beliefs, values, norms, and emotional attitudes.

(ii) Patterns of behavior – common ways of behaving, from ways of speaking to ways of conducting commerce and industry, where the behavior can be intentional/unintentional, aware/unaware or individual/interactive.

(iii) Patterns of artifacts – common ways of manufacturing and using material things, from pens to houses (artifact = artifical object), where artifacts include dwellings, tools, machines or media. The artifactual dimension of culture is usually given special attention in museums.

(iv) Imprints in nature – the longlasting imprints left by a group in the natural surroundings, where such imprints include agriculture, trash, roads or intact/ruined human habitations. In fact, “culture” in the sense of “growth” (i.e. a human transformation of nature) gives us a basic understanding of what the concept of culture is all about.

All human activities involve the first two dimensions. Most activities involve the third dimension, and ecologically important activities also involve the fourth. When a particular activity lastingly combines several of these traits, one usually says that the activity has become institutionalized and that it is thus a social institution.

Similarly, one may speak of a culture or a subculture when one or more of the characteristics are lastingly connected with a certain group of people. In the context of intercultural communication, the groups are often associated with national states, and we may speak about Swedish culture, French culture, etc. However, a group does not necessarily have to be a national group. It may be any group at all that is distinguishable over a longer period of time. We can thus speak about teenage culture, male culture, working-class culture, bakers’ culture or the culture of the city of Gothenburg. Cultural differences between groups of these types are often just as great or even greater than those that exist between national cultures.

1.3 The danger of stereotypical descriptions
Studies and teaching programs that deal with intercultural communication are often based on attempts to understand national cultures; therefore there is a great risk of neglecting the significant differences which exist between activities, groups and individuals on a non-national level. An orientation toward national cultures combined with efforts to find easily conveyed generalizations gives a further risk, namely that of taking over stereotypical notions of a “national character” that have arisen to serve what a certain group sees as its own or national interests. See Tingsten (1936). For example, Swedes may be characterized as envious, Scots as stingy, French as vain, Americans as superficial, etc.

The danger of misleading and biased generalizations is one of the greatest risks in research on intercultural communication, and that danger increases as soon as someone tries to describe the differences between groups from the perspective of a particular group’s interests.

1.4 Social identity and ethnicity
Two important concepts in this discussion are ethnicity and social identity. I believe that these concepts can be related to culture and national states in the following way. A group is an ethnic group when certain of its cultural characteristics are used to socially and politically organize it and when this organization is allowed to continue for a relatively long period of time. The group’s ethnicity is comprised of those traits which have a politically cohesive power. If the group comprises or strongly aspires to comprise its own politically independent nation, the characteristics are termed nationally ethnic and the desire to emphasize and/or spread them is called nationalism. Depending on the strength of this nationalism or the evaluation of it, it can further be characterized as chauvinism or patriotism.

Social identity can be related to culture in the following way. At a particular point in time, a culture provides a number of properties and relations around which individual persons can organize their lives. People construct their social identity by regarding a part of these properties and relations as decisive for who he/she is. In this way, it is possible for a person to identify him or herself with his/her age, sex, family position, profession, political ideology, religious belief, regional residence or national affiliation, etc. As social organizations are constructed around most of these characteristics, by identifying with them, one often simutaniously comes to belong to a group of people who think alike. Most people have a potential for identifying themselves with several of these characteristics but come gradually to focus on a few as primarily creating his/her identity.

One possiblity is that you strongly identify with characteristics that you consider important for your national or ethnic group. You mainly become a Swede, a Finn, a Basque or a Sami. Being a father or a teacher may become less important. For a person of this type, national or ethnic membership is what gives him/her their main identity. But as we have seen, identity can of course be constructed on the basis of other characteristics. Personal preferences and degree of social recognition are among the decisive factors in constructing one’s identity. This probably means that people with high status jobs will be less prone than people with low status jobs to let ethnic membership be the characteristic they mainly identify with.

In studying what I here call intercultural communication, it is particularly important to be aware that there are no necessary relationships between identity on the one hand and ethnicity or nationalism on the other. A position taken without reflection can easily lead to hasty assumptions about stereotypical cultural differences.

1.5 Culture and activities
One way to escape the danger of stereotypes, at least to a certain extent, is to connect the concept of culture with the concept of activity. A culture, that is a way of thinking, behaving, etc., surfaces in the activities which the people in a certain group persue. An activity here can be anything from arguing to hunting, fishing or farming. Most people participate in a number of activities and can often think and act in substantially different ways in different activities. There is a great difference between being a father, a pastor and a lover but, at least in Sweden, it is completely possible for one person to have each of these roles simultaneously. By taking into consideration the variation in activities among a group of people, we can begin to get an understanding of the nature of intranational and international cultural similarities and differences. At the same time, the variation in activity must also be supplemented with differences that are e.g. biological or regional.

1.6 Intercultural communcation
As for the other key concept in intercultural communication – communication – I largely follow the analysis presented in Allwood (1976). In this context, one can briefly characterize communication as the sharing of information between people on different levels of awareness and control. I want especially to emphasize the latter since, in a intercultural context, this can become a problem particularly with features in communication about which people have low degree of awareness and find difficult to control. Examples would include the ways in which we show and interpret feelings and attitudes.

If we use what is said above about “culture” and “communication” as a base, we would now be able to define intercultural communication as the sharing of information on different levels of awareness and control between people with different cultural backgrounds, where different cultural backgrounds include both national cultural differences and differences which are connceted with participation in the different activities that exist within a national unit.

2. Possible differences between communication patterns

2.1 Misunderstandings and differences in communicative behavior
When people of different cultural backgrounds meet, all differences between them can potentially lead to misunderstanding. A way of grasping theproblems that can arise in intercultural communication is thus to investigate the ways in which communication patterns can vary between different linguistic and cultural communities. A way of doing this is to utilize a model in which one 1) takes into account different communication behaviors, 2) takes into account what can influence these types of behaviors and 3) tries to analyze differences between linguistic and cultural communities with regard to communication behavior and influencing factors. As for communicative behavior, a distinction can be made between behavior that is produced by a single individual and behavior that requires the interaction and/or cooperation of several individuals. I will call the first type of behavior “individual behavior” and the other type behavior, “interactive” behavior. That a behavior is individual does not mean that it is not affected by other people, such as by another person’s choice of words. It means only that the choice of words can be ascribed to an individual while the types of behavior that are interactive can not be ascribed only to an individual.

