The Theory of a Universal Structure of Human Values

What values do you consider “collectivist”? How about “individualist”?

If you had to explain your own values, under which headline would they fall?

This study examines the values of American, Indian, and Japanese populations. 

The intent of this cross-cultural research was to measure the individualist, collectivist, and mixed values in each culture to see where they fell.

First off, what constitutes an “individualist” versus a “collectivist” value?

The Values

The researchers used the theory of a universal structure of human values, proposed by Schwartz and Bilsky in 1987 (revised in 1992).

Each value is labeled individualist, collectivist, or mixed and are as follows:

  • Power: Attainment of social status, dominance, and control. (Individualist)
  • Achievement: Personal success and competence. (I)
  • Hedonism: Pleasure and enjoyment. (I)
  • Stimulation: Excitement, novelty, and a thrilling life. (I)
  • Self-Direction: Independent thought, action, and autonomy. (I)
  • Benevolence: Preserving and improving the welfare of others. (Collectivist)
  • Tradition: Respect for and acceptance of cultural customs and traditions. (C)
  • Conformity: Restraint of behaviors to maintain social order and harmony. (C)
  • Universalism: Understanding, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all. (Mixed)
  • Security: Stability of self, relationships, and society. (M)
  • Spirituality: Finding meaning, inner harmony, and having a spiritual life. (M)

These values encompass a range of motivations and goals that individuals may prioritize in their lives.

The Results

Along with these value types were subcategories of value traits. 

And of these value traits, Americans, Indians, and Japanese participants were compatible in 14 of the 22 individualist values.

Of the collectivist values, participants were compatible in 13 out of 15.

Lastly, of the mixed values, there was compatibility in 9 out of 15 (and absolutely none regarding spiritual values).

The American participants, as expected, scored high on individualist values and mixed types. They had a preference for standing out from the crowd. 

Indians, on the other hand, were drawn to collectivist and mixed values. They believed in the power of unity. 

The Japanese students threw a bit of a curveball. They didn’t follow any clear pattern of individualism or collectivism.

This study suggests that no country – including the United States, India, or Japan – can be neatly labeled as just individualist or collectivist. Each has a melting pot of values.

Independent variables like gender, race, income, or media usage may also help us understand why individualistic and collectivist orientations coexist in the same cultures.

“I’m the Decider.” Decision-Making & Coping Strategies in Individualist vs. Collectivist Cultures

Do you make good decisions?

Do you feel you do…and do you actually?

This study in the International Journal of Psychology strove to uncover whether individualist or collectivist cultures were more confident in their decision-making.

It also examined various cultures’ decision-making styles and coping strategies.

Here’s what the study found.

The Subjects

Researchers recruited students from three individualistic Western countries (USA, Australia, and New Zealand) and three collectivist Eastern Asian cultures (Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) to participate in their experiment.

The purpose of the study was to measure participants’ confidence in their decision-making abilities and the coping patterns they employ.

The Statements

Participants were handed a questionnaire that would unveil the way they view their own decision-making. 

Rating themselves from 0 to 12, the questionnaire prompted with thought-provoking statements like:

  • I think I am a good decision maker
  • I like to consider all of the alternatives
  • I avoid making decisions
  • Even after I have made a decision, I delay acting upon it

This self-reflection and self-reporting led to some exciting finds.

The Coping Strategies

The coping strategies identified by the study included:

  • Vigilance – a careful decision-making style, where every alternative is thoroughly considered. 
  • Buck-passing – dodging decisions and shifting responsibility to someone else. 
  • Procrastination – delaying action even after a decision has been made. 
  • Hypervigilance – a panic-induced decision-making style that makes you feel like time is about to explode.

The Results 

The students from the individualistic Western countries displayed confidence in their decision-making abilities, while their collectivist Eastern Asian counterparts scored higher in buck-passing, avoiding decisions, and hypervigilance.

But what was surprising about this study was that, despite these cultural differences, all six countries showed similar ratings. 

Across all countries, all participants who had higher decision-making self-esteem were more likely to adopt adaptive coping patterns like vigilance. 

On the flip side, those who doubted their decision-making abilities were prone to fall into the abyss of maladaptive coping strategies – buck-passing, avoidance, and hypervigilance.

Potential Flaws in the Study

Some things to keep in mind about the potential flaws in this study are that decision-making strategies depend on the situation.

