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Collectivist and Individualist cultures

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For judgements of value about collectivism and individualism, see individualism and collectivism. This article regards how 'collectivist' and 'individualist' are used descriptively in anthropology and cultural psychology.

Cultures are typically divided into two categories: collectivist and individualist. Individualist cultures, such as those of the United States and Western Europe, emphasize personal achievement at the expense of group goals, resulting in a strong sense of competition. Collectivist cultures, such as those of China, Korea, and Japan, emphasize family and work group goals.

Collectivism and individualism deeply pervade cultures. People simply take their culture's stance for granted. In the U.S., everything from 'self-serve' buffet tables to corporate structure to cowboy movies reflect the deeply ingrained individualism. In Japan, after a professor gave a lecture on individualist culture, the students asked the professor if what he said could 'really be true'.

Both collectivist and individualist cultures have their failings. People in individualist cultures are susceptible to loneliness, and people in collectivist cultures can have a strong fear of rejection.




Attribution is the process of understanding the actions of others based on limited information. Since the process is inexact, large errors often creep in. In individualistic cultures, there is a strong bias towards attributing a person's behavior to the characteristics of that person, instead of to the situation that person is in. This is called the fundamental attribution error. People in collectivist cultures have this bias to a much lesser degree.

Personality Types

The stereotype of a 'good person' in collectivist cultures is trustworthy, honest, generous, and sensitive, all characteristics that are helpful to people working in groups. In contrast, a 'good person' in individualist cultures is more assertive and strong, characteristics helpful for competing.

The idea of the 'artistic type' or 'bohemian' is not usually found in collectivist cultures. However, collectivist cultures usually have a 'community man' concept not present in individualist cultures.

Collectivism in China

In China, collectivism has a long tradition based on Confucianism, where being a 'community man' (qunti de fenzi ) or a 'social being' (shehui de renge ) is valued. Additionally, there is the shi gú personality type, who is worldly and committed to family.

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13