The Need to Belong and Love

Everyone has a “need for love” of some kind. For women and men who believe that love is bonding, the “need to belong” is basically the “need for love.” Those who have a strong desire to belong to a group tend to think that love is a form of bonding.

Just imagine being dropped on an island alone for the rest of your life, like Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist of a novel by English writer Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731). You have food, a place to sleep, and comfort, but there isn’t a single other person around and no way to bond with loved ones. For the majority of men and women, these would be extremely challenging living conditions. For some, it is more challenging than for others.

The Basic Social Need to Belong and Be Accepted

As the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted, humans are social animals. Therefore, they have the need for social bonding, the need to belong, and the need to be accepted by others, like a tribe, kin, family, parent, or mating partner.

Many people are acutely aware of their lost connections to significant others when they are separated from them by being away from family or in a foreign country. Being rejected by a significant other is an especially challenging feeling.

Evolutionary Benefits of Belonging

Love as community bonding is the key survival mechanism that brings people together and strengthens bonds between them. Living in a community gives them a better chance to survive due to the support they provide to each other. Consequently, the need to belong is intrinsic to the nature of some animals and humans.

Love as Social Bonding

Love as a form of social bonding has biological and cultural evolutionary roots. In this sense, love is helping another survive and thrive. The acts of love are feeding, protecting, supporting, and caring about others. In other words, in a practical sense, “love” is doing something good for another person (Wierzbicka, 1999).

Social bonds increased the likelihood of survival for our ancestors. This bonding encouraged parents to keep their kids close and shield them from danger (Esposito et al., 2013). Attachment as bonding kept children close to their parents. As adults, those who had close relationships were more likely to survive, reproduce, and help their children grow up to maturity. To be without kin nearby would be detrimental (see Karandashev, 2019; 2022 for a review).

Physical and Psychological Survival Due to Social Bonding

Individuals have a better chance of surviving in a physical sense, such as maintaining sustenance and security, when they are a part of a social group. People who live in tribal communities feel safer in social relationships than those who live alone. Social cooperation provides the members of a community with better access to food. And they are better able to protect themselves from predators and aggressive foreigners.

In later stages of human evolution, the needs for psychological security and emotional bonding evolved into the most fundamental human motives. Having positive social connections helped not only with physical survival but also with psychological resilience.

People in traditional collectivistic societies tend to feel a higher need to belong compared to people in modern individualistic societies. Cultural values of Eastern-Asian collectivistic societies encourage the need to belong, connections, and kin relationships.

I extensively reviewed the evolutionary origins of bonding, the need to belong, and the need for love elsewhere (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

The Basic Needs to Belong and to Love

Even though some people are more social than others, this deep need to belong is a fundamental human motivation (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). An individual’s need for social bonding motivates their desire to belong to and be accepted by a group or another person. It is fundamentally the desire for other people’s love. 

As Wystan Auden, a British-American poet (1907–1973), wrote,

“We must love one another or die.” 

(W. H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”).

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).

Collectivistic Values of Arranged Marriages

The practices of arranged marriages have been common in many traditional collectivistic societies in the past. They are still performed in certain old-fashioned cultural communities in India, China, Muslin societies, and some other countries.

What Are Arranged Marriages?

Arranged marriage is an old, traditional way for men and women to meet for the purpose of marriage and marry each other in many collectivistic cultures. In this kind of matrimonial arrangement, the groom and bride have limited control over who and when they marry and how and when the ceremonies are organized. Instead, other family members, religious leaders, community elders, or professional matchmakers find a decent match for a man and a woman to become a good couple for life. These people, as well as the whole family, are responsible for the appropriate organization of the wedding in terms of the right time and proper rituals.

Practices of Arranged Marriages in Collectivistic Cultures

Collectivistic societies are characterized by the strong individual interdependence of members of families and other social groups. Such interdependence is highly valued and widely practiced in collectivistic cultures. Therefore, arranged marriages are very suitable for family formation in a cultural context where marriage is a matter that concerns the entire family. Being interdependent in a family, a man and a woman cannot afford to ignore its interests. Even though they may feel romantic attraction and experience love for someone, they recognize that an arranged marriage is a cultural norm that they need to abide by. Consequently, they agreed to such an arrangement.