You might make impulsive decisions in some cases and vigilant ones in others. 

The study did not account for the varied approaches to decision-making according to different scenarios.

Moreover, the difference in cultural values may impact the self-reporting. 

For instance, in many Asian cultures, boasting about oneself or decision-making prowess isn’t the norm. This could have influenced the participants’ responses, leading to hidden biases.

Lastly, self-reporting on decision-making is, of course, subjective and may not align with actual behavior. To get to the bottom of that, researchers would have to observe the participants’ decision-making in action. 

Regardless of the approach, this study uncovers the dynamic relationship between culture, self-esteem, and coping strategies.

The bottom line is decision-making is complex – influenced by context, societal expectations, and our true behavior in the face of tough choices.

Assertive vs. Avoidance Tactics: How Does Culture Determine Approach to Conflict Resolution?

How do you approach conflict resolution?

Are you tactically assertive or avoidant?

And is your approach determined by personality or culture?

Over the coming weeks, I’ll discuss scientific studies dealing with the six cultural constructs, the first of which is individualism versus collectivism.

This paper by cognitive and cross-cultural psychologist, C. Dominik Guess, takes a look at conflict resolution in individualist and collectivist cultures.

Japan Collectivism vs. US Individualism

One of the studies in Guess’ paper explores how cultural background shapes the way conflict is handled – specifically, American individualism versus Japanese collectivism.

A group of researchers, led by Ohbuchi, Fukushima, and Tedeschi, gathered American and Japanese students and unleashed the power of conflict recall. 

They asked participants to dig deep into their memories and recall a conflict they had experienced.

These participants were then asked to share their conflict experience – what they did, what they wanted to achieve, etc. 

Using rating scales, they were asked to measure various aspects of the conflict, like goals and tactics. 

In the battlefield of conflict, four major tactics emerged, each with its own arsenal of sub-tactics: conciliation, assertion, third-party intervention, and avoidance.

The Four Tactics

Let’s better understand the four tactics identified.

Conciliation this tactic involves finding common ground. It’s a way to indirectly communicate expectations and build bridges. 

Assertion this tactic is a bold and assertive move, where you fiercely demand what you want.

Third-party intervention this tactic involves calling in reinforcements in the form of seeking help or advice from an outsider. 

Avoidance this tactic is the ultimate passivity, dodging confrontation like a pro.

Considering these differing approaches to conflict resolution, you can imagine the cultural clash that may result.

The Results: Assertive vs. Avoidant

As you may have guessed, the American students, with their individualistic spirit, generally used assertive tactics in their conflicts. 

On the flip side, the Japanese students, being the collectivist champions they are, took a more subtle approach overall. 

They opted for avoidance tactics, sidestepping confrontation and prioritizing harmony in their relationships.

This may be because each group’s main goal in these conflicts also differed.

The Japanese participants prioritized their relationships, while the American participants’ goal was more often geared toward achieving a sense of justice.

While the results confirm what most would have hypothesized, considering what we already know about individualist and collectivist cultures, the research could be adapted so that the type of conflict being discussed is more uniform. 

An individual’s approach (the tactics and goals) may vary based on the conflict.

As the students were allowed to choose whichever conflict they wanted to assess, their responses may have differed based upon the type they chose.

Regardless, this study may tell us something key about how individualists and collectivists approach conflict: individualists with justice in mind, and collectivists with harmony.

Do You Know Yourself? Individualist vs. Collectivist Self Insight

How do you see yourself?

Can you accurately self-reflect on your traits, behaviors, and ideology and use that knowledge to predict how you might behave in the future?

Do you see yourself clearly? Do you understand why you do the things you do?

And how does your culture influence that self-insight?

Over the next several weeks, we will dive headfirst into the six cultural constructs discussed in last week’s post, the first of which is individualism versus collectivism.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Individualists and collectivists often have different motivations


Because the societies and cultures that form these us provide us with different values, norms, dreams, desires, etc.

Individualist cultures generally prioritize personal achievement and independence.

Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, prioritize cooperation and group harmony.

These diverging priorities lead to diverging motivations.

And, according to the following study, a differing degree of self-insight.

Self-Knowledge & Culture

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this study by Balcetis, Dunning, and Miller examines how cultural differences influence people’s ability to predict their own behavior in situations with moral or altruistic overtones. 

