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MSU professor teaches cultural intelligence

Publish Date: Thursday, December 3, 2009

After a great deal of travel and more than a decade of experience with human resources, Linn Van Dyne recognized an eminent need for a scale capable of effectively measuring cultural intelligence.

According to Van Dyne-a professor at Michigan State University-cultural intelligence is one's ability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity.

Through the large-scale research project Van Dyne began with her friend and colleague Soon Ang, a Singapore native, she has created a tool that measures cultural intelligence in a different way than many of the instruments available today.

"Many instruments measure cultural competency, but most of them don't have rigorous psychometric characteristics-they're unstable," Van Dyne said. "We wanted to develop an instrument that was stable with strong psychometric characteristics that would be consistent. We wanted to develop a measure that would work across cultures."

A number of such instruments developed in the Western world generate accurate data only for people native to the Western culture, Van Dyne said. However, the early developments of Van Dyne and Ang's scale took place outside the United States, making this particular instrument useful to people across cultures.

Between their most recent book, Handbook of Cultural Intelligence: Theory Measurement and Application, and research published in numerous journals, Van Dyne and Ang have gone to great lengths to make their research on cultural intelligence available to the public.

In addition to benefiting those in the business world, Van Dyne's research has also had a positive impact on students, specifically those involved with study abroad.

For the past three years, her test to assess cultural intelligence has been available to a select number of students prior to study abroad, as well as at the end of the study abroad experience.

"This scale that we've developed and validated is a measurement of people's capabilities to function effectively in culturally diverse situations," Van Dyne said. "One thing that's really important and neat about the measure is that it's malleable. It's something that [people] can develop with exposure and experience. If you're motivated to make a difference you can improve your [cultural intelligence]."

Van Dyne and Ang's research has also been used to create an online self-assessment, which has been available to faculty members and professors since August 2009. The test allows students to answer questions and receive an instant personal feedback report-at no cost-about the way they view their own cultural intelligence.

"Giving them feedback reports allows them to evaluate their strengths and areas where they're not so strong," Van Dyne said.

Van Dyne said she has already received requests for access to the website from instructors all over the world.

"I like to see people benefit from my research, so when I do research that has real applied value, I want to make it available," she said. "The need is greater than ever. The United States is extremely multicultural and it's becoming more so every day. That is both exciting and challenging."

*If you are an instructor interested in Van Dyne's online self-assessment, feel free to email her at for more information.

Written by Stephanie Goldberg for the International Business Center.