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March 30

Culturally Customized Websites

That is the topic of my stepdaughter Isabella's Master's Thesis for her MBA. Specifically, she is comparing the preferences of Caucasian Americans with Chinese living in Taiwan or mainland China (using a Chinese translation) regarding culturally customized websites. I have become intimately familiar with this topic over the past few weeks as Isabella asks me to edit her thesis and help her with her statistics procedures.

One thing which surprises me about Isabella's thesis is the degree of overlap between business and psychology. For example, Isabella's thesis mentioned that the Christian Bible encourages linear thinking, Jewish holy books encourage parallel thinking, and Toaist and Bhuddist holy books encourage nonlinear thinking. I actually wrote several posts earlier comparing linear thinking with nonlinear thinking, and making the cultural link to these types of thought. Perhaps I need to add parallel thinking to this topic as well. There was also a list of 5 cultural emphases which affect consumers' buying behavior, which were psychological in nature. For example, Asians take the context -- such as background of the website -- into account more. Another difference is that Asians are more affected by colors. Asians are also more affected by the opinions of authorities. A fourth difference is that Asians are more collective and cooperative in their orientation. The other factor, I do not remember.

Isabella wanted 75 people for each sample. She asked people she knew, and her mother asked Caucasian people she saw at church to help Isabella out. Eventuall, Isabella went to the mall to ask White people she saw to fill out her questionnaire. To get Chinese people to participate, Isabella and Eunice called many people they knew in Taiwan, asking them to participate. After about a month, Isabella had 75 Caucasians and 82 Chinese participants. There were also some participants that Isabella could not use, such as Hispanics and Asians here in the U.S., Whites who were born in Europe, and people who did not fill out their ethnicity information. I was surprised by how quickly the Chinese responded, given that it was overseas. But when I thought about it, I think the high level of cooperation by the Chinese is further evidence of their cooperative orientation. Actually, Isabella turned out to have only 73 Caucasian Americans last Monday when I went to her house to help her, so she, her mother and I went to dinner at the Soup Exchange near her house, where she actually found two more Caucasian participants and collected the final two surveys that she needed. It is pretty amusing when I think about it, but I remember lots of strange things happening while doing my own research, as well, such as an earthquake shaking the building in the middle of collecting data from a group of students for my dissertation.

I used to be a "statistics person" at U.C. Riverside. I did statistical analyses for not only myself but many others as well in order to evaluate their psychology research (social and/or personality psychology in particular). Thus, when Isabella asked me whether I knew how to use SPSS (the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) I was quick to offer my help. Actually, I was trained primarily in the use of SAS (the Statistical Analysis System), but also used SPSS, especially in more recent yeasrs as SPSS gained in popularity. SPSS is a more applied program which often takes less knowledge of statistics in order to use, and also, the people who work for SPSP did a better job than the people who work for SAS of adapting it for use on personal computers. Thus, as statistical programs began to be installed more frequently on statistical computers, SPSS became more dominant. It turns out that Isabella's advisor gave her a relatively small and simple version of SPSS to put on her computer. Thus, last Monday (a week ago), I was able to go to Isabella's house, enter the data on the SPSS program with Isabella, and almost instantaneously analyze it. Being fairly simple, her program seems to lack some of the statistical procedures which might be needed to do some of her ancillary analyses, but the main analyses were very easy to do. Isabella just needed help because she had no familiarity with the program, and had forgotten much of her statistics.

Best of all, the results turned out very well for the most part. Isabella had something like 9 hypotheses, and most of them turned out the way she predicted. Chnese and Americans really do seem to view websites differently. Chinese were more affected by colors, preferred "soft" colors, were more affected by the background of the webpage, more influenced by pop stars, more influenced by culturally significant symbols, and found cultural customization to be a more important factor than did Caucasian Americans. When I get the official results, I can post them in more detail, as they are rather interesting. Actually, Isabella has had some difficulty getting support from faculty at Cal State Poly Pomona, where she is in the MBA program. This thesis was her idea, so the results seem to vindicate her ideas. (There is evidence from previous studies supporting most of her hypotheses, though.) When her advisor sees these results, he will most likely be quite impressed, so I think that will help smooth things over and allow her to quickly complete her Masters' Degree.

Overall, I have found this experience interesting and gratifying. It gives me a better perspective on how culture influences people's world views. We should never forget that we are products of our culture, and thus our ways of thinking may be biased accordingly.