In Ghanaian Culture, Love Is Helping and Caring for Others

Many studies have shown that despite cross-cultural similarities, cultural conceptions of love vary across societies (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019; 2022). Culture influences how individuals experience and express love, as well as social norms prevalent among communities (Fiske & Taylor, 2013; Kaufmann, 2011).

For instance, individualistic cultures tend to value experience and expression of passionate love more, while collective cultures tend to value the experience and expression of companionate love more (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Passionate love focuses on how love makes one feel, while companionate love focuses on feelings for and caring for others.

Love in the Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa

In the collectivist societies of Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural norms associate love with experiences and expressions of affect towards others, social relationships, and material provisioning (Coe, 2011; Cornwall, 2002).

Love entails a commitment to sharing and reciprocity in social relationships, as well as the supply and allocation of material resources (Keefe, 2016). These qualities of love expression were referred to by researchers as “real love” (van Eerdewijk, 2006) and “materiality of care” (Coe, 2011).

Interdependent Life and Love in Ghanaian Communities

Ghana, a country in West Africa, presents an example of this conceptualization of love in its culture. A Ghanaian understanding of love entails meeting the needs of close others.

What are the origins of these cultural beliefs?

The majority of Ghanaians express their sense of identity through duty-based interpersonal interactions. Individuals are born into close-knit families that place a strong emphasis on socially required interpersonal responsibilities. Ghanaians care about preserving their interdependence in relationships and regard themselves as interdependent (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

The allocation of resources is the fundamental basis of our daily existence. The extended family structure has historically provided support and care for both young people and the elderly. People must reciprocate obligations, duties, and responsibilities toward family members for this system of care to function effectively. Ghanaians show this facet of love through diverse social actions and interactions. Material expressions of love are valued in Ghana, sometimes, above emotional expressions of love (Coe, 2011).

The Impact of Christian Beliefs on Ghanaians’ Understanding of Love

Religious beliefs influence the notion of love among people of faith. They express their best human qualities based on the universal ethos of honesty, care, and brotherhood (Prince, Denis, & van Dijk, 2009).

Christianity is a major part of Ghana’s culture and has an impact on many people’s daily lives. How do Christian beliefs influence Ghanaian cultural understandings of love?

Christians make a distinction between eros love and agape love. A desire for something or someone drives eros love, whereas respect for and concern for others drives agape love. The eros type of love is self-oriented, focusing on benefits to the self, while the agape type of love is other-oriented, emphasizing benefits to the other person. Ghanaian Christian churches influence Ghanaian society’s conceptions of love by promoting love in relationships and family life.

What Did a Recent Study on Love in Ghana Show?

Researchers looked into how Christian Ghanaians view love in relation to family in a recent study on love in the West African nation of Ghana. Let’s look at some of the main themes that 61 participants—men and women aged 20 to 70—reported when anthropologists interviewed them (Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

In a previous blog post on this site, I explained how Ghanaians express and fulfill their love by attending to the needs of those close to them.

Helping Others Who Are in Need

Among those others, informants mentioned friends, strangers, and elderly people. Many participants (70%) regarded love as providing help to individuals in need, including the elderly, friends, and even complete strangers. For example, participants stated:

… if you go out and you see an elderly person who is not even from your own family, if there is anything to assist them with, you help them. If you have the means to support them, you do as much as you can.

(51-year-old female)

Supposing a friend is having a problem, losing a loved one or in need of some money, you take care of it or give her something.

(37-year-old male)

If you think somebody needs your help and you have the means, either you know the person or don’t know the person, you should show the person love… either in kind, in physical terms.

(34-year-old male)

As one can see, the Ghanaian Christian participants expressed their beliefs about agape love in their responses. They considered acts of love, such as fulfilling familial and neighborly responsibilities, to be the most important expressions of love. This aligns with Christian principles that prioritize compassion and the well-being of both one’s own family and others.

Love Is Care

Many Christian Ghanaian respondents (48%) in the study viewed love primarily as caring actions towards others, such as “showing concern.” Participants shared the following examples and provided comments:

…in school I’ve made a lot of friends… sometimes when you’re not well, they call…. When you’re on holidays, this long vac [vacation], they’ll be calling and checking on… So that’s love.

