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).

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.

These Experiments Show Hidden Reasons Why Privileged Social Classes Can Be Against Equality

The social policies and practices of social equality have progressed significantly in many contemporary societies. People in some countries, such as Scandinavia and other North European countries, adopted equality cultural values more quickly and easily than in others. However, in the United States of America, progress on equality is still sluggish and encounters opposition from voters and policymakers. People may explicitly express their support for social equality. Yet, implicitly, they may be reluctant to adopt the policies and practices of equality.

Why does such a discrepancy take place? Why do people tacitly resist equality?

Why Did Researchers Explore “Zero-sum” Beliefs?

A group of researchers led by N. Derek Brown (Brown et al., 2022) looked into the effects of conservative ideology, belief in the status quo, a preference for social hierarchies, and the “zero-sum” worldview of people who prefer to maintain their social advantage.

The study took a special interest in how the zero-sum mentality of men and women affects their opinions, attitudes, and actions. They think that equality can make it harder for them to get and preserve what they need. People in advantaged groups think it’s good when equality grows within their own group but not when it grows between groups. Researchers conducted a series of experiments with several samples of American participants. They discovered interesting results, illuminating why and how individuals in privileged social groups persistently believe that policies that advance equality are detrimental to their own interests. Accordingly, they mistakenly think that inequality is good.

What Did the First Set of Experiments Show?

For the first set of experiments, researchers recruited people from advantaged groups, such as white Americans, able-bodied people, men, and people who have never been convicted of a crime. Then the researchers showed them the proposals that would improve the resources available to members of a less-advantaged group, such as Latino Americans, people with disabilities, women, and people who have been convicted of a crime. In this experimental condition, researchers did not take anything away from the advantaged group. In some cases, researchers openly told the participants from this advantaged group that there were no limits on the resources. Therefore, these proposals to improve equality would not harm their own prospects. Still, on average, these people thought the proposals were bad. Nevertheless, these participants mostly perceived the proposals as harmful.

Here Is Another Experiment on Equality Beliefs 

Prior to the November 2020 election, researchers conducted another experiment among white, East Asian, and South Asian California voters. The researchers asked about a ballot initiative that would repeal an existing ban on affirmative action in public employment, contracts, and university admissions. Researchers considered these people to be the privileged group because many of them, compared to other social groups, studied at public universities or worked in the public sector.

Two-thirds of these respondents said they were liberal. Nevertheless, they thought that allowing affirmative action programs would have hurt their chances of getting public sector jobs, contracts, and college spots for their families. The results of this experiment showed that when they thought affirmative action would hurt their own interests, they more likely answered that they would vote against this proposition. The general vote that year did not support this affirmative action proposal.


Thus, the results of the first set of experiments supported the researchers’ prediction that “zero-sum” attitudes strongly affect people’s actions against social equality.

This Study Revealed the Impediment that Makes People Resist Social Equality

Modern societies in Europe and North America have made substantial progress in the social policies and practices of social equality. Nevertheless, further advancements in equality are still slow and meet with resistance from policymakers and voters. Some countries are more rapidly adopting the idea of equality than others.

For example, equality in the United States of America is still a long way, in many respects, from being good enough. Many privileged Americans, especially those with conservative values, are still reluctant to adopt the idea of equality.

Even though many people may say they want social equality, their thoughts and feelings about equality can be different. Why so? A new study conducted by N. Derek Brown and his colleagues (Brown et al., 2022) investigated how conservatism, belief in the status quo, preference for social hierarchies, and a “zero-sum” worldview influence the behavior of people aimed at gaining a social advantage.

What Are “Zero-sum” Beliefs?

The study has focused on the psychological function of the zero-sum mentality. This way of thinking makes people in privileged social groups think that policies that promote equality are bad for their own interests.

What is the psychology of the “zero-sum” worldview? People with a “zero-sum mentality” view many situations in social relations as zero-sum games. They believe that when one person gains, the other person loses. In other words, a person considers the other person’s gain as his or her own loss. Sometimes this happens in our lives. However, it is not necessarily true in other circumstances. People with this belief think that even simple things like buying food or a car have a winner and a loser. Because of these ideas, policymakers and voters may think that new policies will hurt them more than help others, even though the opposite is true.