It should be noted that cultural traditions of arranged marriages have substantially varied across collectivistic societies throughout history (Karandashev, 2017).

How People in Collectivistic Cultures Feel About Arranged Marriages

People who were raised in a collectivistic culture feel differently than those who were raised in an individualistic culture regarding an arranged marriage because they have different conceptions of individuality and models of self. Therefore, they understand freedom of choice differently.

People in individualistic societies are more likely to have culturally normatively independent models of themselves, while people in collectivistic cultures are more likely to have interdependent self-in-relationship-with-other models of themselves. These differences determine different attitudes towards arranged marriages.

It should be noted that in Western individualistic cultures and Eastern collectivistic cultures, people’s attitudes toward arranged marriages differ. The example of arranged marriages in India well illustrates these practices in collectivistic societies.

The individualistic point of view presumes that an independent and free choice of who, when, and how to marry is of primacy. This is why people in individualistic cultures strongly oppose the idea of arranged marriage as violating individual autonomy. They believe that they must “follow their hearts” and that romantic passion is the best guide to marriage as a long-term union.

The collectivistic view assumes that the choice of who, when, and how to marry is interdependent with others’ interests. This is why people in collectivistic cultures naturally accept the idea of arranged marriage and abide by it. They believe that they must “follow the wisdom” and that romantic passion, though a bitter-sweet enjoyable feeling, is not the best guide to marriage as a long-term union.

What Are the Values of Romantic Love in Collectivistic cultures?

Romantic love, passionate attraction, and erotic allure are highly praised and finely elaborated in the arts and poems of many Eastern cultures. These artistic depictions of intense emotional experiences serve as great ideals, inspiring people to dream about love, its joy, happiness, and bitter-sweet suffering (Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

However, people of collectivistic Eastern wisdom do not dare admit all these beautiful idealistic experiences as the guide for their long-term marital relationships. The ideas of love and marriage are separated in their minds. That is different from the individualistic viewpoint, in which men and women believe that love will win marriage.

We should acknowledge, however, that due to increased relationship mobility, education, urbanization, and social modernization, the tendency towards Westernization of many Eastern cultures is evident. These changes are shifting the cultural norms and values in those collectivistic societies toward more individualistic norms and values. Consequently, attitudes toward arranged marriages are also changing.

The Cultures Beyond the Global Western and Eastern Societies

For a very long time, scholars interested in cultures and their comparison have focused on Western and Eastern societies as distinctively different types of cultures. Such a cultural dichotomy was simple and easy to understand and explain in terms of philosophical, social, and psychological phenomena of culture.

The Categories of Western and Eastern Cultures

The concepts of West and East were quite vague and mainly exemplified with Western European and Northern American countries as typical instances of Western cultures and India, China, and Japan as typical examples of Eastern cultures.

The discovery of individualism and collectivism (Hofstede, 1980/1984), as the cultural characteristics that are different in those societies, became a widespread explanatory framework that overshadowed multiple other cultural differences between those countries.

Individualistic Western and Collectivistic Eastern Cultures

Individualistic Western societies are those located in North America and Western Europe, while collectivistic Eastern societies are those located in India, China, and Japan. All other countries in the world presumably fit into one of these global groups.

See more on Western versus Eastern cultures and on Western individualistic cultures and Eastern collectivistic cultures in other blog articles.

Further studies, however, indicate that several other cultural concepts can be useful in explaining social and psychological differences between countries. Several cross-cultural studies have also demonstrated the diversity of both Western and Eastern societies that extends far beyond the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, China, India, and Japan (Schwartz, 2014; Schwartz & Ros, 1995).

Researchers also found that many other countries and cultures don’t fit into either the Eastern or Western groups. They are more distinctive than the simple East-West dichotomy (Karandashev, 2021).

See more on the 5 differences between Western and Eastern cultures and on the Diversity of Western and Eastern cultures in other blog articles.

