Culture and problem-solving: Congruency between the cultural mindset of individualism versus collectivism and problem type

Sharon Arieli*, Lilach Sagiv

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


This research investigates how the cultural mindset influences problem-solving. Drawing on the notion that cultural mindset influences the cognitive process individuals bring to bear at the moment of judgment, we propose that the congruency between the cultural mindset (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and problem type (rule-based vs. context-based) affects success in problem-solving. In 7 studies we incorporated the traditional approach to studying the impact of culture (i.e., comparing cultural groups) with contemporary approaches viewing cultural differences in a more dynamic and malleable manner. We first show that members of an individualistic group (Jewish Americans) perform better on rule-based problems, whereas members of collectivistic groups (ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs from Israel) perform better on context-based problems (Study 1). We then study Arabs in Israel using language (Arabic vs. Hebrew) to prime their collectivistic versus individualistic mindsets (Study 2). As hypothesized, among biculturals (those who internalize both cultures) Arabic facilitated solving context-based problems, whereas Hebrew facilitated solving rule-based problems. We follow up with 5 experiments priming the cultural mindset of individualism versus collectivism, employing various manifestations of the cultural dimension: focusing on the individual versus the collective (Studies 3, 6, and 7); experiencing independence versus interdependence (Study 4); and directing attention to objects versus the context (Studies 5a-b). Finally, we took a meta-analytic approach, showing that the effects found in Studies 3-6 are robust across priming tasks, problems, and samples. Taken together, the differences between cultural groups (Studies 1-2) were recreated when the individualistic/collectivistic cultural mindset was primed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)789-814
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Psychological Association.


  • Cultural mindset
  • Individualism versus collectivism
  • Problem-solving


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