The Last Equality Study Showed a Grimmer Perspective on Equality

Many modern societies have made great strides in promoting social equality. Some nations promote equality more than others. In Western and northern European countries, social equality has advanced quickly. The U.S. equality movement is slower. Voters and policymakers often oppose equality legislation.

Why do conservatives and liberals oppose fair proposals that benefit all? A series of studies have shown that they just misunderstand contexts and, therefore, resist social equality.

Here Is What the Previous Studies on “Zero-sum” Mindsets Revealed

In my previous articles, I presented several experiments conducted by N. Derek Brown and his colleagues (Brown et al., 2022). Their results showed the hidden role that people’s “zero-sum” thinking plays in making them have opposing thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

They agree with equality and see it as a positive change in their privileged social group. However, they oppose equality once it increases between their own and other social groups.

The following experiments produced even more striking results. Researchers formed a fictitious “privileged” group of Rattlers and offered them the chance to take actions endorsing or opposing certain equality policies.

Unexpectedly for researchers, the Rattlers perceived the win-win scenario to be marginally more detrimental to their interests than the lose-lose proposal. Therefore, they preferred “the lose-lose” option over “the win-win” option as a desired policy. These findings are extremely compelling and “grim.” As Derek Brown and his co-authors noted (Brown et al., 2022),

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

Researchers attempted to address scarcity concerns and assure people that a more equitable policy would not affect their opportunities. Nevertheless, people tend to oppose such equality policies.

What the Final Eagles-Rattlers Experiment Showed

In a second Eagles-Rattlers experiment, the Rattlers were given two options to reduce inequality. In the “unharmful” option, the Eagles get more resources without any change for the Rattlers. The “harmful” option involved the Rattlers getting less, with no change for the Eagles.

Researchers presented those options side-by-side. They wanted to help people recognize that the unharmful one is the more rational choice. Therefore, people would have a chance to choose the less harmful one. Even though the Rattlers chose that option as policy, they still saw it as more harmful to their interests than the harmful option. The study demonstrates why equality is bad or appears to be bad for many people of privileged social classes. Inequality and disparities persist because people fundamentally misunderstand the social consequences of their actions.

These Studies Still Provide a Possibility of a Positive Perspective for Equality

On the bright side, the researchers found that people from advantaged social groups are much more open to policies that reduce inequality within their social group. This could help explain why some countries with less racial diversity than the U.S., like Scandinavia, have been better at making equitable social policies.

What Can Policy Makers Do to Increase American Social Equality?

Brown and his co-authors say that American progressive policymakers could use the findings of these studies to promote national unity. On the other hand, conservative Republican lawmakers increasingly do the opposite. They put social groups against each other based on gender, race, religion, citizenship, and party affiliation.

What Do Authors Suggest to Better Promote Equality?

In conclusion, the researchers suggest,

 “A critical next step concerns how the negative effects of zero-sum equality perceptions can be averted or how we can make progress toward equality despite these misperceptions.”

The question remains,

“How can advantaged groups be convinced to relinquish their relative advantages even as doing so inherently feels like a material concession?”

These studies do not present an optimistic picture for the future of American equality. However, Derek Brown advises policymakers that even though backlash is probably unavoidable, they can promote the change with the justification and motivation to create equality policies. Particularly when establishing a more equal and equitable society is on the table, the risk is still worth the reward (Brown et al., 2022).

These Experiments Show Why Equality Is Bad or Looks Bad

Many modern societies have made great strides toward implementing social policies and practices that promote social equality. However, cultural values of equality spread more rapidly in some nations than in others.

Significant progress toward social equality, for example, has occurred relatively quickly in Western and Northern European countries. However, the social movement toward equality in the United States of America remains slow. The legislative initiatives face resistance from many voters and policymakers. They are often reluctant to support such equality policies. The intriguing question remains why so many people, both conservatives and often liberals, oppose such apparently fair proposals that can benefit all. Nevertheless, they mistakenly perceive the contexts of possible outcomes and resist social equality.

What the Preceding Studies Showed

In my previous post, I described some of the experiments conducted by N. Derek Brown and his colleagues (Brown et al., 2022), which discovered the hidden role that people’s “zero-sum” mindsets play in affecting their oppositional opinions, attitudes, and actions. Because of this, they believe that equality can lead them to lose their advantageous status. They agree with the idea of equality and perceive this as a positive change when equality increases within their own privileged social group. However, they oppose this idea of equality and perceive this as an undesirable shift when equality may increase between their own and other social groups.

