Culture blind leadership research: How semantically determined survey data may fail to detect cultural differences
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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- Scientific articles 
Original versionFrontiers in Psychology, 2020 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00176
Likert scale surveys are frequently used in cross-cultural studies on leadership. Recent publications using digital text algorithms raise doubt about the source of variation in statistics from such studies to the extent that they are semantically driven. The Semantic Theory of Survey Response (STSR) predicts that in the case of semantically determined answers, the response patterns may also be predictable across languages. The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) was applied to 11 different ethnic samples in English, Norwegian, German, Urdu and Chinese. Semantic algorithms predicted responses significantly across all conditions, although to varying degree. Comparisons of Norwegian, German, Urdu and Chinese samples in native versus English language versions suggest that observed differences are not culturally dependent but caused by different translations and understanding. The maximum variance attributable to culture was a 5% unique overlap of variation in the two Chinese samples. These findings question the capability of traditional surveys to detect cultural differences. It also indicates that cross-cultural leadership research may risk lack of practical relevance.