The proposed research will examine how different ‘national cultures’ affect ‘cultural attitudes’ in upper-
level undergraduate college students. National cultures will be operationalized primarily in terms of
national languages; while cultural attitudes will be operationalized in terms of authoritarian, ethnic,
and nationalist/patriotic responses to a questionnaire (see Appendix). In a 3x4 factorial design, native
participants from 3 national cultures (German, Mexican, and American) will be randomly assigned to 4
testing conditions (language prompt, non-verbal native cultural prompt, national identity/heritage
prompt, and a control group), in order to gauge differences in the 12 subgroup’s responses to the
questionnaire’s authoritarian, ethnic, and nationalist/patriotic constructs. Results from the 12 groups
might lead to clearer inferences about how the primary language and cultural symbols of a society
affect the values and beliefs of its citizens, in terms of authoritarian attitudes, ethnicist (ethnocentric)
attitudes, and overall national identity salience among its citizens.
Speculation as to how language and cultural heritage affects how people think is as old (and almost
as controversial) as the historical profession itself. History, however, does not lend itself to the
scientific method, and often has no pretenses of objectivity, in contrast to the more recent
professions of sociology and moreover psychology. The psychologist’s methodology is relatively new
to examining (what used to be the Humanities’) questions about language and culture.
Psychologists today most often turn to Altemeyer’s (1996) “Right-Wing Authoritarian” (RWA) Scale
in gauging authoritarian attitudes. There are a number of problems with this, chiefly the RWA’s
conflation of authoritarianism (rigidity and forcefulness) with ethnicity (love of one’s own ethnic group,
to the exclusion of and discrimination against others). Altemeyer even defines ‘authoritarian’ people
as the most ethnocentric and prejudiced persons in society, unsupportive of equality (Altemeyer,
2004, p. 421). While this may be generally true, it identifies the RWA as an inadequately precise tool
for gauging distinct attitudes. Leathe Allard found RWA scores to correlate positively with the Social
Group Attachment Scale’s Anxiety subscale, group social status, religiosity, Asian ethnicity,
"Preps/Jocks" group membership, and lower parental educational attainment (Allard, 2005, p. 6699).
Can such a breadth of findings have any practical utility?
The RWA is also (and increasingly; the original version was from 1980) riddled with what appear to
look more like measures of political conservatism, than measures of authoritarianism (Feldman, 2003,
pp. 44-45). Such ‘political correctness’ is not likely to translate well beyond the cultural and political
assumptions of the society of its origin (the RWA is from Canada). Indeed, German authors were
recently motivated to create a new authoritarian measure- one less confounded by political ideology,
in their recognition that authoritarianism plays a role in so-called left-wing groups as well (Stellmacher
& Petzel, 2005). While their resultant “group authoritarianism” scale does succeed in covering both
sides of the contemporary Western political spectrum, it still, however, fails to distinguish ethnicity
attitudes from authoritarian attitudes. Authority items on the questionnaire (see Appendix) currently
reflect attitudes of force and rigidity. Volitional or civil attitudes are the inverse.
Ethnicity is all-too-often a fuzzy concept, often taken for granted or assumed (Gjerde & Onishi,
2000, pp. 289-290). Much of the vagueness is due to its subjectivity- ethnicity in the modern sense is
typically a fluid mental construct, as irrelevant or salient as one chooses to make it. The vagueness
also comes from whether ethnic groups are defined primarily on the basis of physical/ascribed
characteristics and ‘race’, or are based upon more culturally fluid constructs like religion, language,
or dialect. Nonetheless, ethnicity is often a salient identity that still makes a real difference in even the
most basic perceptions, as recent empirical studies on ethnic identity and pain sensitivity have shown
(Rahim-Williams, et. al, 2006, p. 177).