Here Are the Other Experiments with Equality, Even More Convincing

The results of the following experiments were especially striking. Researchers made up a special “privileged” social group. They administered a personality test (a bogus test). Then, the researchers told participants that, based on their “test results”, they placed them in either the Eagles or the Rattlers group. In fact, the researchers assigned all of them to the Rattlers’ group. This group held a position of advantage over the Eagles, a fictitious social group. Then, the researchers proposed the Rattlers to reduce the disparity between them and the Eagles. They could take one of two actions:

  1. Either making both groups better off while helping the Eagles more (the win-win, equality-enhancing option)
  2. Or making everyone worse off while harming the Eagles more (the lose-lose, inequality-enhancing option).

Surprisingly and counterintuitively, the Rattlers perceived the win-win scenario to be marginally more detrimental to their interests than the lose-lose proposal. Therefore, they favored “the win-win” option less than “the lose-lose” option as a desired policy.

What Is Especially Striking About These Findings?

One can see that these findings are very convincing. Derek Brown and his colleagues (Brown et al., 2022) characterize these as “grim.” They commented that

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

As Paul Piff, Professor of Psychological Science at the University of California, remarked,

People in general, and particularly elites, “tend to perceive inequality as something abstract and fairly distant. Inequality-mitigating policies are often framed in terms of policies to help the poor, which isn’t necessarily all that motivating for (some) folks. In a sense, then, combatting inequality rarely appeals to self-interest, which is a massive motivation for those advantaged in society to preserve the status quo insofar as it benefits them.”

The Important Conclusion of These Experiments

People tend to resist such equality policies, even when researchers address scarcity concerns and assure people that a more equitable policy will not affect their opportunities. Thus, this study demonstrates why equality is bad or looks bad to many privileged people. Inequality and disparities continue to occur because people fundamentally misunderstand their social consequences.

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.

An Invisible Swedish Romance

How romantic are Swedish people? What does love look like in the cold climate of this Nordic culture?

There are two possible planes of reality to consider in this regard: ideal and real (Karandashev, 2022a). The first one concerns how love is presented as a cultural idea in literature, art, cinema, and other social media, which create cultural love models.

The second one concerns how love is really experienced by people in their daily lives.

This article considers the first plane of love in how romantic love is represented in literary genres of Swedish literature and what popular romance looks like in a Swedish cultural context. According to Maria Nilson and Helene Ehriander, the scholars at Linneaus University’s center for research in popular culture in Sweden, popular romance has been a challenging genre in Swedish literature for many years (Nilson & Ehriander, December 21, 2020).

Why Literary Romance in Sweden Was Invisible?

In Sweden, there is a strong literary tradition of realistic novels. Occasional romantic fiction was written and published but attracted little interest among Swedish readers. did not attract much readability. Popular romances were rarely discussed in public. The genre was generally invisible in scholarship as well as in the cultural arena. For many years, Swedish literature has had a poor tradition in the romantic love genre. Until recently, few romance titles appeared in the Swedish book market. Romance has been and continues to be viewed as a static genre comprised of poorly written books that are strikingly similar and simplistic in plots and characters. Generally, popular romance in the country is a genre with a “bad reputation.” Romantic writing has been seen as being an endless repetition of essentially the same plots, as old-fashioned as it gets. Authors and readers of romantic novels have been largely women. Some consider the romantic genre as literature that strengthens old patriarchal norms and ideals.

Some may theorize that the traditional unpopularity of romance in Sweden could be related to the cold climate of the country or the reserved character of people in Swedish culture. In any case, this can be related to the culturally normative ways in which Nordic people experience and express emotions.

The range of fiction commonly read in Swedish schools and universities is traditional. The same selection of classics, as it was in the 1980s, is still in the curriculum. Popular romance novels are not covered in the “main” literature course. The romance genre is frequently considered as old-fashioned, patriarchal, or subversive (Nilson & Ehriander, December 21, 2020).

The Origins of Nordic Romance Novels in “Chick Lit”

The Nordic genre of “chick lit” is related in some ways to the genre of romance. It is a sort of “subgenre” of popular romance. The “chick lit” genre was also associated with “women’s fiction” in the 1970s by Erica Jong and Marilyn French.

