The Psychology of Collectivist vs Individualistic Cultures
Culture influences how we think, behave, and interact with others in everyday life. In cross-cultural psychology, psychologists often conduct research examining one of the core dimensions of cultural variability: collectivism and individualism.
What exactly are collectivist and individualistic cultures? And what are the differences between these two cultural dimensions?
Read on to learn more about the psychology behind collectivism and individualism, and discover how cultures influence our everyday behaviors.
What is Culture?
One of the most widely-accepted definitions of culture originated from Greert Hofstede, Dutch social psychologist. In his most famous book, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Hofstede described culture as collective mental programming and a “software of the mind” that guides individuals in their everyday interactions. Hofstede further suggested that culture distinguishes a group from others, making each group unique.
After being inspired by Hofstede, more psychologists began to explore the pool of cross-cultural psychology. More recently, Shiraev and Levy, two cross-cultural psychologists, defined culture as “attitudes,” “behaviors,” and “symbols” shared by a large group of people and passed down through generations.
Hofstede proposed five cultural dimensions 一 and one of these cultural dimensions is collectivism versus individualism. We will explore the two cultural dimensions in this article.
What is Collectivism?
Collectivism is defined as cultures that value the needs of a group over those of an individual. In a collectivist culture, people’s identity is determined by the characteristics of the collective groups to which they belong, instead of those of an individual. For example, adults raised in a collectivist culture may prioritize the needs of the family over their own life goals. Moreover, as collectivism generally emphasizes social aspects, achieving and maintaining group harmony in collectivist cultures is crucial.
Examples of collectivist cultures include:
What is Individualism?
In direct contrast to collectivism, individualism is defined as a culture that values an individual's needs over a group or a community. In an individualistic culture, people are defined as individuals and by personal characteristics. As such, individualistic cultures value individual choices and achievements more than collectivism. Individualistic cultures view each person as unique. For this reason, individualism emphasizes competitiveness and self-sufficiency.
Examples of individualistic cultures include:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
What are the differences between Collectivism and Individualism?
There are various differences between collectivist and individualistic cultures. To better understand the idea, the following table compares some key characteristics of these two cultural dimensions:
How do Collectivist vs Individualistic Cultures influence human behavior?
Whether you are born and raised in a collectivist or an individualistic culture, various research suggests that culture plays a significant role in our everyday lives 一 and that it can affect our behavior without us realizing it. Below are some psychological studies that explain how collectivist versus individualistic culture may influence us:
Did you know that culture can influence the emotions we experience? Psychologists investigating the differences in emotions between different cultures have found that they can affect everything from our sense of self-worth to how much we focus on our personal goals.
In one study, researchers surveyed 86 people from an individualistic country (Dutch) and 171 respondents from collectivist countries (Surinamese, Turkish). The results revealed that participants' emotions from the collectivist culture were more related to their perceived worth in society. In addition, their feelings were primarily influenced by their relationships with other people, such as family or friends. On the other hand, the emotions of individualistic respondents focused more on their subjective feelings of themselves and their personal goals in life. As a result, the study suggests that culture plays a significant role in emotions. For instance, culture can affect our feelings, and the way we experience emotions may also be contributing to our cultural background.
2. Career Decisions
Culture can also affect how we make decisions about our careers. Researchers reviewed and explored existing studies about the effect of collectivist versus individualistic cultures on youths’ career choices. Similarly to emotions, the results showed that individuals from collectivist cultures tend to conform their choices to family expectations when deciding on a career path. What’s more, the more one’s job aligns with family expectations, the higher self-confidence and self-efficacy they experience at work.
In contrast, findings show that people from individualistic cultures consider their interests and hobbies more when it comes to their career choices. They are also more independent and self-motivated compared to those from collectivist cultures. As cultures can determine how much we care about the expectations of others, they can play a powerful role in our career choices.
3. Coping Styles
What do you usually do when you feel stressed? Studies have pointed out that cultures can also influence our coping styles. Coping styles are strategies and methods one uses to maintain healthy psychological well-being when dealing with stressful situations. One research study examined how international students from Asian (a collectivist culture) and Anglo-Australian (individualistic culture) backgrounds use coping strategies differently when living in an unfamiliar country.
Surprisingly, the key findings were that Asian students tend to use collectivist coping strategies, such as seeking social support from friends or relying on religious beliefs. Anglo-Australian students, however, are more likely to adopt individualistic coping styles such as making plans and using actions to relieve stress. These findings suggest that culture can influence how we cope with stress.
