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Does culture influence strategy?

By Tim Sandle     Jul 18, 2014 in Health
People strategize better with those from their own culture and they are poor at predicting the behavior of those from different cultures. This is the outcome of a new study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study tested subjects in India and the U.S. using an online strategy game. Each participant played a game with an online partner that required them to choose from three situations: one with an equal reward for them and the other player (30 cents , 30 cents), or one of two unequal rewards (20 cents, 50 cents or 50 cents, 20 cents). The players had to choose the same outcome or they would both get zero. Most of the players chose the equal option. However, players in India were more likely than the Americans to choose one of the unequal rewards.
The results showed that Indian players could usually predict that other Indian players would choose an unequal reward, they incorrectly expected the same of the American players. Similarly, Americans expected their Indian counterparts to play like the Americans did.
The outcome of the study was that people generally prefer to interact with those who have similar backgrounds: a phenomenon known as homophily. This study examined one piece of that puzzle in a highly controlled, low-stakes setting, taking a step closer to understanding the complex ways that societies shape human behavior.
Lead author and economist Matthew O. Jackson (Stanford University and the Santa Fe Institute), a senior fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, said that the results show that players in each country had fundamentally different strategies and different expectations of the other player. Players in India were more likely to choose an unequal option, sometimes even when it left them with less money.
Jackson went onto add: “You realize that if you don’t coordinate you’re going to get zero, and if I think that the other person might be really going for an unequal split I’m willing to settle for the 20. They weren’t necessarily aware of the differences and they would project their own culture onto the other culture. “
From a broader perspective, the researchers suggest that understanding these social norms could help policy makers to understand why countries with similar laws, governments and institutions end up with very different societies and economies.
The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Office Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. The PNAS paper is titled “Culture-dependent strategies in coordination games”.
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