(21-year-old female)

…when you are sick they [people] visit you in the house, when you are promoted they show appreciation they congratulate you; it’s a way of showing love.

(40-year-old female)

Other Expressions of Love Among Ghanaians

Several participants (10%) mentioned kissing (children), hugging (children and husband), and touching (husband). Furthermore, a small percentage (7%) claimed that love entails openness, transparency, and not keeping secrets. Only a few participants mentioned these, so the authors did not assign them to a specific theme.

Love as Agape in Ghanaian Christian Culture

It is worth noting that these Ghanaian Christian participants made few references to eros (a type of passionate love) and instead emphasized agape (kind and caring actions toward others). They described love from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as illustrated by biblical examples. These definitions of love go beyond close relationships and intersect with the definition of what a good Christian or person should be.

How Our Personal Values Affect Our Love and Romantic Relationships

Men and women tend to attribute the problems to their partner’s shortcomings when they encounter difficulties in their romantic relationships. Sometimes, we may acknowledge that our personal values, individual characteristics, and behaviors also affect the quality of our relationships. Is it really possible?

By the way, it is important to keep the importance of values in mind when we look for a suitable match on dating websites. Recent studies have highlighted the considerable difficulties that partners encounter when they hold opposing views on contentious political matters, as reported by Afifi et al. (2020).

What do people value in their love and romantic relationships?

How Can Our Personal Values Affect Our Relationships?

Our personal values play an important role in our romantic relationships. Could it be the case that some types of values imperil our chances of success and happiness in our love and romantic relationships?

A recent study by Reine van der Wal from Utrecht University and her colleagues in The Netherlands presented empirical support for the significance of personal values as influential factors in the functioning of romantic relationships.

The authors were interested in theoretical inquiries regarding the impact of personal values on the functioning of romantic relationships. A recent study examined how personal values predict the quality of romantic relationships. Researchers explored the role of pro-relational attitudes, communal strength, intrinsic motivation for relationships, and entitlement as potential mediating factors.

What Studies Showed

In a series of five studies, the authors revealed that people who exhibited a greater inclination towards self-transcendence values, specifically benevolence and universalism, experienced higher levels of quality in their romantic relationships.

Pro-relational attitudes, communal strength, and intrinsic relationship motivation also function as mediating factors.

In the fifth study, which used a dyadic analysis, the authors revealed that self-transcendence values primarily affect a person’s own relationship quality while having minimal impact on the relationship quality of their partner.

In summary, this research highlights how important it is to understand the impact of personal values on our love and romantic relationships. The findings of this study suggest that individuals who strongly endorse benevolent, self-transcendent values tend to have higher-quality relationships.

The results of this important study may potentially contribute to our better understanding of why certain relationships thrive while others deteriorate. The findings of this study provide a basis for future investigations into the influence of values on the functioning and well-being of partners in romantic relationships.

How Gratitude Benefits Our Relationships

Gratitude benefits are culturally normative in all major cultures, which encourage people to be grateful and express their gratitude to others. The cultural norms of gratitude have been highly valued across civilizations and cultures. In the ritual of “giving thanks,” people expressed their gratitude to God, spirits, mother nature, and others.

Interpersonal relationships commonly involve the experience and expression of gratitude. Gratitude entails more than simply saying “thank you.” It entails acknowledging and appreciating others and what they do for us. Gratitude is the thankful love—the love for what another person did or does for us. Gratitude is an important constituent of love.

Gratitude strengthens our connections with others. When individuals experience gratitude, these emotions strengthen their sense of belonging to and connectedness with others. They feel fewer boundaries between themselves and others. In another article, I explained what gratitude is and why it is important for our lives and well-being.

Gratitude Benefits Make Our Relationships Better

Social bonding entails giving and receiving on both sides. These actions are essential for the proper formation of obligations between individuals and the maintenance of interpersonal bonds within human communities.

Gratitude involves social obligations as well as personal benefits for our relationships, self-esteem, and wellbeing. Feeling and expressing gratitude improves our mood and makes us feel better. In many ways, it improves our lives and interpersonal relationships.