Psychologists’ most popular tools for gauging ethnic attitudes are Phinney’s (1992) Multigroup
Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), and Vandiver’s (2000) Cross Racial Identity Scale (CRIS). These are
not as widely known as the RWA, although it has been shown that the MEIM negatively correlates with
attitudes of assimilation and self-hatred (Worrell & Gardner-Kitt, 2006, p. 296)- which appear to be a
good two-dimensional conception of ethnic salience. The questionnaire will employ a few questions
inspired or adapted from each of these three scales. One problem with the MEIM, however, is that it
has (to date) only been cross validated with adolescent participants- although ethnic identities are still
in the process of developing during that life phase (Avery, et. al, 2007, p. 877). In order to avoid this,
the questionnaire will be targeted to upper-division college students, and will specifically preclude
those under age 20. Ethnicity items on the questionnaire currently reflect a balance of both ascribed
and achieved concepts of the term. Non-discriminatory and assimilationist attitudes are the inverse.
The construct of national identity is typically gauged with independent, as opposed to standardized,
surveys. One exception, however, is the International Social Survey Programme’s National Identity
questionnaire (Diez-Medrano, et. al, 2002), from which I borrow or modify a number of questions. The
phenomenon of nationality (nation formation) in our species has been generally understood over at
least the past half-century in terms of an ethnic-civic dichotomy- ‘ethnic’ nations are formed by blood
or ancestral ties (such as in Germany and Japan), whereas ‘civic’ nations are formed simply by
territorial residence, without ethnic qualifications (White, 2006). National identity items on the
questionnaire currently do not preference either the ‘ethnic’ or ‘civic’ definitions of the term; but simply
one’s identification with and pride in their native country. Apathetic attitudes towards society are the
The questionnaire also includes items related to parenting styles, as they are clearly important and
influential reflections of a national culture. For example, recent studies have found that adolescents
who perceive their parents as ‘authoritarian’ show the least behavioral autonomy of any of the four
parenting styles (Musaagaoglu, et. al, 2005, p. 79)- thus perpetuating an authoritarian culture via
observational learning. Likewise, permissive parenting of kids appears to correlate negatively with
authoritarianism in adults (Manuel, 2006, p. 193).
The current questionnaire also contains an additional, fourth construct- civic attitudes. While civil
and civic are generally well-understood terms, I am not aware of any standardized questionnaire for
gauging such attitudes (of volition and public conscientiousness). The current civic attitude items are
designed to measure the above, but I also believe that they are likely to have a very high negative
correlation with the authoritarian items. I would like to run a pilot to test the civic items’ covariance with
the authoritarian items. In theory, civicness is the lack (inverse) of both authoritarian and ethnicist
(discriminatory) attitudes. I suspect, however, that these civic items may (negatively) correlate highly
enough with authoritarianism for the two constructs to be collapsed into one.
In addition to the 3 classifications (German, Mexican, American) and 3 constructs (authoritarianism,
ethnicity, and national identity), the participants should be randomly assigned to 4 experimental
conditions- 1) language cultural prompt, 2) non-verbal cultural prompt, 3) national identity cultural
prompt, and 4) control group (no cultural prompt).
Psychologist Lera Boroditsky has conducted much research concerning language’s effect on
cognition. For example, a concept as basic at time- whether one thinks about it horizontally, as do
Americans; or vertically, as do Chinese- is closely related to how old Chinese-Americans were when
they first learned English (Boroditsky, 2001). She has also found that patterns of grammar can
change people’s ways of thinking, however arbitrary or otherwise meaningless the grammatical
distinction (Boroditsky, et. al, 2003, 61).
Grammar matters because it is the main structure of languages, and languages are- arguably- the
primary structures of culture. It is not within the scope of this paper to review the struggles of the
Sapir-Whorf thesis (that language shapes thought) versus Chomskyite ‘relativists’ (it doesn’t). The
nearly century-long controversy may been recently resolved, however, by simply awarding each side
half the brain. A recent carefully conducted experiment found that the left brain does indeed tend to
perceive the visual world through the lens of its primary language; whereas the (more creative;
nonverbal) right brain does not (Gilbert, et. al, 2006, p. 489).
