Cross Cultural Psychology


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Psychology has numerous branches and cross-cultural psychology is one among these branches of psychology. The main focus of cross-cultural psychology is the determination of how cultural background differences influence psychological behavior in humans. Thus, it is an integrated study that looks at both culture and psychology. This psychological branch established in 1972 has helped explain major psychological differences in behavior that occur across the cultural landscape.

Culture is a complex mix of values, customs, attitudes, habits, language and behavior-just to mention but a few. These cultural aspects are usually transmitted down the kinship and cultural line of different generations. Different cultures may share a lot of similarities and a few differences. Though subtle these differences greatly influence many aspects of the life of the people that live within these cultural set ups and as a result, it influences their psychology in terms of the way of thinking, feeling communicating and so much more.

The differences in expression of sadness and happiness are examples of what portray how different cultures impact on certain aspects of psychology. Therefore, the role of cross-cultural psychology is to find out the universally common behaviors and those that are culturally distinct in order to determine the factor that influence the similarities and differences. There are two approaches used in studying cross-cultural disparities in certain behaviors. The first approach is to study disparities amongst various cultures-the emic-approach or to study the similarities across cultures-etic approach. In this paper

This paper shall review collectivism as a psychological phenomenon or behavior that varies across the human landscape. Japan and United States of America shall be the main focus of the paper. This term is applied both under the psychological and social context to denote the way in which individuals prioritize their needs and desires as well as how they identify their own self in relation to others. The opposite of this term is individualism, and unlike collectivism which focuses on a groups needs and desires, individualism focuses on the individuals needs and desires above all the rest. There are various collectivist and individualistic examples of communities around the world. 

Collectivist societies have a common goal and pursue much of their endeavors as group, and in such a set up the individuals goals, desires or needs do not precede or supersede the needs of the group. This kind of society is concerned with uniting people and creating harmonization that can enable its members to reach a common goal (Sogon & Takano, 2008). Such societies insist on conformity, non-deviance, togetherness, identity and anything contrary to these is viewed as an act of deviance and defiance, which may at times lead to punishment or excommunication.

On the other hand, an individualistic society is one in which people tend to prefer independence and a lot of self discretionary power with no sense very close relationships on a large scale-it is more like “everyone for himself and God for as allsociety. This dual faceted phenomenon is evident all over the globe with most western and European nations showing more individualistic characteristics, whereas; most Asian, African and Middle-East nations portray more collectivistic characteristics. These attributes have been proven as major determinants of kinship bonds, formation of organizations, autonomy in decision-making, family relation-ships and much more (Sogon & Takano, 2008). This paper shall specifically focus on collectivism levels and effects on culture as well as the subsequent effect of the collectivist culture on behavior and psychology of the Japanese and American people.

Collectivists form societies where everyone is supposed to take care of each other, and people are integrated into family units since birth, they are cohesive and they often live in groups of extended family. These societies are concerned with the good of everybody whereas; individualistic societies are more concerned with the needs of an individual rather, than the group, family or society. In such societies family ties are loose and kinship is of least significance. The Japanese society has been portraying high levels of collectivism in comparison to the United States of America. Reviewing the Japanese history and its people perhaps offers an insight in to how their collectivist nature may have developed as various researches have shown, including Hofstedes. Tokuguwa Shogunate established an isolationist policy in 1641 which lasted till 1853.

During this period the Japanese people isolated themselves from trading with other nations or engaging in any form of alliances. This was the onset of the culture of collectivism, which was not broken till invasions. Despite the invasions Japan was still not able to adapt to the outer world interactions. According to Hofstedes research the country of Japan ranks lowest on the individualism index measure (IDV) with a score rated at 46 on his designated scale (Hofstede, 2003). This low scale in individualism in essence implies that the Japanese nation has a high level of collectivism and integration of people.

A justification of existence is needed in Japan and everyone needs to show some form of affiliation to any group such as a family, company or club and as such it is a common observance among the Japanese people for one person to inquire about the filial affiliation of another person that he gets to interact with the first time. These close family ties are probably the reason why most Japanese people prefer to take care of their old parents till death. Homecare by family members is the common mode of the Japanese when taking care of their old. Hospices meant for the old are viewed as means of separating the old family members from their family. This demonstration of love and care for the old is one of the aspects of the Japanese people which portray their collectivistic nature.

