Americans are more interested in themselves than in their boss, unless their boss happens to have a high social standing. Chinese people, on the other hand, show more respect for their boss, regardless of the boss’ social standing.
The findings are of particular interest to companies considering expanding into or doing business with China because they point to significant cultural differences in the workplace.
That’s the conclusion of researchers who examined how white Americans (only Caucasians participated in the study) and Chinese respond to pictures of their boss, suggesting cultural differences in our responses to authority figures.
Unlike people in China, who responded fastest to pictures of their direct supervisor, white Americans responded faster to pictures of their own face than to pictures of their boss, the study found. However, the American tendency toward individualism was less pronounced if the supervisor is considered someone with high social status.
"What constitutes a social threat may differ across cultures," said Sook-Lei Liew, a doctoral student with the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California and lead author of the study. "Americans may be influenced more by one's social status than one's hierarchical position as a boss."
Past research has shown that people respond faster to their own faces than to the faces of others, suggesting "we have a different — and privileged — system for processing ourselves versus others," Liew said.
In other words, we are quicker to react to faces we think are important. Most of the time this is our own face, but certain individuals may interfere with how one thinks of oneself, the researchers said.
"The very concept of a "boss" may be different in different cultures," said Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, assistant professor with the Brain and Creativity Institute. "These findings are particularly salient as globalization increases and, along with it, the prevalence of multicultural collaboration, particularly between East Asian and Western partners."
While Americans did not respond faster to photos of their boss than to themselves, they did respond faster to photos of their boss compared to photos of their peers, suggesting that for Americans, the boss figure is influential in the social arena without directly affecting one's self-concept.
The so-called "boss effect" among people in China was first identified in 2009 by Yina Ma and Shihui Han of Peking University, both authors on this study.
This story was provided by BusinessNewsDaily, a sister site of LiveScience.