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Aradhna Krishna
  Aradhna Krishna

I Think, Therefore I Judge

9/2/2008 --

Thinking styles shown to affect spatial judgment, says Ross professor.

Every day we're faced with decisions that involve spatial judgments. Which line should we choose at the supermarket? Which route should we take to work? A new study by Ross professor Aradhna Krishna shows that one's decisions regarding these spatial dilemmas are affected by one's thinking style.

Krishna and colleagues Rongrong Zhou, of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Shi Zhang, of UCLA Anderson School of Management, designed a series of experiments to test participants' thinking styles. The participants came from both Eastern (China, Hong Kong) and Western (United States) regions. The researchers found participants could be divided into two distinct categories: independent thinkers (self-focused) and interdependent thinkers (relationship-focused). Krishna and her team discovered significant differences between Eastern and Western participants.

"The independent self-construal is more dominant in Western cultures, where people believe in the inherent separateness of distinct persons and view the self as an autonomous, independent person," Krishna says. "The interdependent self-construal is more dominant in Eastern cultures, where people believe in the connectedness of human beings to each other and view the self as part of a larger social group."

Krishna and her colleagues tested participants' abilities to judge spatial distances. One experiment asked participants to imagine they were going to a football stadium to buy tickets. The subjects were given a map showing two lines, one straight and one looped, and asked to estimate the number of dots in each line. The results revealed independent thinkers are more likely to misjudge distance when they need to take multiple features into account (such as a winding road). Interdependent thinkers are less likely to make distance errors, but are more prone to other kinds of spatial errors (i.e., if intersecting lines on a map make one side of the line appear longer than the other).

"Our data indicate that individuals with an independent (versus interdependent) self-construal are more likely to pay attention to only the focal aspects of stimuli and to ignore the context and background information in forming spatial judgments, resulting in biases," says Krishna. "In contrast, interdependents are capable of going beyond the most salient dimension (for example, direct distance) and incorporating other information (like line configuration) in their judgments, leading to greater accuracy in these tasks."

Implications of the study could be useful from a managerial and social welfare standpoint. For example, when people are waiting for products and services in crowded locations, lines often retrace to the original direction (like a snake) rather than continuing in the same direction. People from independent (mostly Western) cultures are more likely to judge the direct distance between the spot they are positioned and the service counter when estimating the length of a line, rather than approximating the number of people in the line. In such cultures, Krishna and her colleagues argue that it might be helpful to provide information about the number of people in line to assist people in deciding whether or not to join it.

Marketers, meanwhile, could also use this research to trigger the two types of self-construal in advertising. Advertisements that feature protagonists in a group setting (rather than alone) could attract individuals from interdependent (mostly Eastern) cultures, whereas a protagonist featured alone might attract individuals from independent cultures.

"This could lead to differences in spatial perceptions such as judgments of sizes of area rugs or distance between two shops in an outlet mall," says Krishna.

A paper detailing the study’s results appears in the August 2008 issue of Journal of Consumer Research.

--Leah Sipher-Mann

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,