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Collectivist and individualist cultures

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For judgements of value about collectivism and individualism, see individualism and collectivism. This article regards how 'collectivist' and 'individualist' are used descriptively in anthropology and cultural psychology.

Cultures are typically divided into two categories: collectivist and individualist. Individualist cultures, such as those of the United States and Western Europe, emphasize personal achievement regardless of the expense of group goals, resulting in a strong sense of competition. Collectivist cultures, such as those of China, Korea, and Japan, emphasize family and work group goals above individual needs or desires.

Collectivism and individualism deeply pervade cultures. People simply take their culture's stance for granted. In the U.S., everything from 'self-serve' buffet tables to corporate structure to cowboy movies reflect the deeply ingrained individualism.

Both collectivist and individualistic cultures have their failings. People in individualist cultures are susceptible to loneliness, and people in collectivist cultures can have a strong fear of rejection.

Traits of Collectivism

  • Each person is encouraged to be an active player in society, to do what is best for society as a whole rather than themselves.
  • The rights of families, communities, and the collective supersede those of the individual.
  • Rules promote unity, brotherhood, and selflessness.
  • Working with others and cooperating is the norm; everyone supports each other.
  • as a community, family or nation more than as an individual.

Traits of Individualism

  • "I" identity.
  • Promotes individual goals, initiative and achievement.
  • Individual rights are seen as being the most important. Rules attempt to ensure self-importance and individualism.
  • Independence is valued; there is much less of a drive to help other citizens or communities than in collectivism.
  • Relying or being dependent on others is frequently seen as shameful.
  • People are encouraged to do things on their own; to rely on themselves

Examples of Countries with Generally Collectivistic Cultures

  • Argentina
  • Belarus
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • China
  • El Salvador
  • Egypt
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • India
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Lebanon
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • Turkey
  • Malaysia
  • African countries (Zambia, Kenya, uganda, Somalia, etc)
  • Israel

Examples of Countries with Generally Individualistic Cultures

  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Poland
  • Czech Republic
  • Finland
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • United States
  • The Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg

Attribution is the process of understanding the actions of others based on limited information. Since the process is inexact, large errors often creep in. In individualistic cultures, there is a strong bias towards attributing a person's behavior to the characteristics of that person, instead of to the situation that person is in. This is called the fundamental attribution error. People in collectivist cultures have this bias to a much lesser degree.

Personality Types

The stereotype of a 'good person' in collectivist cultures is trustworthy, honest, generous, and sensitive, all characteristics that are helpful to people working in groups. In contrast, a 'good person' in individualist cultures is more assertive and strong, characteristics helpful for competing.

The idea of the 'artistic type' or 'bohemian' is not usually found in collectivist cultures. However, collectivist cultures usually have a 'community man' concept not present in individualist cultures.

Collectivism and individualism in Chinese culture

In Chinese society, collectivism has a long tradition based on Confucianism, where being a 'community man' ([qúntǐ de fènzǐ) (群体的分子) or someone with a 'social personality' (shèhuì de réngé) (社会的人格) is valued. Additionally, there is the [shìgu (世故) personality type, who is worldly and committed to family.

Individualist thinking in China was formed by Lao Zi and Taoism. He taught that individual happiness is the basis of a good society and saw the state, with its "laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox," as the persistent oppressor of the individual, "more to be feared than fierce tigers." He was an opponent of taxation and war, and his students and the tradition that followed him were consistently individualistic.

See also


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