Chick lit came to Sweden with Bridget Jones’s Diary by Fielding. After the success of this romantic novel, several other books were translated into Swedish. Then, several Swedish writers also began writing Swedish chick lit with the conflicting desires that characterize this genre. Nordic chick lit novels have typically featured conflicting desires, a distinct writing style with distinct presentations of speech and thought, and distinct tones and settings.

The Swedish welfare state has had a significant influence on Swedish chick lit. The “non-western” novels of chick lit in Nordic cultures have shifted their genre. These books changed and developed the genre, rather than just mimicking American bestsellers. The heroes of Swedish chick lit embodied so-called “modern men” who have no problem with washing up the dishes or changing diapers. The chick lit heroines in Swedish authors’ novels are more concerned with their love interests, female friends, and careers than with their families. The classic chick-lit themes are reimagined in terms of Nordic social conditions, gender roles, and cultural contexts.

The Rise of Swedish Interest in “Popular Romance” In recent years, the genre of “popular romance” has gradually appeared in public view and in the Swedish cultural context. Simona Ahrnstedt is a bestselling author who has extensively written her books as romances. She started out by writing historical romances. Yet, her big breakthrough was the love novel En enda natt (All In). She actively promoted this genre in Sweden (Nilson & Ehriander, December 21, 2020).

Free Scandinavian Love

For many Scandinavians, love is a free relationship between independent individuals. Their national cultural ideas and policies of freedom, independence, and equality in interpersonal relations encourage their culture of love. The free Scandinavian love in the countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland is in accord with the egalitarian cultural values of their societies.

The High Value of Love in Scandinavian Cultures Having a wonderful, long-term relationship or becoming a parent is important. Many Scandinavians believe that love and relationships nowadays are stronger than ever in their countries. For example, Danish sociologist Birthe Linddal Hansen, a researcher at the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies, said that

“True love is still very popular as an ideal, and people are getting married more now than they did years ago.”

Scandinavians do not shy away from the words “I love you.” The Danish “jeg elsker dig,” the Norwegian “jeg elsker deg,” and the Swedish “jag älskar dig,” pronounced something like “yah-g el-scar d-eh” are still widely used by people in those countries. In Finnish, it sounds like “minä rakastan sinua,” or in the shortened “mä rakastan sua,” in the spoken language. Yet, men and women used these love words sparingly due to their reserved Scandinavian character. When it comes to expressing their feelings, they do so in a reserved manner. In their interpersonal relationships, they are typically less emotionally expressive than people in some other, more expressive cultures, like those in Mediterranean and Latin American societies. The Nordic people of Scandinavia tend to be less lively in their facial and body expressions. They smile and laugh in moderation.

The Swedish Example of Free Love

The Swedish book “Är svensken människa” and its English publication, The Swedish Theory of Love (Berggren & Trägårdh, 2022), present some basic cultural ideas and prototypes of Scandinavian free love. Swedish cultural policies and legislation, on the one hand, emphasize individual autonomy and, on the other hand, trust in the state. Swedish philosophy, cultural studies, and sociology focus on some basic logic and rational principles that the welfare state follows. This is the social idea that people in interpersonal relationships should be independent. Cohesive dependency and subordination cause individual inauthenticity and predicaments for true love. Swedish modern cultural values promote equality and autonomy as preconditions for sincere and authentic affection and love.

To Love or to Marry?

It appears that contemporary Scandinavians are delaying their marriage. Men and women tend to marry later in their 30s, when their education, careers, and relationships are established. Many couples choose to live together without getting married. People in the Scandinavian countries feel free to certify or not certify their marriages. “Open unions” have long been an acceptable practice in Scandinavian societies. De facto unions between spouses are common and even mainstream in today’s society. When it comes to property and inheritance, both couples have rights and duties. Government policies in Scandinavian nations actively encourage equality between the sexes in all areas of relationships.

In Scandinavian countries, legal marriage is seen as a major life milestone. However, these formal events are secondary in importance to having a loving partner, a long-term relationship or becoming a happy parent.

For many men and women, official marriage is rather a symbolic expression of love and commitment to remain together forever or for a long time. These old ideals of stability, love, and commitment, however, haven’t gone out of style, even in progressive and liberal Scandinavian societies.

