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$4 Million Awarded to Study Culture in Middle Eastern Negotiations


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

A research team led by Michele Gelfand, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, has been awarded a $4.27 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a better understanding of the role of culture in negotiations and collaborations in the Middle East.

The grant, which can increase to $6.25 million over a 5-year period, is part of the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), a federally sponsored program overseen by the Department of Defense that supports multidisciplinary research in areas that have potential both for defense and commercial uses.

“We will be developing a systematic understanding of the impact of Middle Eastern cultural factors in negotiation and collaboration in day-to-day relationships,” said Gelfand, who is widely known for her work in cross-cultural social and organizational psychology.

Noting that most of the negotiating and collaborating literature has been developed in the West and reflects Western thinking, Gelfand said little cross-cultural research has been done relating to the Middle East. ”This grant offers a unique opportunity to expand the science and practice of negotiation and collaboration to a critical region—the Middle East—that has remained almost completely unrepresented in psychological research.”

She also noted that I-O psychologists have conducted a great deal of studies on teamwork but less on cross-cultural teamwork. “As teams become more diverse and representative of different cultures, it makes the study of these issues a new and exciting frontier.”

Gelfand noted the grant is “truly interdisciplinary. Our team has scholars from numerous disciplines, including psychology, computer science, political science, behavioral economics, communication, and anthropology.

Team members from the University of  Maryland are Paul Hanges, Arie Kruglanski, Sarit Kraus, Jonathon Wilkenfeld and Deborah Cai. Other team members include Shawn Burke, Eduardo Salas and Tracy St. Benoit (University of Central Florida), Iris Bohnet (Harvard University), Peter Coleman, Andrea Bartoli and Andrzej Nowak (Columbia University) and Col. R. Tomasovic (Naval Postgraduate School).

A key component to the research effort is the team of collaborators Gelfand has recruited from Middle Eastern universities. “These colleagues will have an important role in collecting data on the various research questions, including surveys, simulations and interviews. They know the different cultures and their input will be extremely valuable.”

Countries she expects to be included in the study are Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Pakistan.

Gelfand said the focus of the study will be on negotiations or collaborations in everyday life. “We’re trying to gain a greater understanding of how cultural factors affect negotiations and relationships in terms of willingness to cooperate and the ability to reach constructive agreements among different parties.”

She also noted that the Middle East represents many cultures and they differ by region, status and even gender, and these variations are important to capture. Also a major goal of the grant is to go beyond looking at culture as a static entity. “We are interested in examining the situational and personal factors that amplify, attenuate and reverse cultural differences and in advancing a more dynamic view of culture,” she explained.

Through their laboratory, field- and agent-based modeling efforts, they hope to begin understanding how culture, personality, and situational factors all dynamically interact to affect negotiations and collaborations.

The team also includes graduate and undergraduate students from numerous universities who will be part of a MURI fellows program and a virtual MURI brownbag series.  An important part of our grant is educational outreach, Gelfand said.

She expects the study will provide recommendations on how to use cultural knowledge to influence negotiation and collaborating within various contexts; knowledge that can be used to develop training programs which will ultimately prepare individuals to be effective in intercultural contexts in a wide variety of environments and situations in the Middle East.