Something for grey matter

Recently, via FB and over dinner, we’ve been discussing perception of the other. It’s one specific subject I like because it’s loaded with psychological pitfalls. Plus, I like talking about the experiments such as the prisoners/guards, Summercamp, etc. I think (Social) Psychologists should contribute more to today’s debates on race, multiculturalism and politics, as they are a 3rd voice between the political correct brigade and bigots.

Black doll white doll   A friend posted the video of Clark & Clark’s Black/White doll experiment. The experiment involves little black children (about 6 years old I suspect) who are asked to pick the nice/like best/like to play with and the children pick the white doll. When asked to point out the bad doll, they pick the black one. Then, when asked which doll resembles them most, 66% pick the black doll and 44% the white doll. It is heartbreaking to see. The experiment was replicated in 2005 with the same result. In 2009, after Obama’s election, the same experiment obtained different results: 88% of kids happily identified with the black doll. The majority of the kids chose black or both and 32 percent chose the white doll when asked which one was the nicest but 47 percent of the girls said the white doll was prettier. The article from ABC news ends on a hopeful note about Obama’s influence. However, it isn’t that straightforward (good role model availability).

An experiment on judgement of Obama’s skin colour showed that those who support him see him as lighter coloured than those who dont even when controlled for racist views. Of course, Obama is a prominent figure, so the researchers decided to use a neutral picture of a sports person of mixed race that was presented as a new politician with a pro-student or anti-student policies. The same applied – the students in the pro-student condition picked the light skinned picture as representative of the person, the students in the anti-student condition picked the dark skinned picture. So we need to realise how persistent negative stereotypes (black = bad) are (and how damaging, by the looks of the video) but additionally we need to be aware of a skewed positive culture (White = good).

And it’ll take some work. As a non-race related example, Catherine Lido did an experiment with positive and negative primes on people who then went trough asylum seekers’ applications. Negative primes affected judgement, positive didnt. I hope I am recalling her work correctly when I say that the conclusion was that the positive prime was not matching any stereotyping beliefs already in our minds so they didn’t stick. If we see our minds like a big chest of drawers, some drawers contain information readily available. The positive stereotype drawer of asylum seekers = good doesn’t exist yet. It seems the same may apply for the black = good drawer, although, based on the ABC experiment, it’s heading in the right direction.

I’m trying to capture ‘cultural intelligence’ though a measure that is self report based but taps into beliefs about the world (perception) additionally to opinions about one’s own level of cultural intelligence (which is what the concept has been criticised for so far). Point is, awareness of our biases is an important point for further study,

The clip of the video

The link to the ABC news article

The link of an article on the Obama experiment

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The Jasmine Revolution, Places to Love and Fashion

DeKose Designs      The current developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen are extraordinary. We live in a time where, through Social Media, revolutions are possible and change is inevitable. Perhaps one day, we will learn to disassociate the country and its people from the 1 individual and his/her cronies at the top. What’s not to love about beautiful cities like Kabul, Baghdad and Beirut for example?

Buy the T-Shirt, support Avaaz. 

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Change, identity and sense of belonging

Within our Business School, we are reorganising the departments. The Business & Management department became a Business School within the Business School, with 2000 students, and the diversity within the team made a strong research focus challenging.

Once it was announced, it was left to the individuals to decide what other department they would want to join. No choice was imposed, although, based on the clusters that existed within the B&M dept, it seemed that there are ‘natural’ fits – management perspectives with HRM, strategy with Marketing, operations with Stats. Or so we thought.

Person-Organisational Fit is, on the one hand, how the individual fits in with the organisation, usually based on values. But from the individual’s perspective, it is also about his/her attachment to the status quo and the need for a sense of belonging (be it based on strategy, the line manager, research expertise or teaching curriculum).  The developments supports some of the research we did at the Open University in terms of categories of fit: Self-Serving Fit (the individual who may not contribute much but is waiting for their retirement), Organisation-Serving Fit (the individual who is unhappy but the organisation benefits from him/her and she cannot leave (e.g., because her visa is connected to the organisation)), Mis-fit (the person and individual are a mismatch, usually due to value incongruence) and Fit (both are happy).

It’s particularly challenging if there was a fit but the individual is asked to move but none of the options are attractive. The core question is, how should this be managed? Should management give the individual the responsibility to choose so the choice is not imposed? Or does this enforce a certain reticence, wanting to stick to the status quo? How can we, as the management team, ensure that if people have a sense that their fit is Organisation Serving, it moves to genuine Fit as soon as possible?