Grammatical gender is one of the ways in which language systems can structure thought. Romance
languages, like Spanish, and also Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages have what I term dualist
gendered grammar- every noun must be assigned a male or female gender. These genders must
then agree with pronouns, articles, and modifiers, etc. that are also marked for gender. Gendered
grammar as such is almost entirely unique to the Indo-European macro family of languages.
Nearly all Germanic and Slavic language families (Indo-European) also have concordial gender-
with articles and modifiers, etc. which must agree with the gender of the noun. These languages’
gendered grammar has an additional neuter category, however. So these grammars can be called
tri-gendered nature, as opposed to dualist. English is a Germanic language and at one time had tri-
gendered grammar. Over the course of many invasions and adaptations through the early medieval
era, however, English dropped not only the neuter (as did the Romance languages; Latin was tri-
gendered), but also nearly all gendered nouns altogether. Modern English (with a small number of
exceptions) has only referential (natural) gender, in third person pronouns (he, she, it) (Corbett,
1991, p. 5; 2005, passim). This is also sometimes referred to as pronominal gender (i.e. for pronouns
So German has 3-gendered grammar, Spanish has 2-gendered grammar, and English is closer to
null-gendered grammar, but keeps a vestige of the Germanic system with third person pronouns.
Does this- or other matters of national culture- make a difference in people’s attitudes?
According to Sera, et. al (2002, p. 377), native Spanish and French speakers (dualist gendered
grammar) showed significantly more signs of gender effecting the classifications of nouns than did
German speakers. Perhaps this is because German has not as many grammatical categories marked
for gender as does Spanish (p. 379); with English having fewer still. The team concluded that “a
grammatical gender system with only two gender categories, and with a high correlation between
grammatical and natural gender, leads to overgeneralization of masculine and feminine traits to
inanimate objects” (p. 394).
Could some dualist gendered grammar languages’ ‘overgeneralization of masculine and feminine
traits’ lead to greater authoritarian attitudes in such societies? This is one of six hypotheses to be test
from the survey results:
I. Mexican students (Ss) will score higher on Authoritarian/submissive attitudes.
II. German Ss will score higher on Ethnicity/discrimination attitudes.
III. American Ss will score higher on National Identity/patriotism salience.
IV. National identity salience will correlate positively with ‘Civic’ attitudes; and will correlate
' strongly inverse with Authoritarian/submissive attitudes; and less highly inverse with Ethnicity.
V. Ethnicity and Authoritarianism will not strongly correlate.
VI. Any/all of the 3 cultural prompts (condition2) will increase or exaggerate national tendencies
' in questionnaire results (i.e.- experimental groups will have more nationally salient results than
' the control group, in each of the 3 language categories).
No prior study that I am aware of has attempted to de-couple the construct of ethnicity from the
construct of authoritarianism; or to combine these two constructs with national identity in order to
create a new tool of social measurement.
Experimental Design and Methods
Three different groups of native language speakers (English, Spanish, and German- 120 each) will
be recruited from upper-division undergraduate (and perhaps some graduate, if under 26) college
students at a large American university (or universities). The participants must be controlled for
gender (45%-55% ratio acceptable), in addition to age (20-25). An alternative would be to recruit
from among foreign tourists. This would have the advantage of an older (and thus more cultured)
sample; but controlling for demographics would be considerably more difficult.
Each of the 3 language categories will be randomly divided among 4 sub-groups of differing ‘national
A) language prompt group- all students (Ss) take the same questionnaire in their own native
' language, with no special questions or testing environment.
B) non-verbal prompts group- all Ss take the same questionnaire in English, with no
' special questions; but are presented with numerous ‘national culture’ prompts at the
' testing center- including being greeted and instructed by a proctor of their own nationality,
' native food, drinks and soft background music; in addition to native country arts, knick-knacks,
' and other ‘realia’ (posters, souvenirs, postcards- visual prompts).
