Proverb preferences across cultures: Dialecticality or poeticality?
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Peng and Nisbett (1999) claimed that members of Asian cultures show a greater preference than Euro-Americans for proverbs expressing paradox (so-called dialectical proverbs; e.g., Too humble is half proud). The present research sought to replicate this claim with the same set of stimuli used in Peng and Nisbett’s Experiment 2 and a new set of dialectical and nondialectical proverbs that were screened to be comparably pleasing in phrasing. Whereas the proverbs were rated as more familiar and (in Set 1) more poetic by Chinese than by American participants, no group differences were found in relation to proverb dialecticality. Both the Chinese and Americans in our study rated the dialectical proverbs from Peng and Nisbett’s study as more likable, higher in wisdom, and higher in poeticality than the nondialectical proverbs. For Set 2, both groups found the dialectical proverbs to be as likable, wise, and poetic as the nondialectical proverbs. When poeticality was covaried out, dialectical proverbs were liked better than nondialectical proverbs across both stimulus sets by the Chinese and the Americans alike, and when wisdom was covaried out, the effect of dialecticality was reduced in both sets and groups. Our findings indicate that caution should be taken in ascribing differences in proverb preferences solely to cultural differences in reasoning.
- Faculty Publications 
Friedman, Mike; Chen, Hsin-Chin; Vaid, Jyotsna (2006). Proverb preferences across cultures: Dialecticality or poeticality?. Available electronically from