4. Power and Status
Collectivist and individualistic cultures define powerful people by different standards. Psychologists reviewed existing research and investigated how power and status are conceptualized differently in collectivist and individualistic cultures. The results suggest that in collectivist cultures, people conceptualize power through social aspects. For instance, people who adhere to social norms and demonstrate warmth and friendliness to others tend to gain more power and respect.
On the contrary, individualistic cultures tend to conceptualize power through personal aspects. As such, unique, independent, and people who are not afraid to violate norms are viewed as being more powerful. In general, collectivist cultures feel happier when they have socialized power, whereas individualistic cultures are happier when they have personal power.
Conclusion: The Role of Culture
Culture plays a significant role in our everyday lives, as it affects how we think, behave, and interact with people around us. In addition to his theories on collectivism versus individualism, Hofstede also proposed the consideration of four other cultural dimensions: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity versus femininity, and long-term orientation. Therefore, it should be noted that there are various other ways to study a culture. Regardless of how we may categorize it, culture provides essential social and economic advantages, and it is a reflection of a community or nation.
Learn more about human behavior in different parts of the world with Courses from Infijoy's global psychology experts.
Explore our collection of quick-fix meditations, sleep stories, and soundscapes.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Emotions in collectivist and individualist contexts, A Systematic Review of Factors That Influence Youths Career Choices—the Role of Culture, Individualism—Collectivism, Coping Styles, and Stress in International and Anglo-Australian Students: A Comparative Study
Share this story
- 25 Feb 2022
Suffering from PTSD? Here Are the Most Common Symptoms7 min
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue developed from traumatic events. A wide variety of situations can trigger a person to develop PTSD, such as experiencing or witnessing natural disasters, physical abuse, or traffic accidents. PTSD can cause varying degrees of symptoms, which can harm one's psychological well-being.Read full article
- 25 Feb 2022
How to Heal Your Nervous System4 min
Nervous system dysregulation is a surprisingly widespread phenomenon. According to Polyvagal Theory, which was developed by neuroscientist Stephen Porges in the 1990s, there’s a highly intricate system of signals transmitted between the brain and the body along the various branches of the vagus nerve. This pathway – which runs from the brain through to the abdomen – is integral to the functioning of organs and hormonal responses, as part of the Autonomic Nervous System. When the ANS is aroused by a sense of threat or stress, the fight or flight response kicks in. If the ANS is overwhelmed, the body begins to enter a freeze state, or shut-down. These responses are imperative for basic human survival, but the messages can get jumbled and result in chronic activation and dysregulation – which is detrimental to physical and psychological health. This strain on the body can result in all kinds of ailments, from anxiety to digestion issues, chronic pain, and life-threatening disease. Healing the nervous system is a vital piece of the well-being puzzle.Read full article
- 11 Apr 2022
The Differences Between Mental And Emotional Health9 min
If you are asked about what constitutes a healthy life, thanks in large part to the many advertisements that we’re inundated with in this day and age, what usually comes to mind is likely to be something related to weight loss or a large bowl of salad. But there’s more to being healthy than just the physical: while an active lifestyle and balanced diet can help us be physically healthier, there are other components to our well-being that we can’t see externally.Read full article
- 7 Apr 2022
Protecting Your Mental Health While Staying Informed4 min
We are living in particularly stressful times. Not because wars, pandemics, political power plays, social unrest, and global economic downturns are anything new in the grand scope of human history, but because for many of us, the rate at which we are bombarded with new ー and quite often, overwhelming ー information is becoming incredibly stressful一for some, even unbearable. The digital revolution may have connected us with our fellow humans in remarkable ways, but it has also contributed to a global mental health challenge of increased stress and anxiety. So how can we retain a connection to the world as engaged global citizens that care about what’s going on around us, without completely losing our minds? Let’s cut the speculation and get straight to the facts.Read full article
- 9 Aug 2022
How Decluttering Can Be Good for Your Mental Health3 min
There’s something about a good old clear-out that’s incredibly liberating. Ditching years’ worth of unwanted items can be immensely satisfying for the soul – as if you’re being freed from carrying the energetic weight of all that’s accumulated over time. But a declutter can also be hugely daunting. Many of us put it off, even as our drawers begin to overflow with things we don’t use, and it becomes harder to find the things we do use and need. Because for many of us, there’s a direct link between the material clutter of life and the internal clutter of the mind. Studies have found that a cluttered living space contributes to stress and exacerbates shame and overwhelm. If Japanese home-clearing guru Marie Kondo hasn’t yet convinced you that a tidy-up can be life-changing (through her KonMari method, which has become a global sensation), then let’s explore how doing so can, at the very least, benefit your mental health.Read full article