Let me start by giving a brief overview of my background. I consider myself a fairly multicultural person: I was born in a city in India, moved to suburban Detroit a year after, lived there for 10 years, then moved back to India, and then went to college in a town near Philadelphia for a couple of years.
In my journey across the world and through life, I have come in touch with the dimensions of Hofstede’s cultural taxonomy—in particular, individualism and collectivism—the worlds of the western, individualistic United States, and the eastern, collectivistic India. In this blog, I’d like to talk a bit about culture and self-identity, as per Hofstede’s dimension of individualism/collectivism, and give some insights from cultural psychology about the pervasive effects of culture.
Culture shapes self-concept, as thoroughly explained in a paper by Markus and Kitayama (1991). In individualistic cultures, the self is independent, with emphasis on individual goals over collective goals, and value placed on self-reliance and distinctiveness. There is importance given to standing out, whereas in collectivistic cultures, where the self is interdependent, there is importance given to fitting in. There is emphasis on collective goals, and close relationships and group membership are valued.
One’s upbringing is thoroughly influenced by the cultural psychology of caregivers, or ethnotheories, as per Super and Harkness (1986). Whereas in western, individualistic cultures, the emphasis is on independence from the parent, in eastern, collectivistic cultures, the emphasis is on the sense of oneness and cohesion, and the promotion of dependence between parent and child. Competence in individualistic cultures is defined in terms of behaviors associated with individuation, such as exploration, autonomy, efficacy, and self-expression. In collectivistic cultures, however, competence is more a question of social harmony, interdependence, emotion monitoring, and control. Expressing yourself in collectivistic cultures is often discouraged.
In individualistic cultures, parenting is a child-led task wherein the goals are autonomy and independence. Parents use praise and promote self-enhancement and place emphasis on happiness and personal satisfaction. In collectivistic cultures, parenting is more traditional, akin to training (jiao xun), with the goal being that of interdependence. Parents use criticism, and emphasize self-improvement and achievement, as personal achievement is a reflection of the family’s investment and effort (Heine, 2011).
Fiske (1991) looked at family structures across the dimension of individualism and collectivism, and found that Western, individualistic families are more egalitarian in nature, with emphasis on equality among all members and individual rights and privileges. In the East, however, collectivistic families are more hierarchical in nature, with emphasis on authority, tradition, prestige, protection, and care. Everyone in the family hierarchy needs to be aware of their roles and obligations. Family members who are higher in rank have more prestige and privileges, but the ones lower in rank are more entitled to protection and care.
Even emotions are affected by the dimension of individualism and collectivism. According to a study by Wang (2001), individualistic Americans see emotions as an important aspect of the self, and are elaborated upon as a way of facilitating individuality. Collectivistic Chinese, however, see emotions as a consequence of social interactions, and emphasize others’ roles in emotional expression. Emotions reinforce proper behavioral conduct and sense of connectedness within groups.
When it comes to love, there are different theories prevalent across cultures. In India, where collectivism is prevalent, marriage is arranged by parents based on socioeconomic class and religion, as opposed to marriage being agreed upon by the individuals based on their personality traits and attributes, as is common in individualistic cultures. Love in India is a duty, a feeling that blooms from the obligations of a familial alliance. In the west, love is more voluntary, and therefore more individualistic, with emphasis on the feelings that come about within each individual (Heine, 2011). The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center observed differences in Eastern collectivistic concepts of love and marriage and Western individualistic concepts, and found that love in the east is seen as an indissoluble bond, whereas in the west, love and marriage are more of a contract.
I could go on and on about how much culture influences us, but I’d like to end with a note on ethnic identity in multicultural individuals. It’s confusing to be brought up one way, and then live in a society that operates in a completely opposite way—there is a lot of psychosocial conflict that takes place, both within the individual and between family members who have conflicting cultural values. As globalization increases, there is more and more need for cultural awareness and acceptance of differences—without this understanding of diversity, relationships in society are going to be very difficult indeed!
Fiske, A. P. (1991). Structures of social life: The four elementary forms of human relations: Communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, market pricing. Free Press.
Heine, S. J. (2011). Cultural psychology (2nd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton.
Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. London: McGraw-Hill.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological review, 98(2), 224.
Super, C. M., & Harkness, S. (1986). The developmental niche: A conceptualization at the interface of child and culture. International journal of behavioral development, 9(4), 545-569.
Wang, Q. (2001). “Did you have fun?”: American and Chinese mother–child conversations about shared emotional experiences. Cognitive Development,16(2), 693-715.