The emperor with no clothes: A critique of collectivism and individualism

Collectivism (COL) and individualism (IND) are the most well-known concepts in the scientific study of culture. Countries and racial groups are routinely classified as “collectivistic” or “individualistic,” and these concepts are well-represented in psychology textbooks and intercultural training. In general, United States European Americans and people from Western countries are perceived to be more individualistic and less collectivistic than United States racial/ethnic minorities and people from non-Western countries. Despite their popularity, COL and IND suffer from several weaknesses. First, there is a lack of consensus on the meanings of COL and IND, that is, there are numerous definitions of COL and IND, and it is unclear what aspects of culture (e.g., competitiveness and hierarchy) should be considered components of IND and COL. Second, measures of COL and IND suffer from several weaknesses, and, contrary to popular belief, some cross-cultural differences in COL and IND are small, nonexistent, or inconsistent with expectation. Third, the use of COL and IND in applied settings such as psychotherapy and international business may unintentionally result in greater stereotyping of culturally diverse groups. In view of these concerns, researchers and practitioners should focus less on COL and IND and more on narrower constructs associated with COL and IND, such as independence from others, uniqueness, duty to one’s ingroup, and preference for group harmony. Finally, the practice of labeling societies and racial/ethnic groups as “collectivistic” or “individualistic” should be discontinued.

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Date Submitted:
Jun 28 2019
Archives of Scientific Psychology
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 Record created 2019-06-28, last modified 2019-07-11

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