Wednesday, February 14, 2007

National character?

Social scientist Geert Hofstede of the University of Maastricht has done cross cultural surveys concerning attitudes about egalitarianism, individualism, risk aversion, etc. The results are quite interesting and can be found here.

The characteristics are as follows:

Power Distance Index (PDI): the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. Higher means less egalitarian.

Individualism (IDV) (versus collectivism): Higher means more individualistic.

Masculinity (MAS): the distribution of roles between the genders. Higher means more chauvinistic.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Higher score means more risk averse.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation.

Here are two sample comparisons:

So, Americans are more egalitarian, more individualistic, more chauvinistic and less risk averse than their French cousins. They are also more egalitarian, more individualistic, similarly chauvinistic, more risk averse, and more short-term oriented than their Chinese counterparts. (Did I get all that right?)

It's just a small step to define a "metric on the space of national characters" :-)


Anonymous said...

Who'd have thought Danes and Swedes were the world's biggest risk takers?

Steve Hsu said...

Yes, quite strange. Perhaps they are open to "new experiences" but not necessarily financial or physical risk? The devil is in the details in any surveys of this sort...

Anonymous said...

I see that the most egalitarian country (Austria) and the least egalitarian country (Slovakia) border each other.

Icepick said...

Swedes, and to a lesser extent Danes, are known to produce a disproportionate amount of top flight poker players, FWIW.

Anonymous said...

There are many ways social scientists measure character traits like "individualism." The notion as a psychological category may be outdated. Here are some reasons for rejecting such a sweeping but complex notion: some cultures will score very high on some measures of any one trait while relatively low on other mesures of the same trait. For example, one way to measure individualism in a society is some type of "confrontation" score. I've seen studies published by the APA that reported while Chinese score quite high on confrontation when it came to strangers (relatve to Americans), they were less likely to confront a friend or family member, obtioning for indirect and less caustic methods of communication. This makes sense given the value the Chinese place on maintaining close relationships. Testing confrontation might involve observing the test subjects' willingness to ask a person to stop smoking while on an elevator for example. Competiveness is another way to measure individualism. Japanese, a very collective culture by most other measures, score quite high here. Social obedience, is another way one might measure individualism. Chinese don't seem to be any more socially obedient than Americans but Japanese score quite high here if I remember correctly. Other ways one might measure this trait might be just to ask people how much they subjectively value individualistic characteristics in themselves or others. I'd imagine all Asian (and most non-Western) cultures score quite low relative to Americans here.


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