It requires coaching and transparent information sharing; by discussing the benefits of each option, paying attention to the individual’s concerns but being honest about expectations.  The individual and the (new) manager should discuss the specifics of the new department’s culture he/she will join as Fit is linked to value congruence. Finally, people are sensitive to belonging. Recall the stuff back at school of cliques, clubs and being picked for a team during Physical Education. That needs to be managed too, to start just by saying “We’d be delighted to welcome you”.

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Research Leadership

Logo       This week, I had to re-apply for the role of Research Leader within the Business & Management department. The request was to submit a brief on why I was suitable for the role and to discuss this informally. Now, since the UK government has cut funding, the role is becoming more prominent and carries more responsibilities as the university needs to be strategic about its resources. It is important to develop the research activities of colleagues while reviewing how this fits in with the greater picture of the Business School.

I have many ideas, some of which directly related to the need to involve businesses more. Not to annoy any consultant out there, but the social capital that exists within universities is spectacular and it is not a source that is tapped into enough. Practical impact of research now will count for 25% (additional to publications, funding, phd students) when we submit our case for research funding to the government in 2014 (REF), so it is imperative that academics engage more with businesses. It would be good to know how these bridges can be built. There seems to be this odd phenomenon that people don’t trust that which is available for no or low cost (case in point: try getting rid of your old bookcase by putting it outside by your door – put a note that says ‘free – please take’ and it’ll remain there longer than if you put ‘£10 – please ring  doorbell’). This is one of the challenges I’ll be working on in the future, apart from enhancing my own research profile.

The actual interview was thoroughly enjoyable (despite my initial nerves). In fact, I was a little overwhelmed by the extent of the positive feedback that my name came up during the other interviews and that I am highly valued and a role model within the school. My influence has extended beyond the business school and I have changed and improved research related activities. Their main concern was that I need to take care of ‘me’ and work on my development too. Fab.

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A German, Lebanese and Nederlandse walk into a bar…

Nathalie (Dutch, PhD Cross Cultural Psychology in the UK) sends an email to Ronald (German, PhD Cross Cultural Psychology in New Zealand) and Charles (Lebanese, PhD Cross Cultural Psychology in Beirut) about a cross cultural issue. All three are academics at local universities.

Nathalie, London 09/10/2010

A cross cultural issue:

We teach our classes in London, Hong Kong and Dubai. These are partner campuses, in the sense that when students obtain their degree it says ‘British University’ without an indication at what location. We have always been instructed that English standards apply. In practice this means that content and assignments need to be of equivalent level (although do not necessarily need to be the same).

Today we were told that Dubai students complained that they had to do an assignment that involved the analysis of the performance of companies that produce alcohol. They felt that this was insensitive to their cultural norm.

It was suggested that we adjust the content to local needs.

I have huge reservations. First, it’s analysis of a company, I am not making them drink the stuff. Secondly, the university’s aim is to expand world-wide. We now have campuses in Mauritius, China, India, Dubai, Sri Lanka etc etc. Adjusting content and assignments to each culture is just not feasible.

Some people have argued that we teach from a Western-centric perspective. We expect students to be independent learners, who are critical thinkers, which for some other cultures may be challenging. As a UK university, are we selling a UK product or is the university a multinational that should adjust it’s product to local needs?

What do you think?

Ronald, New Zealand 09/10/2010

hahaha this is too funny. sorry, but those complaints i can’t quite take seriously.

if people are too ideologically narrow to care about stuff like that, just change the name of the product. maybe make it landmines or deep sea oil drilling machinery or male underwear something like that :p is this a serious complaint or just somebody trying to act important?

Nathalie, London 10/09/2010

A serious complaint, presented today by the Dubai representative (English national), who urged all module leaders to change the content to Dubai norms.

Ronald, New Zealand 09/10/2010

i leave it to charles to reply to that.

what happened to good old educational standards, first practiced and perfected in those areas that seem to have some problems with content these days (according to this complaint).

i guess the university needs money, so you should change all your course content now. immediately.

Charles, Beirut 10/09/2010


Well, I’d probably side with the Dubai request on this one. The issue is not really about alcohol for me, but about teaching effectiveness…

The inclusion of Alcohol in the example becomes a distraction from the actual exercise as students are focusing on this “forbidden” or “unfamilar”

object rather than on the point of the exercise. This is not about critical thinking. What if the exercise was turned to “the company that publishes Mein Kempf wants to increase its sales, blab la” sent to UK or German students. it will irk some people and distract from the main purpose of the exercise. In my personal opinion, exercises need to use examples that are meaningful and recognisable by students for them to be most effective. No point giving camel trading examples to British students, or referring to superior Japanese efficiency to Chinese participants. 

However, we would have a problem if Dubai authorities request removing “sexism” or homophobic discrimination from the curriculum, or decides that some psychological concepts are inappropriate. Then we are dealing with actual content.

That’s my two cent worth of thoughts.