2.2 Individual level
On the individual level it may be convenient to view linguistic communication from the following four aspects:
1. Body Movements
2. Sound and Writing
3. Vocabulary and Phraseology
4. Grammar

2.2.1 Body Movements
When we speak, our speech is continuously accompanied by gestures, facial expressions and other body movements that add to what we are saying in different ways. There are great differences in how people from different cultures communicate with their bodies. The largest differences are probably concern the use of hands to covey different meanings. Gestures for such things as money, great, come here vary considerably between Sweden and the Mediterranean countries. Other differences are found for when and where a person is permitted to express something, perhaps particularly certain emotions. There can also be variations from culture to culture in how intensely people show different emotions. In certain cultures such as Mediterranean cultures, it is permitted to show strong feelings such as happiness, anger and grief in public. In others, such as Sweden or Japan, there are restrictions against this. See Barnlund 1975.

2.2.2 Sound and writing
Two very obvious differences between different languages are their sound and writing systems. The differences in sound can be seen from two main aspects:

1. Each language has its store of least meaning differentiating sound units or phonemes. These vary in the languages of the world between 16 in the Polynesian languages, and about 80 in Caucasian languages.

2. Together with phonemes there is also what is usually called “prosody”, “intonation” or “melody”; that is, sound characteristics whose range is longer than separate sounds. The primary functions of prosody are the following: 1) to indicate biological, social and regional identity, e.g. that the speaker is a middle-aged female convenience store cash register operator in Gothenburg; 2) to indicate rhythm and tone; 3) to indicate what units belong together in meaning; 4) to indicate feelings and attitudes. Not least the latter function seems to show great differences related to culture. The way of expressing emotions using prosody is probably not the same in all languages and cultures. In a study of how prosody is interpreted, Abelin & Allwood (1985) got the following two main results:

1. There seem to be culturally given, relatively stable patterns for indicating emotions using prosody. The way of interpreting the emotional expression in the voice does not vary much from person to person.

2. Our way of interpreting expressions of emotion in the voice is dependent upon linguistic and cultural background. Groups with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds make their interpretations in different ways.

As prosodic patterns are for most people probably on a low level of awareness, this means that there is a great risk for incorrect interpretations about which one is not aware in communication with people from other cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The differences between different writing systems are often more obvious than differences in sound systems. A main division of the world’s writing systems can be made between 1) ideographic, where each written unit in principle expresses a morpheme (smallest meaning bearing language unit), and 2) sound-based system that either can be phonemic, based on phonemes (the smallest meaning differentiating linguistic sound), or syllabic, based on syllables. The differences between writing systems can be less obvious, for instance when two languages use the same written letters but in different ways. Compare the pronunciation of (j) in English and in Swedish (like English “y”).

2.2.3 Vocabulary and phraseology
The difference between different languages, which people who learn several different languages become aware of, is the difference between the vocabulary of different languages in terms of words and phrases.

In every culture, the words and phrases of everyday language mirror the needs, values and attitudes that have been common and strong and have thus been necessary to communicate about. People who live in a desert have in their everyday language a vocabulary that allows a differentiation between many different types of sand, while people who live in areas with a great deal of snow instead develop a vocabulary that allows a differentiation between many types of snow.

A difference in vocabulary that has been investigated the most has to do with differences between the words for color in different languages. The figure below shows the great differences that can exist in this area (Source: Berlin & Key 1969). Jale Tiv Hannuoo Ibo Tzeltal Lowland-Tamil Nez Perce Swedish New Guinea Nigeria Phillipines Nigeria Mexico India North America European

The languages range from Jale in New Guinea where there are only two words, one for all dark and one for all light nuances of colors to Swedish where there are at least nine distinct color words in ordinary use. For a discussion of the effects of differences in vocabulary such as these, see e.g. Berlin & Kay (1969) and Allwood (1983). However, it is clear that problems in understanding can arise in communication between people of different cultures as they have different expectations as to what distinctions and nuances they should be able to express using their vocabularies.

Another important area in uncovering differences that can be significant in intercultural communication is different types of standardized phrases and metaphors.

Among such expressions are what are usually called proverbs, that is, standardized phrases that directly or metaphorically express what, at least by certain people in the culture, is seen as wisdom about life. Swedish has for example the following phrases that can all begin with one should (man skall):

figur2Phrases of this type, sometimes as here in the imperative form, reflect values that are shared by many people and thus give good insight into the values and attitudes that are common in a particular culture. The phrases thereby function both as guiding and legitimizing instrument: one should behave in such a way that is consistent with the proverbs but one can also use a proverb to justify one’s actions or opinions.

2.2.4 Grammar
A fourth dimension that can be used to differentiate languages is grammar, e.g. the inflection, derivation, and syntatic patterns that exist in the language. For example, in Swedish, it is possible using forms of inflection to indicate whether a noun is plural or singular and has the definite form and e.g. flick[girl]-or[s]-na[the] (the girls), while this is not possible in Chinese, where it may either be understood implicitly or explicitly through the use of independent words that express number or definiteness. Languages also exhibit great differences in basic word order patterns. A very well known way to classify language introduced by Joseph Greenberg, a California linguist (see Greenberg, 1966), is based on the basic word order in statements between subject (S), verb (V), and object (O).


An interesting similarity can also be noted by classifying the languages of the world in this way, namely that 99% belong to the first three categories, SVO, SOV or VSO. The subject comes before the object in all three types. However, no satisfying explanation has yet been offered for why this pattern is the most common. See further Comrie (1981).

2.3 Sender and receiver
The four aspects of linguistic behavior on the individual level mentioned above can be viewed from two main perspectives: the perspective of the sender and the perspective of the receiver.

The sender or speaker must produce a message that the receiver or listener can perceive and understand.

In order to be able to express his/her message, the sender must simultaneously plan, maintain control of and produce his/her message in all the four dimensions discussed above. He/she can not control everything with an equally high degree of awareness but must continuously rely on pre-existing “programmed, automatic subroutines”. There is much to suggest that, among these automatic routines, we find routines for pronunciation, body movements and grammar, while our choice of words probably has a lesser degree of automaticty.

The automatization of certain linguistic behavior is probably one of the reasons why it is so difficult for adults to alter many grammatic patterns, pronunciation patterns (especially prosody) and body movement patterns when they attempt to learn a new language.

In the same way as the sender, the receiver’s task implies control and integration of several different dimensions at the same time. The receiver probably also uses automatic routines, which he/she is not able to control with any higher degree of awareness. However, it would be a mistake to believe that the receiver is only passive – a sort of clay tablet on which the incoming message makes an imprint regardless of the receiver’s reactions. In fact, the receiver’s inner activity (perhaps even the part that can be controlled) is at least as great as the speaker’s. At least the following must be included among the receiver’s activities and reactions:

A. Influence
B. Perception (Apprehension)
C. Understanding
D. Other reactions

2.3.1 Influence
The first type of reaction is influence or the processing of information without a high degree of awareness and control. In a series of experiments, Marcel (Marcel, 1979) showed that we can be influenced by a text without having consciously perceived it. Other studies show that we can be influenced by the size of pupils of other people without being aware that this is that which is influencing us (Argyle, 1975).

