Doodle Around the World: Online Scheduling Behavior Reflects Cultural Differences in Time Perception and Group Decision-Making

Like other group decision-making processes, event scheduling follows certain social procedures. It starts with specific choices made by an initiator (“Which times suit me best? Do I want participants to see each others’ answers?”) and is then passed on to individual decisions of participants (“When am I available? Should I disclose a less convenient time?”). However, instead of making our decisions independently, we usually look at the choices of others and consider how our own choice might affect the group outcome, or our standing within this group (“What have others chosen? What will they think of me if I make this choice?”).

Because social procedures are formed by cultural values, we asked ourselves: Does (national) culture determine how we schedule events online?

Research has indeed shown that societal norms and values differ between countries and determine how groups negotiate individual choices and reach consensus. In countries that are believed to have collectivist and more community-oriented cultures, such as China or Japan, people see themselves as part of a group, and prefer collective decision-making. In individualist countries, as for example the US, people seem to be less concerned with harmony, and are less affected by the decisions of others.

To find out whether these tendencies can be also observed online, we analyzed more than 1.5 million anonymized Doodle date/time polls, which had been initiated in 211 countries.

An example of a Doodle date/time poll, where the second option reached consensus among all three participants.
An example of a Doodle date/time poll, where the second option reached consensus among all three participants.

A main finding of our work is that in comparison to predominantly individualist societies, poll participants from collectivist countries respond earlier, agree to fewer options but find more consensus. The results suggest that:

individualists strategically respond late, perhaps in order to make fewer time commitments and to maximize their own flexibility,

• individualists show more availability but are less likely to find consensus,

collectivists seem to make a larger effort to reach mutual agreement, indicating that they have a greater desire for harmony and blending in.

More generally, our results demonstrate that Internet users have not converged into a homogeneous subcultural group with the same behavioral norms across the world, but that their use of technology considerably differs between countries.

Want to learn more? Check out the full Doodle Around the World paper!

Katharina Reinecke, Harvard University
Minh Khoa Nguyen, University of Zurich
Abraham Bernstein, University of Zurich
Michael Naef, Doodle
Krzysztof Z. Gajos, Harvard University