Ronald, New Zealand 10/09/2010

i still believe that the alc example is hypocritical though. i have not been to dubai, but i have been told that you can buy alc and many men appear to drink. so it is a superficial political reaction rather than a sacred value type kind of problem. i am sceptical about religiously motivated requests, but i understand that it might deeply offend and motivate certain groups of people. but at the end of the day, deeply religious people are often quite tolerant and these issues are used for political purposes.

my one cent.

Nathalie, London 10/09/2010

I thought about this some more and sent email last night via iPhone: On 2nd thoughts, if even working on a case on alcohol represents an acknowledgement of something abominable hence it is a problem (like a case on pedophilia discussed as a norm) then this may make sense.

I do not agree, however, with Charles’ comment that we cannot agree with homophobic issues. If by law homosexuality is not allowed, I don’t see the difference between that and alcohol, which is also forbidden by law. Thus, if it concerned a legal case of Smith vs Kramer, where Kramer was the defendant and it was related to dismissal of work due to sexuality and Dubai would complain about that… then isn’t that the same argument?

What this highlights is that our Western minds are rarely exposed to situations where we have to write about something we find disgusting (e.g., a case study of the success of a company that makes utensils for female clitoral removal). Hence, we jump through the political correctness hoop and LEARNED that issues related to alcohol are problematic, however, we do not truly understand the sentiment, we cannot empathise. I certainly didn’t, and felt that Dubai should get over it.

I understand now. It conjures up all sorts of questions. It makes me realise that the gap between cultures is magnificently huge and that debates about land, etc may be more rational but debates about these norms and values are emotional and difficult to comprehend. If people are not willing to explore, research to try to understand (and instead do the PC thing or the f*** off thing) then we’re not getting anywhere really.

My two pennies.

Charles, Beirut 13/09/2010

Feels like a conversation … : )

The example of alcohol is not similar to homosexuality, even if they seem to have a  common denominator in “laws and regulations”.

Consuming alcohol or not has no implication towards discrimination, and is a matter of choice (to drink or not to drink). This is not the case in homosexuality or gender or race. These you are born into, and all humans are equal in the eyes of Allah 🙂 (ergo the theological argument).

So, if the retrograde government of one country or the other would like to enforce homophobic legislation, it doesn’t mean we have to bend to it. I live in a country that supposedly considers homosexuality illegal, yet I talk about it openly in class even if some ears do not like to hear what I say. This is not the same as preferences and choices (e.g. to ban CFC aerosol or not :)).

Nathalie, London 13/09/2010:

I see your point. But then this too is up for debate because you say one is born into homosexuality, whereas others may argue it isn’t. It then comes back to opinion and my opinion is that, I am not asking the student to drink the stuff, I am asking him/her to evaluate a Cross Cultural Case study on a beer company. If anything, the international MBA student should’ve highlighted the cultural issues related to this product (and get an ‘A’!).

After note: The case study was changed to a different kind of assignment before this discussion happened. This particular case study on teaching a controversial product will now be used in the introductory lecture at Under Graduate and Post Graduate level as it can be apply to the context of marketing (a controversial product), advertising, shipping, producing etc. To me, this example has highlighted the complexity of cross cultural management. When a conflict occurs, the challenge is to empathise truly, i.e., understand the beliefs and emotions. This then doesn’t mean that something has to change perse. That depends on ultimately what is deemed to be in the benefit of the organisation/individuals involved.

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On a blogroll

With Stephan, colleague and friend from Middlesex University, I had a conversation about blogs – how to advertise them (via Twitter, apparently) and how to manage them. I sometimes wonder if I am writing to a non-existent audience in an ocean of fellow bloggers but no readers. Stephan’s blog is specifically professional, whereas a blog from another friend, Patricia, is decidedly more personal, although she too writes about her professional life. Obviously, the two types of blog have very different functions and therefore audiences.

One blog I like is ICCI Blog, mainly because it’s the cognitive bit of culture that ruffles cross-culturalists. I strongly believe that many academics live in silos, where they only preach to the converted and refuse to consider alternative hypotheses. So, it’s good to read an opposing view once in a while. Just like I sometimes expose myself to Fox News or the Daily Mail. 🙂 For this reason I read Ann Coulter’s blog too some years ago (Did Philip Pullman call the ice mother in His Dark Materials ‘Mrs Coulter’ on purpose??)

I have two more blogs listed among my many bookmarks. I checked – one is a feminist blog, which I should read and the other is a political blog, which looks interesting although I am currently unsure why I bookmarked it specifically.