2.3.2 Perception (Apprehension)
The second type of reaction is the perception or apprehension of information, i.e. that information is also consciously registered by the receiver through his/her five senses. This type of reaction is necessary for such specialized activities as reading.

2.3.3 Understanding
Some of the information that is perceived is also understood. Whether understanding can be said to take place depends on if the receiver is able to put the information he/she perceives into a meaningful context, i.e. a context that is based on understood logical relations or understanding about cause and effect. The difference between perception and understanding can be illustrated by considering a person not well versed in mathematics who attends a lecture on topology. He/she probably perceives in some sense what is being said but probably does not understand. To be able to put perceived information into a meaningful context, a person must have already stored a certain amount of information. One must already understand. This relationship is often formulated as “understanding requires pre-understanding”. If you already understand a great deal, then not so much needs to be said to make you to understand more.

This relationship is continuously used in everyday conversations in which we normally succeed in sharing more information than we literally express. By building upon the information that we assume we share with other people, we can take a great deal for granted and be satisfied with hints. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that half of the information we are sharing in ordinary conversations is implicitly understood and is based on the receiver, through his/her process of interpretation and understanding, successfully reconstructing the message the sender intends.

The consequences of these considerations that have to do with linguistic communication in general are relatively important if we wish to understand the difficulties that can exist in intercultural communication. In some cases of intercultural communication, the persons who communicate lack a relevant common cultural background, that is, they lack common beliefs, values and norms. They have no shared pre-understandings on which to build.

The strategy I recommend is to try to clarify, through the use of language, what is normally taken for granted, by making explicit as many requirements as possible for what is said. This is the strategy used in certain legal traditions (see e.g. Gunnarsson, 1982) when you want to be sure that the law is being applied in the same way in all places without opportunity for differing interpretations by any individual reader. The process requires a great deal of thought and consideration and is probably more easily applied in written language, where passages can be changed and added to in retrospect.

In an intercultural communication situation, the solution indicated by legislative texts is normally closed. One is most often limited to spoken language and, furthermore, to a spoken language which is not common and therefore perhaps poorly used/understood by at least one of the parties.

The starting point for reaching mutual understanding in intercultural communication is thus a difficult one and can be improved only by carefully observing and noting what types of pre-understanding are necessary in different contexts, in other words by, first of all, building a sensitivity towards the points at which misunderstanding between people with different cultural backgrounds can occur and, secondly, by penetrating and learning about other people’s cultures.

2.3.4 Other reactions
Parallel to factual understanding, emotional and attitudinal reactions are integrated with the process of understanding. Factual understanding is concurrently combined with emotional and attitudinal reactions. We become interested, bored, upset, sad, angry, happy or irritated over what we hear and we direct these reactions toward the contents of what we are hearing and toward the person who is speaking. Reactions of this type exist among all people in all communication situations and can only, by training and analytical abstraction, be differentiated from the more factual understanding. For example, most people have a very difficult time differentiating between a topic and a person. They are not aware of the fallacy of ad-hominem argumentation. If I do not respect X, then what X is saying can not be true, or the reverse, if I respect X then what X is saying must be true. Factual understanding and emotional reactions always function in an interplay with one another.

Emotional and attitududinal reactions often have a relatively low degree of awareness and are difficult to control. However, this does not stop them from showing a systematic pattern. They are results of the norms and values that a certain individual has accepted on the basis of his/her biological nature and his/her upbringing in a particular environment. In this way, it is possible for certain emotional and attitudinal reactions to become dominant in a particular culture and we can say things like the following, “Most Swedes do not like to speak loudly and shrilly in public situations when they are sober”.

Our emotional and attitudinal reactions are thus one more factor that must be considered in intercultural communication. The situation, so to speak, is open to misunderstandings connected with hasty emotional reactions on a relatively low level of awareness. These reactions, in turn, can further be connected to other reactions that have to do with desires and dispositions toward behavior. To the extent that the reactions are positive, the complex nature of the receiver’s reactions can lead to a quicker establishment of good contact between the parties. To the extent that they are negative, however, we can on the basis of small misunderstandings get reactions that involve prejudice, suspicion, dislike and discrimination.

2.4 Communication behavior on an interactive level
Above we discussed the communication behavior that can be produced and interpreted by individual speakers and listeners. We will now look more closely at a number of characteristics of communication behavior that require a consideration of the interaction between sender and reciever. Although the aspects we will discuss probably make up the most important characteristics on the interactive level, they do not represent an exhaustive list of all the interesting aspects of interaction in intercultural communication. The aspects I will discuss here are: 1) interaction sequences, 2) turn taking, 3) feedback and 4) spatial configurations.

2.4.1 Interaction sequences
The concept of interaction sequence is derived from the fact that a specific type of communication can often be said to go through a number of distinct stages. For example, you begin, continue and complete a communicative interaction in a particular way. The initial sequences include greetings, introductions and routines for opening channels between the sender and the receiver, such as the initial use of the word hello in a telephone conversation.

Different cultures and linguistic areas vary considerably in terms of how much body contact is permitted in the greeting and introduction routines of different situations. In a relatively neutral contact, this can be completely lacking, as in classical China, or a handshake may suffice, as is most common in Sweden presently, or one may use hand contact together with an embrace and a varying number of kisses, as is currently the practice in France. The same types of differences and preferences can also be observed in closing sequences such as in leave-taking. For a more exhaustive review of differences of this type, see Allwood (1982). It is important at this point to again warn for simple generalizations. In each culture, there are a large number of ways to e.g. greet people and take leave from people that are dependent on the situation and the activity. Influencing factors for what should be done are the purpose of the activity and the person with whom you are speaking. I greet my children in a different way than I greet my colleagues, and what I say and do in parting is different when I will be taking a long trip and when I will be meeting the person with whom I am speaking again in a few hours. Influencing factors of these types probably regulate the variation in communication patterns in all cultures but do so in different ways in each culture.

The interaction sequences that take place are actually, when all is said and done, dependent upon the activity that the communication serves. The different purposes of the activity influence an organization of linguistic and other behavior that, in many cases, result in a sequence of subactivities which is typical for a particular activity. In a conversation in which advice and counsel are given, e.g. in a meeting with someone who works at an employment agency, social welfare office or in psychological consultations, one or more of the following activities would probably be included (at least in a Swedish cultural setting).

1. Greetings
2. Introductions
3. Identification of problems/desires
4. Gathering of relevant background information (This point can probably be given a very large number of subdivisions depending on how much of the individual’s life is relevant.)
5. Suggestions
6. Discussion
7. Conclusions/agreements
8. Summary
9. Leave-taking

The number of activities included and the order in which they come can vary depending upon specific characteristics of the counselor and the person seeking advice as well as the relation between them. However, it is probable that a relatively frequent pattern is developed for a particular type of counseling activity in a particular culture, not least when this can be regulated by establishing rules for general practice.

