Is your culture tight or loose?

Is your culture tight or loose? – article by Chen, A – 2018

  • M Gelfand is a cultural psychologist at the University of Maryland
  • Gelfand’s key insight is that “tight” societies care more and “loose” cultures care less about enforcing social norms.
  • she says Collectivism is about family, whereas being individualistic is about being self-reliant. This is one dimension, and tight versus loose is another. They’re not competing; they’re compatible.
  • For example, East Asia is collectivist and tight, and the US is loose and individualistic. But there are places that are more focused on individualism and they’re tight — like Austria and Germany and Switzerland — and places that are collectivist and loose, like Latin America and Spain.
  • One of the biggest predictors of tightness is the level of threat that groups experience, which could be nations, states, or social groups.
  • Across many different contexts, whether it’s nations or organizations or households, tight groups have much more coordination and order and control. You have less debt, less alcoholism, less drug abuse. With loose cultures, they tend to be more disorganized and have a host of self-regulation failures — they have the opposite issue — but they corner the market on openness. They’re much more open to new ideas, new people, to change. Tight cultures struggle with these issues. They’re more ethnocentric and tend to have a lot of cultural inertia.

  • Crime rates are much lower, and it’s very safe in tight cultures.

  • People crave order when they feel threatened, and that threat can step in from many places, like financial stress.
  • Yes, people who have more of a match between their own individual proclivities do better when they come to a country that matches their sense of norms. It’s also important when choosing an organization and in families. Often, when we choose a spouse or we think about parenting styles, we don’t think, “Oh what domains does my spouse or my partner think need to be strict? Which domains do they think need to be permissive?

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