Scandinavian Weddings

Couples may officially certify their marriage later and even have a wedding. Eventually, some of these couples decide to wed, primarily to celebrate their union with a wedding ceremony and a great party. For instance, in Norwegian folklore and tradition we find wedding formulae that seem to be ancient, i.e.,

He weds you to honor and to be the lady of the house, to half the bed and to locks and keys … under one blanket and one sheet.

Perhaps these words go far back in time.

Wedding traditions in Scandinavia are always evolving, with the changes being influenced by customs from other regions of the world. Nowadays, Norwegian weddings, for instance, have many things in common with those of other European countries. A typical bride will wear a long white dress, and her groom will wear a black tuxedo. The same fashion is in Sweden today. Bridal couples wear what we would consider traditional wedding attire: a white dress and tuxedos. Some may return to past Swedish customs, such as wearing the bridal crown. Nevertheless, traditional wedding practices are gradually waning in the modern cultural evolution of Scandinavian societies.

Free Scandinavian Marriages and Free Families

Marriages and families in Scandinavian countries are the free unions of independent individuals. “Open unions” are widely accepted in those societies. Men and women in both certified and uncertified marriages have equal rights and responsibilities.

Do Marriages still Exist in Scandinavian Countries?

The frequently asked question among Scandinavians is whether the institution of marriage is disappearing. Social scientists and journalists began to express such concerns in the early 2000s. For instance, Stanley Kurz, an American conservative commentator, wrote in 2004 in the magazine Weekly Standard that “Marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia.” He believed that “same-sex marriage has undermined the institution of marriage.” How realistic and adequate are such concerns?

The data, on the other hand, indicates that this is not the case at all. According to the Nordic Statistical Yearbook, the number of marriages in the Nordic countries has increased since 1990, albeit with varying trends and shifts in different societies of that region. This trend can be seen throughout all of the Nordic nations (Love and Relationships in Scandinavia, 2015).

In reality, Scandinavian marriages have just become more diverse than before. People take their right to freedom and interdependence for granted, while still respecting their responsibilities.

We should keep in mind that people in the Scandinavian nations can be in either certified or uncertified marriages. The accepted practices of so-called “open unions” have existed in Scandinavia for a very long time. These kinds of de facto unions of partners are widespread and even prevalent. Both partners have rights and responsibilities concerning their property and inheritance. In a case of separation, both men and women have obligations regarding maintenance payments.

As one Finnish woman noted,

“I have been there, done that. To me, getting married just means finding someone to be with and to be loved, and of course, that is something that everyone wants.”

Scandinavians Highly Value Love, Good Relationships, and Parenthood more than Marriages

In Scandinavia, having a delightful, long-term relationship or becoming a parent is very important to many Scandinavians. Many Scandinavian couples choose to live together without getting married, a practice known as “sambo.” Some of these couples eventually decide to get married, largely to celebrate their union with a wedding ceremony and have a big party.

It is true that modern Scandinavians appear to be waiting longer to marry. It is quite normal for a couple to wait until they are in their 30s after finishing their studies before getting married. However, they also wait longer when they decide to divorce.

Longer education, career, or the cost of purchasing the apartment are some of the reasons for a late marriage. In addition to that, weddings in Scandinavia have become increasingly elaborate and costly. Church weddings are expensive. Therefore, many Danish couples now prefer a civil ceremony. Legal marriage is regarded as an important step in life among people living in Scandinavian countries. These steps, however, are secondary in importance after having a loving, long-term relationship or parenthood. As one Swedish woman of 27 years old commented,

“Marriage is a contract and a symbolic commitment to remain together forever. At the same time, it is an expression of love. These ideals of stability, love, and commitment haven’t gone out of style, even in progressive and liberal Scandinavia.”

Maria said this when she was in her late 20s, unmarried, and six-months pregnant.

The Free Scandinavian Families

For many Scandinavians, marriage is no longer a precondition for starting a family. It is not necessary, neither normatively nor legally. A nuclear family is changing its form. About 60% of the parents of first-born children are not married. And a marriage certificate is no longer required in order to obtain housing.

It may appear strange to men and women in other cultures that many Scandinavians wait so long before getting married. They may even already have one or two children before marriage, but in Scandinavian countries, it is a cultural reality. In other words, as Danish social scientist Mogens Nygaard Christoffersen of the National Social Research Institute commented,

“What defines and makes the foundation of the Danish family can be said to have moved from marriage to parenthood.”