The time has come to look at the diverse societies of the world beyond the global West and East. Researchers revealed the complex, multifaceted, and multilayered natures of individualism and collectivism. They uncovered and identified the diversity of social and cultural factors beyond collectivism and individualism. Besides, societies and their cultural dimensions change, evolve, and transform over time (see review in Karandashev, 2021).

All these factors require an open-minded and flexible approach to modern cultural and cross-cultural studies.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede identified and explored six cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2011). These are

  • Individualism-Collectivism,
  • Power Distance,
  • Masculinity vs. Femininity,
  • Uncertainty Avoidance,
  • Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation,
  • Indulgence vs. Restraint.

Extensive cross-cultural studies have demonstrated the explanatory power of these dimensions that extends beyond individualism-collectivism and the West-East divide (see Karandashev, 2021).

Trompenaars’ Cultural Values

Another Dutch cross-cultural researcher, Alfonsus Trompenaars, proposed two country-level groups of values:

(1) egalitarian commitment versus conservatism,

(2) utilitarian involvement versus loyal involvement.

The author and his colleagues extensively investigated these values across many societies (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998; see for review, Karandashev, 2021).

Schwartz Cultural Value Orientations

Social psychologist Shalom Schwartz created the theories of personal and cultural value orientations and extensively explored them across many countries in the world. Cultural values that characterize societies are in focus here.

His theory included seven country-level types of values. The author organizes these cultural values into three dimensions:

  • embeddedness versus autonomy,
  • hierarchy versus egalitarianism,
  • mastery versus harmony

The author depicts these seven cultural value orientations in a quasi-circumplex structure (Schwartz, 2014; see for review, Karandashev, 2021).

The Diversity of World Cultures

In recent years, researchers have delved deeper into the global cultural variation of societies beyond the traditional East-West cross-cultural dichotomy. The extensive exploration of various cultural factors and dimensions, which I noted above, allowed researchers to construct a more diverse cultural classification of world societies.

For example, cross-cultural studies found significant variations within West and East societies in terms of six of Schwartz’s cultural value orientations (Schwartz, 2014; Schwartz & Ros, 1995).

The data collected across many countries revealed eight global transnational cultural regions of the world that are distinctively different in terms of their cultural value orientations. These are

(1) English-speaking,

(2) West European,

(3) East Central and Baltic European,

(4) Orthodox East European,

(5) Latin American,

(6) South Asia,

(7) Confucian influenced, and

(8) African and Middle Eastern.

Typical patterns of cultural values describe these eight transnational regions of the world. Researchers noted, however, that these eight types of cultures do not exactly fit into defined regions.

Many studies have shown that these cultural dimensions determine people’s experiences and expressions of emotions and cultural models of love. They bring cross-cultural research beyond widely accepted individualism and collectivism (Karandashev, 2021, 2022).

The Diversity of Western and Eastern Cultures

For a long time, the cultural distinction between Western and Eastern cultures has been the subject of public debate and academic study.

Western cultures have usually been thought of as those of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States of America, and other partner countries. The origins of Western culture are regarded as being in ancient Greek and Roman cultures.

Eastern cultures have been deemed those of Japan, China, and India, which have long been thought of as Eastern cultures. Eastern cultures are believed to have their origins in ancient Confucian and Buddhist traditions.

Such a West versus East comparison of the world’s major cultures had historical foundations. And this distinction seems reasonable. Therefore, most previous cultural studies sought to understand how the “East” is different from the “West.”

Many researchers wanted to learn about the mysterious and unknown “East” and compare the unknown East with the known West. These cross-cultural comparisons have revealed several cultural differences between Western and Eastern societies, demonstrating that such global, geographically regional cultures exist.

There are 5 differences between Western and Eastern cultures that I presented in another article.

How Diverse Are Western and Eastern Cultures?

Many studies, however, reveal that such a simple division of the world’s societies into the West and the East is too simplistic and does not capture the real diversity of Western as well as Eastern cultures. After initial fascination, researchers realized that Western and Eastern cultures are somewhat diverse in terms of, for example, emotional experience and expression (Karandashev, 2021).

In the 20th century, cross-cultural researchers of emotions conducted their studies by usually comparing one Western country with one Eastern country. The USA was taken as a representative of Western cultures and compared with China or Japan as a representative of Eastern cultures.

