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We're Not as Divided as We Think

Researchers find that people around the world are remarkably alike.

Adobe Stock, courtesy of University of California, Riverside
Source: Adobe Stock, courtesy of University of California, Riverside

Here's some good news in an angry world: People around the globe generally experience life events similarly, according to a paper recently published in the Journal of Personality.

“The world is a much more similar and unified place than we once thought,” says Daniel Lee, research assistant at the University of California, Riverside, the paper's lead author.

That’s especially important in the current climate of unrest during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says. “We can only hope that seeing we're all unified in the challenges we face during these trying times will give people an increased sense of global community.”

And, what's more, we're as likely to agree with a person on the other side of the world as we are to agree with somebody on the other side of town—in some cases, more so.

The Research

Researchers worldwide surveyed individuals in 62 countries and asked them what they “remember well” from the previous day. The goal was to determine whether the world’s population experiences life the same way or differently.

They looked at events that might seem inconsequential, such as sharing a movie on Netflix, as well as more complex situations, such as attending an event where you encounter a potential romantic partner.

“The difference among countries is smaller than expected; and the difference within countries is much greater,” they wrote. That is, people from different countries aren’t that different, and people within the same country aren’t as similar as expected.

The study included data from 15,318 members of university and college communities, 10,771 of them females, 4,468 males. Seventy-nine did not choose a gender. Most participants were in their early to mid-20s. Answers were gathered using a 90-question assessment called the Riverside Situational Q-Sort.

The Findings

  • People generally remember positive events, which contradicts previous psychological research that suggests that negative events are more memorable than neutral or positive events.
  • The U.S. and Australia were most alike in their reaction to events.
  • Malaysia and Jordan were the most different.
  • People in the Netherlands were most like their countrymen; those within Japan were the most different.

The study represents the first finding published from the International Situations Project.

To take the same survey as the participants, click here.


Situational Experience around the World: A Replication and Extension in 62 Countries, Daniel I. Lee, Gwendolyn Gardiner, Erica Baranski, David C. Funder.First published: 19 May 2020.