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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Causal Attribution and Culture: How Similar are American and Chinese Thinking?
by Yang, Yan, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, 2009, 106; 10857071
Abstract (Summary)

Recent psychological studies of culture have shown incompatible results about the differences in causal attributions between Americans and East Asians. Nisbett and his colleagues (Nisbett, 2003) found that Americans tend to make dispositional or internal attributions while East Asians tend to make situational or external attributions. Nisbett traced this pattern back to the differences between ancient Greek philosophy and Chinese Confucianism and Taoism. The opposite pattern of results was found by Crystal, Hui, and some other scholars (Crystal, 2000; Crystal, Parrott, Okazaki, & Watanabe, 2001; Hui, 2000, 2001). They theorized that Americans, as individualists, make external attribution as a self-enhancement mechanism and East Asians, as collectivists, make internal attribution to protect the group.

The purposes of this study were to find out if those cultural differences in causal attribution could be replicated, if the content of attribution led to different responses, and if the question format (open-ended versus rating-scale questions) made a difference in participant's attribution.

This study used an online survey with one scenario from each of the two group's representative studies, a campus-shooting scenario and a bullying schoolboy scenario. The two scenarios were rewritten to fit in both cultures and the two characters in the scenarios were given typical American names in the English questionnaire and Chinese names in the Chinese version. The open-ended questionnaires for both scenarios preceded the rating-scale questions. There were 76 American participants and 157 Chinese participants. There were separate web pages for the English and Chinese versions of the survey so that all participants took the survey in their native language.

The results indicate that both scenario and question format had significant effects on causal attributions. The two scenarios led to opposite attributions on the rating-scale questionnaire: external attribution in response to the bullying scenario and internal attribution of in response to the campus-shooting scenario. Question format made significant difference in the bullying scenario: internal responses to the open-ended items and external responses to the rating-scale items. Both culture groups made similar causal attribution, either internal or external, of the same scenario in the same question format. American group held stronger opinions in rating-scale attributions and provided more responses in open-ended attributions compared to their Chinese counterparts. The results of this study do not follow the patterns predicted by either Nisbett (2003) or Crystal (20000). Causal attribution is more context-specific than culture-specific.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Adams, Ryan
Commitee: Brown, Rhonda, Wheeler, Daniel
School: University of Cincinnati
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 79/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Education
Keywords: Causal attribution, Cognition, Culture
Publication Number: 10857071
ISBN: 978-0-438-02242-3
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