Mar 29, 2014

The Culture Variable in the Influence Equation

The Public Diplomacy Handbook, published by Routledge 2008.

Primacy-of-culture perspectives emphasize culture as the dominant variable in cross-cultural influence. Some observers believe that cognition, judgment, and influence processes are unique within cultures, and that Western influence research can not supply useful tools for other cultures. 

The primacy-of-culture perspective calls for an increasing emphasis on culture, for cultural experts as campaign managers, and for the creation of indigenous canons of psychological research, as necessary to the successful exercise of intercultural influence. This paper offers a dissenting view, and calls for a rebalancing of the influence equation where culture is considered one important variable among many. Evidence is presented of persistent over-attribution to culture, of common human cognition, of universal influence tactics, and of successful influence campaigns conducted by agents who are neither indigenous nor cultural experts. One section is devoted to universals that masquerade as cultural specifics, and another to intercultural replications of classic Western influence research. This paper posits that a closer focus on culture implies a further reduction of attention to other important elements of the influence equation, particularly universals, environmental inducements and constraints, and group variables other than culture. It questions whether redoubling the effort on cultural understanding will continue to yield more successful cross-cultural influence, or whether an approach incorporating more balanced paradigms from influence psychology will ultimately prove more effective. The paper concludes with five generalities regarding the role of culture in the influence equation.