The patterns by no means need to bethe same from one culture to another. It is actually highly probable that activities such as “getting to know someone”, “keeping informal company”, “teaching”, “being in meetings together” and “counseling” exhibit differences from culture to culture.

As it is often exactly within the framework of such activities that intercultural communication takes place, such things as differences in expectations as to what sequences should exist and in which way they should be carried out is one of the factors that can cause difficulties in intercultural communication.

2.4.2 Turn-taking
Since the middle of the 20TH century, the concept of “turn taking” has been used more and more to characterize a basic set of principles for conversational interaction, see Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson (1974). The principles have to do with how the right to speak is distributed – who speaks with whom, for how long, about what, when and in which way.

A question that arises out of the above five questions is that of how many speakers may speak at the same time in different situations. In northwestern Europe, it seems in most cases that the rule is “one speaker at a time”. Interrupting other speakers is generally avoided, even in informal contexts and debates. This pattern is strongest in the Scandinavian countries and somewhat weaker in Germany and England. Compare, for example, a Swedish, a German and an English political debate. While Mediterranean countries to some extent show the same pattern, overlap and interruptions are more frequent. The tolerance for interruptions and simultaneous speaking is there much greater in lively discussions and debates. Interruption and overlap are normal expressions of involvement and participation.

Other questions having to do with turn taking concern speed of talk and tolerance of silence, i.e. such questions as how rapid speaker change should be and whether you can allow yourself, now and again, to say nothing. There seem to be great differences both between and within different cultures in these respects. A relatively general pattern seems to be that urban cultures have a higher speech rate and less silence than rural cultures. However, there seem also to be national ethnic differences, see Saville-Troike 1982. The greatest appreciation of silence in certain types of interaction has been reported for the Apache Indians of North America, see Basso, 1979. There are also many reports of silence being appreciated from northern Sweden and Finland, see Lehtonen and Saijavaara (1982), Hakulinen and Karlsson (1977). Speech rate seems to be correlated with silence such that a lower speech rate is associated with a greater occurrence of silence.

A third area in which there seem to be differences between cultures has to do with rights and obligations in different situations concerning turn taking. Very generally, it can be said that rights and obligations concerning turn taking are determined to a great extent by a person’s social role. Persons who have roles that imply social prominence, e.g. because they are considered to be associated with knowledge or power, such as bosses, ministers and professors, seem in most cultures to have greater freedom with respect to turn taking than do other people. They can speak about what they like, for as long as they like and in the way in which they like. They can permit themselves to interrupt other speakers, even in cultures in which the “one speaker at a time” rule is relatively strong, see also Allwood (1980). However, there are also differences between the rights and obligations that are connected with a particular role, differences that are associated with the type of tradition and authority that is found in a certain culture. A teacher, for example, has a somewhat different role in Sweden and in Turkey.

Certain roles are very strongly associated with rights and obligations in turn taking. One such is the role of chairman at a meeting. The task of a chairman is to maintain order in turn taking. What will we talk about? Who will be allowed to speak? In what way will we be allowed to speak?

Although meetings as an activity exist in most European cultures, a chairman’s rights can vary. In England and the USA, for example, a chairman has somewhat greater rights than in Sweden. He can choose to ignore persons whom he does not believe will add anything positive to the discussion. This behavior would hardly be tolerated in Sweden, where tradition states that every person who wishes to say something has the right to do so if the item has not been concluded or stricken from the discussion.

2.4.3 Feedback
The third interactive aspect I wish to explore is feedback. Feedback here means the processes through which the speaker receives information from the listener about the way in which the listener has perceived, understood and reacted to what the speaker has said. A major division of feedback behaviors is: 1) feedback elicitation and 2) feedback giving.

All languages seem to have both verbal and nonverbal (body movement) ways to develop and give feedback. Some Swedish feedback elicitors are: inte sant (isn’t that true?) and eller hur, eller, vad (or how? or? what?). Similar expressions are used in many languages. They often contain words for disjunction, negation, truth or correctness, e.g. n’est ce pas (“is this not so?” in French), ne pravda li (“not true?” in Russian), nicht wahr (“not true?” in German), no es cierto (“isn’t that certain?” in Spanish). In English, feedback elicitation has been grammaticized through the so called tag-questions: you smoke, don’t you?, you don’t smoke, do you? Feedback elicitation takes place nonverbally in Swedish (and probably several other cultures) by e.g. moving the head forward and raising the eyebrows.

As regards feedback giving, there are several hundred expressions in Swedish for giving feedback. Some of these are unusual from an intercultural perspective. This applies to the Swedish practice of using the act of breathing in for saying ja or nej (yes or no), which is often interpreted by persons of other cultural backgrounds as a lung problem or as holding back an emotion. This is also true for the following series of triplets of feedback givers: Ja – jaha – ha, jo – joho – ho, nä – nähä – hä, m – mhm – hm, a(h) – aha – ha, that is, the the first word’s vowel (or continuant) is repeated and preceded by the addtition of an <h>.

Although most cultural and language communities seem to have means for eliciting and giving feedback, there are important differences between them. One has to do with whether the feedback takes place for the most part verbally and auditively or whether it takes place with body movements and is received visually. The feedback patterns are dependent here e.g. on the culture’s patterns for eye contact. In the Japanese culture, for example, where direct eye contact can be interpreted as a lack of respect or as aggression, we thus find much auditive feedback, while, according to the studies we have carried out, there seems to be less auditive feedback and more nonverbal, visual feedback between Latin American Spanish speakers. See also Hirsch (1985).

2.4.4 Spatial configurations
Another area in which clear culturally dependent ethnic differences seem to exist concerns the closeness and physical contact between persons in a conversation. In cultures in northwestern Europe adult men generally avoid touching one another during conversations and maintain a greater distance from one another than do e.g. adult men from Mediterranean cultures. The latter also show a greater frequency of physical contact during neutral conversations. See Hall (1959) and Argyle (1975).

Most likely, similar but small differences also exist for women between northwestern Europe and the Mediterranean countries. This is in spite of the fact that they, in comparison with men from Northwestern Europe, show less distance and more physical contact. For conversations between a man and a woman, the pattern is less clear but, at least in public contexts, the distance can be greater in Mediterranean cultures than in northwestern European cultures.

Distance and contact are also clearly dependent on other factors than the sex of the speakers. Physical space is a basic consideration. Even Swedish men stand close to each other on crowded buses. Another factor has to do with the type of situation. In situations of arrival or leave-taking, we find more physical contact and closeness than in other situations in most cultures. The same applies in most cultures in situations characterized by love or aggression, although the differences can be considerable. In classical Chinese culture, man and wife were not allowed to show physical contact in public and public kissing among young couples in love is still now viewed with skepticism.

