Culture as common sense: Perceived consensus vs. personal beliefs as mechanisms of cultural influence

We propose that culture affects people through their perceptions of what is consensually believed. Whereas past research has examined whether cultural differences in social judgment are mediated by differences in individuals’ personal values and beliefs, we investigate whether they are mediated by differences in individuals’ perceptions of the views of people around them. We propose that individuals who perceive that traditional views are culturally consensual (e.g., Chinese participants who believe that most of their fellows hold collectivistic values) will themselves behave and think in culturally typical ways. Four studies of previously well-established cultural differences found that cultural differences were mediated by participants’ perceived consensus as much as by participants’ personal views. This held true for cultural differences in the bases of compliance (Study 1), attributional foci (Study 2), and counterfactual thinking styles (Study 3). To tease apart the effect of consensus perception from other possibly associated individual differences, Study 4 experimentally manipulated which of two cultures was salient to bicultural participants and found that judgments were guided by their perception of the consensual view of the salient culture.
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