A Study of Gratitude Revealed:

The recent qualitative study by the researchers from Sofia University in California, Patty Hlava and John Elfers, explored how people experience the meaning of gratitude in their lives and what positive changes they get when they experience and express gratitude. In particular, they found that

Gratitude Strengthens our Connections with Others

When people experience gratitude, these emotions enhance their feelings of connectedness with others. They feel that their boundaries with another person have become shorter and softer. A range of their feelings involves the sensation of being physically close, not separate or alone. They get a sense of community, enjoy deep communication, and have the feeling of merging with something larger than themselves.

Here are the examples that authors provide to illustrate these feelings:

That feeling of being enveloped, or embraced, or being touched. It’s like they just know you, like they’ve been there forever, and you’ve been with them forever. (Goldie)

It’s more a sense of feeling connected to people, not that they’re giving me something, a material object but that they’re giving me a part of their heart or something. (Allison)

It was a sense of connectedness. I felt that even sort of our heartbeats sort of synced, just a oneness about the whole situation. (Sue)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 438).

By experiencing and cultivating the attitudes, feelings, and expression of gratitude, people experience transformation in their personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal relationships. They experience a sense of belonging to a group, community, or something else outside themselves.

The Religious Bias of Love and Prejudice

Many religious teachings emphasize love, kindness, and generosity as the primary cultural values. Whether or not you are religious, you have probably heard of the “Golden Rule.” It states that you should treat others as you would like to be treated. A version of this rule exists in all major world religions. Why does religious prejudice still exist?

Does religion increase moral behavior? Or, why do religious cultures explicitly or implicitly teach prejudice?

Religions encourage prosocial behavior and teach us to love each other. Religious teachings suggest people treat others with kindness, generosity, and positivity. Based on the review of many studies on religion and prosocial behavior, researchers have concluded that religious people’s faith tends to increase their prosocial behavior.

Why then don’t we always practice what we preach?

The Paradox of Religious Love

The question arises: why does religion also influence actions and viewpoints that seem to conflict with these religious principles?

Throughout history, religions have been a force behind atrocities like wars and massacres committed against people of other faiths. We know about the stories of religious crusades. We remember the French Wars of Religion in 1572 and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

Why Religious People Can Be Prejudiced

While religion teaches prosocial behavior, research shows that when people identify themselves closely with one’s religion, this can lead to their racism and homophobia. The social psychological effect of intergroup bias can explain how religion can produce prejudiced attitudes and behaviors.

How Intergroup Bias Decreases Prosocial Behavior and Love

The intergroup bias is the human propensity to think favorably about the groups we are a part of — an “ingroup”.” Yet we think more negatively about the groups you are not a part of—”an outgroup.” While we think that outgroups violate our ingroup values, we perceive them as dangerous to our ingroup.

In light of this social psychological effect, we can understand why religious beliefs can produce both prosocial behavior and prejudice. On the one hand, people direct their prosocial behavior primarily at members of their own ingroup. On the other hand, people focus their prejudice on members of other groups, particularly those they view as threatening.

However, it is unclear whether religion boosts prejudice or if there is another factor at play. Annetta Snell and her colleagues thoroughly reviewed the findings of psychological research, which used priming techniques to explore whether religion might increase prejudice.

What the Priming Studies Are

Priming is the method of subtly encouraging someone to think about a thought or concept in such a way that they are barely conscious of this subtle influence. Researchers employ the strategy of priming to influence people’s opinions when they don’t want to be too explicit in their influence. The purpose of such priming is to increase a concept’s awareness in the brain of a person in order to detect differences in subsequent behaviors and attitudes.

In one type of priming technique, for example, people unscrambled short sentences with religious words. That was implicit religious priming. Then these participants responded to the questions that assessed their prejudice toward various religious groups.

Researchers compared the responses of these participants with those of other people, whom they primed with unreligious (neutral) words. The higher level of prejudice in the group primed with religious words than in the group primed with neutral words should provide evidence that religion causes prejudice.