2.5 Influencing factors
It has been pointed out several times above that generalizations about differences in communication patterns can not always be associated in a simple way with differences between ethnic groups. A French person does not greet another person in the same way in all situations.

However, the variation within an ethnic or national group is not entirely random. There seem to exist certain factors that are decisive for the variation. Two overall factors seem to be the individuals that participate in the communication and the activity of which the communication is a part.

2.5.1 Individuals
As regards individuals, their biological status, e.g. their sex, age and possible disabilities, play an important role. However, a perhaps even more important factor is what we can call their focus of identity. What socially “focusable” characteristics have they made into the primary components of their identity? Is it their occupation, their interests, their family role, their ideology, their gender role, age role, their regional affiliation or something else that they have chosen to guide them in their ways of being? What they have chosen to identify themselves with will determine to a great extent their attitudes, norms and values and will thus also color their behavior in different activities. A third factor that is often related to the choice of identity focus is information about the surrounding world. People act and speak in different ways depending on how much information they have come to possess.

2.5.2 Activity
To form a more complete picture of the intra-ethnic variation, information is needed beyond biological status and desired or ascribed identity about the activity in which a particular individual is engaged. To be able to make a not altogether too poor prediction about how someone carries out a greeting, we must know more than that he is e.g. a 25- year-old male socialistic automobile industry worker and father with a family in Paris. It is easier if we know in what situation or, if you will, in what activity context he will be giving the greeting. Will he greet his boss or an old childhood friend? The following factors have been shown to be able to predict many of the communication characteristics that exist in different activities: 1) purpose, 2) roles, 3) artifacts and 4) physical circumstances.

2.5.3 Purpose
The purpose of an activity is the goal the activity is meant to achieve. There are many words for activities in everyday language which, if consideration is given to their meaning, show the purpose of the activity and thereby often also the types of interaction and communication that usually characterize the activity. Such words are e.g. negotiation, meeting, fight, flirt, lecture, interview and counseling. Other words for activities, such as hunting, fishing or business purchase, have less clear consequences for communication. However, even in these cases, it is possible to gain an understanding of certain of the communicative characteristics that are required by the activity.

A purpose can be more or less specific. Compare, for example, the purpose of “negotiation” with “diplomatic negotiation between Russians and Americans concerning disarmament”. The more specific the purpose is, the more it will influence the activity.

A difficulty in intercultural communication is that not precisely the same meaning is put into activity words that are otherwise normally considered to be the correct translation of each other. Do, for example, the English words debate and job interview have the same meaning as the Swedish words debatt and anställningsintervju? Despite the very similar meaning of the words, there are differences with respect to e.g. expectations about argumentation style in a debate and type of questions in a job interview. In certain situations, even such relatively small differences can lead to difficulties in cooperation between a Swede and e.g. an Englishman.

2.5.4 Roles
Closely associated with the purpose of an activity are the different roles that are ordinarily associated with the participants in the activity. Compare, for example, lecturers and audience at a lecture, salesperson and customer at a purchase made in a store, chairman, rapporteur and participants at a meeting. To each role belong certain rights and obligations that normally have a strong impact on what a person with a certain role will say and do during the activity. Rights and obligations often correspond to one another so that what are the one party’s rights determine what are the other party’s obligations. The right of a Swedish customer to information about the price and quality of goods thus corresponds to the obligations of a Swedish salesperson to give this information (and probably similarly in many other cultures).

We have already seen above that the rights and obligations that are tied to a certain role do not need to be the same in different ethnic groups. A chairman often has greater rights at a meeting in England and in the U.S. than in Sweden.

2.5.5 Artifacts
A third factor that can determine a part of what is said and done in an activity is the artificial objects or artifacts that are used in the activity. As regards communication, the artifacts usually called communication aids and media (e.g. pen, megaphone, telephone, telegraph, radio etc.) are particularly important. Special conventions are formed in different linguistic and cultural communities for how these aids are to be used. The convention can be valid for how to talk on the telephone, write different kinds of letters or speak on the radio.

2.5.6 Physical circumstances
The last factor I will discuss here is the physical circumstances of the activity and the communication, that is, how phenomena such as noise level, light level, space, temperature, furniture, distance between sender and receiver and number of senders and receivers affect what is said and done.

Activity and communication are always adapted in different ways in different cultural areas to physical factors of this type. We discussed above how Swedish men who normally like to keep a fairly large distance between themselves and other men will accept standing very close to one another on a crowded bus.

3. Understanding, values and attitudes
As we have seen above, both participating in and studying intercultural communication require taking into consideration the differences in understanding, values and attitudes that people with different cultural backgrounds can have. These factors are important in determining both how to communicate and how to interpret and react to messages that are received.

3.1 Types of pre-understanding
What types of understanding, values and attitudes can represent relevant differences in pre-understanding? Unfortunately, the general answer to this question is probably that whatever represents a difference between two people’s understanding in any particular context can be relevant to their interpretation and understanding. Maintaining a general level, however, the following areas can be mentioned:
1. Realia: geography, history, religion, political and economic systems, industrial and commercial branches, food, clothes and housing traditions.
2. Esthetic culture: music, art and fiction.
3. Expert knowledge: activities with special subject areas, roles and tools.
4. Attitudes and values: a particularly important part of a person’s preunderstandingis his/her attitudes and values. These unite his/her factual understanding with his/her emotions, desires and actions. Although attitudes and values can differ among a group of people, to a certain extent they are also given by their common cultural environment.

3.2 Attitudes and values
A way of identifying attitudes and values is to make a list of phenomena that play an important part in most people’s lives and then investigate whether there is any pattern in the attitudes of a particular group towards these phenomena. This list might include the following: family, child rearing, the opposite sex, socializing with friends, work – money, authorities (e.g. the state, teachers), aging, goals of life – career, death, time and space, metaphysics.

To investigate what attitudes people in a certain culture have toward these phenomena, one can consider at least two approaches that complement each other. The one is to try in some way to empirically list via direct observation, interviews or questionnaires what attitudes people have. The second approach is more indirect but may allow for a deeper understanding of the attitudes that exist in a particular culture.

This latter approach is based on a historical analysis of the different influences that may have formed people’s attitudes in a certain culture. The analysis should take into consideration the following types of influences: 1) nature and climate, 2) resources, 3) technology, 4) population density, 5) types of activities, 6) types of behavior and 7) ideological influences.

In an intricate interplay, these factors, and perhaps others, form the values and norms that are typical for a particular culture. By studying not only the norms and values themselves but their background as well, one has a greater chance of understanding why certain patterns are more common than others, why changes in the patterns have taken place in certain cases and at what points changes will eventually take place.

