Collectivistic and individualistic societies not absolute

October 10, 2017
Credit: Francisco Farias Jr/public domain

How people respond to the same situation can - at least in part - be explained by their cultural background. An often used framework to understand cross-cultural differences in how people feel, think and behave in social situations is that of individualism-collectivism (IC). Sylvia Huwaë shows in her PhD thesis that people's responses depend also upon how close they were with those who were present or involved. The IC framework is not as absolute as it is sometimes thought to be. The defense is on the 11th of October.

Individualism involves cultures in which ties between individuals are relatively loose and the interests of the individual often prevail over the interests of the group. Collectivism, by contrast, refers to cultures in which people are integrated into strong cohesive groups and the interests of the groups generally prevail over the interests of the individual. Yet, many researchers have challenged some of this framework's prime assumptions and its usefulness as a universal model.

Dutch, Moluccan, Chinese and Indonesian participants

This dissertation examined how people from individualistic and collectivistic cultures regulate their emotions during social interactions and respond to transgressions in various settings with various . For this, we used a combination of methods (daily diary, experiment, recall, scenario) with participants with more individualistic backgrounds (Dutch) and more collectivistic backgrounds (Chinese, Indonesian). We also conducted two studies with descendants from Indonesian immigrants (Moluccans) in the Netherlands.

This dissertation showed that, even though participants from individualistic and collectivistic cultures differed in how they suppressed emotions and responded to transgressions, their responses also depended upon how close they were with those who were present or involved. We also found that personal concerns can be important too in collectivistic cultures and that in individualistic cultures relational concerns can also matter when forgiving someone. In addition, our findings showed that interest did not prevail over personal interest among participants with collectivistic backgrounds following transgressions.

Immigrants living in individualistic societies

As such, our findings present a nuanced view on characterizing cultures as either individualistic or collectivistic. Furthermore, our findings with regard to the Moluccans in the Netherlands suggest that the longer immigrants with collectivistic backgrounds live in an individualistic society, the more their responses may become similar to members of the host society.

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