Cultural Effects and Influences on Individualism

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The purpose of the current study is to further investigate the relationship between cultural influences and perceived effects on individualism. A multitude of studies have been conducted regarding cultural influences on individualist societies in traditional conjoint roles.  As a western society, we have many perceived cultural influential responsibilities in the both male and female categorizes. However, the focus of this study is directly within individualism itself. It is the purpose of this article to look at the cultural influences that have been defined in western society, differences in individual self-concept within culture, examination of the unique effects of individualism versus other cultural factors. Throughout this study a deeper look will be taken into the perceived relationship and whether cultural effects influence singular thoughts and behaviors. While some of these studies do continue to note the difference in cultural effect, the potential for these effects to pinpoint and optimize individual social function within cultural boundaries has yet to be fully discovered.

Cultural Effects and Influences on Individualism

The quest to satisfying individual goals and needs prompts human behavior to act in the direction of obtainment. Understanding why a person participates on the course of an objective involves recognizing the link of the function or unlaying requisite that the activity serves for that individual. One vehicle people use to satisfy motives is through volunteerism; people volunteer satisfy specific needs or objectives (Finkelstein, 2012). They continue along the process of donating their time as long as the pursuit of interest meets the relevant intention (Finkelstein, 2012). In Finkelstein & Penner (2012) study on individualism and collectivism, they implemented a functional viewpoint to organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) to which they identified three main reasons for social conscience in the workplace. Two of the reasons where comparatively altruistic. They included prosocial values (PV) and what is referred to as organizational concern (OC).  (PV) where displayed in the essence of helping others and in return the possibility of being accepted or assimilation into the group (Finkelstein & Penner, 2004).  (OC) is the theory of positive feels toward the organization for which one works, it is displayed in a constructive work ethic. Finkelstein and Penner (2004) identify a third motive, impression management (IM), is specific in encouraging personal reward. Personal reward is indicative of an individualistic culture, it is self-focused. In structural social conscience, personal goal behavior takes antecedence over the group (Wagner, 1995). If this is case, then the culture of organizational relationships has very little if no influence perceived effect on individualism.

Understanding Cultural Individualism: In Wagner (1995) study on individualism-collectivism data collected from 492 college students showed the number of peers in the group and their identifiability, sense of mutual responsibility, and levels of individualism or collectivism, persuaded peer-rated cooperation in classroom groups. Levels of individualism or collectivism controlled the effects of size and distinguishability on cooperation but not on individuals with shared responsibility (Wagner, 1995).  These results imply that a certain degree of social loafing may point to insights on individualistic cooperation within groups and or cultures in the broader sense.  

There are many definitions to the word culture. Hofstede (2011) best describes culture as collective programming of the human mind that sets itself apart from one group of people to another group. Within each group there’s a variety of individuals with distinctive characteristics. Hofstede (2001) goes on to point out that societal cultures occupy values which are often unconscious but inclined to favor ones’ state of affairs over others. The more common use of the term culture which implies ethnic groups in different regions of the globe is evolving exponentially to include organizations and companies.

It is in organizations and companies where the term social loafing is defined. Social loafing refers to the idea that certain people are prone to relinquish responsibility of tasks if they are working in a group versus when they are required to produce individualistically. Furthermore, much of this research on social loafing has specifically entailed the effects of group size in an effort to predict a number to which this phenomenon becomes active.  It is known the presence of larger number of workers can mask an individual propensity for social loafing by eliminate concerns of corrective punishments.  Even in small numbers though, individual malingering can be hard to pinpoint as often individualistic cultural ideas are blanketed by others regardless of group size.   

Despite these reservations, research on the matter is normally explained and presented in a method that indicates the numbers in a group has a slight part in molding a personal decision to participate in cooperative behavior (Albanese & Van Fleet, 1985; Jones, 1984). Thus, group size will influence continuity and strength in groups by which the members of smaller groups will adhere more than will the members of large groups. This substantiates the idea that distinction in individualism-collectivism can result within a single organizational culture, on teamwork in groups, and that these effects can prolong and change the influential ideas often questioned in investigating occupational or social loafing.

 Hofstede (2011) alludes to the fact that because of its newness, occupational culture is a relatively unexplored discipline. Hofstede (2011) continues to point out that organizational cultures inhabit the way people conceptualize what goes on in the organizational milieu. It is apparent Hofstede’s ideas are rooted in Barnard (1938) who was foremost on thinking in terms of organization.  Barnard (1938) theory represented the seriousness of members to perform in unison in order to endure and maintain existence.  So what effect does individualism have on the culture of cooperating within modern organizations as it pertains to social loafing. Studies in this area of organizational culture have pursued to shed light on considerations that possible could reduce noncooperative tendencies and instead encourage cooperation in groups (Kerr & Bruun, 1983).  However, understanding the behaviors of individualism within the cultures of organizations has not yet evolved far enough, leading to the lack of development into any significant territory of organizational research.

