The effect of culture on personality.
Who are we?Â How much of our personality is really â€œusâ€ and how much is learned?Â In a book about cultures, Gary Ferraro writes about a young girl who grew up in the wild, apart from human influence.Â When she was discovered, she had no ability to communicate or respond to communication from others.Â Her temperament was both wild and fearful.Â Within 18 months of human interaction, she was speaking as well as a two year old and her demeanor had become softer and more trusting.Â While our basic temperament may be genetic, isnâ€™t it true that we adapt our personalities to survive in our environment?
ThisÂ also applies toÂ the less extreme situations in which most of us are raised.Â As children, we learn how to survive in our cultures through trial & error, imitation, and observing the trial & error of others.Â We learn how to adapt our personalities in order to survive and be successful.
Each culture has its own rules regarding what is right and wrong.Â Most of us judge ourselves against the rules dictated by the society we live in.Â We often assume those rules are absolute definitions of right or wrong and are shocked and disgusted by the practices of other cultures.Â We evaluate the behavior of other cultures by assessing how well it would fit into our own culture.Â And the reverse is also true â€“ other cultures view our behavior as disgusting, because it doesnâ€™t conform to the rules of their culture.Â Until you open your mind to the fact that social norms are arbitrarily decided by individual cultures, you canâ€™t truly understand human nature.Â
Even a concept as taboo as polygamy is actually legally and morally acceptable in other cultures.Â The fact that polygamy doesn’t fit into our own social ideals does not make the other cultures wrong.Â Instead of assuming that other cultures are barbaric or immoral, itâ€™s important to first try to understand why the behavior in question makes sense to them.Â
Dimensions of Culture.
Geert Hofstede identified several components of culture back in the 1960â€™s: individualism/collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity/femininity.Â These concepts may seem familiar and elementary, but stay with me because theyâ€™re necessary background information for my ultimate query.Â A brief description of the relevant concepts follows:
In individualistic cultures, people value their own accomplishments, goals, and desires as individuals.Â In collectivistic cultures, people value their affiliation with and contribution to a group.Â In a collectivistic culture, praise or promotion for a job well-done is embarrassing to the individual.Â On the flip side, in collectivistic cultures it is necessary to maintain affiliation with a group in order to avoid social and vocational ostracism.Â It is necessary for survival.Â Therefore, disagreeing with the cultural norms and ideals of society can be devastating.Â In individualistic cultures â€œThe squeaky wheel gets the greaseâ€ â€“ the person who stands out gets attention.Â In collectivistic cultures â€œThe nail that sticks up gets hammered downâ€ â€“ the person who stands out gets put in their place.
Power distance refers to the unequal distribution of power and wealth in some cultures, and also the extent to which that unequal distribution is accepted by society.Â In high power distance countries, the power and wealth belongs to an elite few, who are regarded as ultimate authorities.Â There is very little dialogue between subordinates and superiors, as opposed to the egalitarian approach of low power distance countries.Â The questioning of authority is frowned upon.Â High power distance cultures are often also collectivistic, meaning that group affiliation, and thus survival, requires acceptance of the social norms and ideals of the person in authority.
Uncertainty avoidance refers to a cultureâ€™s ability to deal with uncertainty.Â Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance prefer to live under strict rules and regulations that make them feel safe and secure.Â They reject unorthodox ideas that could shake up the trusted ideals by which they live.Â They are resistant to change.Â Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance are often also high power distance â€“ they prefer to operate under an authoritarian whose rules, regulations, and ideals they employ without question.Â When the culture is also collectivistic, it is necessary to live by these rules, and suppress unorthodox ideas in order to survive, socially speaking.
Masculinity/Femininity refers to a cultureâ€™s emphasis on material gain versus quality of life and is not relevant to this discussion.
Before I proceed, Iâ€™d like to briefly mention that each culture lies at some point on a continuum between any two of the labels above.Â No culture is entirely individualistic or collectivistic â€“ by saying a culture is individualistic,Â I amÂ just saying that they are more individualistic than collectivistic.Â In fact I think itâ€™s important to point out that in collectivistic countries, individuals look out for their own self-interest by maintaining affiliation with the group.Â Because the rules are different in that culture â€“ not the person, the rules.
Whether we realize it or not, we all adapt our personalities to a degree in order to be successful in our environments.Â What we think of as â€œusâ€ may not be â€œusâ€ at all, but some combination of our natural temperament and learned adaptation to our environment.Â Some environments encourage unorthodox beliefs and embrace change, while others have a strict regard for authority, discourage the questioning of authority, and are resistant to change.Â Some countries reward the efforts and achievements of the individual while in other countries group affiliation is a prerequisite to success.Â And in some countries, straying from the norm means lack of group affiliation, which means an all around unhappy existence.Â
To what extent do the dimensions of culture affect the development of skepticism in the individual, or the expression of skepticism by the individual?Â We like to think of ourselves as â€œfree-thinkersâ€, and in many ways we are (being agnostic or atheist in a Christian nation, for instance).Â But US culture is democratic.Â Citizens of all levels get a say, and expect to be able to question rules and regulations.Â The US is an open forum for opinions of all sorts.Â There is no strict reverence for authority â€“ look at how many citizens currently regard our own president!Â How much harder would it be to be a â€œfree-thinkerâ€ in a country in which you must be affiliated with a group in order to be successful?Â If you were brought up in a culture that has absolute respect for authority?Â If having an unorthodox opinion meant you would be an outcast, both socially and vocationally?Â
Additionally, what if the culture in which weâ€™re raised not only affects the way we act, but also the way we think?Â Is it possible that skepticism never even develops within persons raised in a collectivistic, high power distance country that avoids uncertainty?Â Or is skepticism intrinsic, so that the skeptic would be forced to suppress their thoughts in order to survive?
What role does culture play in skepticism?