“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Intelligence is defined by contemporary psychologists as the ability to adapt to one’s environment.
Given variations in the physical and social challenges facing different societal groups, it is not surprising that intelligent behaviour is defined differently across cultures.
Traditionally, the West has defined intelligence in terms of the speed and accuracy of cognitive (mental) skills within an academic setting. But successful adaptation in many societies does not translate to the Western notion of academic intelligence. Asian and African cultures, for example, emphasise the relative importance of social skills.
In some rural African cultures, young people who are cooperative and who are able to help adults with important tasks, are considered to be the most intelligent. Children who perform well in school are respected, but if those children cannot cooperate with their fellow villagers, they are not considered to be the group’s most intelligent young men and women. In less developed countries, where resources are scarce, people must cooperate and share food, water, and money in order to survive.
The study of cross-cultural ideas of intelligence alerts us to the existence of non-academic intelligence.
Even in the West, there is increasing recognition that intelligent behaviour is displayed outside the classroom. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposes nine forms of intelligence: three academic intelligences—linguistic, spatial, and logical-mathematical, and six non-academic intelligences—musical, bodily kinesthetic, naturalistic, existential, intrapersonal, and interpersonal.
A large volume of research supports the validity of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and neurocognitive studies confirm that those different capabilities can be mapped to distinct areas of the brain.
Non-Academic Intelligence and Work Performance
Three non-academic intelligences have received significant attention from organisational researchers: practical intelligence, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence (EQ).
Practical intelligence is the ability to solve real-life problems, as opposed to theoretical academic problems. It is also known as common sense, or ‘street smarts’. Practical intelligence reflects a person’s ability to learn from the past. Research shows that practical intelligence predicts superior performance at work and distinguishes the novice from the expert. Practical intelligence is a better predictor of job performance than cognitive ability or personality alone.
Social intelligence is the ability to understand emotions, motivations, and behaviours of the self and others in interpersonal situations. Management scholars agree that social intelligence enhances leadership effectiveness through improved motivating and communication skills.
A subset of social intelligence is emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise, interpret, and respond appropriately to one’s own and others’ emotions. In 2011, a review of over 1,100 studies on emotional intelligence in the workplace confirmed the importance of emotional intelligence over and above cognitive ability and personality traits in predicting work performance.
Non-academic intelligences are critical in providing organisations with an edge over their competitors. Reflecting this, employers commit significant resources to the selection, promotion, and development of those capabilities in their workforce.
Practical, emotional, and social intelligence, however, are culture-bound.
People with high practical intelligence might be capable of solving everyday problems in their own culture yet be unable to solve the day-to-day problems of living in another culture. Western school children are unlikely to have knowledge of the natural herbal medicines used to fight common infections in a rural village in Kenya.
Behaviours that are considered socially intelligent also differ across cultures. In China, behaviours that support social harmony, social desirability, and social engagement are regarded as socially intelligent. In Germany, to attain one’s personal goals, support society’s values, and to be able to influence others is to be socially intelligent.
In addition, anthropologists report significant cross-cultural variability in the frequency, display, and judgement of particular emotions.
Researchers have discovered six universal facial expressions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. These facial expressions are recognised similarly across cultures. Yet despite the existence of universal facial expressions of emotion, people around the world express emotions differently in social situations.
In 1973, Friesen provided the first empirical evidence for cultural differences in emotional expression. He examined the spontaneous expressions of Americans and Japanese as they viewed highly stressful films—first alone, and then in the presence of an older, male experimenter. When alone, the American and Japanese participants were similar in their expressions of disgust, sadness, fear, and anger. However, when in the company of the experimenter, the Americans continued to express their negative emotions, but the Japanese were more likely to smile.
Friesen’s findings indicate that whilst the display of emotional expression in private is universal, emotional display in the company of others varies cross-culturally. Cultural specificity of emotional expression in social situations has since been reproduced in numerous studies.
Focal emotions are emotions that are experienced and expressed more frequently in a particular cultural setting. Focal emotions are related to cultural value priorities. Studies show that different cultures either intensify or suppress certain emotions, depending on how much value that culture places on the emotion.
For example, in cultures that value honour, there are more frequent displays of anger. In cultures that value group membership, shame is more intensely displayed. In the United States, where self-gratification is valued, people are more likely to display excitement and joy in response to personal success. In many Asian countries, where group harmony is of paramount importance, people often suppress expressions of pleasure with respect to their personal achievements.