Among the ideological influences, religion has often been the most important in creating norms and values, see Sander (1985). In most cultures, religion has traditionally offered an explanatory and legitimizing framework for human behavior. Religious theses have been used to motivate and maintain such things as approach to child rearing, family, work, the opposite sex and authorities. These approaches have then lived on in the culture and come to be shared by people who no longer believe in the religious theses that originally motivated the approaches.

A development of ideological influences on Swedish culture must cover at least the following: the belief in the Nordic Pantheon that possibly lives on in the celebration of Christmas and Midsummer; Catholicism, which introduced Christian values, e.g. the teaching of the equal value of all people in the eyes of God and the teaching of individual salvation; Lutheranism, which to some extent gave Christianity another meaning than what existed under Catholicism. During the 1800s, Calvinism was often introduced together with liberal political ideology. Different forms of socialism also turned up, some were atheist and others were combined with different forms of religion, especially Lutheranism. The latest ideological influence in Sweden has perhaps been the so called “green wave”, that is, a strong emphasis on certain ideas and attitudes concerning man’s interplay with nature. Other doctrines also exist but are somewhat less widespread than those listed above.

The most important influence is probably Lutheranism. Luther’s doctrines have been preached in churches, religious house examinations, morning assemblies and many other places for over 450 years. In many ways, Luther’s doctrines have affected attitudes toward e.g. work, obligation, authorities, child rearing, the opposite sex, the difference between private and public, the value of man and goals in life that are common in Swedish culture.

4. Problems and consequences related to intercultural communication
Let us now look more closely at the different types of problems that can arise in situations of intercultural communication. As in all communication, a fundamental problem has to do with understanding.

Let us further assume that two persons with different cultural backgrounds start to communicate because at least one of them has a need to do so. As they have different cultural backgrounds, they probably have less common pre-understanding than two persons with the same cultural background. If the lack of common pre-understanding is relevant to their joint activity and communication, this may lead to several consequences which will be treated below.

4.1 Lack of understanding Lack of understanding
is a failure to interpret parts of or all of what the other person is saying or doing. The lack of understanding may be conscious or unconscious, that is, you may or may not notice that you have not understood. The lack can, if it is a conscious, lead to an attempt to do something about it, such as to say that you have not understood or to ask for an explanation. The lack of understanding can also be allowed to pass, in spite of the fact that you are aware of it, perhaps because, owing to a lack of time or to an inferior status, you do not consider yourself in a position to ask for help or to admit that you have not understood.

4.2 Misunderstanding
The assumed difference in relevant pre-understanding can also lead to misunderstanding, i.e. one actually makes an interpretation but this interpretation is inadequate or incorrect. The risk that poor understanding will lead to misunderstanding is dependent on factors like:

(i) strong expectations concerning communicative contents
(ii) insufficient awareness of your own lack of understanding of the other’s cultural background
(iii) strong motivation, or perhaps an absolute need, to try to understand
(iv) mastery of the language used for the communication
(v) the occurrence of something that gives strong evidence against the interpretation about to be made.

Consider the following example of misunderstanding from Allwood & Abelar (1984) in an interview concerning living conditions:

Interviewer: du har två bord intill sängen (you have two tables near the bed)

Interviewee: jag har sängen jag kan inte sova på golvet (i have the bed, I can’t sleep on the floor)

The interviewee, who at the time in question was attempting to learn Swedish, later reported that she had interpreted intill (near) as inte (not). The example shows a combination of some of the factors named above. The interviewee did not have a great enough mastery of the Swedish language and thus did not notice the sound differences between near and not (in Swedish, the sound difference between the words inte and intill). She also had a suspicion that the interviewer believed that the standard of her living quarters was primitive. These two factors, in combination with a desire to understand and to demonstrate a mastery of the Swedish language, leads her, rather than simply noticing that she does not understand (lack of understanding), to make an incorrect interpretation (misunderstanding). The example is typical of how misunderstandings take place. Misunderstandings are nearly always the product of a combination of some or all of the factors mentioned above.

4.3 Emotional reactions and actions
Integrated with the process of understanding are different factors that have to do with emotions and attitudes. These factors are also present in the cases of a lack of understanding and of misunderstanding. In spite of a lack of understanding perhaps being experienced as a challenge and as an incentive toward increasing the mutual understanding, it is probable that a lack of understanding more generally, and particularly if it leads to misunderstanding, is connected with negative emotional reactions. As emotional reactions are usually associated with desire and dispositions toward behavior, the consequence can be that both verbal and other actions are taken that are built upon misunderstanding and hasty negative reactions.

The further consequences that such actions bring about depend in turn upon how great the misunderstanding is, how great the communication need is of each of the parties, the occurrence of conflicts of interest between the parties and, not least, the power relation between the parties.

If the misunderstanding is great, the need of communication little, the conflict of interest large and the power difference small, there is a great probability that the misunderstanding will lead to some sort of conflict.

Such a conflict can in turn have several different consequences, on the one hand, on an individual level for the individuals that are communicating, and on the other, on a group level, which sometimes occurs; one individual’s reaction pattern can become the general one for a larger group of people.

4.4 Individual level
4.4.1 Interruption and breakdown
A reaction to a lack of understanding and to misunderstanding is that the communication is interrupted or breaks down and that one or both of the communicating individuals then refuses to communicate. Another although less common consequence of a breakdown is that the individuals are stimulated to try to improve their possibilities for communicating with one another. Among the factors that determine whether the reaction becomes a refusal or a motivation for new attempts are e.g. the power relation between the parties. If A has equal power to B, it is easier for A to refuse to communicate with B than if A is dependent upon B. In the same way, if A’s need for communicating with B is not very great, it is also easier for A to refuse to communicate than if A truly needed to communicate with B. Furthermore, A’s and B’s ability to communicate in the language they have chosen is also relevant. If the distance is too great between A’s ability and what is demanded of A for communication with B to be possible, the probability that A will not make further attempts at communication also increases.

4.4.2 Communication on the conditions of only one party
Another development that is also often related to a power difference between parties is that one of the parties gives up and begins to communicate completely on the conditions of the other party. This pattern is typical for persons from ethnic groups who live in countries in which they are not in the majority and do not belong to the ruling class.

4.4.3 Communication via a third party
If the need of communication between two parties is great and they are not able to speak each other’s language or do not wish to be brought into a position of inferiority towards the other party, they can choose to communicate via a third party. One of the possibilities is then to use an interpreter. If the parties are very mistrustful of one another, as at international political negotiations, two interpreters can be used, one for each party. The interpreter’s task is generally difficult as he/she must constantly compromise between being faithful to what has been said and adapting himself/herself to what he/she knows about the level of pre-understanding of the receiver. His/her social position is also insecure because he/she can often be suspected by both parties of having exploited the potential power he/she has in his/her role as a connecting link.

