Not one, or none, but all.

The column below was first published in De Psycholoog – Dutch magazine for Psychology December 2015 under the title: Niet een of geen maar allemaal. A PDF of the Dutch version can be found here: PSY1512_WisselColumn.

You do not come across it often as a specific direction within a faculty and the annual congress is small. In 1972, a group of academics in social psychology and anthropology established the international association for cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural psychologists are mainly concerned with whether psychological findings have universal validity.


For example: if a psychologist used the Christmas story to measure a child’s thinking level through his or her ability to recount details, is it unfair to apply this in a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated? Or are we comparing apples and oranges when we measure the spatial understanding of two groups and one group, as Marshall H. Segall and colleagues describe so beautifully, grew up in a ‘carpented world’, and the other group only knows the plains and round huts in the Kalahari Desert?
Our findings are time and context bound. Much of our thinking and doing is uncharted territory and this is what makes psychology an exciting science. A recent meta-analysis shows that the balance of ‘nature versus nurture’ is about 50/50, but this relationship may change with the development of better and more culturally intelligent research methods.

For, how ‘Western’ is the diagnosis that people outside of Europe and America are more prone to go with the opinion of a group that deliberately gives the wrong answer (i.e., they don’t think for themselves) of Simon Ash’s famous
experiment on conformity? As Bond and Smith suggested: maybe this concerns a different phenomenon and collectivists find loss of face more important than being right
“Gestalt psychology is THE psychology, according to supporters (Duijker, 1959, p.191) and is a matter of identity and distinction. But why? Psychology has to do with communication within all views; not just about what we measure, but also how we share our knowledge with the world. And we can do better if we try to explain the chaos together. We should perhaps reconsider why Japanese students are deemed to be superior at mathematics since they only need to learn ten words (43 four-ten-three and 14 is ten-four versus the Dutch three-and-forty and fourteen)? What psychology do we use to explain a phenomenon – communication, social, neuro,
or …?

That’s the lesson, according to cross-cultural psychologists; if we diagnose, we must be aware of our own perspective. The lenses with which we observe are not neutral. As Ramses Shaffy sang: “Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire, not without us.” But in the world of Psychology nobody escapes the chaotic context. In this we are one.
Bond, R. & Smith, P.B. (1996). Culture and conformity: a meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b
1956) line judgement task. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 111-137.

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Oh that’s why?

Cross cultural management is the ability to handle issues between people from different backgrounds effectively. In our current globalised environment, any individual with responsibility over or for others, i.e., a leader and decision maker, would do well to take heed of the cultural differences that exist but it can be a minefield . We are never neutral, and all that we perceive is through a filter coloured by our cultural background.

However, it is also often ignored by people in leadership roles because the benefits of training can be difficult to translate into a hard cost-benefit analysis and it goes against the general idea that we live in a global village, where modern people think similarly and where there is no need for understanding cultural differences.
In this report, I summarise the knowledge that I have taught to (MBA) students and researched over the years as an expert in Cross Cultural Management and Psychology. The report was developed with the aim to inform decision makers in businesses and organisations, who work in an international context. Since it is impossible to track who reads my blog, journal articles, chapters and lecture notes, I wrote this report for you, which I hope you will read but also actually use. I genuinely believe in ‘Evidence Based Management’, which is essentially the idea that people should manage by gaining some evidence to back up their decisions. So, if this report is useful to you and you implemented some of it in your working life, all I ask is for you to put that in writing and send this to me via

Identity Research for impact

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Under organizational wings

How the universal need for certainty in nations under socio-economic stress can be satisfied by greater formalization within organizations.

Addressing debates about a) the negative correlations between cultural values and practices and b) the controversial effect of formalization and bureaucracy on organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB), we developed a cross-level theory specifying that formalization at the organizational level buffers negative effects of uncertainty at the nation-level on OCB of individuals.  Drawing upon organizational and psychological literature, we argue that a universal need for certainty in nations characterized by high levels of uncertainty can be satisfied by greater formalization within organizations. A three-level hierarchical linear modelling analysis of data from 7,537 employees in 267 organizations across 17 countries supported our hypotheses. In nations with greater levels of uncertainty practices, formalization is positively associated with voice OCB. Our theory and findings open new avenues for re-addressing the debate around negative correlations between cultural values and practices and offers new insights into the complex role of bureaucracy in a global context.

This paper is accepted for the IACM conference in Leiden, The Netherlands July 2014


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Inspire in class.

In order to prepare students as a well-rounded global business professionals, the content of the degree BA International Business that I lead develops competencies to enable students to be effective in a global business context, exploring a variety of international business issues. They will also learn the fundamentals of marketing, human resource management, economics, operations management and accounting. Most of these modules use standard textbooks, seminar activities such as case study analysis and assessment such as presentations. We try to make it interesting with visuals such as videos. I am currently working on next year’s curriculum and lecture content.

Below are three examples of TED talks. TED is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”. Lecturers use videos in class to raise a question to be discussed in seminars or in course work.


Typical TED talk for first year students: What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine.
Topics: Statistics, Economics, globalisation, technology, human resources
Typical questions: How are wealth and a washing machine connected to globalisation? How can statistics help the international manager? How would you, as a student, manage without a washing machine?

Typical TED talk for second year students: What makes a good idea? What is a theory or model? How do we know a global leader’s X Factor? Simon Sinek talks about leadership in action.
Topics: Multi-National Corporations, values and beliefs, leadership, management and human behaviour
Typical questions: How do we know business practices work? How can we recruit the best people? What is the evidence for the recipe for success?