What the Priming Studies of Religious Beliefs Show

Annetta Snell and her colleagues have reviewed 44 studies estimating how much this kind of priming increases prejudice. They concluded that the priming of religious thoughts increases prejudice across all target groups, such as Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. However, researchers found that this effect of religious priming is relatively small.

However, researchers found that priming religion increases prejudice toward members of sexual and gender minorities as well as towards atheists. These findings indicate that religious people tend to perceive members of sexual and gender minorities, as well as atheists, as especially threatening to their religious views. It is likely they perceive those as violating their religious values.

Thus, priming religious thoughts increases prejudice due to intergroup bias and perceptions of threat. However, it would be inadequate to excessively generalize these findings. When primed with religious thoughts, not all people show prejudice towards other groups. And religious leaders and community members can mitigate the negative social effects of religious prejudice if they explicitly oppose prejudice towards other cultural groups.

What Happened After the Golden Age of Marriage?

Social scientists coined the term golden age of marriage, referring to the period in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, the cultural ideology of “love marriage” and a number of marriages became popular and prevalent in many European countries, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and some other modernized societies across the world. According to statistics, more than 90% of all women and men wanted to marry, and they married at a young age. Marriage had become nearly universal in those countries by the 1960s (for a review, see Karandashev, 2017).

The Triumph of the Love-Marriage Cultural Ideology

Love finally conquered marriage and transformed marital relationships (Coontz 2005). The ideals of romantic love, emotional closeness, and sexual satisfaction for both partners became accepted by educated and liberal people, especially those of a young age. The love ideology implied the possibility for men and women to select the bride and groom of their personal choice according to their preferences and love ideals.

The ideals of love marriage also anticipated companionate love relationships and partnerships. Happiness among married partners was expected to be high, and it was frequently found to be so. The divorce rate remained stable. They enjoyed personal freedom in their marital relationships. Married couples had a strong sense of autonomy from their extended family.

Sex and Marriage in the Golden Age of Marriage

In the 1960s and 1970s, sex became a private matter between two individuals. Men and women became more interested in the issues of sexual relationships and sexual pleasure. America and Europe were experiencing a sexual revolution. 

Women’s sexual attitudes changed. Previously, a woman could not achieve full sexual equality because of cultural reservations in this regard. New cultural norms not only permitted sexual pleasure for women but also encouraged it. The sexual revolution of the time recognized men and women’s sexual equality to have sexual satisfaction. 

The fear of an undesired pregnancy also played a role. While she and her partner could have “fun,” only she was primarily responsible for a child. Therefore, couples who had free premarital sex were expected to marry eventually (Murstein 1974, pp. 441–442).

The Beginning of the End of the Golden Age of Marriage

In the 1960s, marriage appeared to have found the optimal balance between the personal freedom of a love match and the constraints necessary for social stability. The ideology of love-based marriage affirms the right of the individual to choose his or her own spouse. Additionally, this cultural ideology emphasized the importance of the individual over inherited wealth and an ethnic group.

Social scientists predicted that many societies across the world would soon adopt this marriage pattern and these cultural values. This perspective on marital relationships was very appealing to young and educated individuals, particularly women (see Karandashev, 2017).

What Happened to Love Marriage Cultural Ideals? 

Surprisingly to many, significant changes began to occur in the opposite direction. In the late 1970s, the cultural revolution took place at a too fast pace and too drastically, getting out of control. The radical ideas of the late 1960s and early 1970s did not transform but overturn “traditional” marriage. Various changes in the realm of relationships occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

The pace of change in marriage attitudes and behaviors became too fast in the mid-1970s. Many of these transformations likely occurred because people did not meet their needs in marriages. Men and women initially sought to find their fulfillment at home. However, when their idealistic expectations for marriage were not met, their discontent grew. Accordingly, people became critical of the lack of intimacy and unsatisfying relationships with their spouses. When they hoped to achieve personal happiness and tried to make this happen within marriage, their expectations failed. Personal discontent with 1950s marital intimacy ideals, combined with economic and political changes in the 1960s and 1970s, most likely overturned 1950s gender roles and marriage patterns.

