Why we ignore the biggest part of who we are

October 30, 2015

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Half of what I write here is irrelevant. Oh, it's probably relevant to you, but you probably only represent roughly 30% of the world. The audience of this site is predominantly from societies...

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Unfiled: this is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology.


Half of what I write here is irrelevant. Oh, it's probably relevant to you, but you probably only represent roughly 30% of the world. The audience of this site is predominantly from societies dominated by so-called 'Western' culture. That means Australia, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe and so on. Western culture is very much an individualistic culture, a type of culture that represents less than a third of the world's population. Unfortunately, until recently, almost all of the psychological research has come from these countries and now we're finding that some of what we've found doesn't apply to every culture, just ours. In fact, it's the reason that to get published in a major journal these days, you normally have to include a certain number of ethnicities.

Individualistic cultures are those that emphasise the needs of the (duh) individuals. About 70% of the world come from collectivistic cultures, in which the needs of the group triumph. This differing emphasis has enormous implications for our conceptualisation of the self, our personalities and our behaviour.

Individualism

  • The cultural goal is independence.
  • Our behaviour is given meaning by attributing it to our own thoughts, feelings and attitudes
  • We avoid, where possible, attributing (positive) behaviours to others and avoid referring to them in terms of others.

Collectivism

  • The cultural goal is interdependence (which is, if I'm honest, entirely the way we're built)
  • We see ourselves as part of a social relationship
  • Our behaviour is given meaning by referring to it, and recognising that it is contingent on the thoughts, feelings and actions of the other people in that relationship
Ask someone from an individualist culture like the U.S. to answer the question 'who am I?', and they'll response with a self-evaluation (like, 'I'm good at sport) about two thirds of the time. When you ask someone from a the predominantly collectivist culture, India, 'who are you', they'll do it half as much. Ask a culture with virtually no contact with the West like a Maasai tribeman and they only do it less than 20% of the time. But as we move closer to the western-influenced Nairobi (the capital city of Kenya, where you find the Maasai), you find it increase again to about 40%. The research is conclusive. The more individualistic you are, the less you think about the influences of your society. Now, this has a bunch of implications, but the most important are here:

Like Chuck says in Invisible Monsters,

Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known.”

A bit worried now? Want to focus on your friends? Well, start with the friendship checklist. Or, maybe you'd like to see what it looks like when relationships form (and see how close you and your friends really are)? Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology. 

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