A Social Psychological Perspective on the Perceptions of Cultural Differences

  • Katiuscia VaccariniEmail author
  • Francesca SpigarelliEmail author
  • Ernesto TavolettiEmail author
  • Christoph LattemannEmail author


Building on social psychology and international business literature, this chapter aims at raising managers’ awareness on the opportunity to capitalize on cultural differences in cross-cultural business contexts. This work is based on survey data and interviews to European managers investing in China through FDI in the environmental industry. First, this work investigates managers’ perceptions of culture within the multidimensional concept of psychic distance, which is a 12 dimension-based construct. Second, it explores what culture stands for our managers following our findings, which show the relevance of the cultural dimension over the others. Third, we propose and illustrate the sociocognitive value of an intercultural laboratory as a potential “structured business practice” addressed to those early-stage managers who are about to approach the firms’ host country. The failing ethnocentric view is a common perspective adopted by managers in cross-cultural business settings. Therefore, the idea behind this chapter is to help international managers overcome this view and leverage on an inter-individual and collective construction of knowledge, stimulated by the intercultural laboratory activities based on group work. The focus is on “opportunities”—rather than “distances”—generated by cultural diversities. Next to this, enhancing the “dialogue” between different cultures as well as different research areas is a key approach in cross-cultural business settings, not only for managers having different cultural backgrounds but also for scholars belonging to different discipline areas of research.


Social psychology International business Cultural differences Cultural diversity European investment to China FDI Environmental industry Managers’ perceptions Managers’ awareness Psychic distance dimensions Cross-cultural business settings Sociocognity value Intercultural laboratory 


  1. Adler, N. J., & Bartholomew, S. (1992). Academic and professional communities of discourse: Generating knowledge on transnational human resource management. Journal of International Business Studies, 23(3), 551–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adler, N. J., Graham, J. L., & Schwarz Gherke, T. (1987). Business negotiations in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Journal of Business Research, 15(5), 411–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  4. Ambos, B., & Håkanson, L. (2014). The concept of distance in international management research. Journal of International Management, 20(1), 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anolli, L. (2004). Psicologia della cultura. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  6. Arfelli Galli, A. (1997). Didattica interattiva e formazione degli insegnanti. Bologna: Clueb.Google Scholar
  7. Baerveldt, C., & Voestermans, P. (2005). Culture, emotions, and the normative structure of reality. Theory and Psychology, 15(4), 449–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bass, B. M. (1990). Handbook of leadership: A survey of theory and research. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  9. Besemeres, M., & Wierzbicka, A. (Eds.). (2008). Translating lives: Living with two languages and cultures. Queensland: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  10. Billing, M. (1996). Discutere e pensare. Un approccio retorico alla psicologia sociale. Milano: Cortina.Google Scholar
  11. Bion, W. R. (1961). Esperienze nei gruppi. Roma: Armando.Google Scholar
  12. Brewer, M. B. (1979). In-group bias in the minimal intergroup situation: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 86(2), 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brewer, M. B. (1981). Ethnocentrism and its role in intergroup trust. In M. Brewer & B. Collins (Eds.), Scientific inquiry in the social sciences (pp. 214–231). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  14. Brewer, M. B. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55(3), 429–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brewer, M. B. (2003). Intergroup relations. Berkshire: Free University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Brouthers, K. D., & Brouthers, L. E. (2000). Acquisition or greenfield startup? Institutional, cultural and transaction cost influences. Strategic Management Journal, 21(1), 89–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Callari Galli, M. (2004). Cultura e contemporaneità. Nuovi scenari per un concetto compromesso. Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia, 1, 21–37.Google Scholar
  18. Cattaneo, M. (2014). Elogio alla diversità. Le Scienze, 556, 9–9.Google Scholar
