Why we ignore the biggest part of who we are cover image

Why we ignore the biggest part of who we are

Dorian Minors • October 30, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

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.

fashion-legs-notebook-working-large Think of how much more money I could be making if I knew another language, savez-vous?

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.



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:

. Despite Thoreau's assertion that there's no 'companion as companionable as solitude', and the myriad stock photos to go with it, really the best companions are... companions.

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. 

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.