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Culture shapes our answer to ‘big frog, small pond’ question

Whether someone would rather be a “big frog in a small pond” or a “small frog in a big pond” may depend on their cultural upbringing, new research suggests.

In a series of studies, researchers asked more than 600 adults from the United States and China about their preferences regarding education and work. Would they prefer to be a star student in a top 100 school or a mediocre student in a more prestigious top 10 school? What about a job at a global top 10 firm in which they would flounder or a top 100 company in which they would stand out?

The study shows that Americans are more likely than Chinese to choose to be the “big frog in a small pond” than the “small frog in a big pond” compared to Chinese.

Chinese were significantly more likely (58 percent) than European Americans (29 percent) to choose the top 10 college, despite being below-average on academic performance among peers. In business, Chinese (27 percent) more often opted to be in a global top 10 company than European Americans (14 percent).

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“Although both cultures may realize the advantages of being the big frog in a small pond, the greater shift toward choosing the big pond was motivated by what felt culturally appropriate,” says Kaidi Wu, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author.

The researchers did not imply that Chinese do not want to be the big frog in a small pond.

“Rather, there is not one ‘right’ way of choosing or a universal solution to making a decision,” Wu says.

The findings appear in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: University of Michigan

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