An American Professor of History and Family Studies, Stephanie Coontz, commented in her book that “it took more than 150 years to establish the love-based, male breadwinner marriage as the dominant model in North America and Western Europe,” but “it took less than 25 years to dismantle it” (Coontz, 2005, p. 247).

How People Experience and Express Emotions in Individualistic Cultures

Several cultural ideals, the norms of social life, personality traits, emotions, and behavior define the individualistic features of societies. The key attributes of an individualistic culture are

  • personal autonomy and relational independence,
  • the primacy of a person’s individuality and uniqueness,
  • the priority of individual aspirations and self-realization,
  • the primacy of a person’s self-interest and an individual’s rights,
  • the lower priority of the others’ interests and needs.

(Triandis, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988).

The individual characteristics of a person define her or his self-identity. It includes individual motivations, goals, attitudes, traits, emotions, and actions. Individuals are relatively independent in their interpersonal relationships (Karandashev, 2021).

Interesting Findings on How People in Individualistic Cultures Experience Their Emotions

These personal characteristics of people in individualistic cultures affect the contexts and situations in which they experience certain emotions. These individualistic characteristics also influence the way they feel certain emotions. The emotionality traits of people also determine the frequency and intensity with which people experience certain emotions. They also determine relatively pleasant and unpleasant emotions people experience in their lives.

According to research, people in individualistic societies experience a lower level of negative emotions and a higher level of positive emotions (Basabe et al., 2002).

Another study (Chentsova-Dutton & Tsai, 2010) found that,

  • European Americans, as the representatives of an individualistic culture, feel the amplified emotions when they pay attention to individual aspects of their self.
  • Asian Americans, as the representatives of a collectivistic culture, feel the amplified emotions when they pay attention attention to relational aspects of their self

Several studies (Kitayama et al., 2000; Kitayama et al., 2006; Uchida & Kitayama, 2009) show that people in individualistic cultures tend to experience pride, self-esteem, and frustration as the socially disengaging emotions more frequently than sympathy, respect, and friendliness as the socially engaging emotions.

How Happy Are the People in Individualistic Cultures?

How does individualism, as a cultural factor, affect the emotional experiences of people’s well-being and happiness in individualistic societies? A recent large study of 21 thousand people from 48 countries investigated how individualism as a cultural variable can affect their subjective well-being. Researchers conducted the study over three time periods from 1980 to 2000. Based on their theory, they thought that cultural characteristics of societies rather than people’s wealth would lead to their satisfaction with life and relationships (Steel, Taras, Uggerslev, & Bosco, 2018).

The Happiness of Individualistic Cultures at the Individual Level

Surprisingly, researchers revealed that individualism at the individual level predicted the lower subjective well-being of people. Individualism as an individual variable predicted less happiness people experienced in their lives and in family relationships. It was true even when wealth was taken into account.

So, the findings show that the cultural values of autonomy and individualism are not beneficial for individual well-being (Steel et al., 2008).

The Happiness of Individualistic Cultures at the National Level

Surprisingly different from this finding, happy nations are typically high in individualism at the national level. Individualism as a cultural variable predicted subjective well-being at the national level. Researchers found that besides the impact of individualism-collectivism, a country’s political and economic circumstances also predicted people’s subjective well-being. Yet, the latter effect was partially independent of individualism (Steel et al., 2008).

How Do People in Individualistic Cultures Express Their Emotions?

The cultural norms of individualistic societies also favor certain ways in which people should express their emotions. Studies have revealed several interesting findings. They found that people in individualistic cultures tend to

  • exhibit higher levels of general emotional expressiveness (van Hemert et al., 2007);
  • believe they have a right to express their emotions as important personal experiences (Markus & Kitayama, 1991);
  • prefer external displays of emotions as expressions of individuality and
  • exaggerate the intensity of the emotional experience (Matsumoto, Takeuchi, Andayani, Kouznetsova, & Krupp, 1998).

All these findings are in accord with cultural values of autonomy, separateness, and uniqueness of individuals in individualistic societies (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), which I highlighted in another article.

