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Cross-cultural Decision Making

Elke Weber

When asked to delay consumption, people tend to be impatient and discount future rewards more than when offered the chance to accelerate consumption (Loewenstein, 1988). Our previous studies with American participants have supported a constructive-memory explanation (Query Theory) for this asymmetry. Depending on their assigned tasks (acceleration or delay of a gift-certificate), participants queried in memory for support of immediate vs. delayed consumption and the order of their queries affected the number of resulting patient vs. impatient thoughts. We found that proportion of impatient thoughts predicted discounting in both task-conditions and mediated the asymmetry in discounting. However, recent cross-cultural work suggests substantial differences in ways individuals from East Asian and Western cultures construe their environments. Because East-Asians are less dichotomizing in cognitions (see Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001), they may not show a similar tendency to query patient vs. impatient thoughts. Thus, we predict that the previously found asymmetry in discounting may not be observed among East Asians. We are in the process of studying this phenomenon among Chinese-English bilingual students in Hong Kong.

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