Experiential learning of cultural norms: The role of implicit and explicit aptitudes.

Krishna Savani, Michael W. Morris, Katrina Fincher, Jackson G. Lu, Scott Barry Kaufman

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


How should I greet her? Should I do what he requests? Newcomers to a culture learn its interpersonal norms at varying rates, largely through trial-and-error experience. Given that the culturally correct response often depends on conditions that are subtle and complex, we propose that newcomers’ rate of acculturation depends on not only their explicit aptitude (e.g., reasoning ability) but also their implicit aptitude (e.g., pattern recognition ability). In Studies 1–3, participants experienced a range of influence situations sourced from a foreign culture. Across many trials, they decided whether or not to comply and then received accuracy feedback (based on what a majority of locals indicated to be the appropriate action in each situation). Across the 3 studies, stronger implicit aptitude was associated with greater improvement from trial-and-error experience, whereas stronger explicit aptitude was not. In Studies 4–6, participants experienced a range of greeting situations from a foreign culture. Across many trials, implicit aptitude predicted experiential learning, especially under conditions that impede reasoning: multiple cues, subliminal feedback, or inconsistent feedback. Study 7 found that the predictiveness of implicit aptitude was weaker under a condition that impedes associative processing: delayed feedback. These findings highlight the important role of implicit aptitude in helping people learn interpersonal norms from trial-and-error experience, particularly because in real-life intercultural interactions, the relevant cues are often complex, and the feedback is often fleeting and inconsistent but immediate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-291
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Explicit
  • Implicit
  • Learning
  • Norms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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