How Different Are the Irish and Scandinavian Styles of Interpersonal Interactions?

Irish and Scandinavian cultures have something in common between them, as well as with other Western cultures. Yet, people differ in their styles of interpersonal interaction and emotionality.

Western and Eastern Societies

Scholars who study cultures and compare them have looked at Western and Eastern societies and found that they are very different. From a philosophical, social, and psychological point of view, it was easy to understand and explain this kind of cultural difference

Everything looked simple: Europe and North America are “western” cultures, while Japan, China, and India are “eastern.” The East is more collectivistic than the West. All other nations have been beyond the scope of this distinction.

Modern researchers have looked more closely at the cultural differences between societies around the world, going beyond the traditional East-West division. They have made a more diverse cultural classification of world societies and looked at many different cultural factors and dimensions (Karandashev, 2021a).

Many modern researchers believe that Eastern and Western societies are more diverse than previously thought. Categorizing the world into East and West is simplistic and fails to convey how diverse the various nations are, even within these two cultural regions.

Cultural Diversity of Interpersonal Interaction and Emotional Styles in the West

Cross-cultural research has revealed that people in different “Western” and “Eastern” cultures have different styles of interpersonal interaction. They experience and express their emotions in different ways (Karandashev, 2021a).

During the last several decades, researchers have found that the “Western” cultures of interpersonal relationships and emotional expressions differ in such countries as Germany, France, the United States of America, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

Irish Style of Interpersonal Interactions and Emotions

Many people in Irish culture like the company of peers and companionate relationships. They enjoy being together and chatting with their Irish companions and friends.

Irish folks are notoriously emotional in their conversations. They are extraverted, gregarious, and cheerful in social interactions. Compared to them, people in England, Iceland, and Scandinavia are more reticent and private in their lives and feelings.

In Irish culture, public expressions of emotion are commonplace. The Irish people are emotional and openly show how they feel. People from Ireland have lively voices and are highly expressive emotionally. Their narrative expressions are frequently poetic and full of humorous stories. Humor and laughter are valued as ways to express one’s emotions. They often use humor to lighten the atmosphere of a company (Greeley, 1979, 1981; McGoldrick, 1996).

The interpersonal attitudes of Irish people are often kind and welcoming. They go to considerable lengths to maintain good manners and avoid provoking disagreement. Irish people are known to communicate in an indirect manner. They could also refrain from immediately expressing their irritation or disagreement. Instead, they will employ covert, subdued cues.

Irish people are generally warm and friendly, yet they are a bit shy when it comes to physical contact and interaction with others. Their gestures are expressive but not excessive while they are talking. When the Irish point to something they’re talking about, they usually nod their heads. Eye contact is culturally expected for many Irish during conversation and signals engagement and trust. However, the eye contact is not continuous to avoid a feeling of psychological awkwardness.

The Nordic Styles of Interpersonal Interaction and Emotion

People from the Nordic and Scandinavian cultures of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland are typically reserved. These twin implicit ethics embody their cultural values: “Keep to yourself” and “Don’t think you’re so special” (Erickson, 2005).

They tend to be reserved in their expression of emotions and keep their feelings to themselves. In this respect, they are significantly different from other European cultures, like Ireland, Italy, and Latinos (Karandashev, 2021a; McCrae & Terracciano, 2006).

Scandinavian and Nordic societies are low-contact cultures. People limit their interpersonal contacts and keep their communication distanced. Outside of their close relationships, Nordic people tend to avoid meddling questions and deep and elaborate conversations. In social interaction, they may appear passive.

In their interpersonal relationships, they are less emotionally expressive. Scandinavian cultural norms encourage moderation in the expression of emotions and emotional control(Midelfort & Midelfort, 1982; Pennebaker et al., 1996; Rodnick, 1955). People in Nordic societies have a tendency to avoid conflict, restrain aggression, and prefer practical solutions to disagreement.

Nordic people are less lively in their gestures, postures, and body movements. They laugh and smile less frequently than people from the Mediterranean and Latin American societies.

Scandinavian cultures highly value personal autonomy and privacy. People from the Nordic countries are more introverted, less vocal, and less intrusive than those from the Mediterranean and Latin American countries. They consider shyness to be a good emotional quality. They believe that shy people are introspective, sensitive, and non-obtrusive (Daun, 1995; Erickson, 2005).