They do not wish to break family bonds and thus they have to take care of their old parents or grandparents till death (Ikegami,1998). This is quite contrary in the United States of America where homecare services is a big industry and homes for the old as well as hospices are a common thing. In the United States, once a person gets in most cases his family may transfer him or her to a home for the old where s/he will be taken care of if they deem it fit because they feel that they cannot handle the daily provision of his or her care. This is not collectivistic in any nature, because it is a demonstration of separation of family (Ikegami,1998).

The Japanese people avoid risk taking at an individual level because of their collectivist nature which does not value autonomy and individual liberty. This is the reason why the work group is an important element in the business world of the Japanese people. In Japans business environment loyalty and stronger relations to ones group is a critical ingredient towards success. As a people the Japanese are not open to input from outsiders and they appear more withdrawn and their priorities are placed on their groups. The Japanese believe is that when everyone makes a spirited effort towards success then the whole team will shine with success (Sano, Hodgson & Graham, 2007). Thus workers in a team should share common attitudes and values. One Japanese scholar once described the group relations and their observance in Japan as follows:

Japanese generally must understand where s/he stands in relation to other members of the group or society, and must acknowledge his/her dependence on the others. Acknowledgement and maintenance of the relative position of others, rather than preservation of an individual’s proper territory, governs all social interaction. (Matsumoto, 1988, pp, 405).

On the contrary a lot of decision-making activities and leadership format or work in the United States of America is structured in a hierarchical manner. Higher ranks are expected to dictate upon those below them and decision-making is relegated to the management. The teams below are only supposed to gather and submit any collected information that can be used in decision-making, but they are not expected to engage directly in the decision-making process (Sano et al. 2007).

According to Jung-so (n.d) the GNP (gross national product) may be an indicator of a nations collectivistic or individualistic nature. Characteristically, nations with a higher GNP are more individualistic whereas; those with a lower GNP are more collectivistic. Current statistics indicate that the United States GNP stands at $10533 whereas; Japans GNP stands at $4852. Additionally, according to the same research countries with high population density and large family units are more likely to be collectivistic, and Japan actually suits into these descriptions very well.

According to psychologists the average behavior of children as observed is an indicator of the kind of society that the child has grown up in over time. According to cross cultural research there is a more pro-social and positive responses with regard to behavioral conduct and less aggressive and anti-social behavioral conduct amongst Japanese children in comparison to American cases. The manifestation of aggressive behavior is attributed to the development of a child under environments which are less family-like because of the limited nuclear family that cannot help shape the child in a positive behavioral manner, which is a common thing in the United States.  On the other hand, children that grow up in much larger and extended families tend to have less aggressive and anti-social behaviors.


Collectivism and individualism form a duality of the human orientation of desires and perception of self which is shaped by society. The cultures where people are brought up teaches them how to share, listen to others, contribute and be part of a group. In a collectivist societies all these are learned and thus leading to the ability to share and live harmoniously with society, however; in an individualistic society the opposite of these characters is learned, though not to an extreme and this shapes the life of the people that live in the cultural set ups into individualism.

The Japanese focus on team work, family (extended), loyalty, cooperation and participation, and therefore; they can be termed as collectivist nation. On the other hand, Americans prefer autonomy, independence, shallow close knit relations rather than extended ones and a hierarchical mode of business and thus; portraying characteristics of a individualistic society. However, it is important to not that this is changing as time goes by due to developments in the economy and globalization. For example the Japanese are now getting more and more individualistic in nature in comparison to the past, but they are not as high as Americans (Miyanaga, 1993).


Hofstede, H. G. (2003),. Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations, 3rd edition, Sage publishers

Ikegami, N. (1998),. Growing Old in Japan, retrieved on 9th January, 2011 from

Jung-Soo Yi (n.d.) Individualism-Collectivism: A Study of College Students in Four Countries, retrieved on 9th January, 2011 from

Miyanaga, K. (1993),.The creative edge: Emerging individualism in Japan, Transaction Publishers

Sano, Y. Hodgson, J. and Graham, L. J. (2007),. Doing business with the new Japan: Succeeding in Americas richest international market, Rowman & Littlefield publishers

Sogon, S. and Takano, Y. (2008), .Are Japanese More Collectivistic than Americans? Examining Conformity. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology


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