The United States and Western Europe have long been seen as typical “Western individualist” cultures. Can the USA be viewed as representative of all so-called Western cultures? Can Japan or China be considered representatives of other so-called Eastern countries? Scholars realized that such a Western-Eastern contrast was too global and overgeneralizing. It looks like this broad generalization may not be enough to show how different the cultures are in each of these global regions.

How Diverse Are Western Cultures?

There are many differences between North American and West European cultures. For example, many West European countries, such as France, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, substantially differ from the United States and Canada. The USA and Canada are also different, although all are commonly considered Western societies.

There are diverse cultural distinctions between different West European countries. What about southern, presumably western-European countries? Spain and Portugal, for example, are among those that can be categorized in different ways. The cultures of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece are even more different from those of the USA and traditional western European countries. For example, many findings indicated differences in cultural values in the “West” (Schwartz, 2014). 

How Diverse Are Eastern Cultures?

Eastern societies are even more diverse in terms of global cultural regions. For instance, there are many differences between East-Asian and South-Asian cultures. The East Asian countries are very distinct from the South Asian and Central Asian ones. The cultures of Japan and China are quite different from those of India, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. Thus, the East is a very diverse set of various cultural traditions.

The Diversity of Individualism and Collectivism in the West and East

Empirical cross-cultural studies of the West and East revealed that individualism and collectivism explain many of the cultural differences between these global cultures. The United States, the Netherlands, and, on rare occasions, other European countries (as Western cultural representatives) were frequently compared to China and Japan (as Eastern cultural representatives). Researchers found that the cultural differences between these two world cultures are often about individualism and collectivism.

Many other studies, however, have demonstrated that both individualism and collectivism are multifaceted and complex cultural characteristics that can be quite different in various societies. For instance, Schwartz (2014) suggested that multiple findings showed that the general characteristic of Western cultures as individualistic does not adequately reflect the diversity of individualism.

What about the individualism and collectivism of southern European countries? For instance, are Spain and Portugal individualistic or collectivistic cultures? Studies have shown that they can be categorized in both ways (Karandashev, 2021).

A Variety of Western Cultural Orientations

Several cultural orientations considerably vary within the West. For example, Schwartz and Ros (1995) found significant differences between the samples in the US and those in Western Europe in six cultural value orientations. Mastery, embeddedness, and hierarchy were valued more highly in the United States, while intellectual autonomy, egalitarianism, and harmony were valued more highly in Western European countries.

What about southern European countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal? To which cultural group do the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Lithuania belong?

Researchers began to delve into a variety of cultural characteristics that describe and explain, for example, people’s emotional experiences and expressions in various societies (Karandashev, 2021).

They started to realize that the cultural configurations of European societies should be based on several cultural dimensions, not just individualism. Exploration of cultural diversity in both Western and Eastern societies is on the way (Karandashev, 2021).

5 Differences Between Western and Eastern Cultures

The cultural opposition of Western and Eastern societies has been widely recognized in public discourse and scholarship. This division of the major world cultures had historical roots, valid justification, and adequacy.

Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States of America, and other allied countries were traditionally viewed as having Western cultures. It is thought that ancient Greek and Roman cultures are the origins of Western cultures.

China, Japan, and India have traditionally been considered Eastern cultures. The ancient Confucian and Buddhist cultures are thought to be at the origins of Eastern cultures.

See more in Western versus Eastern cultures.

The scholarly significance of cultural comparisons between the West and the East

Most cultural studies of the past have focused on learning how the “East” is different from the “West”. Since many believed that they knew their own “Western” culture pretty well, they were interested in learning about the mysterious and less-known “East”. Therefore, such cultural opposition has become popular among scholars. Being ethnocentric, Western researchers were interested in knowing how similar or different the unknown East was from the well-known West. The first interest was to search for cross-cultural universality, while the others were more interested in learning about how much the East deviates from our traditional western knowledge. This is why those other societies were often called “nonwestern cultures.”

For comparative cultural studies, the in-group (West) versus out-group (East) dichotomy worked well. This division was basic and straightforward. As I noted above, the approach was largely ethnocentric because the West was viewed as “we” (in-group) and the East was viewed as “they” (out-group).