C) written prompt group- all Ss take the same questionnaire in English, with standard
' testing environment; but are asked to write a short essay (1 page): “What I recall liking best
' about my country” (a poss. alt. to this could be adding or replacing 8 questions to the
' questionnaire, regarding specific national/patriotic/historical/cultural type questions).
D) the control group- all Ss take the same questionnaire in English, with no special
' questions or testing environment.
' 3 national cultures (120 participants from each):
' USA (English) Mexico (Spanish) Germany (German)
4 groups: A. No prompt [ 30 [ 30 [ 30
' (English quest.) [ [ [__________________
' B. Lang. prompt [ 30 [ 30 [ 30
' (nat. lang. quest.)[ [ [_________________
' C. NC nonverbal [ 30 [ 30 [ 30
' prompts/env’t. [ [ [_________________
' D. NC written [ 30 [ 30 [ 30
' prompt/quests.[ [ [_________________
' 360 total
Authoritarianism- a form of social control characterized by strict, unquestioned obedience
to prevailing authority; intolerance of free debate, and/or expecting others to act without
volition or reasoned decision.
Ethnicity- affiliation resulting from presumed genetic or cultural ties (language, religion,
cuisine, etc.); salience typically varies vis-à-vis consciousness of other/rival ethnic group
NC- national culture
Most items on the questionnaire are adapted modifications from the various scales listed above.
Those that are taken verbatim from a scale are referenced. A number of the questions are also
original. To ensure that all constructs factor together, a pilot factor analysis should be conducted,
ensuring that each item factors to a single construct on multiple-regression analysis. Items that do not
will be deleted. This is expected to reduce the number of items. The questionnaire below (currently 39
items) should ideally take about 35-45 minutes to complete.
Results will be tabulated as follows for each of the 3 primary constructs (authoritarianism, ethnicity,
and national identity)::
10 questions x (1-5 points each) = 10-50 points total (for each construct). We will see how each of the
12 subgroups (of the 3x4 factorial) differ in their Authoritarian and Ethnic scores; as well as in the
overall salience of their National Identity, as self-reported.
The relevance of the results for each subgroup is contingent upon the results from the other
subgroups, and should be replicated in further studies to have salience.
Allard, L. (2005). Self-perceived threats to social identity as predictors of right-wing
authoritarianism, Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and
Engineering 65 (12-B), 6699.
Altemeyer, R. (1996). The authoritarian specter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Altemeyer, B. (2004). Highly dominating, highly authoritarian personalities, Journal of Social
Psychology 144 (4), 421-447.
Avery, Derek R.; Tonidandel, S.; Thomas, K.; Johnson, C.; Mack, D. (2007). Assessing the
multigroup ethnic identity measure for measurement equivalence across racial and ethnic
groups, Educational & Psychological Measurement 67 (5), 877-888
Boroditsky, L.; Scmidt, L.; Phillips, W. (2003). Sex, syntax and semantics. In Language in mind:
Advances in the study of language and thought (pp. 61-79). Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’
conceptions of time, Cognitive Psychology 43 (1), 1-22.
Corbett, G. (1991). Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Corbett, G. (2005). Number of genders. In Martin Haspelmath, et al., (Eds.). The world
atlas of language structures (pp. 126-129). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Feldman, Stanley (2003). Enforcing social conformity: A theory of authoritarianism Political
Psychology, 24 (1), 41-74.
Gilbert, A.; Regier, T.; Kay, P.; & Ivry, R. (2006). Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual
field but not the left, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
America 103 (2), 489-494.
Gjerde, P. & Onishi, M. (2000). In search of theory: The study of “ethnic groups” in developmental
psychology, Journal of Research on Adolescence 10 (3), 289-298.
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authoritarianism in South Africa, South African Journal of Psychology 36 (3), 500-520.
Diez-Medrano, J. ,et al. (2002). ISSP-2003: National Identity, International Social Survey
Manuel, L. (2006). Relationship of personal authoritarianism with parenting styles, Psychological
Reports 98 (1), 193-198.
