What Are Collectivist Cultures?

Family from a collectivist culture
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Collectivistic cultures emphasize the needs and goals of the group as a whole over the needs and wishes of each individual. In such cultures, relationships with other members of the group and the interconnectedness between people play a central role in each person's identity. Cultures in Asia, Central America, South America and Africa tend to be more collectivistic.

A few common traits of collectivistic cultures include:

  • Social rules focus on promoting selflessness and putting the community needs ahead of individual needs
  • Working as a group and supporting others is essential
  • People are encouraged to do what's best for society
  • Families and communities have a central role

In collectivistic cultures, people are considered "good" if they are generous, helpful, dependable, and attentive to the needs of others. This contrasts with individualistic cultures that often place a greater emphasis on characteristics such as assertiveness and independence.

A few countries that are considered collectivistic include Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, and India.

How Do Collectivist Cultures Differ From Individualist Cultures?

Collectivist cultures are usually contrasted with individualistic cultures. Where collectivism stresses the important of the community, individualism is focused on the rights and concerns of each person.

Where unity and selflessness are valued traits in collectivist cultures, independence and personal identity are highly stressed in individualistic cultures.

These cultural differences are pervasive and can influence many aspects of how society functions. How people shop, dress, learn and conduct business can all be influenced by whether they are from a collectivist or individualist culture.

For example, workers who live in a collectivist culture might strive to sacrifice their own happiness for the greater good of the group. Those from individualist cultures, on the other hand, may feel that their own well-being and goals carry a greater weight.

How Do Collectivist Cultures Influence Behavior?

Cross-cultural psychologists study how these cultural difference impact various aspects of behavior. Studies suggest that culture influences how people behave as well as self-concept. Researchers Markus and Kitayama found that people who come from collectivist cultures tend to stress interdependence over independence. Those in individualistic cultures might describe themselves in terms of personal traits and characteristics ("I am smart, funny, athletic, and kind."). Those from collectivist cultures would more likely describe themselves in terms of their social relationships and roles ("I am a good son, brother and friend.")

In one study by researchers Ma and Schoenemann, 48 percent of American participants described themselves in terms of psychological characteristics.

In contrast, only 2 percent of Kenyans described themselves in such terms. Instead, 60 percent of the Kenyan participants described themselves in terms of their group roles and memberships.

Cultural differences also influence the motivation to either stand out or fit in with the rest of the group. In experiments by Kim and Markus, participants from American and East Asian cultures were asked to select a pen. Most of the pens were the same color, with a few options in different colors. Most American participants chose the rarer colored pens. East Asian participants, on the other hand, were much more likely to choose the most common colored pen.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

References

Kim, H.S., & Markus, H.R. (1999). Deviance or uniqueness, harmony or conformity? A cultural analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 785-800.

Ma, V., &  Schoeneman, T.J. (1997). Individualism versus collectivism:  A comparison of Kenyan and American self-concepts. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 19, 261-273.

Markus, H.R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253.

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