These cross-cultural comparisons have been valid in many regards, indicating several cultural differences between Western and Eastern societies (Karandashev, 2021). Here are the five main distinctions:

1. Philosophical and Folk Worldviews

Western folk and scholarly worldviews are linear, logical, analytical, and dichotomous, and have a dualistic view of the world and mental life.

Western logical beliefs acknowledge the existence of binary oppositions, such as positive and negative human emotions. According to dualistic Western cultural philosophies, the mind and body are in dualistic relations, and the mind ­(rational) and the heart (emotional) are in a dichotomy with each other.

Eastern folk and scholarly worldviews are nonlinear, wholistic, dialectical, and have a monistic view of the world and mental life.

Eastern dialectical beliefs accept natural contradictions and complementarity of opposition, such as positive and negative emotions. According to monistic Eastern cultural philosophies, the mind and body are in monistic united relations, and the mind (rational) and heart (emotional) are not in dichotomy with each other but rather in wholistic relations.

See more about this in Western versus Eastern cultures and in Perception of a person in relationship contexts.

2. Perception of Social Relationships as Independent Versus Interdependent

Eastern and Western models of social relationships define how the self and others are related.

The individualistic view of Western cultures perceives social and relationship contexts as a free association of independent individuals. Western cultural norms suggest individualistic personhood and individualistic construals of the self and others. These cultural norms impose an independent model of self and culture. These cultural factors determine the person’s self-focused perception and emotional experience.

Eastern collectivistic cultures perceive social and relationship contexts as a strongly and intricately connected network of interdependent members. Eastern cultural norms suggest collectivistic personhood and relational construals of the self and others. These cultural norms impose an interdependent model of self and culture. Cultural factors determine a person’s other-focused perception and emotional experience.

See more about this in Perception of a person in relationship contexts.

3. Individualism Versus Collectivism in Society

The most well-known cultural difference between the West and the East is the distinction between individualistic Western societies and collectivistic Eastern ones. Individualism and collectivism describe how an individual and a group relate to each other in a society.

Western societies are considered to be independent, individualistic cultures. Individualism in a society is defined by cultural values such as personal liberty, initiative, autonomy, and self-reliance.

Eastern societies are considered to be interdependent, collectivistic cultures. The cultural values that go along with collectivism are kinship priority, family unity, in-group integrity, and loyalty to relationships.

See more in Western individualistic cultures and Eastern collectivistic cultures.

4. High-Context Versus Low-Context Cultural Styles of Communication

The concepts of high-context and low-context cultures differentiate the types of cultures that accentuate the importance of implicit versus explicit messages in people’s relationships and daily interactions.

In high-context Eastern cultures, people prefer to use messages that largely convey meanings and connotations via implicit nonverbal codes, the contexts, culturally implied forms of speech, expected patterns of behavior, and the contextual settings of a situation and social relations.

In low-context Western cultures, people prefer to use messages in which the meanings and connotations are primarily expressed via explicit verbal codes, direct words spoken or written, and overt facial and body expressions with evident meaning, like an open smile.

See more in Western low-context versus Eastern high-context interaction style.

5. High-Contact and Low-Contact Cultures

Western and Eastern cultures have certain differences in the cultural dimension of contact versus non-contact cultures. People in non-contact cultures keep their distance in communication and avoid tactile and olfactory sensory modes of interaction, while people in high-contact cultures communicate with a shorter interpersonal distance and higher engagement of tactile and olfactory sensory modes.

Societies from North America, Northern Europe, and Asia tend to be low-contact, whereas societies from Southern Europe, the Middle East, and South America tend to be high-contact cultures. So, we see that this division has a more complex configuration than just West versus East.

See more in Cultural proxemics and immediacy of interpersonal communication.

Low-context and High-context Communication Styles

Our interpersonal communication involves both

  • content—an informative message that we want to say to another person, and
  • context—why and how we say the message to another person.

The context in which we say something can be more important than the content that we want to deliver. People can be receptive to our message in one context but not in another. Sometimes, context can tell people more than the content of messages.

Here I’ll talk about low-context and high-context styles of communication.

