Why should people in one part of the globe have developed collectivist cultures, while others went individualist? The key is how culture is shaped by the way people traditionally made a living, which in turn is shaped by ecology. In East Asia it' s all about rice. Rice requires massive amounts of communal work. Not just backbreaking planting and harvesting, which are done in rotation because the entire village is needed to harvest each family ' s rice.

- Robert M. Sapolsky -


One typical trait of high-context, polychronic societies is a collectivist orientation, while low-context, monochronic societies tend to be individualistic.


In collectivist societies, that include most Latin-American, Southern European, Asian and African countries, tribal communities around the world:


- the group takes care of individuals, individuals are loyal to the group (family, extended family, tribe, organization, etc.). “WE” is prioritized over “I”: the well-being of group is more important than individual pursuits;


- people strive to preserve harmony and to respect hierarchy within the community;


- everyone is likely to practice self-control, since they are fully aware of the impact their words and actions have on others;


- self-concepts are based on social roles rather that personal traits ("I am a good son" vs "I am kind");


- selflessness and conformity are highly valued, individual achievements are often portrayed as a result of external circumstances rather than personal merit;


- non-verbal communication is often aimed at preventing "loss of face" (public humiliation) from happening;



In individualistic societies, that include Scandinavian countries, most English and German speaking countries:


- focus is on personal priorities and self-realization: people value freedom and individual achievements (individualistic cultures are usually “doing” cultures: they’re structured, they prioritize task outcomes over relationships, they stress the importance of getting things done and being productive);


- self-concepts are based on personal traits rather than social roles ("I am kind" vs "I am a good son" typical of collectivist societies);


- independence and self-reliance are important. People are expected to take care of themselves and a few loved ones, and to take responsibility for their own achievements and failures (individualistic societies are generally guilt-based);


- confrontation is accepted, people are encouraged to express their opinions and to be assertive;


- work is often seen as a key factor to happiness in terms of pleasant feelings, satisfying judgements, self-validation;


- happiness is reserved for those who are successful or perceive themselves as such.




Examples of collectivist and individualistic cultures are those based in the following culture clusters:


Collectivist cultures


The Sub-Saharan Africa Cluster

The Middle East Cluster

The Latin Europe Cluster

The Eastern Europe Cluster

The Latin America Cluster

The Southern Asia Cluster

The Confucian Asia Cluster


Individualistic cultures


The Anglo Cluster

The Nordic Cluster

The Germanic Europe Cluster


Articles exploring the topics of guilt and shame, and the meaning of collectivism and individualism with regard to workplace dynamics, are available at the following links:


- Social Connections, Harmony, Consensus: Confucian Beliefs and Business Culture in China, Japan and Korea.


- I/II: "Why Do We Work So Hard?” Motivation and Reward Across Different Cultures


- I/II: “Why Do We Work So Hard?” Introduction to Guilt and Shame Cultures


- Giving and Losing "face": Honour, Social Reputation and Networking in Asian Countries


- National Culture, International Business Strategy, and Common Misunderstandings Between the East and The West





[Disclosure: all the below are affiliate links, and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you). Please bear in mind that I recommend these books because of their valuable content (they are some of the actual sources I learn from, alongside journals, academic papers, and other online sources I regularly reference in my blog posts), and not because of the commission I might receive from your purchases.]


Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (Individualistic vs collectivist cultures)


- Hofstede, G. H. (1997). “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind” (second ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

- Hofstede, Geert (2001). “Culture ' s Consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.)”. Thousand Oaks, CA


Hall’s Cultural Dimensions (Polychronic- vs monochronic cultures, high- vs low-context cultures)


- Hall E.T. (1959). “The Silent Language”. New York: Doubleday

- Hall, E.T. (1966). “The Hidden Dimension”. New York, NY: Doubleday

- Hall, E. T. (1976). "Beyond culture". New York, NY: Doubleday

- Hall Edward T. (1983). “The dance of life : the other dimension of time”. New York, NY: Doubleday


Culture Clusters


- House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. (2004). "Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies". CA: Thousand Oaks





- Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995). “Cross-cultural correlates of life satisfaction and self esteem”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 653-663 - https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.68.4.653

- Lu, L. (2001). “Understanding Happiness: A Look into the Chinese Folk Psychology”. Journal of Happiness Studies 2(4), p. 407-432. DOI: 10.1023/A:1013944228205

- Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2001). “Goals, Culture, and Subjective Well-Being”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(12), 1674–1682 - https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672012712010

- Ye D, Ng YK, Lian Y. Culture and Happiness. Soc Indic Res. 2014;123(2):519-547 - https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0747-y




Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism Individualism-Collectivism

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