Cultural Differences On Group Tasks

Posted on November 17, 2008. Filed under: Academic Publishings, Corporate |


Cox, Taylor H. Sharon A. Lobel, Poppy L. McLeod. Effects of Ethnic Group Cultural Differences on Cooperative and Competitive Behavior on a Group Task. The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1991. Pgs. 827-847.

As much as group-dynamic literature is focused on traditional white Anglo-American men in the workplace, “this study examined the differences or similarities Anglo-Americans, Asian, Hispanic, and Black Americans in behaviors on group tasks. The authors hypothesized that the racial minorities would exhibit more collective and cooperative behaviors than the competitive-individualistic Anglo-Americans.

As alluded to earlier, very little research had been conducted on cultural heterogeneity, resulting in an Anglo-American biased data pool. This data does not accurately reflect the changing population demographics, in which “people of different ethnic backgrounds possess different attitudes, values, and norms that reflect their cultural heritages (828).” Previous research demonstrates that there are two types of cross-cultural dimensions, individualistic and collectivist. Collectivists focus on the betterment of the group and its communal results whereas the individualistic approach sacrifices the group for results. European and European-descent cultures are individualist and Asian, Africans, and Latinos are collectivistic, which led to the first hypothesis.

The first hypothesis, a general expectation, proposes that ethnic differences in approaching group work will alter the group behavior and tasks. Ethnic differences stem from the bicultural differences of being African, Hispanic, or Asian. “Members of predominant minority groups of the United States tend to be bicultural and to have knowledge of Anglo norms as well as the norms of their own ethnic group (830),” in which they accommodate these norms depending on the situation. These norms are learned through their association with the competitive majority-culture and their own cooperative minority-culture. This notion led to testing the idea that as African, Hispanic, and Asian groups gather, they will increase their collective behaviors. In order to test this hypothesis, they used a mixed-motive game from the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a cooperative-competition game.

This game demonstrated that “cooperatively oriented subjects responded in kind to a competitive strategy but readily reverted to cooperative behavior in response to a cooperative strategy even though the payoff matrix for the game provided higher incentives for responding competitively (831),” leading to the second hypothesis; that collective groups are oriented more towards collective work where they expect cooperative behavior and tasks. This also led to hypothesis 2b, stating that diverse groups will increase their cooperative behaviors.

The study tested 136 college graduate and undergraduate students from various majors in the Midwest. It included; 75 Anglo-Americans, 25 Asians, 17 Blacks, and 19 Latinos with a total of 95 men and 41 women, all of which 115 were born in the States. The subjects were randomly assigned to groups, which included the following; “9 had two men and two women, and the other 8 were all men. There were also 8 all-male groups among the Anglos, but only 4 of the remaining 8 groups were balanced on gender (832).” These numbers led to a brief gender analysis on possible effects on group dynamics. Each group is given two choices with ‘numerical payoffs’ for certain combination of choices. Figures 1 and 2 display these results.

Figure 1 displays the payoff matrix, demonstrating that when groups participate in cooperative behaviors, they enjoy a ‘moderate mutual gain,’ whereas a non-cooperative person within a cooperative group runs the risk of a major ‘loss’ versus the competitor. It is also demonstrates that a loss is inevitable when they do not participate in cooperative behaviors. “Two conditions of the game were employed: a no-feedback condition and a cooperative-feedback condition (834).” These conditions were manipulated to invoke participant responses to external conditions. These participants recorded their individual strategies and reasons and then met as a group afterwards.

The results proved both hypotheses to be correct. Under the cooperative-feedback condition, most of the participants assumed that cooperative behaviors will continue throughout the process. “In contrast, the majority (73%) of the reasons given in the no-feedback phase simply related to winning or losing and did not refer to an expectation of cooperation from the other party (836).” Mean scores on individualism-collectivism scale rank racial minorities with the highest score and Anglos with the lowest score, 56.49. Pairwise comparisons revealed that the original hypothesis would be correct. Using the Pairwise analysis demonstrated that African, Latino, and Asian ethnic groups participate in collective-cooperative behaviors at a higher rate than Anglos. Between the different racial groups, they did not differ significantly from one another.

It also demonstrated that Anglos were more competitive in no-feedback and during the competitive-feedback; Anglos gave the most competitive reasons for their answers, showing that Anglos rank significantly higher in competitive responses. Hypothesis 2 was confirmed through this, stating that Anglos again, gave fewer cooperative responses.

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