  19. Child, J., Rodrigues, S. B., & Frynas, J. G. (2009). Psychic distance, its impact and coping modes: Interpretations of SMEs decision-makers. Management International Review, 49(2), 199–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Coin, R. (2001). Psicologia sociale e interculturale. Milano: Cortina.Google Scholar
  21. Cole, M. (1996). Cutural psychology. A once and future discipline. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Cucino, D., Rodemer, T., & Bouée, C. E. (2013). European chamber of commerce in China, Chinese outbound investment in the European union. Beijing: European Chamber.Google Scholar
  23. Earley, P. C. (2002). Redefining interactions across cultures and organizations: Moving forward with cultural intelligence. Research in Organizational Behavior, 24, 271–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Earley, P. C., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions across cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books.Google Scholar
  25. Earley, C. P., & Mosakowski, E. (2004). Cultural intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 82(10), 139–146.Google Scholar
  26. Evans, J., Treadgold, A., & Mavondo, F. T. (2000). Explaining export development through psychic distance. International Marketing Review, 17(2), 164–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fabietti, U. (1995). L’identità etnica. Roma: Carocci.Google Scholar
  28. Fairclough, N. L. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. Longman: Harlow.Google Scholar
  29. Farr, R. M., & Moscovici, S. (1984). Social representations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Fayollea, A., Basso, O., & Boucharda, V. (2010). Three levels of culture and firms’ entrepreneurial orientation: A research agenda. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 22(7–8), 707–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Grieve, P. G., & Hogg, M. A. (1999). Subjective uncertainty and intergroup discrimination in the minimal group situation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(8), 926–940.Google Scholar
  32. Galli G. (1976). Didattica universitaria e professione: esperienze in una Facoltà umanistica (1964–1966, 1974–1975). Padova: Antenore.Google Scholar
  33. Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York: London Basic Books.Google Scholar
  34. Gertsen, M. C. (1990). Intercultural competence and expatriates. International Journal of Human Resources Management, 11(3), 341–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gillespie, A. (2008). Social representations, alternative representations and semantic barriers. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 38(4), 376–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Guretl, F. (2014). L’equazione dell’inclusione. Scienza e tecnologia sono le principali forze motrici della prosperità sociale. Ma chi riesce ad arrivare al posto di guida? Le Scienze [Italian version of Scientific American], 556, 36–39.Google Scholar
  37. Hannerz, U. (1992). Cultural complexity. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Hannerz, U. (2001). La diversità culturale. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  39. Hanemann, T. (2014, December). The new complexity of Chinese outbound investment. Rhodium Group. Accessed Apr 2017.
  40. Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Hofstede, G. (1994). The business of international business is culture. International Business Review, 3(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hofstede, G. (2001), Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  43. Johanson, J., & Wiedersheim-Paul, F. (1975). The internationalization of the firm—four Swedish cases. Journal of management studies, 12(3), 305–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Johanson, J., & Vahlne, E. (1977). The internationalization process of the firm: A model of knowledge development and increasing foreign market commitments. Journal of International Business Studies, 8, 23–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Johanson, J., & Vahlne, J. E. (2009). The uppsala internationalization process model revisited—From liability of foreignness to liability of outsidership. Journal of International Business Studies, 40, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Johnson, J. P., Lenartowicz, T., & Apud, S. (2006). Cross-cultural competence in international business: Toward a definition and a model. Journal of International Business Studies, 37(4), 525–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Khanna, T. (2014). Contextual intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 92(9), 58–68.Google Scholar
  48. Kluckhohn, C., & Kroeber, A. (1963). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  49. Kogut, B., & Singh, H. (1988). The effect of national culture on the choice of entry mode. Journal of International Business Studies, 19, 411–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lai, G. (1973). Gruppi di apprendimento. Torino: Boringhieri.Google Scholar
