People from diverse cultures react differently to the element of surprise, according to authors Ana Valenzuela (Baruch College), Barbara Mellers (University of California, Berkeley), and Judi Strebel (San Francisco State University). The research team explored different cultural responses to promotional gifts, such as gift cards, mugs, snacks, t-shirts, etc.
The authors conducted four studies in which participants received a gift as a token of appreciation for participating in a survey. Some of the participants knew about the gifts before participating, while others were surprised. Regardless of the gift, participants from the United States enjoyed the surprise more than participants in Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.
“Why does this phenomenon happen? For Westerners, an unexpected gift reinforces feelings of control over their environment. For East Asians, an unexpected gift indicates imbalance and prophesizes bad fortune,” the authors write. “Our findings suggest that East Asians’ experience of surprise is closely connected to their motivation to seek emotional balance.”