Cultural Differences Affect Decision-Making, Study Finds

April 28, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A new study of Japanese and American business students found striking differences in how students from the two countries approached a decision-making task.

Researchers compared how students from the two countries used a computer software program that helped them choose from a variety of compact cars to buy.

The results suggest that cultural differences between the two countries affected how the students used the software to make their decisions. For example, the findings indicated that Japanese students used a more intuitive process to make decisions, while the Americans relied more on "number-crunching" and careful information processing.

"This goes against the popular view that the Japanese are more mathematically oriented and systematic than Americans," said Eric Spires, associate professor of accounting at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

"We think the results show the importance of culture in influencing how people make decisions," he said. "The results could have important implications in our global economy where companies may operate in many different countries."

Spires conducted the study with P.C. Chu, an associate professor of management information systems at Ohio State's Fisher College, and Toshiyuki Sueyoshi of the Science University of Tokyo in Japan. The results were published in a recent issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

The study involved 39 undergraduate seniors at a university in Japan, and 30 undergraduate seniors at an American university.

Each of the participants used a specially designed software package that simulated the purchase of a compact automobile. The program offered a selection of 12 cars.

Each car was rated on price and seven other attributes, including safety, acceleration, styling and reliability. The ratings differed by attribute. Safety, for example, had three levels: good, average or poor. Acceleration had five levels ranging from very fast to very slow. The ratings on the computer were available both as text (i.e., good or bad) or as numerical values (i.e., 1 or 3 on a 5-point scale).

In some cases, the participants were also able to use special software features, called decision aids, that were designed to help decision making. For example, one decision aid sorted all the cars in order (from best to worst) based on a specific attribute, such as safety.

Participants could take as much time as they wanted and could base their final decision on any attributes they wished. What interested the researchers was how they made their choices and which decision aids they did or didn't use.

The computers automatically recorded how the participants used the software.

The results suggested that American students were more likely to use what is called a compensatory decision process -- one in which they weighed all the attributes of all the cars, compared the different combinations, and came up with the "best" alternative. In this method, a low score on one important attribute could be "compensated" for by a high score on another important attribute.

Japanese students used a more intuitive process in which they based their decision on the attributes that appealed to them, without comparing as much across the different attributes.

One indication of the different decision processes was the fact that Americans were more likely to use the numeric ratings of the car attributes than were the Japanese students. "If you want to make comparisons of several different cars on several different attributes, it is much easier using numbers than text," Chu said.

"All of these results point to the conclusion that Japanese individuals are less likely to use compensatory decision processes than Americans," Chu said. "The best explanation is that cultural differences affect how we make decisions."

The intuitive nature of the Japanese was one cultural difference that the researchers believe influenced decision making. Another cultural difference is a Japanese tendency to avoid conflict. The Americans used a decision process where they essentially pitted one attribute against another to determine which was more important. "This involved a conflict-confronting thought process that is contrary to Japanese culture," Spires said.

The results of this study may have implications for global business, according to the researchers.

"An international company can't assume that the decision processes that work for managers in America are automatically going to be useful for their managers in Japan," Spires said. Cultural differences also make it difficult to make world-wide standards in fields like accounting, where people from different countries may have different ways of doing work, he said.
Additional Contact:

Eric Spires, 614-292-4422;

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457;

Ohio State University

Related Decision Making Articles from Brightsurf:

Knowing the model you can trust - the key to better decision-making
As much of Europe is engulfed by a second wave of Covid-19, and track and trace struggles to meet demand, modelling support tools are being increasingly used by policymakers to make key decisions.

Happy endings trip up the brain's decision-making
The brain keeps track of the value of an experience as well as how it unfolds over time; overemphasizing the ending may trigger poor decision-making, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

Automatic decision-making prevents us harming others - new study
The processes our brains use to avoid harming other people are automatic and reflexive - and quite different from those used when avoiding harm to ourselves, according to new research.

Mapping the decision-making pathways in the brain
Scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have identified a new area of the brain that could be involved in cost-benefit decision-making.

How the brain's internal states affect decision-making
By recording the activity of separate populations of neurons simultaneously, researchers have gained an unprecedented insight into how the 'waxing and waning' of our mental state influences the decisions we make.

Motherhood overrides the brain's decision-making
Motherhood takes over the brain's decision-making regions to prioritize caring for offspring, according to new research in rats published in eNeuro.

Get it over with, or procrastinate? New research explores our decision-making process
New research from the UBC Sauder School of Business may have figured out why.

Illuminating interactions between decision-making and the environment
Employing a game theory model, University of Pennsylvania researchers demonstrate how strategic decisions influence the environment in which those decisions are made, alterations which in turn influence strategy.

Lung cancer screening decision aid delivered through tobacco quitlines improves informed decision-making
Researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have shown that a decision aid delivered through tobacco quitlines effectively reaches a screening-eligible population and results in informed decisions about lung cancer screening.

A molecular map of the brain's decision-making area
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have come one step closer toward understanding how the part of our brain that is central for decision-making and the development of addiction is organized on a molecular level.

Read More: Decision Making News and Decision Making Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to