  51. LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H. L. K., & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: Evidence and theory. Psychological Bulletin, 114(3), 395–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lanternari, V. (1983). L’ “incivilimento dei barbari”: Problemi di etnocentrismo e d’identità. Bari: Dedalo.Google Scholar
  53. Leiba-O’Sullivan, S. (1999). The distinction between stable and dynamic cross-cultural competencies: Implications for expatriate training. Journal of International Business Studies, 30(4), 709–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lewin (1951). In D. Cartwright (ed.), Field theory in social science: Selected theoretical papers by Kurt Lewin. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  55. Loyd, D. L., Wang, C. S., Phillips, K. W., & Lount, R. B. (2013). Social category diversity promotes premeeting elaboration: The role of relationship focus. Organization Science, 24(3), 757–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mantovani, G. (1998). L’elefante invisibile: Tra negoziazione e affermazione delle diversità. Scontri e incontri multiculturali. Firenze: Giunti.Google Scholar
  57. Mantovani, G. (2006). Il difficile riconoscimento delle differenze. La necessità di una scelta tra due concezioni incompatibili della cultura. Psicologia Sociale, 2, 223–232.Google Scholar
  58. Mantovani, G. (2007). Dalla psicologia culturale alla prospettiva interculturale. In B. Mazzara (Ed.), Prospettive di psicologia culturale (pp. 57–76). Roma: Carocci.Google Scholar
  59. Moscovici, S. (1976). Social influence and social change. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  60. Moscovici, S. (1988). Notes towards a description of social representations. Journal of European Social Psychology, 18(3), 211–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Moscovici S., & Doise W. (1991). Dissensi e consensi. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  62. Mugny, G., & Carugati, F. (Eds.). (1987). Psicologia sociale dello sviluppo cognitivo. Firenze: Giunti-Barbera.Google Scholar
  63. Nicolini P., & Pojaghi B. (2000). Sentimenti, pensieri e pregiudizi nella relazione interpersonale: Il bambino e la conoscenza dell’Altro. Milan: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  64. Novara, D. (1996). L’arte del conflitto per una pedagogia della pace. In conference proceedings, Scuola di pace “Vincenzo Buccelletti”, Senigallia , Italy, March 1996, 17.Google Scholar
  65. Ozawa, T. (1979). International investment and industrial structure: New theoretical implications from the Japanese experience. Oxford Economic Papers, 31(1), 72–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Phillips, K. W. (2014). Come funziona la diversità. Le Scienze [Italian version of Scientific American], 556, 41–45.Google Scholar
  67. Plaut, V. (2014). Aprire le porte a tutti. Le Scienze [Italian version of Scientific American], 556, 50–55.Google Scholar
  68. Pojaghi, B. (2000a). Metacognizione e costruzione sociale della conoscenza. In R. Vianello & M. Tortello (Eds.), Esperienze di apprendimento cooperativo (pp. 123–133). Bergamo: Junior.Google Scholar
  69. Pojaghi, B. (2000b). Il gruppo come strumento di formazione complessa. Il farsi e il disfarsi delle idee. Milano: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  70. Pojaghi, B. (2002). Sperimentare la costruzione sociale della conoscenza nei piccoli gruppi. In Atti III Biennale internazionale della didattica universitaria (pp. 135–148). Lecce: Pensa Multimedia.Google Scholar
  71. Pojaghi, B. (2008). Il gruppo di formazione. In S. Porcu (Ed.), Salute e malattia. Mutamento socio-culturale e trasformazioni organizzative dei servizi alla persona (pp. 153–169). Milano: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  72. Pojaghi, B., & Fermani, A. (2006). La costruzione sociale della conoscenza nella didattica universitaria. In B. Pojaghi & P. Nicolini, (Eds.), Il rispetto dell’altro nella formazione e nell’insegnamento. Scritti in onore di Anna Arfelli Galli (pp. 43–62). Macerata: Eum.Google Scholar
  73. Pontecorvo, C., Ajello, A. M., & Zucchermaglio, C. (1991). Discutendo si impara. Roma: NIS.Google Scholar
  74. Quaglino, G. P., Casagrande, S., & Castellano, A. (1992). Gruppo di lavoro, lavoro di gruppo. Milano: Raffaello Cortina.Google Scholar
  75. Quer, D., Claver, E., & Rienda, L. (2012). Political risk, cultural distance, and outward foreign direct investment: Empirical evidence from large Chinese firms. Asia Pacific journal of management, 29(4), 1089–1104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rottig, D., & Reus, T. H. (2009). Institutional distance, organizational legitimacy, and the performance of foreign acquisitions in the United States. In Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings, (pp. 1–6).Google Scholar