Musaagaoglu, C. & Güre, A. (2005). Ergenlerde davranissal özerklik ile algilanan ana-baba
tutumlari arasindaki Iliskiler (Relationships between adolescent behavioral autonomy and
parenting styles), Türk Psikoloji Dergisi 20 (55), 79-98.
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identity predicts experimental pain sensitivity in African Americans and Hispanics, Pain 129
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affects cognition and when it does not: An analysis of grammatical gender and classification,
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (131), 377–397.
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26 (2), 245-274.
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Please indicate whether you- Strongly Disagree, Mostly Disagree, Neither Agree or Disagree, Mostly
Agree, or Strongly Agree- with the following statements.
All national, political, or cultural questions refer to your native country of citizenship.
1. E. I believe there’s only one human race.
2. NI. I love my country and sometimes find it annoying when other people don’t.
3. A. What our country really needs, instead of more ‘civil rights’, is a good stiff dose of law and order.
4. C. It is more important to give people control over their lives than to create additional laws and
5. A2. It is always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and religion,
' than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers who are trying to create doubt in people’s minds.
6. E2. Some ethnic groups are better than other ethnic groups.
7. C2. It may well be that children who talk back to their parents respect them more in the long run.
8. NI2. Sometimes I am put off by the fact that I am from (Germany, Mexico, the USA).
' (alt.) Sometimes I am annoyed at the fact that I am a (national).
9. C3- People should be given the opportunity to hear all sides of a question, regardless of how
' controversial it is.
10. E3- I hope that the language, religion, and culture of my childrens' family/families is the same as
11. NI3- I strongly identify with (nation) and (national) values.
12. A3- The sooner we get rid of the traditional family structure, where the father is the head of the
' family and the children are taught to obey authority automatically, the better.
13. A4- Instructions of group leaders should be obeyed under all circumstances.
14. E4- I do not so much belong to an ethnic group, as I am a (German, Mexican, US) citizen.
' (alt.) I am not so much a member of an ethnic group, as I am a/an ___________.
15. NI4- My nationality is a good part of my character and personality.
' (alt.) Being from ______ reflects some of the best parts of my character and personality.
16. E5- I prefer friends of my own ethnicity.
17. C4- In the long run, our cultural and ideological differences will make us a healthier, more
' creative, and stronger society.
18. A5- Society is often on the verge of disorder and lawlessness and only strict laws can prevent it.
19. NI5- International organizations are taking away too much power from the _________ government.
' (alt.) In general, _________ should follow the decisions of international organizations to which it
' belongs, even if the government does not agree with them.
20. C5- Our society needs free thinkers who will have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this
' upsets people.
21. E6- Immigrants improve society by bringing in new ideas and cultures.
22. A6- Group or national leaders must be obeyed even if one thinks they are wrong.
23. NI6- The world would be a better place if people from other countries were more like
24. C6- Government authority flows from the consent of the people.
25. A7- A strong head of executive government is best.
26. NI7- Generally speaking, __________ is a better country than most other countries.
27. E7- It is better for society if groups maintain their distinct customs and traditions.
' (alt.) Increased exposure to foreign films, music, and books is damaging our national and local
28. C7- A government should have soundly institutionalized checks and balances.
29. E8- I feel close to my ethnic group.
' (alt.) My ethnicity is important to me.
30. NI8- Thank goodness I was born in ____________.
31. A8- Authorities such as parents and our national leaders generally turn out to be right about
' things, and the radicals and protesters are almost always wrong.
32. C8- Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.
33. C9- Government, judges, and the police should never be allowed to censor books.
34. E9- The ___________ people are God’s chosen.
35. A9- If we give people too much freedom there will just be more and more disorder in society.
36. NI9- As far as it concerns me, I do not care much about ____________’s policies and reputation.
37. A10- Centralized authority typically works best. That’s usually where the smarter people are.
38. E10- I’d prefer to live in an ethnically homogenous society.
39. NI10- I would rather be a citizen of ___________ than of any other country in the world.
Language’s Affect on Culture: A Research Design
PSY 6347 Developmental Psychology