Mindsponge: How It Works

8 October 2015 | Broadly speaking, mindsponge is a mechanism for explaining how an individual absorbs and integrates new cultural values into her/his own set of core values and the reverse of ejecting waning ones.

We start with an assumption that every person has a mindset, or a set of core cultural values or beliefs that are central to the individual’s identity (Corell et al., 2004), which is represented by the red nucleus circle in Figure 1. People use their core values as benchmarks – explicitly and implicitly – to judge the usefulness of information or make decisions and responses. Only information, which is in line with the core values, is likely accepted to enter this central circle.

mindspongeSurrounding the mindset core is a blue circle, or a sort of “comfort zone.” This zone is a type of buffer, protecting the core values or the mindset from external shocks, such as cultural novelty. In a sense, the comfort zone helps filter information regarding appropriateness and usefulness of new values or signals. This filtering process consists of both integration and differentiation of information (Levy et al., 2007). When information enters the comfort zone from the external environment (yellow circle), a filtering mechanism kicks in (Vuong and Napier, 2014a) to integrate, synthesize and incorporate information that is compatible with the core values. Meanwhile, differentiation measures the difference between the emerging and existing values to assess costs and benefits of accepting or rejecting the emerging one. The closer some new information or new value gets to the center red circle, the stricter the evaluation or filter becomes.

The white membranes between the red/blue circles and the blue/yellow circles represent the point of evaluation or filter. As an individual evaluates an emerging value, for example, he or she will allow that new value to move closer toward the mindset if it supports the existing values. The yellow circle represents the external values within a new setting that have yet to be evaluated or perhaps even observed.

Cultural and even ideological values of a particular setting may be widely accepted and believed by a community that the individual is a member of or wants to be part of (e.g., a new community outside the individual’s home country or culture). Thus, at some point, an individual has to acknowledge these values and beliefs, especially if they are new and uncomfortable. In an ever more global world, that would mean a deluge of multiple and perhaps seemingly conflicting values for possible absorption. For instance, a Catholic, capitalist American working in Vietnam has to first acknowledge and ultimately find a way to respect the Buddhist or socialist beliefs of his Vietnamese colleagues, partners, and authorities.

Mindsponge: underlying themes

In the mindsponge process how individuals spot and intergrate new values as well as reason the values’ appropriateness and usefulness in comparison to the existing core values are underlying themes. Therefore, in the following, we examine Vuong and Napier’s (2014a) three dimensional (3D) filter and Polya’s (1954) notion of inductive attitude.

Filter process for individuals and organizations

We start with an assumption that an individual recognizes a desire to notice, evaluate and possibly incorporate new values into his or her core mindset. This is a prerequisite to “turn on the radar” for new and emerging cultural values. The radar then scans for new values but also investigates the mindset for values that may be waning or less useful.

A proactive disciplined process of mindsponge filtering begins by comparing foreign information and values to benchmarks (the existing core values), accepting or rejecting the new values to integrate into the comfort zone. In this process, three forms of filtering may occur: (1) assessing whether a value or idea makes sense, (2) evaluating whether it can generate some insight, and (3) determining whether it can support a new opportunity (Napier and Nilsson, 2008; Napier, 2010; Napier and Vuong, 2013b).

The absorbing of new values and squeezing out existing values may help not only those who cross boundaries but also those who do not physically go abroad but want to build more empathy for those who do. For example, an efficient mindsponge can help indigenous people understand better the expatriates who work in their country. Specifically, local staff members in MNCs may find themselves speaking more English, absorbing that as a core value and part of their mindsets, even though they remain ‘at home.’

In Figure 1, the arrows, representing flows of information and values, move in both “in” and “out” directions. The arrows heading toward the nucleus represent emerging values trying to become core values. The arrows going out from the core red circle represent waning values that could be eliminated by the mindsponge. Both are non-stop, continual flows that are also likely evaluated by Polya’s (1954) inductive attitude.

The filtering stages differ in their stringency and at level of analysis. For instance, as mentioned earlier, the closer to the nucleus (Figure 1) that a new cultural value goes, the more rigorous the evaluation of that value becomes for an individual. One evaluation consideration is the cost-benefit of holding or ejecting a value. That is, the degree to which an individual can trust the value to be useful becomes more serious. In light of this, there are at least four levels of so-called “trust evaluation” that a value would endure:

  • Personal qualities and properties: An individual value has to reach a certain level of quality or benefit to be regarded as reliable or useful.
  • Expectation of future costs and benefits in both the short and long term.
  • Ability to verify a value’s adaptability to the existing mindset.
  • Suitability of generalized values at philosophical level, or how corporate leaders understand core values of their corporations, not the statement of corporate values.

At the organizational level, filtering is also going on. Despite consensus on the role of trust in human society and corporate life – for instance, international human resource managers may employ the developed trust between inpatriates and HQ staff as a key performance indicator (Harvey and Buckley, 1997) – few methodological frameworks exist to conceptualize the trust building mechanism (Paliszkiewicz, 2011). Extensive inter-discipline studies on trust result in various definitions that may even make the concept more complex. In general, trust is regarded as a state, belief or positive expectation that the other people or institutions will act in ways that bring benefits or at least cause no harm. Since the future is always uncertain, trust may be seen almost like a bet.

Paliszkiewicz (2011) notes that a few researchers consider trust a dynamic process. For instance, Zand (1972) proposes a model where two people interact with each other and a low-trust start leads to a lower-trust relation.

