Culture, Education, and the Attribution of Physical Causality

Kaiping Peng, Eric D. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two studies investigated the impact of culturally instilled folk theories on the perception of physical events. In Study 1, Americans and Chinese with no formal physics education were found to emphasize different causes in their explanations for eight physical events, with Americans attributing them more to dispositional factors (e.g., weight) and less to contextual factors (e.g., a medium) than did Chinese. In Study 2, Chinese Americans' identity as Asians or as Americans was primed before having them explain the events used in Study 1. Asian-primed participants endorsed dispositional explanations to a lesser degree and contextual explanations to a greater degree than did American-primed participants, although priming effects were observed only for students with little physics education. Together, these studies suggest that culturally instilled folk theories of physics produce cultural differences in the perception of physical causality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1272-1284
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2003


  • Attribution
  • Culture
  • Ethnic identity
  • Physical causality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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