If the communication takes place in written form, one can choose instead a translator as a third party. The translator’s problem is often different from that of the interpretor because he/she does not have immediate access to neither the sender nor the receiver. He/she must trust his/her general cultural and linguistic competence, and his/her audience is a less determined one than the interpreter’s. As Schenck (1985) points out, however, the translator’s role as a transmitter of culture can hardly be overestimated. A further possibility occurs if the communicating parties have knowledge of a language that is not the first language of either of the parties. If the need of communication is great enough and the power differences not too large, they can then choose to use this language. In certain small countries such as Sweden, this has become something of a national strategy, as most people believe they can communicate in English in most contexts.

4.4.4 Communication on the conditions of both parties
A fourth conceivable communication situation between two parties with different language and cultural backgrounds is what may be called communication on the conditions of both parties. This can be designed in at least two ways. The first is that an exchange takes place in the languages of both parties. A’s language is spoken for a while and then B’s language is spoken for a while. This type of communication most often occurs between persons who are relatively equal in terms of power and who also have a relatively good competence in the other party’s language. This is thereby a special case of what linguists have called code switching – see Blom & Gumperz 1972 – i.e. that there is a switching from one language to another in one and the same conversation.

The term “switching” could also be used for the form of communication mentioned above that occurs e.g. in diplomatic negotiations between equally powerful parties. Each of the parties speaks his/her own language which, in turn, is translated by an an interpreter into the other language.

Another form of communication on the conditions of both parties is what could be called “mixture”. In this case, the boundaries between the two languages in question are not maintained; the parties begin to use forms from each other’s language and a sort of mixed language is created. The probability that this form of communication will arise is greater if the parties are equal with respect to power, do not have good knowledge of each other’s language (over and above what they can pick up on-line) and have a relatively great need to communicate.

4.5 Collective level
The effects on the individual level that I discussed above can also occur on a larger scale on what could be called a collective level, see Nelhans 1983.

4.5.1 Expulsion and segregation
On a collective level, expulsion and segregation correspond to the individual level phenomena interruption and refusal to communicate. Expulsion, which in its most extreme form becomes extermination, is the process by which a powerful group of people choose, often with violence, to remove a less powerful group of people from their territory. Expulsion has most often been associated with extreme manifestations of ethnic and national identity in the powerful group as well as with far-reaching interruptions in communication between the two groups.

Interruptions in communication also characterize what is usually called segregation, that is, that one group of people, instead of being removed, is isolated and extremely limited in their contacts and communication with surrounding groups of people. The groups that are segregated most frequently have less power than those who do the segregating, e.g. Black people in South Africa or so called ghettos in many large cities. However, it occasionally happens that the segregated group has more power. It is and has been common for the powerful elite in many countries to live in great isolation from the people it tries to control.

In cases in which the segregated group has less power, the motivation for the segregation is often, although not always, ethnic – national identity. Social segregation occurs somewhat less frequently but is also relatively common (parias in India, gypsies and vagabonds, drifters and tramps in Sweden or buraki in Japan). Even if a segregated group has less power, the reason for its segregation is not always that it is directly forced into that state by a powerful group. Segregation also often seems to be a socio-political protection mechanism for avoiding being dominated by a stronger group. This is especially the case if the segregation is related to ethnic identity.

4.5.2 Assimilation
On a collective level, assimilation corresponds to an individual giving up and communicating on the other party’s conditions. A dominant group’s pressure on a group with less power does not need to be expressed in expulsion and/or segregation. It can also be expressed in attempts toward assimilation, i.e. an attempt to get the group to disappear by disbanding it such that it becomes dispersed within the dominant group. This has been the primary political direction in Anglo-Saxon dominated countries of immigration. It has also been a strong political tendency in both Russia and the Soviet Union.

One of the important steps in assimilation policy is directly oriented toward linguistic communication. The group to be assimilated is forbidden to use its own language or attempts are made in some other way to ensure that the group can not do this. Compare previous prohibition against the Finnish language in Swedish schools in Tornedalen or previous prohibition against Scottish-Gaelic in Scotland.

4.5.3 Dominance by a third party
We saw on the individual level that one solution to the problem of understanding in intercultural communication is to use a third power, either a language that is foreign to both the communicating parties or a third person – an interpreter or a translator who conveys the contact.

Both these ways of handling problems of understanding can be found on a collective level. In fact, the first way probably represents the most common type of intercultural communication in the world today. The communicating parties must use a language that neither of them has mastered sufficiently, such as English. Through the difficulty of attempting to master a third culture’s way of thinking and speaking that is foreign to them both, they are forced to add to the difficulties in understanding that might already exist between them because of differences between their respective background cultures. That which is said must now be interpreted not only with consideration to the background of the speaker but also with consideration to the values and norms of the third, imported culture.

In addition to the relatively obvious negative consequences of using a third language, that is, the greater risks of misunderstanding, there are probably also positive effects such as an equalization of power. Both parties have difficulties and may thereby be gotten to take a flexible position where certain of the opposing party’s mistakes are excused and where there is greater awareness of the risk of misunderstanding and therefore greater caution in reacting and acting on the basis of what you have understood. These effects are probably cancelled if representatives of the culture whose language is being used participate as equal discussion partners and may well be replaced by the increased risks of misunderstanding that were named before. The reason for this is that effects that equalize power such as being able to excuse and being flexible are then likely replaced by a greater normative focus on the culture whose language is used, which results partly in a greater fear of saying the wrong things (prestige and losing power) and partly in pressure to take consideration to a greater number of factors. If this analysis is correct, it should then be simpler for Japanese people and Swedish people to carry on bilateral negotiations in English than to carry on trilateral negotiations with participants who have English as their first language. This consequence is probably most clear when there exist conflicts of interest between all three parties and might disappear completely if the English speaking party altruistically put their language abilities at the disposal of the others.

The language used as the third language in intercultural communication is largely dependent upon political and economic relations of dominance. The groups that have the most money and guns usually succeed in getting others to use their language. The important world languages – Latin, French, Russian and English – have all initally been based on economic and political dominance. Despite the weakening of the economic and political bases of the Romans and the French, Latin and French have managed to have a more lasting dominance owing to their use in international organizations such as the Catholic church (Latin), the postal services and the diplomatic corps (French). Unfortunately, none of the artificial natural (as opposed to artificial non-natural languages such as computer languages) languages with a more idealistic basis, such as Esperanto, Neo or Ido, have become sufficiently wide spread to actually offer an alternative on an international level. This would probably require a connection based in political power. A first step toward this might be achieved if international organizations such as the U.N. started to use one of these languages. The advantages of a non-national state based third language for intercultural communication would be significant. There would probably be a considerable effect toward equalizing power with pertinent possibilities for better flexibility, caution and patience in interpretation, at least initially, and, if suitable measures were taken, this situation might even become more permanent. A further problem is that probably none of the present articial natural languages would be optimal as a global auxilliary language. In order to serve this purpose, the language, in terms of availability, should be neutral in relation to the main language groups in the world. This requirement would be not be met by Esperanto, which is completely based on Indoeuropean languages. In the same way, the language should be neutral in the question of what demands are placed on cultural pre-understanding in order to use the language. None of the presently existing languages meet this requirement.