I like blogs because, unlike Wikipedia or news sites, I like to read behind the ‘facts’ and learn what is going on in people’s heads when they write. Second, I encourage students to think critically but also to be reflective so to become aware of any bias that they may have – blogs also allow for the space to do this. Coming to think of it, it may be a good type of assessment that is different from standard essays or case studies. Similarly, should blogs be considered an academic output? We’d need them to be peer reviewed. Academics, prepare to be thwarted by tweets in the future.

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Countering Radicalisation: perspectives and strategies from around the globe

Nathalie van Meurs and Charles Harb recently attended the conference ‘Countering Radicalisation: perspectives and strategies from around the globe’ organised by the Dutch government in The Hague for ministers of internal and external affairs, national security officers, policy makers and researchers. Ruud Lubbers, former Dutch PM and High Commissioner for Refugees chaired the meeting, which involved round table discussions on radicalisation and terrorism. Tony Heal, the Deputy Head of the Prevent Unit within the Home Office of the UK also presented, and alerted the researchers among the audience that, although approximately 14,000 articles on counter radicalisation exist, very few contain empirical data. More research is required and policy makers are very interested to talk to the academic community about formation of identity, management of conflict, and strategies for collaboration between local and national government on this issue.

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LSE talk: The New Politics of Identity

On the 29th of April, 2008, Professor Lord Bikhu Parekh (University of Westminster) gave a talk on his new book “A New Politics of Identity”. He was accompanied by a panel of experts in the field, namely David Goodhart (Editor of Prospect), Professor John Keane (University of Westminster and the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin), and Prof Lord Tony Giddens (Chair).


After Professor’s Parekh’s presentation, the panel discussed Bhiku Parek’s work, which covers the impact of globalisation on ethnic, religious, and national identities. The event was open to all and organised by LSE’s Centre for the Study of Global Governance.


Professor Parekh decided not to summarise the book but to focus on its message and launched the concept of three identities: personal, social, and human. Each of these identities raise questions about lifestyle decisions and beliefs. He addressed the issue of how we organise our identities; are they prioritised by oneself or primed? As an example he mentioned that a person may be a Christian cricketer. Does being Christian affect being a cricketer (e.g., in terms of competitiveness – do onto others…. ) and vice versa?


His main focus, however, was on this new ‘human’ identity. We must ask ourselves “as a human being, what kind of life am I to live?”. He linked this with the work of the philosopher Hegel (and Marx to an extent) in terms of whether this universal identity is mediated by other social identities. If someone is a globally oriented citizen, does this affect their behaviour? If so, how? For example, in terms of justice and obligations, should there be a political community that aims towards universal democracy and global welfare state, not limited to a nation? The panel commented on these and other aspects within the book. David Goodhart focused on the concept of citizenship and argued that ‘the left’ needs to rethink the definition of ‘the nationstate’ as human rights presupposes a citizenship. In terms of immigration, this means that the UK should follow the Canadian model and that each individual needs to add value based on their skills. Citizenship comes with rights. These ‘rights’ conflict with moral liberal thinking and the focus should be on rights AND obligations. He continued to argue that majority groups’ identities are not satisfied by current political arrangements. For this reason, he states, Parekh’s book is too balanced (on the one hand, on the other hand) and a case is made for both liberalism and group rights. He said people should settle with the fact that identity is often politically defined in terms of race, religion etc.


The issue of immigration and individual vs. group rights was also elaborated upon by John Keane. He criticised the book for not addressing the causes and agents of globalisation. He aimed to clarify that globalisation does not mean Americanisation per se nor does it imply homogenisation. A discussion ensued regarding the idea that the concept of the state and the concept of humankind are juxtaposed but whether it is truly a matter of bipolarity. Parekh replied pragmatically that it is necessary to think beyond the nation state. If, for example, talent is taken from India (e.g., IT specialists or medical experts) then scholarships should be provided. He argues that we should think in terms of a post national state with reference to human rights and political morality. There is a need for some kind of social cohesion and less of a need for a focus on the state and culture. Due to the complexity of identities it is nonsensical to think of a state as ‘liberal’. Equally, universalism is not necessarily a good thing.


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Mixedness and Mixing e Conference

Mixedness and Mixing e Conference: New perspectives on Mixed Race Britons


Inspired by the success of the Negotiating Identities eCongress, the Commission for Racial Equality (now Commission for Human Rights and Equality) hosted an eConference on 4-6 September looking at issues relating to Britain’s mixed race population (mixedness) and mixed families (mixing).


Mixed-race people account for around one in six of all ethnic minorities in Britain today. They belong to an ethnic group that is not only the fastest-growing in Britain today, but also has the youngest average age and the greatest amount of diversity. It is also perhaps the least well understood.


The events brought together a wide variety of perspectives to identify and discuss new approaches, ideas and experiences, and to consider how these can best be used to formulate policy that delivers equality to all mixed-race people.


Nathalie van Meurs wrote a paper for this conference.


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