What Is Low-context Versus High-context Communication?

One of the major differences that many cross-cultural studies have highlighted is the importance, sensitivity, and dependency of people in different societies on the context of verbal and nonverbal communication. A question of interest is whether the content or context of a message is more important for people in their communication.

What is More Important, the Content or the Context of the Message?

On the one hand, in the low-context-dependent style of communication, people believe that the content of a message is more important than its context. Therefore, they prefer to be clear, open, and explicit in their messages. They leave little room for implicit assumptions. They say everything that they want to say, leaving little in the way of hidden or unspoken contextual messages.

On the other hand, in the high-context-dependent style of communication, the content of a message is less important than its context. Therefore, they tend to be more implicit and less explicit in their messages and contextual expressions. They tell more than they say. The recipient just needs to be able to decode unspoken messages (Karandashev, 2021).

Individual Differences in Orientation toward the Content and Context of Communication

People have different orientations toward the content or context of messages in their communication, depending on their individual and cultural differences. All people pay attention to both content and context, yet to a different degree.

Some individuals are more content-oriented and less context-dependent. For them, analytical, rational thinking and logical, systematic reasoning based on arguments and evidence are the priorities in communication. They prefer to avoid or abandon any preconceptions and beliefs when they are speaking and listening. They believe in universal meaning, rational understanding, objective knowledge, and real truth.

Other individuals are less content-oriented and more context-dependent. For them, the context of the situation and the presence of others play an important role, sometimes overshadowing the content of the message itself. They strongly rely on the beliefs and opinions of others, especially those from their in-group. They are sensitive to the emotional tone and manner in which a communicator speaks. They believe in relative meaning, intuitive understanding, subjective knowledge, and the nonexistence of real truth.

Styles of Communication toward In-group and Out-group Members

People and cultures vary in the way they interact with members of their in-group compared to those from their out-group. The context of in-group relations versus out-group relations can influence their communication styles.

People in collectivistic Eastern cultures with a high value of in-group embeddedness tend to show different attitudes and behaviors toward others from their own in-group than towards others from their out-group (Smith & Bond, 1999). People in collectivistic cultures are less interested in establishing personal and specific friendships with others due to their natural embeddedness in pre-existing kin relations and reluctance to establish such relations with out-group individuals (Karandashev, 2021).

On the other hand, people in individualistic Western cultures have high values of autonomy and equality. So, they tend to demonstrate the same attitudes and behaviors directed toward others from their in-groups and out-groups. They are universalistic in their social views. And, therefore, tend to apply the same standards of communication to all (Smith & Bond, 1999). They are more interested in establishing personal and specific friendships.

Sensory Processes Involved in Low- and High-Context Communication Styles

Communication styles also differ in the ways people rely on visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, thermal, and olfactory perceptions in their interpersonal interactions (Karandashev et al., 2019). For instance, Germans and Americans, as low-context dependent communicators, rely on auditory screening, while high-context dependent communicators, such as Italians and Spanish, tend to reject auditory screening and thrive on being open to interruptions and in tune with what is going on around them.

Individualism and Collectivism in Societies

Individualism and collectivism have been among the central concepts of cross-cultural research. The division between individualistic Western societies and collectivistic Eastern societies is probably the best-known cultural parameter distinguishing the West and East. At least, that is the most common framework that many researchers use when they study different cultures.

Let us take a closer look at what these parameters of individualism and collectivism are.

What Are Individualism and Collectivism in Societies?

Individualism and collectivism is among the earliest cultural constructs that social psychologists identified to characterize differences between Western and Eastern societies (e.g., Hofstede, 1980/1984; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Marsella et al., 1985; Triandis, 1995; see for review, Karandashev, 2021).

These constructs define the relations between an individual and a group in the structure of societal relations. The societal characteristics of individualism and collectivism describe the extent to which individuals in a society are integrated into groups. If most people in a society have individualistic or collectivistic value orientations, researchers call the society “individualistic” or “collectivistic.”

On the one hand, personal freedom, personal initiative, personal autonomy, and self-reliance are the cultural values linked with individualism in a society. On the other hand, family unity, family integrity, and family loyalty are the cultural values linked to collectivism. 