Cultural Values in Individualistic Cultures

Individualism and collectivism are the two opposite constructs and dimensions of culture. These dimensions have been among the most popular in cultural and cross-cultural studies of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Marsella et al., 1985; Triandis, 1995). Cross-cultural researchers have investigated how various social, economic, and psychological parameters vary depending on whether people live in individualistic or collectivistic societies. The variables of emotional experiences and expressions were among those (Karandashev, 2021).

The Examples of Individualistic Countries

Many of the most individualistic societies are in North America, Western and Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Among those typical instances are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark (Hofstede, 1984; 2011; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Gelfand, et al., 2000; Kashima, et al., 1995; Triandis, 1995).

Individualistic Cultures vs. Collectivistic Cultures

There are two key groups of cultural phenomena that distinguish individualistic cultures from collectivistic cultures (Hofstede & Bond, 1984, p. 419). Individualistic cultures

  • emphasize individual goals, whereas collectivistic cultures emphasize group goals over individual goals.
  • expect people to look after themselves and their immediate family, whereas collectivistic cultures expect people to belong to in-groups, such as families, that look after them in exchange for their loyalty

The Values of People in Individualistic Societies

Triandis and his colleagues considered personal independence, autonomy, initiative, self-reliance, and freedom as the values associated with individualism in a culture (Triandis, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988). These cultural values of individualistic societies are the opposite of the collectivistic values of family unity, loyalty, and integrity. Individualistic cultures promote the formation of personal and specific friendships.

Here are several key features of cultural values, norms, and practices that people follow in individualistic societies. Individualistic cultures tend to appreciate

  • personal autonomy,
  • personal independence,
  • the primacy of personality uniqueness,
  • the individual’s goals and actions,
  • individual initiative and self-realization,
  • the individual’s rights rather than duties,
  • a person’s self-interest and his immediate family,
  • less concern for the needs and interests of others.

The Personal Identity of Men and Women in Individualistic Cultures

The individuality of a person and their personal characteristics constitute their self-identity. In terms of personal motivation, people prioritize individual goals over collective goals. Interpersonal connections and relationships are loose and relatively independent.

People in Individualistic Cultures Exhibit Uniform Behavior Towards Members of the In-Group and Out-Group

The cultural norms of individualistic societies encourage men and women to follow the same norms and rules of behavior in both in-group and out-group relationships and contexts. In individualistic cultures, where interpersonal independence and autonomy are highly valued, men and women commonly follow the same kinds of behavior in contact with others from their in-groups and out-groups. It is different from collectivistic cultures in which people highly value embeddedness and interdependence. They tend to differentiate their behavior toward others from their in-group versus out-group (Smith & Bond, 1999).

How People Experience Emotions in Collectivistic Cultures

People in collectivistic societies commonly have a personal identity strongly integrated into their group. Accordingly, the cultural norms of collectivistic societies assume interdependent relations with each other and with a group, such as extended family and kin. Their relational values determine how they experience and express their emotions. Interpersonal relationship harmony is a more important determinant of emotional experience than individual assertion (Karandashev, 2021). Researchers revealed that some Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Pakistan, as well as some South American countries, such as Peru, Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia, are among the most typical collectivistic cultures in the world. The societies of African, Arab, and Eastern European countries are also collectivistic, however, to a lesser degree (Basabe & Ros, 2005).

How People Feel About Themselves in Collectivistic Cultures

Men and women in collectivistic cultures are tightly embedded in so-called in-groups, such as kin and extended families. An individual’s loyalty to a group is its greatest value. People in collectivistic cultures regard their “in-group” values as more important than individual values. Individuals tend to subordinate personal motivation and emotions to group goals.

The sense of personal identity that a person has is determined by their place in a group. Personal privacy has little value and is vulnerable to the intrusion of other members of a group. Individual assertion is less important in collectivistic cultures, while interpersonal relationship harmony is more important (Noon & Lewis, 1992). The group encourages members to adhere to particular norms of emotional experience, expression, and behavior in order to facilitate mutual support and shared experiences. People rely on a group for emotional support.

Relational Emotions in Collectivistic Cultures

Cultural beliefs in collectivistic societies regard emotions as interactive rather than individual experiences. Their emotional experiences reflect people’s social context rather than their internal selves. Emotions are regarded as situational cues about interpersonal relationships.

