Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pressure to conform - survey of tight and loose cultures.

Gelfand et al. have constructed a metric they term "tightness-looseness" - the extent to which societies impose social norms, and have collected data across 33 large-scale cultures from ~7,000 individuals. Their questionnaire asked people to rate the appropriateness of 12 behaviors (such as eating or crying) in 15 situations (such as being in a bank or at a party). Then, they compared the responses to an array of ecological and historical factors. From Norenzayan's summary:
...Overall, they found that societies exposed to contemporary or historical threats, such as territorial conflict, resource scarcity, or exposure to high levels of pathogens, more strictly regulate social behavior and punish deviance. These societies are also more likely to have evolved institutions that strictly regulate social norms. At the psychological level, individuals in tightly regulated societies report higher levels of self-monitoring, more intolerant attitudes toward outsiders, and paying stricter attention to time. In this multilevel analysis, ecological, historical, institutional, and psychological variables comprise a loosely integrated system that defines a culture.

These findings complement a growing literature that reveals the power of the comparative approach in explaining critically important features of human behavior. For example, research suggests that the substantial variation in religious involvement among nations can be explained, in large part, by perceived levels of security. Religion thrives when existential threats to human security, such as war or natural disaster, are rampant, and declines considerably in societies with high levels of economic development, low income inequality and infant mortality, and greater access to social safety nets.

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