Culture shapes how we interpret behavior, symbols, customs, and more. Its operation is largely implicit, unnoticed until we encounter other cultures. Therefore deep cultural differences should be most evident in automatic processes for interpreting events, including behavior. In two studies, we compared American and Japanese undergraduates’ spontaneous (unintended and unconscious) trait inferences (STIs) from behavior descriptions. Both groups made STIs but Japanese made fewer. More important, estimates of the controlled (C) and automatic (A) components of their recall performance showed no differences on C, but A was greater for Americans. Thus westerners’ greater reliance on traits, in intentional and spontaneous impressions, may reflect cultural differences in automatic processes for making and recalling meaning. The advantages of locating cultural differences in automatic processes are discussed.
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