What Did Studies Reveal?

Several studies with a total sample size of 4,197 participants showed that members of privileged groups mistakenly believe inequality to be beneficial. They think that equality can be detrimental to their access to resources. People of advantaged groups perceive equality as good only when it is increased within their social ingroup but not between social groups.

When resources and resource access are unlimited, misconceptions also endure. Even when policies that promote equality have positive effects on society as a whole, people still have wrong beliefs.

For example, a long-term study of American voters in 2020 found that this way of thinking about policy was a better predictor of how they would vote than their political beliefs or egalitarian beliefs.

Furthermore, the two final experiments revealed that advantaged people are more likely to vote for policies that increase inequality and harm their finances rather than policies that increase equality and help their finances. Despite any efforts to assist people in making better decisions, people continue to have these incorrect beliefs. So, it’s surprising that the mistaken belief that equality must be a “zero-sum game” may be why inequality still exists even though it has costs for society as a whole.

The Cultural Value and Practice of American Equality

Equality is commonly declared as a high cultural value in American society. And it is true in many regards. Many legislative norms and practices demonstrate widespread equality in American daily life. However, American equality is still inconsistent and far from ideal in some respects.

What Is Social Equality?

Social equality means that all members of a society are treated equally. This may include having access to civil rights, freedom of speech, autonomy, and certain public goods and social services. Social equality implies that there are no legally recognized social class distinctions and that there is no discrimination based on a fundamental aspect of an individual’s identity.

The best form of equality is equity. Therefore, social equality means that individuals have equal opportunity, not necessarily equal availability. Ultimate social equality means that all individuals are equal in their opportunities,

  • regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation,
  • regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, social class, income,
  • regardless of their origin, language, opinions,
  • regardless of their health, and disability.

The Progress in American Equality

The history of American society has been quite controversial in terms of democracy and social equality. Even though American leaders always declared these social values, real legislative norms and practices were far from ideal.

The 20th century has made substantial progress in this regard. It has been especially true since the 1960s. Thanks to the efforts and persistence of countless American people and leaders. America has now come much closer to the ideal of equality upon which the country was founded. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom became a crucial momentum in this regard. One can see clear evidence of the progress in equality. For instance,

  • Race is no longer a barrier to entry at a lunch counter.
  • Restrictive covenants cannot legally state that only certain types of people can purchase certain types of homes.
  • Literacy tests are no longer a barrier to voting.

However, let’s take a closer look at the realities of today in various areas of American life. Studies have obviously demonstrated that real equality is still an ongoing process. Equality is still just a dream, rather than a reality, for many people in the United States.

Is Further Progress Good for American Culture?

On the one hand, many liberal and progressive men and women believe that social equality is good and is a desirable value for the future American culture. On the other hand, many conservative men and women may not think so.

For instance, white Americans, and white men in particular, have a tendency to view efforts to reduce prejudice toward black men and women as being prejudicial to them. This is especially true when the target population is black men and women. We have seen a lot of this conservative backlash against diversity and racial justice.

“The misperception that equality is harmful is stubbornly persistent, resisting both reason and incentivization.”

And the psychology of advantage can explain this social psychological tendency in beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Whether we identify as conservatives or liberals, we tend to hold on to our advantages at all costs (Brown et al., 2022).

“Self-interest…is a massive motivation for those advantaged in society to preserve the status quo insofar as it benefits them.”

Our Predisposition to Homogamy in Love

Genetic similarity and social homogamy play important roles in our interpersonal attraction and love.

As I showed elsewhere, genetic resemblance between individuals predisposes them to fall in love. Partners in a couple share more genetic traits than random strangers. Nonetheless, it may be misleading to conclude that people fall in love solely due to their genetic similarity.

Many other life circumstances, individual preferences, and socio-cultural characteristics also play an important role. Besides, social and cultural predispositions to homogamy increase the similarity of loving partners even more.