There are also culturally specific ways that individuals express particular emotions. Emotion accents are differences in emotional expressions that vary across cultures. For example, Han Chinese greet honoured guests with a smile while American Indian tribes greet honoured guests with a cry.
Smiles are used in culturally unique ways as well. North Americans smile to convey friendliness and goodwill and they smile more than Northern Europeans, who reserve smiling for actual felt happiness. In some Asian cultures, smiling is used to cover emotional pain or embarrassment.
There is some evidence that cross-cultural differences in emotional expression are linked to ingroup and outgroup distinctions and the cultural dimensions of individualism and collectivism. Individualistic cultures value autonomy and a person’s unique attributes. Members of individualistic cultures share negative emotions with ingroup members, but display positive emotions to non-intimate others. The United States is the highest-scoring nation on individualism, closely followed by other Anglo and Western European nations.
In contrast, two-thirds of the world’s population across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East live in collectivist societies. Collectivist cultures value social harmony and group membership. Members of collectivist cultures express only positive emotions to ingroup members, but more readily communicate negative emotions to outgroup members.
There are also cross-cultural differences in emotion judgements. Individualism is associated with better emotion judgement accuracy. This may be related to the fact that individualism is correlated positively with emotional expression. Because emotions are expressed less freely in collectivist cultures, individuals from these cultures have limited experience in decoding emotional expressions.
There are also intranational differences in emotion judgements, display rules, and self-reported emotional expressions across ethnic subgroups. African Americans, for example, perceive anger more intensely than Asian Americans, and disgust more intensely than European and Asian Americans.
Studies indicate gender differences in emotional expression too. In general, females exhibit greater emotional expression, although gender differences in emotional expression are lower in Asia compared to Western cultures. In masculine America, gender differences are large for the expression of joy and sadness, but lower for the expression of anger.
Tacit Social Rules
Unwritten social codes guide our interactions with others. Shared ways of thinking, feeling, and acting increase the consistency and predictability of behaviour. Shared cultural schemas promote effortless and productive interactions with other members of our culture. They improve intimacy, cooperation, and interpersonal harmony.
Our social exchanges are more difficult when we hold different cultural schemas. If our frameworks for responding to the world are misaligned, we misunderstand or misinterpret each other. This can cause confusion, suspicion, and conflict.
Cultural blind spots occur when we fail to attribute differences in our behaviours and thoughts to different cultural schemas. Our cultural learnings are repeated so frequently that they become automatic. Because of this, we are not consciously aware of our cultural schemas and how and when they are influencing our responses.
Automaticity is helpful in our own cultural environment but problematic in a new culture. Our automatic assumptions and responses can lead us to misinterpret the intentions, emotions, or motives of our partners. Cultural blind spots can cause frustration, anger, helplessness, or hostility.
When Intelligence Does Not Translate
Practical, social, and emotional intelligence do not transfer across cultures. Each type of intelligence relies on familiar contexts and cues to guide responses. But in a novel cultural environment, a reliance on familiar cues prompts habitual responses that might be inappropriate for the new cultural setting.
It cannot be assumed that someone considered ‘intelligent’ according to one society’s conceptualisation of intelligence will necessarily achieve similar success in a different culture. The cognitive, practical, emotional, and social skills that support successful adaptation in one environment do not transfer directly to another setting.
Not surprisingly, researchers have detected an ingroup advantage in emotional recognition. Members of a cultural group are more accurate in recognising the emotions of ingroup members than outgroup members.
In fact, individuals possessing high levels of social or emotional intelligence in their own culture might find it particularly difficult to respond outside their deeply embedded cultural scripts. People who are less entrenched in their cultural frameworks more readily suspend judgement, and more easily align their thinking and behaviours with a new cultural environment.
Successful Functioning in Diverse Cultural Settings
Practical, social, and emotional intelligence assume a familiarity with the cues and norms of the cultural context. They do not consider the capabilities needed to adjust and adapt to novel cultural settings.
The global village necessitates a new form of intelligence. Today, we interact frequently with people who do not share our assumptions, values, or behavioral norms, and our exchanges are with individuals from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Success across varied cultural settings requires a new collection of adaptive responses that can be applied flexibly and appropriately, to meet the unique demands of each new interaction.
Cultural intelligence is an individual’s capability to detect, assimilate, reason, and act on cultural cues in situations characterised by cultural diversity. The culturally intelligent individual transcends deeply ingrained automatic ways of interpreting and responding to the world and adopts alternative frameworks for understanding and behaving that are adaptive for a particular cultural setting.
