Culture reference effects
Heine et al (2002) discuss how people in different cultures often answer questions relative to a reference group in their own culture. Thus, for example, if a culture is more collectivistic in general, measured cultural differences may less when people within a culture answer test items relative to their own cultural reference group.
To quote the abstract:
Social comparison theory maintains that people think about themselves
compared with similar others. Those in one culture, then, compare
themselves with different others and standards than do those in
another culture, thus potentially confounding cross-cultural
comparisons. A pilot study and Study 1 demonstrated the problematic
nature of this reference-group effect: Whereas cultural experts agreed
that East Asians are more collectivistic than North Americans,
cross-cultural comparisons of trait and attitude measures failed to
reveal such a pattern. Study 2 found that manipulating reference
groups enhanced the expected cultural differences, and Study 3
revealed that people from different cultural backgrounds within the
same country exhibited larger differences than did people from
different countries. Crosscultural comparisons using subjective Likert
scales are compromised because of different reference groups. Possible
solutions are discussed.
Cultural differences in response tendencies
Lee et al (2002) summarised some of the empirical literature on cross-cultural differences in use of response scales:
Only a few researchers have addressed the issue of cultural
differences in rating scales empiri- cally. Wong, Tam, Fung, and Wan
(1993) found no difference in the way Chinese participants in Hong
Kong responded to an odd versus an even number of response choices.
Johnson (1981) found no difference in how readers of Horizons USA who
resided in Great Britain, Italy, the Philippines, and Venezuela
responded to bipolar scales. Stening and Everett (1984) found that
Japanese managers responding in Japanese were more likely to choose
the midpoint than were American or British managers responding in
English. Chen, Lee, and Stevenson (1995) found the same effect for
Japanese and to a lesser extent for Taiwanese in a sample comparing
11th-grade students in Japan, Taiwan, Canada, and, in the United
States, Minneapolis. Iwata, Saito, and Roberts (1994) and Iwata,
Roberts, and Kawa- kami (1995) reported that junior high school
students in Japan and the United States responded similarly on
negative items but that Japanese were less likely to endorse positive
When reviewing the literature on cross-cultural differences in response style Hamamura et al (2008) stated that:
Compared to North Americans of European-heritage, higher levels of
extreme responding have been observed in African–Americans (Bachman &
O’Malley, 1984) and Latino Americans (Hui & Triandis, 1989). In
contrast, East Asians seem to show more moderacy than samples of
European-heritage (Chen, Lee, & Stevenson, 1995)
- Bachman, J. G., & O’Malley, P. M. (1984). Yea-saying, nay-saying, and going to extremes: Black–white diﬀerences in
response styles. Public Opinion Quarterly, 48, 491–509.
- Chen, C., Lee, S. Y., & Stevenson, H. W. (1995). Response style and cross-cultural comparisons of rating scales among
East Asian and North American students. Psychological Science, 6, 170–175.
- Hamamura, T., Heine, S.J. & Paulhus, D.L. (2008). Cultural differences in response styles: The role of dialectical thinking. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 932-942.
- Heine, S.J. and Lehman, D.R. and Peng, K. and Greenholtz, J. (2002). What's wrong with cross-cultural comparisons of subjective Likert scales?: The reference-group effect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 82, 903, PDF
- Hui, C. H., & Triandis, H. C. (1989). Eﬀects of culture and response format on extreme response style. Journal of CrossCultural Psychology, 20, 296–309.
- Iwata, N., Roberts, C.R., & Kawakami, N. (1995).
Japan–U.S. comparison of responses to depression
scale items among adult workers. Psychiatry Research, 58, 237–245.
- Iwata, N., Saito, K., & Roberts, R.E. (1994). Responses
to a self-administered depression scale among
younger adolescents in Japan. Psychiatry Research,
- Johnson, J.D. (1981). Effects of the order of presentation of evaluative dimensions for bipolar scales in
four societies. Journal of Social Psychology, 113,
- Lee, J.W. and Jones, P.S. and Mineyama, Y. and Zhang, X.E. (2002). Cultural differences in responses to a Likert scale. Research in nursing & health, 25, 295-306.
- Stening, B.W., & Everett, J.E. (1984). Response styles
in a cross-cultural managerial study. Journal of
Social Psychology, 122, 151–156.
- Wong, C.S., Tam, K.C., Fung, M.Y., & Wan, K. (1993).
Differences between odd and even number of
response scale: Some empirical evidence. Chinese
Journal of Psychology, 35, 75–86.