The researchers found that collectivists were more accurate in their self-predictions compared to individualists. 

In three different studies, individualists overestimated their likelihood to act generously in situations involving redistributing rewards, donating money, or avoiding rude behavior, while collectivists were generally more accurate in their self-predictions. 

Both groups predicted peer behavior with similar accuracy, but even when samples were taken from the same cultural group, collectivists still demonstrated more precise self-predictions than individualists. 

This suggests that the accuracy of social insight and self-insight can be biased by culturally bound motivations.

Results, Discussed

Why do individualists have a harder time predicting their own behavior? 

One theory is that they focus on themselves too much and assume their behavior will be consistent with their personal traits, leading to inaccurate predictions. 

Individualists who are motivated to emphasize personal uniqueness tend to strive to be better than the group, and thus the best strategy for self-prediction is an internal one based on one’s dispositional nature. 

On the other hand, collectivists who prioritize fitting in with the group may be better at predicting their own behavior because they consider external factors and group behavior.

Collectivists are not motivated to emphasize personal uniqueness and instead strive to fit in with a comparison group, so the best approach to take when making predictions about the self is an external one based on distributional, group-level base rates.

Factors such as face-saving may also moderate these patterns of accuracy. 

This highlights how understanding what constitutes normative social behavior can inform personal self-understanding, but cultural differences may prevent people from knowing themselves precisely because they strive to be different from the norm or typical group member.

How Can a Newbie Leverage Social Capital to Fit into Their Company’s Cross-Cultural Environment?

So, you’ve nailed that job interview and earned your ideal job in a foreign country…

But now you’re worried about whether or not you’ll fit in.

Fitting into a new company environment can be difficult in your own culture, let alone in a foreign one with its cross-cultural complexities.

But don’t fret – while you will certainly have to work at it, this research gives us some ideas about how to build social capital and leverage it to achieve person-job and person-organization fit.


The study published in the International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management discusses the importance of identifying and recruiting employees who not only possess the necessary knowledge and skills, but also have values that align with those of the organization. 

This is known as person-environment (PE) fit theory, with person-job (PJ) and person-organization (PO) fit being particularly relevant. 

Existing research has largely focused on the outcomes of fit, but the dynamics and interrelationships among different types of fit are not well understood. 

The social dynamics of building and exercising social capital are critical for newcomers to achieve higher levels of fit with their job and organization. 

Two specific dynamics are identified: leveraging person-group and person-supervisor fit to build social capital and using social capital to achieve person-job and person-organization fit.


Without a doubt, developing a good fit with one’s direct supervisor and work group helps new employees to develop structural and relational social capital in the organization, which ultimately leads to greater person-job and person-organization fit.

These social processes, however, are culture-bound

For example, a study by Monge and Eisenberg (1987) found that Japanese employees form stronger connections with colleagues than French employees

In general, an individual’s cultural background can impact the development and dynamics of their social relationships. 

One aspect of this lies in the two cultural dimensions – individualism-collectivism and power distance – and how they influence social capital building and utilization. 

While these dimensions are not necessarily independent (collectivist societies tend to have higher power distances), they should be treated as distinct concepts.

Let’s take a look at individualism-collectivism first.


Collectivism and individualism refer to the extent to which people in a culture prioritize group or individual goals. 

The study found that those in individualist cultures are more selective about forming connections with people who share similar values and personalities, while in collectivist cultures, a broader range of commonalities may be relevant. 

This means that in collectivist cultures, surface-level similarities between individuals may be more important for social capital building, while in individualist cultures, deep-level similarities may be more critical.

The authors argue that in collectivist societies, where members of the in-group are expected to contribute to the benefit of the group rather than engaging in behaviors that reach beyond the group boundary, newcomers with a high level of person-group fit (PG fit) will be less likely to develop social relationships beyond their group in order not to jeopardize their social ties in their immediate work group. 

This means that PG fit will have a weaker effect on building social capital in collectivist societies than in individualist societies. 

In contrast, in individualist societies, competences and social ties are more important in determining the behavior of information exchange, which consequently enhances person-job fit (PJ fit). 

As a result, structural social capital may be more applicable in individualist cultures because it represents an exchangeable resource (in terms of the quantity/quality of ties one possesses). 

In contrast, in collectivist societies, people rely more on affective criteria in framing their exchange behavior, and thus relational social capital matters more in predicting PJ fit through knowledge and information sharing.