Studies show cultural intelligence is positively associated with adaptive performance, which is the capability to modify behaviours to meet changing environmental demands, and is particularly critical in novel or dynamic settings.
While social and emotional intelligence predict effectiveness in culturally homogenous environments, cultural intelligence predicts effectiveness in culturally diverse settings and explains differences in coping and functioning outside one’s home culture. In fact, research shows cultural intelligence is a better predictor of success in diverse settings than cognitive ability, emotional intelligence (EQ), personality, demographics, and international experience.
Cultural Intelligence predicts expatriate adjustment and performance, cultural problem-solving, cross-border leadership effectiveness, global leadership emergence, performance in multicultural groups, performance of multicultural teams, higher joint profits in intercultural negotiations, the development of diverse networks, and the sharing of information and ideas between culturally diverse individuals.
Not surprisingly, cultural intelligence plays a more important role in intercultural effectiveness as cultural distance increases. Cultural distance refers to the degree of difference between two cultures. As cultural distance increases, higher cultural intelligence is needed to overcome decontextualised thinking and to make isomorphic attributions—explanations of behaviour in the context of a person’s cultural background.
Developing Cultural Intelligence
Cultural Intelligence develops either on the job or from formal training.
Cultural learning is largely tacit. It is not easily transferred to others in written or verbal form. Instead, tacit cultural knowledge is best developed socially. On-the-job cultural learning is unstructured, spontaneous, and incidental to everyday duties; it occurs as employees use trial and error in their interactions with culturally diverse others to achieve their goals in diverse settings.
Formal training in Cultural Intelligence supports on-the-job learning by providing a solid foundation of knowledge, skills, and abilities required to learn from one’s intercultural activities. Without the right foundation, employees thrust into a novel cultural setting with a “sink or swim” approach are likely to suffer culture shock. Culture shock has negative implications for job performance, attitudes, and physical and mental health.
Cultural Intelligence training provides an opportunity to acquire and practice new skills in low-risk, simulated diverse environments in the safety of a classroom setting. Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence (CQ) display four critical competencies:
- Training in CQ Knowledge involves the acquisition of information about cultural differences and an understanding of the nature of culture and its implications for one’s own and others’ behaviours.
- Training in CQ Drive involves the development of interest, self-confidence, and perseverance in intercultural interactions.
- Training in CQ Strategy involves the development of a flexible and well-developed mental capacity for detecting, understanding, and responding to cultural differences.
- Training in CQ Action involves the development of a repertoire of verbal and non-verbal behaviours that can be applied flexibly and appropriately across diverse cultural settings.
A New Workplace Competency
Today’s workers across a broad range of accountability levels, job roles, organisation size, and industry interact daily with individuals from backgrounds different from their own, both in home markets and across borders—often managing multiple sources of diversity at once.
Diversity is not only relevant in terms of nationality. Within each national culture are ethnic, religious, and social class differences as well as generational, gender, sexual orientation, and health status subcultures. Subcultures create huge variations in patterns of thinking and behaving within national groups. Plus every organisation has its unique values, beliefs, and codes of conduct. Beneath organisational cultures lie team and role differences.
Despite benefits of access to new markets, ideas, and talent, cultural diversity presents new challenges by increasing the complexity of our exchanges. To be effective in today’s business environment, individuals with Cultural Intelligence are increasingly paid a premium for their capacity to manage complexity and leverage the value in diversity.
Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (2008). Conceptualization of cultural intelligence: Definition, distinctiveness, and nomological network. In S. Ang & L. Van Dyne (Eds.), Handbook of cultural intelligence: Theory, measurement, and applications (pp. 3-15). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Ang, S., Van Dyne, L., & Rockstuhl, T. (in press). Cultural intelligence: Origins, conceptualization, evolution, and methodological diversity. In M. Gelfand, C. Y. Chiu, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Advances in Culture and Psychology (Vol. 5). New York: Oxford University Press.
Ang, S., Van Dyne, L., Koh, C., Ng, K. Y., Templer, K. J., Tay, C., & Chandrasekar, N. A. (2007). Cultural intelligence: Its measurement and effects on cultural judgment and decision making, cultural adaptation and task performance. Management and Organization Review, 3(3), 335-371.
Ang, S., Van Dyne, L., & Tan, M. L. (2011). Cultural intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Cambridge handbook on intelligence (pp. 582-602). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Berry, J. W. (1974). Radical cultural relativism and the concept of intelligence. Culture and cognition: Readings in cross-cultural psychology, 225-229.
