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How Culture Affects Personality

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Personality is an integral part of every individual. The five factor theory classifies personality traits into openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism. Broadly, culture comprises of various aspects such as norms, values, environment, beliefs, and language; being quite distinct from ethnicity and/or race (although correlations are there) (Bennet-Martinez, Oishi, 2008).

This paper discusses how culture affects personality. It reviews and analyses six different aspects of culture and how they affect personality. Values, religion, norms, family, language and social class are all aspects of culture that affect personality. For example, some cultures regard expressing and experiencing positive emotions as a desirable trait than other cultures (Diener, Suh, Smith, and Shao, 1995); while in some cultures your agreeableness or individualism is influenced by your socio-economic status (Tori, 2015). Consequently, it is evident that while certain aspects of personality are genetic, it is imperative to understand how different aspects of culture affect how our personalities are shaped in our different contexts. Culture can be defined as the shared values, beliefs, ideas, behaviors, customs and norms of a specific group of people. Culture is passed through generations.

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Culture, therefore, influences the manner we learn, live and behave (Sarah, 2012). Because of this, many psychologists believe that culture plays an important role in shaping our personalities. The meaning that individuals give to a particular occurrence may differ from culture to culture. Therefore it is important that we incorporate our understanding of how culture is related to individual differences in behavior. Culture is also transmitted through language as well as modeling of behavior when conditions permit humans to communicate through shared language, by living in the same historic period, and when they are sufficiently proximal to influence each other. Although culture does not generally alter the genetic make-up of the individual, it may influence how dispositional traits are elaborated or reinforced during development and expressed or manifested across situations.

For example, one important way that cultures and their institutions may differ is in the freedom allowed to individuals to express their traits and individual selves across situational contexts (Gelfand, Nishii, & Raver, 2006). Culture is made up of different aspects. In this paper, I will focus on six aspects of culture and how they affect personality, that is, values, religion, norms, family, social class and language.

Values

Every culture has its own shared values. According to Geert Hofstede, cultural values are systematically related to personality traits. In individualists cultures there is a high value on competitiveness, self-reliance, uniqueness, emotional distance and hedonism, and one must work hard to stand out. In a collectivist culture, people value interconnectedness, interdependence, sociability and family. It is all about belonging in a group. People are highly motivated, in some cultures, to be unique, while in others people prefer to be like everyone else (Kim & Markus, 1999). In collectivist cultures, people see themselves as changeable and the environment as more or less fixed. While people in collectivist cultures see the environment as changeable and themselves as more or less stable (Chiu & Hong, 1999). For example East Asians see traits as malleable and the Westerns see them as fixed (Norenzayan et al, 1999).

The character that stands out in collectivist culture is their concern with relationships. In conflict situations for instance, collectivists are mainly concerned with maintaining relationships with others whereas achieving justice is the main concern of individualists (Ohbuchi et al. , 1999). Thoughts and behaviors of other people strongly influence people from collectivist culture while individualists are not strongly influenced.

Religion

Spiritual beliefs help people find meaning and purpose in life, and can also influence their personality. In one study, Hennigsgaard & Arnau, found that in univariate level, all religiosity and spirituality variables demonstrated significant association with the Big Five Traits.

In another study, Alminhana and Moreira-Almeda showed that high religiousness is associated with low psychotics and high agreeableness and conscientiousness. Consequently, research done by McCullough, Tsang and Brion, (2009) found that conscientiousness in adolescence is uniquely related to higher religiousness in early adulthood. Other findings also support the results of the study of McCullough and Willoughby which showed that religion can promote self – control and can facilitate self – monitoring; and that these concepts tend to be associated with conscientiousness.

Religious beliefs have positive correlations with agreeableness – good-natured, soft–hearted, selfless, sympathetic, forgiving characteristics – extraversion – sociable, fun-loving, affectionate, talkative, and Joiner characteristics (Khoynezhad, et al 2012). Norms Norms refers to informal guidelines on what is considered right or wrong in a particular group of people. It forms a foundation of expectations on how people should behave. Every culture has a set of norms which considerably shapes our thoughts and behaviors. For example, Americans view the experience and expression of positive emotions more desirable and appropriate than Chinese (Diener, Suh, Smith, and Shao, 1995). Our personality develops according to the events we have experienced since childhood into adulthood, and culture plays a vital role in the occurrence of different events in our daily life. Individual personality traits develop because of cultural norms. Norms can dictate which traits are considered important, meaning people from a particular culture may have similar traits.

