Saturday, February 5, 2011 Researchers’ gut reactions.

While the participants’ judgments regarding the presence or absence of basic emotions is certainly revealing, one of the fundamental realities of intercultural communication is that, in very practical ways, a statistical analysis of interpretation accuracy of another culture is probably not sufficient to judge intercultural acuity. Even intra-culturally, a wide range of subjective terms and phrases is used to describe one’s sensitivity to other’s intentions (or lack of sensitivity), In America, we often say someone “is savvy,” someone “gets it.” or, alternatively, someone “is clueless.” Arguably, a more holistic approach may prove more valuable. Indeed, in the vernacular a “gut” reaction is exactly what we would rely on and importantly refers directly to the physical, autonomic, emotional response we have in these situations. Of course, such a holistic analysis is by definition subjective, and the potential for bias is duly noted, yet simultaneously this holistic response is precisely the sort of comparison of expectations to reality that underlies many cross-cultural communication conflicts.

The primary researcher is clearly the individual most embedded within this data. What was my initial gut reaction in analyzing the accuracy of the non-native interpretations? In the moment, I generally thought that the non-natives did a fairly good job in interpreting the Korean emotional cues, based on the Korean focus groups, at one of the comparison phases for example I stated “[your group] didn’t disagree as much about them [the emotions expressed by two of the characters in the first scene].” an in another instance “So, I can pretty much what you all said is in that they had nearly the same emotions.” [MUST CHECK THIS AND MAKE CORRECT QUOTATION]

However, while I felt that the non-natives were clearly “in the ballpark” I raised questions in the moment about the absolute precision of their interpretations “although they didn’t say that they were two peas in a pod the businessman and the middleman, say they saw almost the exact same expressions on both the businessmen and this man in the middle.” In addition, even at the during the focus groups, there was some serious questioning of the intensity of the emotions displayed. In a few instances, the non-natives ratings of intensity differed substantially from the natives as we will see more clearly in other analysis. Alternatively, during the focus groups, I pointed to a few clear examples of the non-natives missing a cue completely. In one case I stated, “Mr. Kim was a little bit contemptuous of the other two people, I don’t know if you guys saw that at all.”

While my responses are the responses of a “first-culture American,” the Korean to English translator also reviewed all of the transcript was asked to offer a “first-culture Korean” interpretation. [Ask YOONHWA to complete this section.]

Clearly, the non-natives were less than perfect in their interpretations--even though the primary researcher’s initial reaction was that they had done fairly well in interpreting the emotions displayed in the same manner as the native culture participants. Again, we are forced to consider the threshold question. How much misunderstanding is enough to cause difficulties in communication? Moreover, is it possible to train and educate individuals involved in cross-cultural situations in the required flexibility to overcome a moderate level of misunderstanding that would seem natural in most intercultural situations.

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