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World-wide assessment determines differences in cultures
Date:5/26/2011

Conflicts and misunderstandings frequently arise between individuals from different cultures. But what makes cultures different; what makes one more restrictive and another less so?

A new international study led by the University of Maryland and supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences offers insights that may help explain such cultural differences and bridge the gaps between them.

Published in the May 27 issue of the journal Science, the study for the first time assesses the degree to which countries are restrictive versus permissive and it all comes down to factors that shape societal norms.

The researchers found a wide variation in the degree to which various societies impose social norms, enforce conformity and punish anti-social behavior. They also found the more threats experienced by a society, the more likely the society is to be restrictive, the authors say.

"There is less public dissent in tight cultures," said University of Maryland Psychology Professor Michele Gelfand, who led the study. "Tight societies require much stronger norms and are much less tolerant of behavior that violates norms."

"Tight" refers to nations that have strong social norms and low tolerance for deviation from those norms, whereas another term, "loose," refers to nations with weak social norms and a high tolerance for deviation from them.

Gelfand and colleagues found that countries such as Japan, Korea, Singapore and Pakistan are much tighter whereas countries such as the Ukraine, Israel, Brazil and the United States are looser.

"Is important, within our view, to be mindful that we don't think that either culture is worse or better," said Gelfand.

She and her colleagues examined cultural variation in both types of societies.

"We believe this knowledge about how tight or loose a country is and why it is that way can foster greater cross-cul
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Contact: Bobbie Mixon
bmixon@nsf.gov
703-292-8485
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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