Next week, we’ll examine this fit further, in relation to power distance.

‘Simpatia’ and Spontaneous Helping: What Values Contribute to a Culture of Volunteering?

Do you find time to volunteer?

For what reason?

Is it something personally important to you? Or is it something that your culture values?

We’ve been talking about prosocial behavior in culture over the last couple of weeks, including donating money.

This week, we’ll look at what values might contribute to a culture of volunteering.

Spontaneous Helping

When you think of volunteering, you probably think of giving your time and energy regularly to an organization – working at a food bank, helping your church bake sale, participating in big brother/sister, etc.

But there are different forms of volunteering.

One form – spontaneous helping – was the focus of a study on cross-cultural differences in helping strangers.

Research was conducted in big cities – New York, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, etc. – of 23 countries.

Non-emergency situations were set up, in order to assess how frequently strangers might proactively come to a person’s aid.

These situations included a stranger dropping a pen, a stranger with an injured leg trying to pick up magazines, and a blind person crossing the street.

These three measures resulted in a relatively stable helping rate per city.

But the findings across cities varied greatly.

Brazilians vs. Malaysians

The highest helping rate – 93% – was found in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

This finding is in line with past studies of cultural norms in Spanish and Latin American countries.

Such studies have highlighted the cultural value of “simpatia” in such cultures – i.e. a demonstrated politeness and helpfulness to strangers and a proactive concern for others.

The lowest helping rate – 40% – was found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Being that both Brazil and Malaysia are collectivist cultures, this result contradicts the theory that collectivist societies might have a higher helping rate than individualist societies, due to their social orientation.

In reality, the results were all over the map in relation to collectivism vs. individualism and helping, with cities in some collectivist countries averaging higher helping rates – like San Jose, Costa Rica (91.33%) and Lilongwe, Malawi (86%) – while others had low rates – like Singapore (48%) and Sofia, Bulgaria (57%).

Conversely, some individualist cultures were high on the scale – like Vienna (81%) and Copenhagen (77.67%) – while others were low – like New York City (44.67%) and Amsterdam (53.67%).

Economic Productivity

One curious finding was the inverse relationship between helping and the country’s economic productivity.

That is, helping occurred less on the whole in wealthier countries than in poorer ones.

This might suggest that some cultures show more care for each other out of necessity.

Next week, we’ll talk more about different avenues of volunteering and their cultural relevance.

Emotions & Your Environment: Are You From a High or Low Arousal Culture?

When you’re excited, how do you express it?

Do you squeal aloud with glee? Do your eyebrows reach your hairline?

Or do you suppress your zeal, maintaining a cool exterior?

Last week, we talked about societal emotional environments.

This is the “emotional climate of a society” or the degree to which positive and negative emotions are expressed.

Today, we’ll look at an academic paper discussing the emotional arousal level of different cultures – specifically, Western or individualist culture versus Eastern or collectivist culture.

The paper looks at actual and ideal emotions in a society – ideal being which emotions are most valued.

Are Emotions Biological?

Some researchers view emotion as universal and biologically based.

But culture certainly determines the degree to which one feels comfortable expressing emotion.

The study explains,

“Culture constrains how emotions are felt and expressed in a given cultural context. It shapes the ways people should feel in certain situations and the ways people should express their emotions.”

Valence and Arousal

Studies on this topic often define emotional expression in two dimensions: valence and arousal.

These bipolar dimensions – pleasure-displeasure (valence) and activation-deactivation (degree of arousal) – make up the affective state.

Both of these dimensions affect brain activity and cognitive behaviors.

High Arousal and Low Arousal

There are high and low arousal emotions.

High arousal emotions induce action, energy, and mobilization. 

Here are some examples of high arousal emotions:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Happiness
  • Hostility
  • Irritation
  • Alarm

Low arousal emotions induce rest and inaction.

Here are some examples of low arousal emotions:

  • Boredom
  • Calm/Serenity
  • Sadness
  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Relaxation
  • Helplessness
  • Peacefulness

As you can see, the difference in the intensity of feeling of each of these categories is vast.

Cultural Differences Determine Outcome

As we talked a little about last week, Eastern or collectivist cultures value low arousal emotions, while Western or individualist cultures value high arousal emotions.

This relates to cultural values.

