ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (3): 435-454.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.00435

• Special Issue on “Psychological Characteristics and Behaviors of Chinese People in Response to Crisis and Challenges” • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Changes in the intertemporal choices of people in or close to Chinese culture can predict their self-rated survival achievement in the fight against COVID-19: A cross-national study in 18 Asian, African, European, American, and Oceanian countries

SHEN Si-Chu1,2, Khishignyam BAZARVAANI3, DING Yang2,4, MA Jia-Tao5, YANG Shu-Wen2,4, KUANG Yi2,4, XU Ming-Xing2,6, John E. TAPLIN7, LI Shu2,4,5,*()   

  1. 1Department of Psychology, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350117, China
    2CAS Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Beijing 100101, China
    3School of Arts and Sciences, Division of Social Sciences, Department of Education and Psychology, National University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
    4Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    5Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310007, China
    6School of Transportation, Fujian University of Technology, Fuzhou 350118, China
    7The University of Adelaide, Adelaide SA 5005, Australia
  • Received:2021-04-05 Published:2023-03-25 Online:2022-12-22
  • Contact: LI Shu
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(71761167001);major projects of National Social Science Foundation of China(19ZDA358);major projects of National Social Science Foundation of China(18ZDA332);general social science planning project of Fujian Province(FJ2020b057)


Humans are facing an unprecedented historical crisis. In determining how to cope with historical crisis and challenge, two well-studied strategies should be investigated: slow (“invest in the future”) and fast (“live fast, die young”). According to Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” which examines the intertemporal choices of social insects, the “slow” strategy is recommended for those who want to survive an environmental crisis. Intertemporal choice requires tradeoffs among outcomes whose effects occur at different times. In the commonly accepted language of intertemporal choice, the Ant, whose choice is the slow “larger but later” (LL) option, is more likely to survive the harsh winter than the Grasshopper, whose choice is the fast “smaller but sooner” (SS) option.
To determine the optimal intertemporal choice strategy that can help humanity cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, we recruited 26,355 participants from 18 Asian, African, European, American, and Oceanian countries in the present study. We investigated the participants’ intertemporal choice preferences with double-dated mixed gain and loss outcomes, and evaluated the degree of change in their intertemporal choices by differentiating the common currencies in peacetime and pandemic time (i.e., two kinds of change indicators used for differentiating currencies and stages). We then asked them to assess their self-rated survival achievement in the fight against COVID-19. Considering that individuals’ survival achievements were affected by individual- and religious-level factors, we analyzed all data by using multilevel linear analysis to reflect their hierarchical structure. After considering individual differences in personal and religious factors, we constructed two-level models to explore the effects of the change in intertemporal choice on self-rated survival achievement, and measured the moderating role of cultural orientation in terms of Hofstede’s six culture dimensions.
The findings of the cross-national survey revealed that Change Indicator 1 (∆ currency) and Change Indicator 2 (∆ stage) of Chinese and Singaporeans could jointly predict their self-rated survival achievement. Meanwhile, only Change Indicator 2 (∆ stage) alone could predict the self-rated survival achievement of people in the cultural circle that included India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Nigeria. Neither Change Indicator 1 (∆ currency) nor Change Indicator 2 (∆ stage) could significantly predict the self-rated survival achievement of the people in other cultures.
Using The Book of Changes and our findings, we suggest that how one differentially (flexibly) makes an intertemporal choice in peacetime and pandemic time reflects the extent to which one is likely to survive the war against COVID-19. In addition, the mindset of change might shape the competitive advantage of a nation, such as China, in response to the historical crisis. The closer the cultural distance of a country or nation to China, the greater the possibility of benefitting from a similar competitive advantage. It is our hope that our findings help to answer the question of what the psychological characteristics and behaviors of Chinese people in response to historical crises are.

Key words: intertemporal choice with double-dated mixed outcomes, change in intertemporal choice, self-rated survival achievement, biàn tōng (accommodate to circumstances), 18-country cross-national comparison