Individual differences, cultural differences, and dialectic conflict description and resolution

Kyungil Kim, Arthur B. Markman
Published Online:
07 Aug 2012
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 48 Issue 5

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Previous research suggests that members of East Asian cultures show a greater preference for dialectical thinking than do Westerners. This paper attempts to account for these differences in cognition using individual difference variables that may explain variation in performance both within and across cultures. Especially, we propose that the abovementioned cultural differences are rooted in a greater fear of isolation (FOI) in East Asians than in Westerners. To support this hypothesis, in Experiment 1, we manipulated FOI in American participants before having them resolve two conflicts: an interpersonal conflict and a conflict between an individual and an institution. We found that the Americans among whom a high level of FOI had been induced were more likely to look for a dialectical resolution than those among whom a low level had been prompted. The relationship between conflict resolution and FOI was further investigated in Experiment 2, in which FOI was not manipulated. The results indicated that Koreans had higher chronic FOI on average than did the Americans. Compared to the Americans, the Koreans were more likely to resolve the interpersonal conflict dialectically, but did not show the same bias in resolving the person–institution conflict. The differences in the preference for dialectical resolution between FOI conditions in Experiment 1 and cultural groups in Experiment 2 were mediated by FOI. These findings bolster previous research on FOI in showing that chronic levels of FOI are positively related to both preference for dialectical sentences and sensitivity to context. They provide clearer insight into how differences in FOI affect attention and thereby higher‐level reasoning such as dialectic description and conflict resolution.

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