In an individualist culture, a desire to influence others is a part of the social fabric.

High arousal emotions – which prompt action – are more effective in achieving influence.

In a collectivist culture, conforming to the group is ideal.

You can see why low arousal emotions would be preferred in this case.

Defining Emotion

The definition of emotions also differs across cultures.

For instance, happiness in China would be reflected in reservation and solemnity, while in America it would be reflected in exuberance. 

Thus, the arousal state of happiness is high in America and low in China.

These differences in valued emotions inspire preferred activities.

Because Westerners value high arousal emotions, they will participate in activities that elicit these emotions – like enthusiasm or excitement.

Think thrill-seeking activities, like mountain climbing or skydiving.

This goes to show that values and societal ideals drive everything from behavior to emotional expression even to our favorite hobbies.

Holistic vs. Analytic Thinking in Culture

How would you describe your living room?

Would you say it’s a space to commune with your family and entertain your friends? Would you describe it as a welcoming area to offer your guests food and drink?

Or would you list its working parts? Would you explain that it has two sofas, a coffee table, an entertainment center, and a 65″ flat-screen TV?

If you’d describe your living room the former way, you’re thinking holistically; if you’d describe it the latter way, you’re thinking analytically. 

Last week, we discussed how cross-cultural research might take a more positive approach to cultural differences.

In seeking out the positive, researchers took a look at Hyun-Jung Lee’s interview with renowned cognitive social psychologist, Richard Nisbett, who authored The Geography of Thought.

In the paper, Nisbett analyzes these two dominant cultural thinking styles – holistic and analytic thinking – and outlines some pros and cons of each.

Before we get to his analysis, let’s take a closer look at these two thinking styles.

Holistic Thinking

The holistic thinking style is characteristic of East Asian cultures.

This thinking style perceives everything as interconnected.

It sees the whole, and specifically the relationships between objects.

The style of thinking relates to the broader philosophy of East Asian cultures with their focus on balance, harmony, and cyclical change.

Holistic thinking also blends with the values of these cultures, which are collectivist in nature.

The understanding of the world as an interconnected whole has its benefits, as we will discuss shortly.

Analytic Thinking

As you may have guessed, the analytic thinking style is characteristic of Western cultures.

Analytic thinking identifies separate objects and categorizes them according to their attributes.

This style of thinking relates to the broader philosophy of Western cultures with their focus on individualism and personal motivations

Analytic thinking corresponds to the values of Western cultures, which are individualist in nature.

The understanding of the world’s moving pieces in isolation is valuable as well, as Nisbett will explain.

Nisbett’s Analysis

In Hyun-Jung Lee’s interview, Nisbett examines each thinking style.

He notes that holistic thinking allows one to notice a great depth of the physical world and context, enabling one to accept contradictions.

Whereas analytic thinking is more black-and-white, holistic thinking allows shades of grey.

Due to the lack of universalistic rules in this style of thinking, however, Nisbett concludes that one is more vulnerable to potential abuse.

As for analytic thinking, it is scientific.

This logical type of thinking has given the world all of the advantages of modern science and technology, taking us leaps and bounds.

However, its “hyper”-logicizing can give way to disconnecting from the phenomenon itself. 

Rather than suggesting that one thinking style is better than the other, Nisbett concludes that the best thinking lies in between these two ways of thought.

It’s the attempt to understand the different cognitive and intellectual styles that can help us improve our own method of reasoning.

Food Culture: What HOW You Eat Can Tell You About Culture

Do you eat your dinner at the dining table, or do you eat sitting crosslegged on the floor?

Do you share a communal dish of food, or does everyone have an individual plate?

What utensils do you use – a fork, spoon, and knife; chopsticks; your hands?

With whom do you eat? Family, friends, with only your own gender?

The answers to these questions are part of your food culture – and to a larger extent, your culture as a whole. 

On the surface, you see only the limbs of the baobab – the cultural norms – but the details of your food culture can tell you something deeper about the roots (i.e. your cultural values).

The Presentation: Food Plating

Another aspect of food culture is the amount of care put into food presentation.

One study delved into the differences between American, Italian, and Japanese food plating preferences.

Titled, “Looks Good Enough to Eat: How Food Plating Preferences Differ Across Cultures and Continents,” the study found that Japanese participants prefer more formally arranged plates, while Italians and Americans prefer more casually presented food.

