Cultural and Personality

Personality, which is one of the major focuses of research within psychology, has always intrigued academicians due to its dynamic nature. Many authors have conceptualized the concept over the years in many different ways. The most comprehensive definition is by the American Psychological Association, which states, "personality refers to the enduring configuration of characteristics and behavior that comprises an individual's unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities, and emotional patterns…."

As complex and dynamic a concept as personality is, impacted by many distinct yet related factors that often interact like heredity, physiology, social and cultural factors, experiences, and psychological characteristics, among others. Although culture was not a focus of study in earlier times, researchers have started observing personality differences in different cultures.

What is Culture?

Culture is a comprehensive term, which includes range of personal as well as social elements, such as knowledge, beliefs, tradition, arts, norms, customs, habits, and over all social behaviors. In gist, it can be said that it is a man-made environment. Since, such cultural practices influence and shape individual’s personality, so to understand the personality, culture study became important.

Furthermore, within personality psychology, a subfield developed that focuses on understanding cultural perspectives to personality. Now, the question is:

"Why and in what ways does something as personal as the personality gets affected by the culture, something that originates from the society?"

Well, the answer to it lies in the above statements themselves. Humans are social beings who do not live in a vacuum, and the social environment affects the people and is affected by them. In this process of continuous interaction with the culture, in which an individual resides, and sometimes with other cultures they come in contact with, they form new patterns of behavior and attitude, modify the old ones and at times, strengthen the old endowments.

Dimensions of Personality

Culture may affect personality at many different levels and dimensions, and researchers understand these levels and dimensions of impact through cultural taxonomies and classification systems that researchers have given. As suggested by Hofstede (2001), one of the most accepted and commonly used cultural taxonomies that can help study the cultural influence on personality could be the cultural taxonomy. Cultural taxonomies have five dimensions.

Let’s discuss each one of them separately:

  • Individualism and Collectivism: In an individualist culture, traits like independence, competition, and personal achievement are valued where the emphasis given on the individual than the society. In a collectivist culture, society is valued over the individual, and traits like social harmony, respectfulness, and group needs are emphasized. This contrast leads to different kinds of personalities developing in different cultures.

  • Power Distance: Power distance refers to the inequalities between people in a society based on social status, wealth, power, laws, and physical characteristics, and how much people accept these differences. Power distance affects the perceptions and interactions of individuals with authority. Further, high power distance societies result in personality types that are accepting of authority, less questioning, and have traits like humility. Low power distance cultures encourage more open personality types that question authority, open to changes, and are more competitive to change their status.

  • Masculinity and Femininity: Cultures also differ in their orientation towards ego goals (related to money and career) or social goals (related to relationships and harmony). Cultures high on femininity are oriented towards social goals, resulting in personalities that value relationships, harmony, and society. A masculine culture encourages more competitive and career-oriented personality traits within individuals, resulting in a difference between the personalities of people in these two cultures.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance: Cultures differ in their approaches in dealing or coping with anxiety-provoking uncertainty. Some cultures teach individuals to accept the inevitable nature of certain kinds of uncertainty and are grouped under low uncertainty avoidance cultures. On the other hand, individuals from high uncertainty avoidance cultures feel threatened by uncertainty. This approach towards uncertainty shapes individuals' personality traits like dependence on policies and procedures, novelty and creativity, resistance to change, and intolerance.

  • Long-term and short-term orientation: Cultures differ in their emphasis on future rewards. Those cultures that focus more on future rewards (long-term orientation) emphasize traits like persistence, thrift, patience, and harmony within individuals. On the other hand, short-term orientation cultures that we can see in Canada and the USA, people focus on short-term rewards and emphasize traits like immediate gratification within individuals, thereby producing personalities that seek immediate gratification.

Heredity and Environment of Culture

The different dimensions of cultures result in differing environments available for individuals to learn from, as it is known that personality is a subtle combination of heredity, learning, and situational factors. The cultures interestingly have affected all these subtleties of the personality. From the hereditary point of view, the people living in one society have more sexual contact than others and therefore are more likely to pass on genes. Thus, individuals living in the same society and culture have more genes in common than others and, therefore, more possibility of similarity in personality. Further, humans are social beings who learn from our environment; they learn new behavior and modify the old ones through experiences and simply observing others. This is where cultures come into action. Interestingly, the culture also often shapes situational adaptations as events occur in a cultural context.

Therefore, within a cultural context, the personality is influenced by people, norms and rules, traditions and social beliefs, language, and often by media.

Assessment of Personality in Cultural Context

Our personality is not only shaped by culture but also evaluated by the cultural context of the perceiver. This implies that one's behavior is evaluated as normal or abnormal and right or wrong, based on the cultural norms of the perceiver. Most personality studies exploring cultural themes tend to explore the differences between the culture. However, it will be wrong to assume that there is only difference between cultures in the context of personality. Researchers have rigorously explored the concepts of cultural universality. Cultural universals imply the universal core of human nature. Thus, certain similarity also exists between people across cultures as well. At a more specific level, individuals with similar jobs and occupations like teachers, soldiers, etc., have or develop similar personality traits over time despite their cultural dissimilarity.


While concluding, it seems imperative to highlight that cultures not only differ in personality development and personalities they harbor but also in how they classify and conceptualize personality. This implies that the concept of personality is classified differently by western culture compared to how Indian culture or Chinese culture classified different types of personality or even, for a matter of fact, the definition, structure, and development of personality.



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