Finish Expressive Style

Finish culture presents a typical example of the expressive style of Scandinavian countries. Finns talk to each other in silence and in monologues that move slowly and have long pauses. They listen to each other silently, yet they are still attentive during conversations. Finns don’t like to be interrupted by the verbal comments of others. They don’t need superficial social feedback (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008; Tella, 2005).

Although the Irish and Scandinavian styles of interpersonal interaction differ, they also differ from the German, French, and American ways of communication. Other western European countries also have their own culturally different expressive styles (Karandashev, 2021a).

How Do Nordic People Experience and Express Emotions?

The Nordic countries comprise Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and some other regional territories. The countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are called Scandinavian societies because of their cultural similarities. So, these Scandinavian countries are parts of the Nordic region. The term “Scandinavian” also refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, which includes mainland Norway, Sweden, and Finland’s northwest corner.

Nordic Low-contact Cultures

Researchers found several cultural features of communication styles in Nordic countries, which characterize the ways in which they express emotions (see for review, Karandashev, 2021a).

People in those cultures (e.g., Sweden and Finland) tend to be inhibited in their expression of emotions, while people in other European cultures (e.g., Ireland and Italy) are inclined to express their emotions openly. Nordic people are somber while Latins are hot-tempered (Karandashev, 2019, 2022; McCrae & Terracciano, 2006).

Nordic societies are low-contact cultures, in which regard they differ from Mediterranean, Arab, and Latin American societies, which are high-contact cultures. People limit the number of interpersonal contacts and maintain more distance in communication. They are reserved in their expression of emotions. They tend to be less emotionally expressive in their interpersonal relationships. Nordic people display less liveliness in their body movements and laugh and smile less frequently than people in high-contact cultures.

The Cold Nordic Climate Can Contribute to the Reserved Temperament of Their People

Some researchers attribute these differences to the climate. People in Nordic countries live at high latitudes in cooler climates, whereas people in the Mediterranean, Arab, and Latin American societies live closer to the equator in warmer climates (Vrij & Winkel, 1991).

Many people in Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland) are typically reserved. Their cultural legacy is centered on twin implicit ethics: “Don’t think you’re so special” and “Keep to yourself” (Erickson, 2005, p. 642).

Nordic People Appreciate Personal Autonomy and Privacy

As previously stated, people in Nordic countries place a high value on personal autonomy and privacy. In this regard, many Americans believe that shy people are less intelligent, less competent, and socially desirable, thus considering shyness a negative trait. People from Nordic countries think another way. They believe that shyness is a positive emotional trait. They consider shy people to be sensitive, reflective, and nonpushy (Daun, 1995; Erickson, 2005). In addition to this, Americans emphasize the value of personal pride, while people from Nordic countries emphasize the value of personal modesty.

Even though others may interpret such behavior as introversion, withdrawal, rejection, and anxiety, the people of Nordic countries themselves attribute it to being less verbal, vocal, and intrusive. People tend to avoid meddling questions and deep and elaborate discussions with people outside of their close relationships. They may seem passive in conversation.

Nordic Values of Emotional Control and Moderation

Their social norms endorse emotional control and moderation in the expression of emotions (Midelfort & Midelfort, 1982; Pennebaker et al., 1996; Rodnick, 1955). Individuals in those cultures appear more emotionally inhibited than in other European cultures. In Norway, for example, people prefer to reduce the expression of certain negative emotions (e.g., “excessive” anger) because “expressing them would interfere with neighborly relationships” (Midelfort & Midelfort, 1982; Rodnick, 1955, p. 14). Norwegians tend to minimize the experience of pleasure and other positive emotions (Erickson & Simon, 1996).

It is interesting that Scandinavian languages do not contain a rich vocabulary of aggressive words. This can reflect the avoidance of conflict, holding back aggressiveness and preferring practical solutions instead. However, in the case of a loss and unresolved grief, the lack of expressiveness can have negative consequences: the person can be susceptible to developing physical or psychological symptoms (Erickson, 2005).

Finish Style of Emotional Expression

Finland represents the typical example of the Scandinavian expressive style. Finns communicate silently and monologuously, with slow-moving turns of speech and relatively long pauses. Finish speakers do not like being interrupted with verbal exclamations, applause, or other superficial external feedback. They listen to a speaker without any external evidence that they are paying attention. Yet this is the most attentive way of listening (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008; Tella, 2005). Finns are characterized by lower levels of fearfulness and other negative emotions, but higher positive emotions and emotional control compared to Americans (Gaias et al., 2012).