The Collectivistic Cultural Value of Engaging Emotions

Several cultural studies show that people in collectivistic societies experience more typically socially engaging emotions such as friendliness, sympathy, and respect more frequently. On the other hand, they experience less socially disengaging emotions such as pride, frustration, and self-esteem. (Kitayama et al., 2000; Kitayama et al., 2006; Uchida & Kitayama, 2009).

The Dialectical Mixture of Emotional Experiences in Collectivistic Cultures

Cultural norms of collectivistic cultures acknowledge that positive and negative emotions naturally coexist and can occur simultaneously in our daily emotional experiences. People are used to feeling a dialectical mixture of both positive and negative emotions in their lives (Aaker, Drolet, & Griffin, 2008; Hong & Lee, 2010; Kim et al., 2014; Williams & Aaker, 2002).

Collectivistic Societies Are the Cultures of Emotional Moderation

Collectivist cultural ideals advise people to restrain or moderate their emotional experiences and expressions. The cultural norms suggest appreciating both positive and negative feelings while remaining calm, composed, and at peace. People should prefer emotions of low frequency, duration, and intensity (Bond, 1993; Tamir et al., 2016; Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006; Tsai, Miao, Seppala, Fung, &Yeung, 2007). This is why, in real life, people in collectivistic cultures typically feel their emotions with relatively low intensity (Basabe et al., 2000; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Scherer et al., 1988; Matsumoto, 1991).

The Collectivistic Value of Emotional Control

For people living in collectivistic cultures, the external interactional aspects of emotions are essential for their emotional experience and expression. They commonly consider how one’s behavior and emotions affect others. Therefore, the cultural norms in collectivistic cultures place a high value on emotional control and cultural support for the suppression of emotions. People usually show their emotions in a limited range of situations and social contexts (Potter, 1988; van Hemert et al., 2007).

Cultural Values in Collectivistic Cultures

Collectivism and individualism were among the cultural constructs and dimensions that early cross-cultural psychologists identified and elaborated on in the 1980s and 1990s (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Marsella et al., 1985; Triandis, 1995). Since then, researchers have widely used the cultural parameters of collectivism and individualism in their cross-cultural studies. The characteristics of societies as collectivistic or individualistic have been the most popular among researchers in many social, economic, cultural, and psychological disciplines.

What Is Collectivism?

The key attributes of collectivism and individualism are

  • The normative relations between an individual and a group and
  • The degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.

Societies are characterized as collectivistic or individualistic when these value orientations characterize the majority of their members (Hui & Triandis, 1986). People within a given society certainly vary in their personal cultural orientations, either collectivism or individualism.  The degree of collectivism and individualism can also vary across different types of interpersonal relationships. People can be more or less collectivistic and individualistic in their relationships with their kin, parents, neighbors, friends, and coworkers (Karandashev, 2021a).

What Are Collectivistic Cultures?

People in collectivist cultures are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, such as extended families. A paramount value of a collectivistic society is an individual’s loyalty to a group. The group in turn protects an individual’s interests and well-being while opposing other groups.

Collectivistic cultures prioritize in-group beliefs over individual beliefs. In terms of personal motivation, individuals subordinate their goals to group goals. Group goals take precedence over individual goals. In-group norms are higher in value than individual pleasures and personal motivation. In order to facilitate mutual support and shared experiences, the group encourages individuals to follow certain norms of emotional experience, expression, and behavior. The value of personal privacy is low and can be violated. One’s place in a group determines an individual’s sense of personal identity. People are emotionally dependent on a group.

The Values of People in Collectivistic Societies

The key collectivistic values emphasize:

  • interpersonal bonds,
  • unity, loyalty, and integrity,
  • group harmony and solidarity,
  • family relationships and obligation,
  • awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of others,
  • emotional interdependence,
  • and a sense of interconnectedness.

(Hofstede, 1980/1984; 2011; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Gelfand, et al., 2000; Kashima, et al., 1995; Triandis, 1995 ; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988).

The central tenets of collectivist beliefs are group cooperation, a sense of obligation, duty toward the group, and in-group harmony (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002).