These traits may vary from culture to culture depending on their needs and beliefs. For instance, culture puts some restrictions on the child for dressing, if these restrictions are not imposed the child might dress in a different way. Gender norms, which define gender roles in a particular culture, also affect personality. Apparent sex differences may actually be cultural gender differences, and cultures and societies exert significant influence on gender roles from a very early age (Brislin, 2000). In many cultures men are expected to be bread-winners and the dominant members of the family while women are expected to stay at home and take care of the house and the kids. In such cultures, women tend to be caring, nurturing and compassionate while men tend to be aggressive. FamilyFamily is the basic unity of culture and it sets the pattern of an individuals’ understanding towards life in general.

Family structure and practices differ from culture to culture. For example some culture prefer democratic methods of discipline while others prefer authoritarian methods. People who were reared with different methods of discipline will have different personality traits. For example families in the western culture encourages independence, achievement and competition. Research has shown that certain interactions within families and early relationships in a particular culture can determine the level of neuroticism in later life (K. Nakao, J. Takaishi, K. Tatsuta, et al, 2000). For example if parents are overprotective, the child won’t be able to develop an independent personality which means the child becomes too dependent and my develop introversion traits.

According to Freud differences in parental socialization produces variation in anxiety which then leads to different personalities (Jerome). Parental socialization is about culture, which varies. Individuals in a family learn about their culture which initiates behavior patterns and learning to adjust to life as they interact with other members. This in turn shapes their personality.

Social class

Social class refers to “a social context that individuals inhabit in enduring and pervasive ways over time” (Piff, 2014) which shapes how we see ourselves and others. Individuals who are ranked as lower class have fewer opportunities and resources than those who are ranked as upper class, thus they tend to see external social sources have greater influence over their lives. (Tori, 2015). People who self-reported higher socioeconomic status scored higher on narcissistic personality tendencies (Piff, 2014). Individuals in lower rank tend to be more emotionally attuned to others. Different social classes have different cultures they prescribe to.

People from different social classes acquire different personality traits. Status and power affects what personality traits people exhibit. For example people who are brought up in an environment considered to be lower class tend to be less assertive, have less openness, tend not to challenge the status quo, and lower expectation of themselves whereas those brought up in upper class tend to have more degree of openness, assertiveness and neuroticism. Individuals are likely to internalize cultural characteristics of society, no matter how they receive them, a process known as enculturation (Linton, 1955). Thus social class can influence someone’s personality.

For example if someone is withdrawn and introverted, who is born into upper middle class family that is very involved in a large business, they may present outgoing and confident during work, and only go back to their natural inclination when they are away from work. According to researchers, people who are in the higher socioeconomic status are more likely to be independently oriented, while those lower in status are more group-minded (Tori, 2015).

Language

Languages in different cultures keep on evolving to reflect the cultural environment. Languages have cultural specific vocabulary and grammatical differences which results in different personality traits. Language is associated with cultural scripts, practices, and norms (Chen & Bond, 2010). Language allows members of the society to communicate, express their feelings, and pass down their culture to successive generations. Whorfian hypothesis, suggests that linguistic categories constrain and determine cognitive categorization, and thus language influences thought and behavior (Whorf, 1956). For example if one thinks French is a refined language then one may feel more refined and even smarter when speaking it.

On the other hand if one feels English is a competent language, they may feel more competent and confident in achieving professional goals when speaking it. It therefore evokes individualism and collectivism. Empirical studies have demonstrated that language effectively primes the corresponding cultural norms of self‐concept, values, personality, and emotional expressions (Sylvia, Veronica & Jacky, 2013). For example, Chinese‐English bilinguals are perceived as more extraverted, assertive, and open when communicating with Caucasian interviewers, consistent with these bilinguals’ perceptions of prototypic English speakers’ traits (Chen and Bond, 2010).

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