With the general understanding that individualism is a circumstance in which personal interests are rendered a greater significance than the needs of groups, it is automatic in the thinking process that they look out for themselves and disregard group interest especially if they conflict with personal desires. These personal desires segue into Self-Determination Theory and Motive Disposition Theory. Self-Determination Theory suggests that certain experiences, such as competence, are equally beneficial to everyone’s well-being (Schüler, Brandstätter, & Sheldon, 2012) whereas, Motive Disposition Theory predicts that some people, such as those with a high achievement motive, should benefit more (Schüler, Brandstätter, & Sheldon, 2012).  Research on motives as an antecedent to individualisms relationship with basic need satisfaction with positive results could hold the key to a more deeper understanding of culture as both theories explain similar concepts. For example, the need to successfully interact with one’s environment or the desire to have tight bonds with people to which one feels community related (Schüler et al., 2012).

In terms of motivation, in the United States, a large body of cross-cultural research developed as scientists compare people from predominately individualistic cultures. These cultures are identified in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States.  Predominately collectivist cultures include Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, India, and china.  A small amount of research also developed in which U.S. researchers studied the beginnings of individualistic-collectivistic differences within a single culture and further examined the effects of these differences on a number of personal and collective outcomes. 

Supportive findings indicate individualist acts as though they define self as a being consisting of a single person, bounded by his or her skin, as such, implying selfishness and attention to personal pursuits coupled with disinterest in groups. Selfishness explained in the terms of a collectivist signifies attention to group interests and disregards personal desires.  For individualists, whose self-definitions arouse intent of personal gains, cooperation proves appealing only if cooperating with others leads to the attainment of personal benefits that have been identified as otherwise are unobtainable by working alone.

In answering the question what is meant by cultural individualism and how cultural effects individualism has lead psychologist to discuss both culture and its importance to the extent the people residing indifferent areas of the world will have inconsistent experiences; culture is important to the extent that it’s view provides new insight into the psychological process.  (e.g., Bond & Leung, in press; Triandis, 1996). Studies conducted by Jensen and Whang (1994) sheds further light on this geographical occurrence.  They conducted two cross-national studies looking at the impact of culture on cognition (Jensen and Whang 1994). Jensen and Whang (1994) examined fourth and sixth grade children in Los Angeles and discovered something interesting in that Chinese children performed better than European American children why one third standard deviation on an assignment which required pattern-matching and identifying missing elements in visual displays. Kitayama et al (2003) study solidified Jensen and Wang’s (1994) findings by showing a difference in accuracy between American and Japanese responses to line drawing tasks which involved memory recall that entailed diverse backgrounds.  Combined the evidence is clear and imply a strong effect on cultural cognition.  It is important to point out Jensen and Wang (1994) where not able to pinpoint which areas of culture matter and remained silent on specifics such as generalization across various levels of society (e.g., those elevated in collectivist thinking or those low on individualism traits)                        

Relationship between cultural influences and perceived effects on individualism could also have a lot to do with the determining factors proposed by U.S sociologists Talcott Parson and Edward Shils. Parson and Shils (1951) suggested that all human action fits into 5 pattern variables and the choice between alternatives of those variables.  For examples, Parson and Shils (1951) effectivity or need gratification first effectivity neutrality or Restraint of impulses.  Parson and Shils (1951) point out that the variables or choices are present at one’s personality level, at one’s social system or group level and at the cultural level.

As the world continues to get smaller and evolve through advances in technology, cultures will continue to clash creating new conflicts that will inevitably be defined in the near future. A social cognitive based example that is used to draw from principals of cultural constructs would undoubtedly be helpful in identifying cultural influences on individualism. Furthermore, the effects of individualism impressions on culture as a whole.  Humans think in the social context in which they are present.  Deeper exploration of cultural cognition reveals social judgement as an important emergence of individualism further studies in this area are needed.

As we engage more with others from different societies, intergroup conflict is not withering away in the modern age. A social cognition-based model that focuses on the immediate antecedents of salient and accessible active cultural frames can be helpful.

After all, humans do much of their thinking in a social context, and the exploration of socially situated cognition is currently a main thrust of social psychological research, with cultural influences on social judgment emerging as an important aspect of this field (Schwarz, 2000). Because, as notably argued by William James (1890), thinking is for doing, it is reasonable to assume that social contexts provide a meaning making frame. Within this frame, some things seem obvious, easy, natural, and true; others do not. Within this frame, some of the multiple information processing strategies available to us are likely to be used; others are much less likely to be brought to mind (Schwarz, 2000; Taylor, 1998).

 Our current review supports the perspective that one of the ways in which meaning is organized in context is through the meaning provided by salient and accessible culture (operationalized as individualism and collectivism) and that once a particular cultural focus is cued, it is likely to carry with it relevant goals, motives, actions, ways of interpreting information, and processing strategies.


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