Cultural backgrounds of people vary according to different values, beliefs, norms, and expectations, which influence behavior, judgments, and decisions people make.
Decisions and choices may vary even at eating. For instance, a Muslim will not eat pork, because pork is prohibited in Islam. Not only depending on religion, history, and other values, but cultures are distinguished as collectivistic and individualistic as well.
Please, look at the picture below for no more than five seconds. Then try to describe what you saw aloud without looking at the picture.
Image credit: www.annabellaweddings.com
If your description was only about big fish, you are more individualistic. However, if you described the picture in general, as a whole picture, then you are a member of collectivistic culture (Iyengar, 2010, p. 53)
European countries are known as individualist ones; one of the best examples is the USA (Iyengar, 2010, pp. 45-46). Asian countries are collectivistic, for instance Japan (Iyengar, 2010, pp. 45-46). According to Iyengar (2010), habits of choosing are developed in children from their early childhood (p.45). For instance, when we go to a store with our children, provided that we let them make their own choices what kind of chocolate to buy, we practise individualistic culture approach. However, at the same time we need to explain the differences between different types of chocolate. If a member of a collectivistic culture goes to the same store with his or her child, the process will be very different. He or she will tend to explain which chocolate is better and which is better to buy.
According to the research done by Mark Lepper, an adviser of Sheena Iyengar, individualistic culture representatives tend to think faster and make their choices immediately, whereas representatives of collectivistic culture are slow and unsure while making choices (Iyengar, 2010, p. 48). The experiment was done on Anglo American and Asian American children (children of Chinese, Japanese immigrants mostly). Anglo American children, who are individualistic, made their choices themselves and were three times faster than Asian American children. Asian American children were active and motivated only when they were told that their mothers think that it is the best decision, or that their mother would like them to choose this or that item (Iyengar, 2010, pp. 47-49), because for collectivistic societies relationship of them and their families is a part of their identities.
These qualities influence people’s behavior for their whole life. For instance, individualists often want to be different from others and promote themselves, whereas collectivists think of benefits for the workplace in general (Iyengar, 2010, p.60). However, where there is a plus, there is a minus. Both cultures have drawbacks as well, “the first can encourage selfishness, while the second can lead to stagnation” (Iyengar, 2010, p. 60). So, having some of each quality would be the best alternative. Many companies try to build up such employees who have both qualities, but, unfortunately, they are still quite unsuccessful with that.
Finally, what about you? What qualities do you see in yourself – more individualistic or more collectivistic? How could we train both qualities in ourselves?
Iyengar, S. (2010). In the Eye of the Beholder. In The art of choosing. New York: Twelve.
Iyengar, S. (2010). Mine, Yours, and Ours. In The art of choosing. New York: Twelve.