Cultural Frame Switching

Cultural frame switching refers to the process of bicultural or multicultural individuals accessing different culture-specific mental modules or changing their perspective of the world, depending on the language that is used (Hong, Chiu, & Kung, 1997). Research with bicultural individuals has shown that the presence of culture-specific cues can elicit culture-specific, attributions values and personality differences. Benet-Martinez and colleagues (2002) found that Chinese American biculturals displayed more internal attributions when primed with American icons (e.g., Superman), and more external attributions when primed with Chinese icons (e.g., Great Wall) Similarly, Hong Kong Chinese and Chinese Americans generated more collective self-descriptions when their Chinese identity was activated, than did North Americans. In a different study, North Americans and Chinese Americans generated more individual self-descriptions, when their American identity was activated, than did Hong Kong Chinese (Hong, Ip, Chiu, Morris, & Menon, 2001).

Different personality traits were activated among Spanish – English bilinguals when completing a personality questionnaire in English (Ramírez-Esparzaa, Goslinga, Benet-Martínez, Potter & Pennebaker, 2004). Spanish-English speakers scored higher on measures on Extraversion, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness when completing the questionnaire in English.

From a practical standpoint, culturally influenced differences in language and meaning can lead to some interesting encounters, ranging from awkward to informative to disastrous. Words in two different languages that may seem to be exact translations of each other are likely to have different sets of culture-specific conceptual associations. For example, in Taiwan, Pepsi used the slogan “Come Alive with Pepsi” only to later find out that when translated it meant, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead” (Kwintessential Limited, 2012). Another example is the ‘Got Milk? campaign which was very successful in the United States. When this phrase was translated literally into Spanish as “Tienes (Do you have) Leche (milk)?” for use in its Hispanic media debut there were some serious problems. That particular phrase is taken literally in the Hispanic culture to mean, “Are you lactating?” This was definitely not what the advertisers had in mind but underscores the importance of cultural frame switching when engaging bicultural or multicultural individuals.

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Culture and Psychology by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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