  77. Sciortino, G. (2003). From homogeneity to difference? Comparing multiculturalism as a description and as a field from claim-making. Comparative Social Research, 22, 263–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Shapiro, J. M., Ozanne, J. L., & Saatcioglu, B. (2008). An interpretive examination of the development of cultural sensitivity in international business. Journal of International Business Studies, 39(1), 71–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Shenkar, O. (2001). Cultural distance revisited: Towards a more rigorous conceptualization and measurement of cultural differences. Journal of International Business Studies, 32, 519–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sherif, M. (1966). In common predicament, Social psychology of intergroup conflict and cooperation. New York: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  81. Sherif, M., & Sherif, C. W. (1953). Groups in harmony and tension: An integration of studies on intergroup relations. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  82. Sousa, C. M., & Bradley, F. (2006). Cultural distance and psychic distance: Two peas in a pod? Journal of International Marketing, 14(1), 49–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Spigarelli, F. (2010). Chinese investments in Italy: Is the wave arriving? International Journal of Asian Business and Information Management, 1(1), 54–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Stevens, F. G., Plaut, V. C., & Sanchez-Burks, J. (2008). Unlocking the benefits of diversity: All-inclusive multiculturalism and positive organizational change. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science. 4, 116–133.Google Scholar
  85. Stolcke, V. (2000). Le nuove frontiere e le nuove retoriche culturali della esclusione in Europa. In S. Mezzadra, A. Petrillo (Eds.), I confini della globalizzazione: lavoro, culture, cittadinanza. Roma: Manifestolibri.Google Scholar
  86. Stöttinger, B., & Schlegelmilch, B. B. (2000). Psychic distance: A concept past its due date? International Marketing Review, 17(2), 169–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sumner, W. G. (1906). Folksways. New York: Ginn.Google Scholar
  88. Tajfel, H. (1969). Cognitive aspects of prejudice. Journal of Social Issues, 25, 79–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Tajfel, H. (1981). Human groups and social categories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  90. Tajfel, H., & Wilkes, A. L. (1963). Classification and quantitative judgment. British Journal of Psychology, 54, 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., & Bundy, R. P. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Teerikangas, S., & Very, P. (2012). Culture in mergers and acquisitions: A critical synthesis and steps forward. In D. Faulkner, S. Teerikangas, & R. J. Joseph (Eds.), The handbook of mergers and acquisitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  93. Thompson, C. J. (2002). A re-inquiry on re-inquiries: A postmodern proposal for a critical-reflexive approach. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 142–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  95. Turner, J. C. (1975). Social comparison and social identity: Some prospects for intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 5, 5–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. UNCTAD. (2017, January 28). Global investment trends monitor (No. 15). New York: United Nations.Google Scholar
  97. Van Dijk, T. A. (1993). Principles of critical discourse analysis. Discourse and Society, 4(2), 249–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Van Dijk, T. A. (2008). Context. Towards a multidisciplinary theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Von Glinow, M. A., Shapiro, D. L., & Brett, J. M. (2004). Can we talk, and should we? Managing emotional conflict in multicultural teams. Academy of Management Review, 29(4), 578–592.Google Scholar
  100. Vygotskij, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  101. Vygostkij, L. S. (1934). Pensiero e linguaggio. Bari: Laterza.Google Scholar
  102. Williams, D. W., & Grégoire, D. A. (2015). Seeking commonalities or avoiding differences? Re-conceptualizing distance and its effects on internationalization decisions. Journal of International Business Studies, 46(3), 253–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Yoshino, M. Y. (1976). Japan’s multinational enterprises. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Zaheer, S., Schomaker, M. S., & Nachum, L. (2012). Distance without direction: Restoring credibility to a much-loved construct. Journal of International Business Studies, 43, 18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Free University of Bozen-BolzanoBolzanoItaly
  2. 2.University of MacerataMacerataItaly
  3. 3.University of MacerataMacerataItaly
  4. 4.Jacobs UniversityBremenGermany

Personalised recommendations