Individualistic cultures have norms and values that stress how important individual goals and personal freedom are for people’s functioning.

“People are supposed to look after themselves and their immediate family only”.

The values and norms of collectivistic cultures emphasize that the importance of group goals and relations with other shall be higher than individual goals.

“People belong to in-groups or collectivities which are supposed to look after them in exchange for loyalty”

(Hofstede & Bond, 1984, p. 419).

Individual Variation of Individualism and Collectivism in Societies

It is worthwhile to note that within a society (either individualistic or collectivistic), individuals can vary in these cultural value orientations. People can also be collectivistic and individualistic to varying degrees within different areas of their relationships. They can differ in the degree of individualism (or collectivism) in their relations with their kin, family members, neighbors, co-workers, or friends.

Therefore, I would suggest that cultural researchers be careful. They should not be too straight-forward and simplistic in attributing their observations of any individual to their individualism or collectivism, especially in any area of their relationships with others.

Individualism in Western Societies

The cultural values and norms in individualistic societies elevate personal independence, actions, autonomy, the primacy of personality uniqueness, self-realization, and individual initiative. The values and norms also emphasize the individual’s rights rather than duties, the high value of one’s independence rather than interdependence, and the priority of one’s self-interest with less concern for other people’s interests.

People in individualistic societies feel quite independent and autonomous in both in-group and out-group relationships. So, their attitudes and behaviors toward people from both their in-group and out-group are quite similar. 

The personal identity of an individual is recognized through the individual’s attributes. The ties between individuals are loose. In motivation, people subordinate the goals of collectivities to their personal goals. The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark represent the typical examples of individualistic societies. One can easily notice that these are largely Western countries (Hofstede, 1984; 2011; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Gelfand, et al., 2000; Kashima, et al., 1995; Triandis, 1995; see for review, Karandashev, 2021).

Collectivism in Eastern Societies

In collectivistic societies, cultural norms highly praise relational values that foster cooperation within an in-group and the harmony of interpersonal relationships. The norms encourage subordinating a person’s self-assertion. Cultural values and norms of collectivistic societies emphasize that people are the natural parts of strong, cohesive in-groups, such as extended families. An individual’s loyalty to a group and the need to protect the interests and well-being of others in their in-group as opposed to other groups are of high importance. So, group norms encourage people to take part in social activities that help and share with each other.

People in collectivistic societies are highly embedded in their in-group relationships. Such relations with family as unity, loyalty, and integrity are collectivistic beliefs. These are values and rules that emphasize people’s interpersonal bonds, a sense of interconnectedness, solidarity, duty to the group, obligations, in-group harmony, and awareness of the needs of others. These values and rules are called “collectivistic.”

People in collectivistic societies have different standards of behavior for the members of their in-groups and out-groups. They are collectivistic in their interactions with their in-group members (family, friends, etc.). Yet ,in their interactions with out-group members (strangers, people from other cultural groups), they are in-group biased. They strongly distinguish their attitudes and behavior towards those from their in-group versus their out-group.

A personal identity centers on one’s place and role in one’s group. Personal privacy is abridged. In motivation, people subordinate personal goals to the goals of their in-group. Collectivistic values highlight in-group beliefs rather than individual beliefs. The value of in-group views is higher than individual views. Collective responsibility to the in-group precedes individual pleasure in importance.

Independent Individualistic and Interdependent Collectivistic Cultures

Despite being a classical cultural concept distinguishing individualistic and collectivistic societies, individualism and collectivism turned out to be more complex and multifaceted than they appeared at first sight (see Karandashev, 2021).

Researchers use the concepts of interdependent and independent cultures to explain Western and Eastern social structures and relationships between people. The concepts are especially important in the contexts of the mind, emotions, and self of a person. Western societies are characterized by an independent model of culture and self. And Eastern societies are characterized by an interdependent model of culture and self (See more in another article).

Personal Identity in Independent and Interdependent Cultures

The concept of interdependent and independent cultures tells us something about the internal structure of society and relationships between people, as well as how they are deemed in the mind and self of a person. These are personhood conceptions and construals of the self and others and how the self and others are related. People perceive themselves and others as interdependent or independent from each other based on their cultural values, norms, and people.