The practice of using a third party through the use of interpreters can also be found on a collective level. Certain groups of people have relatively often during the course of history created a role for themselves to their own advantage as negotiators of contacts between other groups of people, such as the Phoenecians, Jews, the Hanseatic League or the Venetians. These groups have, exactly as some interpreters, sometimes been able to wield a considerable amount of power by their central role in contact and communication.

4.5.4 Pluralism and integration
Pluralism and integration correlate on a collective level to the individual level communication phenomena of code switching and mixing.

“Pluralism” usually calls to mind a pattern in which different groups are given the possibility, and perhaps a certain support, to maintain their distinctive characters without the coercive and defense mechanisms usually associated with segregation. On a group level, pluralism can be multilateral, that is, it may behoove a number of different groups equally as much. However, in many states, it is more what may perhaps be called “centripetal bilateral” (centripetal force = force pressing from the periphery toward the center). This occurs when there is one majority group in a country and a number of minority groups and the members of the minority groups receive a certain support for being able to have bilateral freedom of choice between his/her own group and the majority group. However, they do not receive support for having freedom of choice between their own and other minority groups, and the members of the majority group do not receive support for being able to have freedom of choice between the majority culture and one or a number of the minority cultures. Swedish immigration policy of today, just as traditional US immigration policy, can be said to aim at just this kind of centripetal bilateral pluralism. There is hardly any corresponding centrifugal (centrifugal force = force from the center toward the periphery) bilateral pluralism in Sweden, as the members of the majority group neither receive support for nor try on their own to penetrate into the cultures of any of the minority groups to any great extent.

International organization today regularly follows multilateral pluralism, at least in the case of five to ten strong nations. That is, representatives of these nations speak their own languages and have interpreters translate what others are saying into their own languages. Under the condition that an acceptable ideally based artificial natural language could be developed and accepted as the language of these organizations, it would probably be desirable to complement this multilateral pluralistic system with a centripetal, bilteral pluralistic system based on this language. If this were so, it would be possible to utilize the advantages that direct communication in combination with the equalization of power give.

“Integration” here means the case in which the different groups’ distinctive natures start to dissolve and a new group develops that in its culture, together with new features, unites features of the old groups. Integration processes of this type are internationally unusual because they require equality between the integrating parties. The more unequal the situation, the more integration will resemble assimilation. We can imagine a scale on which the one extreme is the assimilation of one group into another with a total loss of their culture – total assimilation – and the other extreme is the entering of both groups into a new unit in which the resulting culture contains features of both the previous cultures – integration.

5. Can any of the problems of intercultural communication be avoided?
To investigate whether it is possible to avoid any of the problems of intercultural communication, it is suitable to start with the communication situation itself and analyze why misunderstanding and conflict arise. If you do this, you find that it should be possible to put in preventative measures related to a number of the factors which according to the analysis given above lie behind the problems that can arise. As most of these actions are found to require education, they will be goals for education in intercultural communication. I will discuss some of these goals below.

5.1 Awareness and insight about differences between cultures and communication patterns
Since the basic difficulty in intercultural communication is the differences that exist between the sender’s and receiver’s cultural backgrounds and way of communicating, a first action to reduce the risks of misunderstanding would be to gather good insight into the differences and similarities that exist. Although differences between cultural and communication patterns are in focus, similarities should not be ignored as they can form a general human base that can be used to solve some of the difficulties in intercultural communication.

As the road to insight for many people goes through education, a first goal for education in intercultural communication is to give insight about:

1. Overall information about the ways in which cultural patterns can be similar and different. This type of information is meant to give a general preparation for what can happen in intercultural communication and should include as many as possible of the points named above.

2. Specific information about the characteristics of a particular culture. This type of information is necessary as a complement to the first type for a person who will have contact with people from the culture in question.

5.2 Flexible attitudes toward differences in culture and communication patterns As emotion and will are so closely connected with the process of understanding, no education in intercultural communication should ignore these factors. If there is not a certain empathy and desire to adapt to the other party, better insight about the differences between cultural patterns will not necessarily lead to better understanding. There are actually several studies that show that more information does not always positively influence negative attitudes and biases. See e.g. Diskrimineringsutredningen SOU, 1984:55 (report from a parliamentary committee on discrimination). In some way, feeling and desire must also be influenced.

This requires experience that leads to greater empathy for other cultural patterns and for the difficulties experienced by those who are trying to come closer to one’s own cultural patterns. For this to happen through education, the studies would thus need to include methods that are able to appeal to emotion, desire and action. One such method is role play. It would be very valuable to try to develop role play as an aid in teaching intercultural communication. Another type of education that seems to increase empathy and understanding is the teaching of co-existence found in international children’s camps and international work camps. A third type of experience which points in this direction are international exchange programs for students e.g. AFS, Rotary, Lions, ERASMUS, SOCRATES, People to People and Nord Plus.

One feature of the ability to adapt to other people’s cultural patterns is the ability to form a common social identity with the person with whom one is speaking. We are both fathers, teachers, businessmen or interested in stamps. Keeping in mind that there are many more possible foci of identity than national or ethnic identity will very likely facilitate mutual adaptation and understanding. This is probably not the case if the focus is kept on the potential differences that can surface when the emphasis is on national or ethnic identity.

5.3 Ability and skill
The most far-reaching goal of intercultural education is to give people the ability and skill to live in other cultures and to exercise other communication patterns. For this type of education, training in the language of the new culture is clearly of the greatest importance. Education in foreign language is education in intercultural communication. After all, we will be speaking the language we learn with people from another cultural background than our own.

To serve as an effective instrument for the purpose of intercultural communication, language instruction must place greater importance on the way in which a language is tied to a cultural pattern. Beyond traditional written language instruction, much greater consideration must be given to the conditions for understanding, i.e. what sort of preunderstanding is normally required among large groups of people in a culture. Greater consideration should also be given to factors that are decisive in the spoken language, such as body communication, intonation, feedback and turn-taking.

Language instruction that contains more of these components would have the possibility much more so than is the case today to be a support for the individual who gradually with the help of the learned language will begin some type of intercultural communication.


I would like to warmly thank the following people for valuable discussions of the contents of this paper: Teresa Allwood, Elisabeth Ahlsén and Sven Strömqvist. Furthermore, I would like to thank Christina Andersson and Gunilla Wetter for help in getting the paper into readable shape. A special thanks for help with the translation to Janet Vesterlund and Susan Szmania.

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