Typical TED talk for final year students: How can we keep our global supply chains honest? Van Heerden makes the business case for fair labour.
Topics: Rule based vs. Consequence based decision making, cross cultural management, ethics, strategy.
Typical questions: Do companies have a corporate social responsibility? Do you agree with the speaker? Why/Why not?

In the end, I aim to provide students with the critical tools and mindset to analyse and identify responses to such questions. The class environment is a great context to explore perspectives of management, which is very important in the global environment.

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Controversial HRM Practices in the Context of Developing Countries

Dance We are working on a study that examined employees’ perception of ethically controversial Human Resources Management (HRM) practices in the context of multinational companies (MNCs) that operate in developing countries and emerging economies (DCEEs). We tested the predictive validity of individuals’ ethical reasoning as well as their cultural values in terms of ethically controversial practices.

We used self-administered questionnaires from employees working in Turkey and Romania (N=290) that contained various HRM practices to measure perception with regard to ethicality of these practices. Results revealed an endorsement of ethically controversial HRM implementation, including nepotism, in both Turkey and Romania. Additionally, the impact of values (mainly collectivism) was stronger than ethical ideologies of relativism and idealism in predicting individuals’ decisions on ethically controversial practices.

The practical implications for managers are to take into consideration that there is a subjective interpretation of appropriateness of HRM practices. It can be a challenge for any, especially experienced, HR manager to ‘unlearn’ certain norms that motivate decisions, which, in turn, affect people directly. This study shows that an imposition of ‘Western’ interpretation of inappropriateness, i.e., in terms of nepotism, internal priority, age and performance bias, may be perceived differently by employees in DCEEs. Becoming aware of the cultural (more so than ideological) background of managers’ employees may help in understanding these differences. 

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A focused read for busy people

I developed a report that summarises the knowledge that I acquired over the years and have taught to (MBA) students as a researcher in Cross Cultural Management and Psychology. The report was developed with the aim to inform decision makers in businesses and organisations, who work in an international context. The Financial Times, in fact, stated recently that cross cultural management is a core aspect of leadership and management development. It’s available to you at no cost because a) it is important to build a bridge between the ‘real world’ and academic work as we face a challenging globalised future and b) research needs to have a practical impact. 

In terms of globalisation and our future, you are no doubt aware that the world’s regions and countries are mapped according to wealth (e.g., GNP), systems (i.e., political, economical and legal), and development (e.g., infrastructure, level of education). Indices and statistics of these concepts provide us with information about the differences that exist globally between countries. Governments, global organisations (e.g., Worldbank), and multi-national corporations (MNCs) may use it before deciding on investment, aid, and collaborations.

            At the individual level, we learn about cultural differences between people through travel, the media and day-to-day living, working, and interaction in a multicultural environment. People vary in terms of what they value and how they do things. We may inform ourselves about the how, what and where of people foreign to us out of necessity or out of interest of the anthropological aspects of (modern) human life.

            For some time, knowing the do’s and don’ts often sufficed for any substantial intercultural interaction. In the professional realm, cross cultural training before or during intercultural assignments, projects or mergers usually provided a ‘toolbox’ of these do’s and don’ts, such as how to greet, what (not) to discuss over dinner, and when to expect a definitive offer on a deal. However, due to globalisation, organisations function within diverse contexts across continents and the modern person has mixed identities (ethnic, national, religious), with x-number of years of experience abroad. This means that a simple do’s and don’ts list is not enough.

            Successful interaction requires intercultural insight. This constitutes the know-how as mentioned above but, moreover, it requires the ability to interpret the situation presented to us by being aware of our cultural lenses and keeping the other’s perspective in mind. It is an updated kind of toolbox, which is adapted to 21st Century working life.

            This briefing will address the three core aspects of effective intercultural engagement: Know-How, Cultural Self-Awareness, and Perspective. Each section will describe some important research in an accessible way, illustrated by practical examples. The briefing concludes with advise that can be implemented immediately. Check out the link on the top menu above or click here: Identity Research for Impact – A review for practitioners



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Welcome to the Identity Research Blog

From the first e-conference back in May 2007, we’ve now arrived at a blog for this website – to review and report on issues, news, and events related to Identity and research.


Nathalie van Meurs, D.Phil.



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The original Identity Research website was set up by me, Dr. Nathalie van Meurs. It hosted the E-Congress on Negotiating Identities on the 15-16th May, 2007 and remained a source of information about negotiating social identities in a variety of contexts until February 2010, when it was revamped into a blog.


I set up this website for the purpose of bringing together people from the academic community, business, the Arts, media, sport and government to discuss the idea how we can successfully be multitudes, because nobody is just a nationality, religion, gender, job, political affiliation, or interest group.


I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Cross Cultural Management and the research leader for the Business and Management department at Middlesex University Business School in London.

For the past two years, I worked as a Research Fellow at the Open University, U.K. exploring (organisational) culture and Person-Organisation Fit. Before this, I lectured Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Psychology and Empirical Methods at the University of Oxford Brookes.


I gained my Ph.D. from the University of Sussex looking at the relationship between cultural values, conflict management strategies, communication styles and success ratings of negotiations between Dutch and British managers.


I am interested in both research and applied aspects of intercultural interaction and identity. Areas of interest are: cultural intelligence, cultural values and conflict management, cross cultural education, and ‘person-nation fit’ (i.e., is there value congruence between the individual and the nation). I have been working as a consultant .


Do get in touch if you would like to discuss my research or consultancy work: n.van-meurs (at)




Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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