Lewicki and Bunker (1996) develop a three-stage process of trust. The first stage is calculus-based assessing cost-benefit considerations. The second is knowledge-based trust that relies on information rather than deterrence, and develops over time with increasing interaction among individuals. The last stage is identification-based, when trust matches or becomes in sync with another person’s desires and intentions. Paliszkiewicz (2011) also notes that while there is significant overlap between the stages, an expectation of continuous relationship suggests a high level of trust.

As globalization means a more diverse workspace, the role of trust increases, meaning that a strong conceptual framework of trust building thus is needed. Mayer, Davis and Schoorman, as early as in 1995, proposed a model of trust that differentiates three factors—ability, benevolence, and integrity—that contribute to trust and its outcomes. The model, in addition, clarifies the role of interpersonal trust in risk taking. Mayer et al.’s (1995) model focuses on trust as a process, not a static concept. That is, trust carries a special property of being both a value and a catalyst that helps in turning “foreign” values into nucleus or “home” values. Twelve years later, when revisiting the issue, the authors affirmed that trust as risk taking in a relationship had become more accepted. Schoorman, Mayer and Davis (2007) also added the role of time, confirming the notion of trust as a process, as well as the implication of cross-cultural issues for trust, since various cultural settings defines trustworthiness’s factors in different ways.

In their initial model, Mayer et al. (1995) consider two parties to trust: a trusting party (the trustor) and a party to be trusted (the trustee). The authors stressed that trust is not the act of taking risk, but rather, it is a willingness to consider taking a risk. That is, the trustor is willing to be vulnerable to the actions of the trustee. In light of this, Mayer et al. argue that trust is different from cooperation, confidence, and predictability.

While core values of mindset define individual and organizational identity, Puusa and Tolvanen (2006) examine the interrelation between organizational identity and trust. The authors argue that trust allows organizational members to make greater commitments to their organizations but may not in fact generate individual indentification with the organization. Yet, the relationship between identification and identity is reciprocal. For instance, organizational identity influences individual behaviors while such behaviors shape not only individual identification but also organizational identity. Puusa and Tolvanen (2006) suggest that strong identification means commitment to the organization and its goals. For instance, individual parties engage in trust because they understand and appreciate what another’s wants. In light of this, the clearer the answer that an emerging value delivers the question of “how can I become better?” is the easierly the value convinces the guard for core values to allow it to enter the circles.

The inductive attitude

Polya’s (1954) inductive attitude offers a way to filter values. It starts with the process of noticing similarities between new and existing ideas and values. The next step is generalizing, moving from a particular observation to form tentative inferences that link to an individual’s ongoing experience, facts, and perceived reality. The new thinking or conjecture should be tested, and if the test results in favorable outcomes, it gains credibility.

In other words, Polya (1954) argues that the inductive procedure starts from observing an analogy then generalizing to conjecture, and finally generating a specific context in which to test the conjecture. Analogy, in Polya’s opinion, is finding similarities but on a more conceptual level and depends upon the intention of the thinker to reach a conclusion about the conceptual development of an idea. Inductive attitude is to examine certain beliefs without fear of being easily contradicted by experience. Thus, the core beliefs in individual’s mindset are subjected to frequent tests and re-tests. In addition, the testing results are going to be submitted to the guard of trust that makes judgments on validity and appropriateness of the beliefs in question.

It is noteworthy that analogy may narrow the gap between existing and emerging values. Then while generalization likely pushes an emerging value, which is accepted to enter the comfort zone into the nucleus, specialization brings evidence to the guard of trust for continuously judging on the appropriateness of the value in question.

Polya’s ideas may be useful for the filtering of cultural and other values that are pushing toward the core beliefs in an individual’s mindset. In a sense, those potential new values are being tested and re-tested for credibility, just as Polya would argue. Indeed, when multi-filters system works among scientists and “the sponge” functions between each scientist with the academic concerns testing the conjecture would produce certain understanding, such as when we investigate specialization of the jump Markov processes (Nguyen, Vuong and Tran, 2005) and the martingale representation theorem (Nguyen and Vuong, 2007) leading to proofs of new propositions.

The inductive attitude also requires individual readiness for change and applies three qualities to assess such readiness: (1) intellectual courage to revise existing beliefs, (2) intellectual honesty, and, (3) wise restraint that prevents one from making foolish changes of beliefs. For mindsponge to work effectively, Polya would suggest that an individual not take any new value to heart without a systematic testing and questioning process.

An excerpt from:

* Quan Hoang Vuong and Nancy K. Napier (2015) Acculturation and Global Mindsponge: An Emerging Market Perspective. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, (Special Issue)


  1. […] The point has two implications. First, cultural setting defines the behaviors and the characters of the people who are living in the environment. Second, a cultural setting is defined by its core moral values which are rooted in families, then expand to communities, and then become common senses of society. Core moral values can be sponged through a disciplined process of mind-sponge. […]


  2. […] The point has two implications. First, cultural setting defines the behaviors and the characters of the people who are living in the environment. Second, a cultural setting is defined by its core moral values which are rooted in families, then expand to communities, and then become common senses of society. Core moral values can be sponged through a disciplined process of mind-sponge. […]


  3. […] The point has two implications. First, cultural setting defines the behaviors and the characters of the people who are living in the environment. Second, a cultural setting is defined by its core moral values which are rooted in families, then expand to communities, and then become common senses of society. Core moral values can be sponged through a disciplined process of mind-sponge. […]


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