The Harm in Harmony: Covert Competition and Ingroup Suspicion in East Asian Cultures
Presenter: Michael Morris, Professor, Columbia University
5101 Tolman Hall
A prominent theme in East-West cultural comparisons is that East Asian social interactions are characterized by harmony. But is this merely the surface? We propose that Easterners compete with ingroup members but tend to do so covertly to avoid risking relationships. Further we propose that, under many conditions, they suspect their peers are up to the same. We investigated this underside of Eastern harmony in five studies using self-report scales, scenarios, and storytelling. Results showed that compared to Westerners, Easterners are more likely to endorse covert tactics in competition situations (Study 1 & 2) and to expect tactics that are covert, and incidentally less ethical and more involving of relationships (Study 3). Easterners’ greater suspicion extends even to overtly friendly peers so long as the context is one that structurally incentivizes competition (Study 4) as opposed to cooperation (Study 5). These group differences in covert competition and ingroup suspicion were largely mediated by perceived relational mobility. We discuss implications for models of cultural differences in social relations, models of conflict resolution strategies (and of culture therein), as well as more general theories of interdependence.