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I talked about this with a friend: he told me that there are differences on how people react when they are accused of something. He mentioned that in some countries, people try to avoid it at any cost. In the case, he mentioned that my country (Brazil) has this feature. He also mentioned that he watched the Olympics with narration in both English (from England) and Portuguese (from Brazil) and the narration was quite different when someone made a mistake:

  • Brazil: He hadn't luck.
  • England: He didn't train enough.

He also argued that Brazilians prefer to escape to some metaphysical realm and that people from England follow a more pragmatic approach for when they do something wrong. He promised to deliver me some anthropological studies about that, but I guess he forgot it.

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It sounds like you're describing cultural differences in the fundamental attribution error, which, according to Wikipedia, is:

People's tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else's behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can thus be taken into consideration.

Here's an excerpt from the cultural differences section (emphasis added):

There are many cultural differences which arise when attempting to explain this error [(Lagdridge & Butt, 2004)]. Previous research has shown that cultural differences exist in the susceptibility of making fundamental attribution error: people from individualistic cultures are more prone to the error while people from collectivistic cultures are less prone [(Miller, 1984)].

It has been found that there is a differential attention to social factors between independent peoples and interdependent peoples in both social and nonsocial contexts. Takahiko Masuda and his colleagues (2004) in their cartoon figure presentation experiment showed that Japanese people's judgments on the target character's facial expression are more influenced by surrounding faces than those of the Americans, whereas Masuda and Nisbett (2001) concluded from their underwater scenes animated cartoon experiment that Americans are also more likely than Japanese participants to mark references to focal objects (i.e. fish) instead of contexts (i.e. rocks and plants). These discrepancies in the salience of different factors to people from different cultures suggest that Asians tend to attribute behavior to situation while Westerners attribute the same behavior to the actor. Consistently, Morris & Peng (1994) found from their fish behavior attribution experiment that more American than Chinese participants perceive the behavior (e.g. an individual fish swimming in front of a group of fish) as internally rather than externally caused.

One explanation for this difference in attribution lies in the way in which people of different cultural orientation perceive themselves in the environment. Particularly, Markus and Kitayama (1991) mentioned how (individualistic) Westerners tend to see themselves as independent agents and therefore focus more on individual objects rather than contextual details.

To apply this information to your specific comparison between England and Brazil, consider the following:

  • Brazilian culture is fairly moderate in terms of individualism vs. collectivism.
    • Tu, Lin, & Chang (2011) found India more individualistic, China more collectivistic, and Russia roughly equivalent to Brazilian culture in terms of individualism/collectivism.
  • English culture is highly individualistic (Way & Lieberman, 2010).
    • See the second figure depicting cultural differences in individualism/collectivism in this answer
    • Way and Lieberman found English culture more individualistic than Russian and Indian culture.
    • However, Way and Lieberman found Indian culture less individualistic than Russian culture.

Therefore the contrast between American and Chinese culture – which is a contrast between extremes of individualism and collectivism, respectively – applies to a lesser extent when contrasting England and Brazil. This contrast points in the direction your friend observed: individualistic cultures (including English) attribute successes and failures to personal factors (including effort) more often than collectivistic cultures, which tend to attribute such outcomes to situational factors (including "luck"). Brazilian culture isn't especially collectivistic, but it is probably less strongly individualistic than English culture.

It's very cool that your friend could pick up on these cultural differences in attributional tendencies among Olympics commentators! Hopefully that wasn't due to confirmation bias!


- Lagdridge, D., & Butt, T. (2004). The fundamental attribution error: A phenomenological critique. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43(3), 357–369.
- Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–253. Retrieved from the International Association for Chinese Management Research.
- Masuda, T., Ellsworth, P. C., Mesquita, B., Leu, J., & van de Veerdonk, E. (2004). A face in the crowd or a crowd in the face: Japanese and American perceptions of others’ emotions. (Unpublished manuscript). Hokkaido University.
- Masuda, T., & Nisbett, R. E. (2001). Attending holistically versus analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(5), 922–934.
- Miller, J. G. (1984). Culture and the development of everyday social explanation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(5), 961–978. Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/n/x/nxy906/COMPS/indivdualismandcollectivism/culture%20lit/to%20print/Miller1984culturalexplanation.pdf.
- Morris, M. W., & Peng, K. (1994). Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 67(6), 949–971. Retrieved from http://www.southalabama.edu/psychology/gordon/EmotionCulture%281994%29MorrisPeng.pdf.
- Tu, Y. T., Lin, S. Y., & Chang, Y. Y. (2011). A cross-cultural comparison by individualism/collectivism among Brazil, Russia, India and China. International Business Research, 4(2), 175–182. Retrieved from http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ibr/article/viewFile/10019/7136.
- Way, B. M., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). Is there a genetic contribution to cultural differences? Collectivism, individualism and genetic markers of social sensitivity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(2–3), 203–211. Retrieved from http://www.replicatedtypo.com/science/genetic-components-and-cultural-differences-the-social-sensitivity-hypothesis/1620/.

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