Publication Date

1999

Abstract

This paper explores a cognitive level approach to understanding the differences between Japanese and US graduate students’ participation in small groups within the Program for Intercultural Management (PIM) at the School for International Training (SIT), Vermont. The primary question I chose to research was: What is the impact of the Japanese cognitive style on participation in small groups within the SIT PIM program, and how can any style differences between Japanese and US students be effectively managed? Within this broad question, I wanted to answer four sub questions: 1) What are the significant differences in cognitive styles between the Japanese and the US students (and faculty) within the PIM program at SIT? 2) Are they reflected in the models from the literature on cognitive style? 3} What are students taught about how to manage differences in style? 4} How can faculty and students effectively manage these differences? Data collection comprised interviews and questionnaires with students, staff, administrators and faculty at SIT. Related literature on cognitive styles and personality types were reviewed. Analysis focused on the results from the questionnaire using the Model of Cognitive Style Based on Two Dimensions (Whetten & Cameron, 1991) and interviews using the Model for Studying the Relationship Between Cultural Variability in Cognitive Frames and Communication (Erez and Earley, 1993). There are differences between the Japanese and US students’ cognitive processes in terms of intuition and sensing strategies. Japanese students tend to see the whole process more than US students, while US students see details and parts of the whole and tend not to focus on the process. Differences in cognitive styles between the Japanese and US students, which underlie different cultural values, influence participation in small groups and are translated into perceptions which can be misinterpreted. Cognitive models and approaches are effective tools for understanding differences in the way Japanese and US individual students’ perceive themselves, other members in small groups, and the group process within PIM. Cognitive models, combined with cultural models, are relevant in any organization where diversity management is practiced between two or more cultures and greater effectiveness through mutual understanding is desired.

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