Thoughts on an interesting culture clash experiment

by Valerie M

I was perusing Erin Pavlina’s blog recently and came across an older, but very interesting article on culture clash. I strongly recommend reading it if you have any interest social experiments and social psychology.

Long story short, a group of people were separated into smaller groups. Each group was told that they were a specific culture and were given a list of cultural attributes and traits to learn and act upon. One group was more egalitarian, commerce oriented, and had to learn a “new” language. The other group was heavily male-dominated, ancestor-oriented, and spoke English. Each group had to send two representatives to the other and a brawl ensued because two members got so into their roles!

I found this fascinating because we often don’t realize how different our values can be from each other. We always go into interactions believing that other people think and act exactly like us; when they don’t then something must be wrong with them and we have an obligation to correct them. I think many of us know this deep down inside, but it always doesn’t translate into our everyday thinking and actions. 

From this experiment, Erin pointed out the importance of paying attention to social cues. The reason is because many social cues (but definitely not all) are universal. Perhaps different cultures may have different non-verbal ways of saying “yes” and “no.” But non-verbal cues of emotions like irritation, anger, happiness, etc are easier to tell even if people don’t express them the same way.

The other thing I would point out is learning how to acknowledge fear when interacting with people from different cultures. The main reason why interactions deteriorate between different cultures is because people do not like having their own way of life or values challenged. When you learn that there are people who didn’t grow up like you or think in the same way you do, it can feel uncomfortable. 

You might wonder if the way you were brought up is the wrong way or you may feel that these other people might try deliberately threaten your way of life. But you (your ego) don’t want it to be wrong, and your mind is always looking for ways to show that it is right (confirmation bias). So everyone automatically goes into defensive mode. While it is true that some cultures will try to impose their own values on you, I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if people didn’t get so defensive at the drop of a dime.

Even if they didn’t completely want to change their own way of life, what if people just learned what they could from someone else and used that to improve their own way of life? Whatever they didn’t have use for they would just let it go and connect with other based on what they did agree on (as opposed to what they did not). This view is similar to taking the stance of: “Even a stopped clock is right two times a day.”

I know that this is a long shot when considering the whole world as a whole. Perhaps it is not possible to be so fluid that we’ll just take in anything we read and change our lifestyle at whim. There are, after all, very good reasons for being rigid about certain things we believe in even if there are millions of other things to believe in that are equally valid. But I think it’s totally possible to do when you only have to worry about changing your mindset.

Changing your mindset isn’t about changing your lifestyle as much as it is changing the way you receive and process information that you don’t necessarily agree with: there is no universal “right” or “wrong” — just what feels “right” or “wrong” for you at this given moment. Even if it is “wrong” for you doesn’t mean it’s “wrong” for someone else. That, to me, would be the first step in defusing culture and value clashes.

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