In-group versus Out-group Bias in Collectivistic Cultures

People in collectivistic cultures feel highly embedded in their relationships. Relationships with kin, family, and friends develop early in their lives.

People in collectivistic cultures tend to strongly differentiate their behavior toward in-group versus out-group members. They have different standards for members of their in-groups and out-groups. (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Smith&Bond, 1999).

Men and women are collectivistic in their interactions with in-group members (family, friends, etc.), but individualistic in their interactions with out-group members (strangers, people from other cultural groups).

Can People Build a True Egalitarian Society?

The idea of an egalitarian society, in which social equality between people is a cultural norm, sounds good for a society to be fair to all. Many could declare their desire to be fair-minded to others. However, this cultural value of an egalitarian society is hard to achieve in social reality. Why so?

Generally, the idea of an egalitarian society where people are socially equal may sound good. It is nice and fair when it is abstract. People in general, and particularly those who belong to the high and middle classes, so-called privileged people, tend to view inequality as something impersonal and fairly distant.

However, they follow this tendency only up to the point when they encounter real intergroup comparative contexts.  Then, they tend to perceive inequality with personal and social bias. As Professor of Psychological Science at the University of California, Paul Piff commented in this regard,

The new progressive social policies aim to reduce inequality and help the poor. These proposed policies may not necessarily motivate wealthy people to support such initiatives. These policies rarely make an appeal to the self-interests of people from the upper social class. Therefore, these advantaged people prefer to preserve the status quo as it benefits them.

In-group Versus Out-group Biases

In-group versus out-group bias and self-interest of people who are currently in a privileged social status play a role in resisting progress in social equality. As N. Derek Brown and his colleagues showed in their experiments (Brown et al., 2022), people of a privileged group consider social equality as good only if it increases equality within their social ingroup but not when it increases in another social group. These studies revealed that equality can appear in a negative shadow for people who have a privileged status because of in-group and out-group biases. Therefore, they misunderstand the social consequences of inequality and social disparities.

What the Old Allegory Teaches Us about Modern False Perceptions of Equality

In a deep-rooted folk parable, God appeared before Vladimir, a poor peasant, and offered to grant him one wish. God told him that he could wish anything.

“Vladimir, I will grant you one wish. Anything you wish for shall be yours.”

Vladimir was excited and started to turn over the numerous possibilities in his head.

But then God adds a stipulation: Anything that he grants Vladimir, he also grants twice to Ivan, Vladimir’s neighbor.

“Anything, I grant to you, I will give to your neighbor, Ivan, twice over.”

After giving it some thought, Vladimir replied,

“Okay, God, I want you to gouge one of my eyes out.”

This punchline tells us something quite intriguing about how paradoxically people can behave in situations of choice.

What Is the “Minimal Group Paradigm” and How Does It Work in Our Group Relations

This fable reminds me of the “Minimal Group Paradigm,” the theory that social psychologist Henri Tajfel developed in his research in the 1970s. He discovered that people willingly categorize people into in-groups and out-groups.
Once we identify ourselves with a group, we come up with explanations of why we are better and why we should all be in the same group. As it turns out, group identity hates a dry spell.
When groups are divided, we naturally favor our own. But what’s more, we prioritize immediate relative gain over absolute overall gain. In his studies, Tajfel demonstrated that the one thing we never do is try to maximize the final result for everyone. Therefore, even though we could all benefit, we’d prefer not to if it meant that the other group would benefit more.

According to Brown and his colleagues’ findings (Brown et al., 2022), even when the people of a privileged group stand to gain some benefits, they frequently refuse to assist a disadvantaged group. Even though they say they want more equality in society, they tend to keep and protect their relative advantage.

How American History Illustrates This Grim Truth About Inequality

The grim history of American racism exemplifies the paradox of social inequality. This is how the policy advocate and New York Times author describes it in her recent book, “The sum of us: What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together.”

McGhee, H. (2022). The sum of us: What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together. One World. In the 1940s and 1950s, some white American communities were forced to integrate public pools and parks, which grew in popularity. Then, many of them frequently chose to destroy the spaces rather than share them with their black neighbors.