The Danish “Hygge” and Swedish “Lagom”—the  Cultural Ways of Emotional Experience

The two Scandinavian words reflecting their cultural values and character have become internationally known in recent years: the Danish “hygge” and the Swedish “lagom.”

The popular Danish cultural term “hygge” reflects the national emotional culture of Danes. They tend to foster in their minds and situations around them, the feelings of peace, warmth, coziness, and emotional well-being. They are disposed to enjoy the simple pleasures of being in the moment (e.g., Johansen, 2017; Levisen, 2014; Søderberg, 2016).

The popular Swedish term “lagom” reflects the tendency of Swedes to live in spaces, moments, and ways that are relatively balanced. They wish that everything in life would be in moderation: not too little, not too much, but just right. They are inclined to balance the pressures of everyday life and nurture emotional pleasure, well-being, and happiness (e.g., Akerstrom, 2017; Barinaga,1999; Dunne, 2017).

What Makes the Nordic Cultures so Unique?

The Nordic countries represent a cultural region in Northern Europe, which includes the countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and some other territories. The terms “Nordic” and “Scandinavian” have been used interchangeably. Technically, these two notions overlap. Scandinavian cultures, considered in a narrower sense, are formed by people living in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. These are linguistically and culturally similar groups. “Scandinavian” also refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, which is made up of mainland Norway, mainland Sweden, and the northwesternmost part of Finland.

Internationally, beyond the Nordic region, the term “Scandinavian” is more commonly used when people refer to the Nordic countries. However, the term “Nordic” is more authentic, and it is a more general term. More precisely, the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are parts of the Nordic region.

Nordic Countries’ Territories and Languages

These Nordic countries are the closest territorial neighbors and have a lot in common in their history, ethnicity, and cultures. There are three different language groups in this area. However, they are not related to each other. Still, the fact that these societies share a common history of language helped form the Nordic cultural identity.

Ethnicity and Religions of Nordic Cultures

The largest ethnic groups in this geographic region are North Germanic peoples. Other large cultural groups are ethnic Finns and the Sami people, who make up most of the population in Finland. The historically common religious beliefs of Norse paganism, then Christianity, Catholicism, and Lutheran Christianity have also shaped the cultures of many Nordic societies of the region. Recent immigrants and their descendants from other countries have contributed to the cultural diversity of Nordic countries (Munch Haagensen, 2013).

What Do Nordic Societies Have in Common in their Social Life?

The Nordic countries have a lot in common in the modern way of life, social organization, universalist welfare, and cultural relations. They share characteristics of the Nordic economic and social paradigms to varying degrees. They have many similarities in modern people’s lives, including quality of life, civil liberties, social equality, education, and human development. Their social culture stresses individual autonomy as well as trust in the state. Their moral logic is the basis for their welfare state (Berggren & Trägårdh, 2022; Munch Haagensen, 2013).

How Different Nordic Societies Are

The Nordic societies are still different in several regards. They are linguistically heterogeneous. The majority of the languages spoken in this region belong to the North Germanic, Finno-Ugric, or Eskimo-Aleut subgroups. The first two are the most spoken in the five Nordic countries. The people speaking Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, the North Germanic languages of three countries, can to some extent understand each other. The Nordic countries each have their own economic and social models for social and human development. In some ways, these models are very different from each other.

The Valuable Cultural Features of Nordic Societies

There are several important cultural characteristics of social life in Nordic countries which make them especially interesting to learn for people in other countries of the world.

Nordic societies are widely recognized as egalitarian cultures with strong values in human rights, social justice, cultural freedom, and gender equality. The Nordic cultures enhance the social values of relational independence, human equality, and social responsibility. These cultures respect individual autonomy, personal privacy, and emotional confidentiality in interpersonal relationships. Societies are characterized by high social and relational mobility.

For the cultures of Nordic societies, egalitarianism, tolerance, nonviolence, and moderation are essential values. They keep strict bounds between the private and the public. People in other cultures would label this trait as being shy. However, Nordic people consider it differently. They have a desire for personal autonomy and a penchant for solitude (Daun, 1995; Erickson, 2005).