The researchers concluded that this springs from the respective cultures’ individualist versus collectivist natures.

The Japanese are a collectivist culture, so formality and identical presentation may have roots in the Eastern collectivist tradition.

Italians and Americans are individualist Western cultures. Self-autonomy and informality, even in how one’s own plate is presented, may be rooted in this mindset.

The study also noted the fullness/emptiness of the plated food.

The Japanese and Americans’ plates were relatively empty, while the Italians preferred very full plates.

The researchers concluded that the preference for empty plates might be related to the Japanese and American ideal of open space.

How, When, Why, With Whom?

Food norms can tell you a lot about a culture, so when you’re trying to understand/learn a culture, consider these norms to understand the culture’s deeper values

Practice this with your favorite culture – or even your own.


  • How often do you eat? How long do you take to eat? 

Many Mediterranean countries, for instance, spend hours dining each day, as sharing food is considered an important social event.

  • When do you eat?

The Spanish, for instance, eat dinner between 9 PM and midnight, and it’s a much lighter meal than lunch. This is historically linked to their afternoon siesta and being geographically located in the wrong time zone.

  • Why do you eat?

Some cultures tend to eat only for sustenance while others take more pleasure in eating.

  • With whom do you eat?

While eating is a family affair for most countries, for others this is not the case.

Answering these questions about food culture will help you understand that culture or learn something new. It will help you connect the dots between a culture’s norms and its values.

How Language is the Oral Expression of Culture

You might be familiar with the idioms, “It’s all Greek to me” and “Burning the midnight oil.”

But do you know the German idiom, “Tomaten auf den Augen haben,” which directly translates to, “You have tomatoes on your eyes,” meaning, “You are not seeing what everyone else can see.”

Probably not.

Linguists and anthropologists, on the other hand, have long known that a link exists between language learning and culture learning.

Dimitrios Thanasoulas in The Importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom quotes linguist Claire Kramsch as follows:

“Culture in language learning is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It is always in the background, right from day one, ready to unsettle the good language learners when they expect it least, making evident the limitations of their hard-won communicative competence, challenging their ability to make sense of the world around them. (Kramsch, 1993: 1)”

To put it simply, learning language is inextricably linked with learning culture, because language = the oral expression of culture.

The pair are fed by one other.

Ming-Mu Kuo and Cheng-Chieh Lai lay this out in Linguistics across Cultures:The Impact of Culture on Second Language Learning:

“Language and culture appear on the surface to be two distinct fields, but they have an intertwined relationship and affect each other mutually…The development of a language frequently affects its associated culture, and cultural patterns of cognition and custom are often explicitly coded in language.”

Culturally, language expresses both our thoughts and how we think. 

Kuo and Lai continue:

“Language is also a social institution, both shaping and being shaped by society (Armour-Thomas & Gopaul-McNicol, 1998). This means that language is not an independent construct but social practice both creating and being created by the structures and forces of social institutions within which we live and function.”

What are some structures and social institutions in which language is expressive of culture?

Following are examples of this relationship between culture and linguistics in action.

Family Structures

In this blog, we’ve talked about how the family structures of different cultures are reflected through linguistic terms.

For instance, while in Western cultures, “uncle,” is used to describe both paternal and maternal brothers and, similarly, “cousin” describes those from both sides of the family, this differs in other cultures.

“Cousin” in Yanomani, for instance, is termed dependent on the relationship; “amiwa” for the daughter of a maternal aunt or paternal uncle, “aiwa” for the son of a maternal aunt or paternal uncle, etc. 

With such specific familial language terms, it can be deduced that the bloodline matters more in such cultures.

Idioms Express Ideologies

Idioms across cultures can also tell you a lot about the ideology of said culture.

Individualist cultures, for instance, might say, “God helps those who help themselves.” 

Such cultures hold lift-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps values. Idioms emphasize individualism and oftentimes capitalism.

“Time is money.”

In contrast, idioms of collectivist cultures often emphasize the group.

One Chinese idiom translates to: “More people produce greater strength.”

This is just one example about how values and norms are reflected in common language, slang, and idiomatic expressions.

Language Learning Aids Cross-Cultural Integration

Knowing how much language informs us about culture itself, it’s clear how paramount language learning is to integration.

Next week, we’ll talk about the three things learning a language will help you demonstrate in your cross-cultural transition.