Past research indicates that foreign experience helps problem solving because the experience of adapting ones lifestyle imparts cognitive flexibility. We propose that an independent process involves studying cultural traditions and systems, which imparts foreign concepts that enable unconventional solutions. If so, advantages on unconventionality problems should be associated with experiences studying of another culture, such as typically occurs in study-abroad programs. The link should be especially strong for individuals with personalities high in openness and in contexts featuring choice. A survey of MBA students' past foreign stays found that greater study abroad was associated with more unconventional solutions and provided mixed support for the two moderating conditions. Study 2 experimentally varied the presence of choice before putting participants through a simulated foreign internship featuring study and situations demanding adaptation. Subsequent solutions to a product design problem were more conventionally Asian and (marginally) less conventionally American in the choice condition, and these effects were mediated by the amount of foreign knowledge acquisition. Implications for selecting employees and developing employees on the basis of foreign experiences are discussed.

Jaee Cho and Michael Morris
Journal Article
Publication Date
Journal of Organizational Behavior

Full Citation

Cho, Jaee and Michael Morris
. “Cultural study and problem-solving gains: Effects of study abroad, openness, and choice.”
Journal of Organizational Behavior
, (January 01, 2015):