Cantor, N., & Kilhstrom, J. F. (1985). Social intelligence: The social basis of personality. . In P. Shaver (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 6, pp. 15-33). Beverley Hills, CA: Sage.
Cianciolo, A., Matthew, C. T., Sternberg, R., & Wagner, R. (2005). Tacit knowledge, practical intelligence and expertise. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P. J. Feltovich, & R. R. Hoffman (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. (pp. 613-632). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Crowne, K. A. (2009). The relationships among social intelligence, emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence. Organization Management Journal, 6(3), 148-163.
Du, W. (2014). An Analysis of Nonverbal Pragmatic Failure in Intercultural Communication. Paper presented at the International Conference on Education, Language, Art and Intercultural Communication (ICELAIC-14), Zhengzhou, China.
Earley, C. P. (2002). Redefining interactions across cultures and organizations: Moving forward with cultural intelligence. Research in Organizational Behaviour, 24, 271-299.
Earley, C. P., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions across cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Earley, C. P., & Mosakowski, E. (2004). Cultural intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 82(10), 139-146.
Earley, C. P., & Peterson, R. S. (2004). The elusive cultural chameleon: Cultural intelligence as a new approach to intercultural training for the global manager. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(1), 100-115.
Ekman, P. (1972). Universal and cultural differences in facial expression of emotion. In J. K. Cole (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (pp. 207-281). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Ekman, P. (1984). Expression and the nature of emotion. In P. Ekman & K. R. Scherer (Eds.), Approaches to emotion (pp. 319-344). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and emotion. American psychologist, 48(4), 384-392.
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). The repertoire of nonverbal behavior: Categories, origins, usage, and coding. Semiotica, 1, 49-98.
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 17(2), 124-129.
Ekman, P., Sorenson, E. R., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Pan-cultural elements in facial displays of emotion. science, 164(3875), 86-88.
Elenkov, D. S., & Pimentel, J. R. (2008). Social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and cultural intelligence: An integrative perspective. Handbook of Cultural Intelligence: Theory, Measurements, and Applications (pp. 289-305). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Elfenbein, H. A., & Ambady, N. (2002). On the universality and cultural specificity of emotion recognition: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(2), 203-235.
Fernández, F. S., Levillain, P. C., Rovira, D. P., Candia, L., & Sedano, I. F. (2000). Differences between cultures in emotional verbal and nonverbal reactions. Psicothema, 12(1), 83-92.
Friesen, W. V. (1973). Cultural differences in facial expressions in a social situation: An experimental test on the concept of display rules. Unpublished doctorial dissertation University of California. San Francisco, CA.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of mutliple intelligences. New York: Basic.
Gardner, H. (1998). Are there additional intelligences? The case for naturalist, spiritual, and existential intelligences. In K. J (Ed.), Education, Information and Transformation. (pp. 111-131). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., & Nisbett, R. (2011). Social Psychology. (Second ed.). New York: W. W. Norton
Goleman, D. P. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ for character, health and lifelong achievement. New York: Bantam Books.
Gunawan, M. H. (2001). Non-verbal communication: The “silent” cross-cultural contact with Indonesians. Paper presented at the 4th International Conference on the Teaching of Indonesian to Speakers of Other Languages, Sanur-Bali, Indonesia.
Hedlund, J., Antonakis, J., & Sternberg, R. J. (2002). Tacit knowledge and practical intelligence: Understanding the lessons of experience. Research Note 2003-4. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.
Izard, C. E. (1994). Innate and universal facial expressions: Evidence from developmental and cross-cultural research. Psychological Bulletin, 115(2), 288-299.
Li, J., Wang, L., & Fischer, K. (2004). The organisation of Chinese shame concepts? Cognition and emotion, 18(6), 767-797.
Lin, Y.-c., Chen, A. S.-y., & Song, Y.-c. (2012). Does your intelligence help to survive in a foreign jungle? The effects of cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence on cross-cultural adjustment. International journal of intercultural relations, 36(4), 541-552.
Marsh, A. A., Elfenbein, H. A., & Ambady, N. (2003). Nonverbal “accents”: Cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion. Psychological Science, 14(4), 373-376.
Matsumoto, D. (1993). Ethnic differences in affect intensity, emotion judgments, display rule attitudes, and self-reported emotional expression in an American sample. Motivation and Emotion, 17(2), 107-123.
Matsumoto, D. (2006). Culture and nonverbal behavior. In V. Manusov & M. Patterson (Eds.), Handbook of nonverbal communication (pp. 219-235). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S. H., Hirayama, S., & Petrova, G. (2005). Development and validation of a measure of display rule knowledge: the display rule assessment inventory. Emotion, 5(1), 23-40.
Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence, 17(4), 433-442.
Marlowe, H. A. (1986). Social intelligence: Evidence for multidimensionality and construct independence. Journal of educational psychology, 78(1), 52-58.
Mesquita, B. (2003). Emotions as Dynamic Cultural Phenomena. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of Affective Sciences (pp. 871-890). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Mesquita, B., & Leu, J. (2007). The cultural psychology of emotions. In S. Kitayama & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of Cultural Psychology (pp. 734-759). New York: Guildford.
Mosquera, P. M. R., Manstead, A. S., & Fischer, A. H. (2000). The role of honor-related values in the elicitation, experience, and communication of pride, shame, and anger: Spain and the Netherlands compared. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(7), 833-844.
Ng, K.-Y., & Earley, P. C. (2006). Culture + intelligence: Old constructs, new frontiers. Group & Organization Management, 31(1), 4-19.
Ng, K.-Y., Van Dyne, L., & Ang, S. (2012). Cultural intelligence: A review, reflections, and recommendations for future research. In A. M. Ryan, F. T. L. Leong, & F. Oswald (Eds.), Conducting Multinational Research Projects in Organizational Psychology. (pp. 29-58). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
O’Boyle, E. H., Humphrey, R. H., Pollack, J. M., Hawver, T. H., & Story, P. A. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(5), 788-818.
Ruzgis, P., & Grigorenko, E. L. (1994). Cultural meaning systems, intelligence, and personality. In R. J. Sternberg & P. M. Ruzgis (Eds.), Personality and intelligence (pp. 248-270). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schimmack, U. (1996). Cultural Influences on the recognition of emotion by facial expressions: Individualistic or Caucasian cultures? Journal of Cross-cultural psychology, 27(1), 37-50.
Shenker, O. (2001). Cultural distance revisited: Toward a more rigorous conceptualization and measurement of cultural differences. Journal of International Business Studies, 32(3), 519-535.
Sternberg, R. J. (2008). Successful intelligence as a framework for understanding cultural adaptation. Handbook of cultural intelligence: Theory, measurement, and applications (pp. 306-317). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Sternberg, R. J. (2012). Intelligence in its cultural context. In M. J. Gelfand, C. Y. Chiu, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Advances in cultures and psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 205-248). New York: Oxford University Press.
Sternberg, R., Forsythe, G., Hedlund, J., Horvath, J., Wagner, R., Williams, W.,. . Grigorenko, E. L. (2000). Practical intelligence in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Sternberg, R. J., & Kaufman, J. C. (1998). Human abilities. Annual review of psychology, 49(1), 479-502.
Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2006). Cultural intelligence and successful intelligence. Group & Organization Management, 31(1), 27-39.
Sternberg, R. J., & Wagner, R. K. (2000). Practical intelligence. Handbook of intelligence (pp. 380-395). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Thorndike, R. L., & Stein, S. (1937). An evaluation of the attempts to measure social intelligence. Psychological Bulletin, 34(5), 275-285.
Triandis, H. C. (1975). Culture training, cognitive complexity, and interpersonal attitudes. In R. Brislin, S. Bochner, & W. J. Lonner (Eds.), Cross-cultural perspectives on learning. New York: Wiley.
Tsai, J. L. (2007). Ideal affect: Cultural causes and behavioral consequences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(3), 242-259.
Van Dyne, L., Ang, S., & Livermore, D. (2010). Cultural intelligence: A pathway for leading in a rapidly globalizing world. In K. M. Hannum, B. McFeeters, & L. Booysen (Eds.), Leading Across Differences (pp. 131-138). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Van Dyne, L., Ang, S., Ng, K. Y., & Koh, C. (2008). Cultural intelligence and international executive potential Paper presented at the 23rd Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Francisco, CA.
Van Dyne, L., Ang, S., Ng, K. Y., Rockstuhl, T., Tan, M. L., & Koh, C. (2012). Sub-dimensions of the four factor model of cultural intelligence: Expanding the conceptualization and measurement of cultural intelligence. Social and personality psychology compass, 6(4), 295-313.
Wagner, R. K., & Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Practical intelligence in real-world pursuits: The role of tacit knowledge. Journal of personality and social psychology, 49(2), 436-458.
Willmann, E., Feldt, K., & Amelang, M. (1997). Prototypical behaviour patterns of social intelligence: An intercultural comparison between Chinese and German subjects. International Journal of Psychology, 32(5), 329-346.