An interdependent model of culture and self characterizes Eastern societies, while an independent model of culture and self characterizes Western societies.

Western Analytical and Eastern Holistic Perception

Social perceptions of people in Eastern and Western cultures are more or less dependent on a specific context of perception. Different cultural factors can affect their perceptual and communicative processes through different cognitive mechanisms.

The perceptual processes of people in Western societies are analytical and independent of the context and details in which an object is located. People tend to see an object or a person by focusing on their salient features independently of their context.

The perceptual processes of people in Asian societies are holistic. Perceptiondepends on the full context and details in which an object is located. People tend to see an object or a person in the specific context of a situation, depending on the specifics of the situation and relations.

The social Perceptions that Are either Independent or Dependent on Context

Another study was conducted in accordance with the same idea of cultural differences in perception being interdependent or interdependent on the context (Masuda, Ellsworth, Mesquita, Leu, & Veerdonk, 2008). Researchers investigated the observers’ perceptions of emotional situations when they looked at a situation depicting a person surrounded by four other people. The European-American and Japanese participants rated the emotions of the central person, who appeared either happy, sad, or angry. The other four people, who surrounded the central person, displayed various emotions.

In such experimental situations, European-American participants estimated the emotion of the central person only by his or her facial expression. They did not take into account the emotions of other people around them. Such a characteristic of their assessment of the emotional experience of the central person is in accord with their perception of the central person independently of the context of the situation. They paid attention solely to a salient object—the central person.

In contrast to this, Japanese participants assessed the emotional experience of the central person, taking into account not only his or her facial expression but also the emotions of other people portrayed in the situation. Such a quality in their evaluation of the emotional experience of a central person corresponds with their perception, which is associated not only with the central person but also dependent on the context of the situation. They paid attention to the whole situation and the context in which the central person was.

In other experimental studies, participants assessed the emotions of a person in the context of a situation while researchers recorded the location where they looked using eye tracking. The results were similar. Americans focus mostly on the central person. In contrast to this, the Japanese and Taiwanese distributed their attention, looking not only at the central person but also at the other people in the situation.

The Western perception is independent of a situational context, and the Eastern perception is interdependent on a situational context

So, several studies demonstrated that people in Western cultures, with their perception independent of a situational context, consider the emotions of a person only from their own perspective, independent of the context. They perceive emotional experiences from an individual perspective.

People in Eastern cultures, with their perception interdependent on a situational context, perceive the emotions of a person depending on the contextual perspective and all those involved in the situation. They perceive emotional experiences from a relational perspective. In their judgment of emotions, all people who are present in a situation and their relations with each other are considered, whether they belong to the same group or are related to the person. (Masuda et al., 2008; Tsang & Wu, 2005).

Self-focused Versus Other-focused Perception and Emotions

Social perception, whether independent or interdependent on relationship contexts, is directly related to self-focused and other-focused perceptions and emotional experiences.

Studies found that individuals in Western cultures (i.e., European Americans, British people, and Germans) are characterized by prevalent self-focused perception along with corresponding emotional experiences. They are more likely than people from other cultures to experience socially disengaging emotions such as superiority, pride, anger, and frustration. They generally feel such emotional experiences as being friendly, guilty, ashamed, and connected with others less frequently and less intensely than people in Eastern cultures.

On the other hand, people in Eastern cultures (e.g., Japan, China, as well as Asian Americans) are characterized by the prevalent other-focused perception and associated emotional experiences. They tend to experience and express their emotions more frequently and intensely when they think of family members and other relationships compared to situations when they think of themselves.

They more frequently and intensely experience such socially engaging emotions as being friendly and connected with others, as well as feeling guilty and ashamed. On the other hand, they less frequently and less intensely experience such socially disengaging emotions as the feelings of being proud, superior, angry, or frustrated.

For example, Japanese tend to face situations associated with feelings of shame more frequently than Americans. On the other hand, Americans tend to encounter situations linked to anger more frequently than Japanese.

(For a review of all these studies, see Karandashev, 2021).