Assortative mating, or homogamy, as a predisposition to choose a similar partner for a relationship, is evident in many social, economic, and cultural characteristics. Among those are social class, socioeconomic status, education, religion, ethnicity, caste, gender, and age. They can have a significant impact on who men and women select to love and marry. Let us consider some of them.

The Interpersonal Attraction of Social and Economic Homogamy

In many societies, homogamy and endogamy in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status are especially important for marriage. Generally, people prefer relationships with individuals of similar social and economic groups, ethnicity, religion, age, and educational level (Kalmijn, 1994, 1998).

The principles of homogamy intentionally or unintentionally motivate men and women to select partners from similar social, economic, or cultural backgrounds. They tend to date and mate with those who are similar to them in social and economic status and belong to the same cultural group. At the early stages of a relationship, men and women often pay less attention to this homogamy with a prospective mate. They tend to rely on their immediate emotions. Nonetheless, as the relationship progresses, they certainly take these factors into consideration.

However, in some traditional cultures, such as India, the economic exchange often takes place in marriage arrangements. In some cases, when a person marries a spouse from a higher social stratum, sociologists call such a marriage hypergamy—“marrying up.” In this type of mating relationship, women often marry men of a slightly higher social class than their own (Van Den Berghe, 1960).

This is also considered “upward mobility,” when women or men from low socio-economic classes prefer to date a potential partner of high economic status. This relationship would advance their status in society (Blossfeld & Timm, 2003).

Nonetheless, in many modern societies, there is a tendency toward homogamy in mating based on economic status. The plots in which a rich prince accidentally meets and marries a poor girl are good for fairy tales and modern romantic movies. However, they are far from the reality of life.

A good financial prospect in a prospective mate is important for both women’s and, surprisingly, for men’s preferences (Eastwick & Finkel, 2008).

Interpersonal Attraction of Religious Homogamy

According to surveys, people consider similar faith and affiliation to be a very important factor in their marriage choice. Their religious families often care about this even more (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

For instance, in Jordanian traditional conservative culture, people expect as their top preference that a prospective mating partner should be of the same religion (Khallad, 2005).

In modern Western European societies, many people do not consider religious beliefs important for love. For example, many American university students do NOT rate the religious affiliation of a prospective partner as an important quality.

However, in the seemingly modern society of the USA, where religion has historically played an important role in societal life and politics, the value of religiosity for mating varies across states and cultural groups. For example, American respondents from Texas, a conservative state, rated a similar religious background as essential in prospective mates (Buss et al., 2001).

Some cultural groups in America also place a high value on the religiosity of a prospective mating partner. For instance, modern Muslim women living in the United States prefer and seek a religious marriage partner (Badahdah & Tiemann, 2005).

Interpersonal Attraction of Educational Homogamy

Across many societies throughout history, husbands were usually more educated than their wives. Husbands might need education for their breadwinner’s work, while wives working in the household and taking care of children presumably did not need education.

In recent decades, women have received more opportunities for education and have expressed an interest in studying. Gender educational equality has substantially increased, providing more opportunities for contact and communication between educated men and women. Because of this, they frequently preferred relationships with equal partners. Colleges and universities have become the places where men and women have the opportunity to meet and marry (Blossfeld, 2009; Blossfeld & Timm, 2003).

Educational homogamy between men and women in dating relationships has increased in many modern societies. Marriage partners become homogamous couples in terms of education in such countries as

However, in many countries, another trend occurs. College education became more prevalent among women than among men. Women with higher education outnumbered men. Therefore, the number of women who marry downward has increased (De Rose & Fraboni, 2016; Esteve, García‐Román, & Permanyer, 2012).

Interpersonal Attraction and Love in Egalitarian Societies

Nowadays, in modern egalitarian societies, many men and women usually have equal access to financial, social, and educational resources. That means better chances for equal relationships and marriage. All these societal factors reflect on the ways young people form relationships (see for review, Karandashev, 2023).

The other articles of interest on this topic are