IQ was once the only game in town. Now it rubs shoulders with a gaggle of human ability measures such as Emotional Intelligence, Empathy Quotient, and Rationality Quotient. The increasingly interconnected and diverse world of work has magnified interest in another newcomer: CQ, or cultural intelligence. With it come courses promising to prepare their students to work with colleagues, partners and customers who have different values and norms. A new paper investigates how effective this training really is.
The researchers, led by Jacob Eisenberg, investigated cultural awareness training that had a narrow, academic focus, predicting that its impact should be limited to the more intellectual aspects of CQ: cognitive CQ (spotting trends and gathering explicit knowledge on how cultures work), and metacognitive CQ (awareness of what you do and don’t know about other cultures). The training involved lectures and seminars led by professors in the manner of a traditional academic program; these cost-effective methods reflect those typically used in this educational industry.
The first study involved students (mostly Austrians) on a Study Abroad programme intended to increase their language knowledge, expose them to different cultures, and introduce them to different teaching methods. Students on this programme also completed a 3-day cultural management course. At the end of the course, the students rated themselves significantly improved at cognitive and meta-cognitive elements, but not at the other aspects of CQ, including motivational CQ (the amount of emotional resources put towards cultural sensitivity), and behavioural CQ (adopting behaviours such as appropriate tone of voice or recognising personal space).
This finding was replicated in a second study with a more diverse sample of students from 46 nationalities, who received short slots of training spread over several months as part of their International Management Masters.
Eisenberg’s team predicted that participants who had lived in more countries (with minimum stays of six months) should have higher CQ than their more sheltered peers, but that training should close this gap. This was partially borne out. In Study 1, residence history was more strongly correlated with pre-training than post-training levels of cognitive and metacognitive CQ. Meanwhile, the correlation between residence history and motivational CQ was unchanged by the training, strengthening the hypothesis that academic CQ training influences only cognitive aspects. In Study 2, which showed generally weaker effects (perhaps these more international students had less to gain from the training) these trends didn’t reach significance.
The second study also included a no-training control group, who failed to show the benefits enjoyed by the CQ training group. However, it’s a shame that the matching was poor – the controls were retested after three weeks, whereas for the training group eight weeks on average elapsed before retesting. Perhaps the CQ boost was only found in the training group because they spent five extra weeks on their Masters course, surrounded by students from diverse cultures, before they were finally tested?
Looking across the evidence, there’s a good case for claiming that cognitive elements of cultural intelligence can be selectively developed through academic training, including being conscious of how much you don’t yet know about other cultures. But such training doesn’t seem to help people to actually alter behaviour, nor to maintain an appetite for ambiguous cultural environments, arguably even more vital to adapting to a culture. Methods matter, and if you want people to feel or act differently, traditional teaching seems unlikely to be enough, however convenient it may be for the industry to provide.
Eisenberg, J., Lee, H., Bruck, F., Brenner, B., Claes, M., Mironski, J., & Bell, R. (2013). Can Business Schools Make Students Culturally Competent? Effects of Cross-Cultural Management Courses on Cultural Intelligence Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12 (4), 603-621 DOI: 10.5465/amle.2012.0022