Friday, 11 March 2016

Mates Make Groups for Individualists But Not for Collectivists

Humans are an incredibly groupy type of animal. We form psychologically-meaningful groups based on our gender, age, nationality, religion, politics, skin colour, occupation, sexual inclination, and sports teams, to name just a few. Even in the artificial environment of psychology labs, people will identify with groups based on their totally random allocation to “Group A.” Indeed, they will declare that they feel “more similar” to Group A members than to Group B members, and even discriminate in favour of Group A members and against Group B members! But does everyone around the world identify with groups in the same way?

To investigate this issue, my colleagues and I conducted two studies in which we compared individualists (people from Western countries such as Australia and the USA) with collectivists (people from non-Western countries such as China and India). We measured people’s interpersonal closeness with other group members (in-group ties) and the degree to which they felt similar to other group members (perceived self-to-group similarity; a key indicator of social identification). In both studies, we found that interpersonal closeness was a significant positive predictor of perceived self-to-group similarity. In other words, the closer people felt to other people in their groups, the more similar they felt to them. Critically, however, this positive relation only held for individualists. There was no significant relationship between perceived interpersonal closeness and self-to-group similarity among the collectivists in our samples.

This suggests that interpersonal closeness is a stronger predictor of social identification among people from individualist cultures than among people from collectivist cultures. This is an important finding because social identification predicts prejudice and stereotyping, and so a better understanding of cross-cultural differences in the basis for social identification may help to improve the effectiveness of social interventions that reduce prejudice and stereotyping. For example, interventions based on interpersonal closeness may be more effective among people from individualist Western countries like the USA than among people from collectivist non-Western countries like China.

Our research helps to explain the basis for social identification among individualists. But it does leave an important question unanswered: On what basis do collectivists form their social identities? If interpersonal ties with other group members are not crucial, then what is? We believe that group harmony and sense of duty may represent two potential answers to this question.

For further information about this research, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Milanov, M., & Paolini, S. (2016). Uncovering the diverse cultural bases of social identity: Ingroup ties predict self-stereotyping among individualists but not among collectivists Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 19 (3), 225-234 DOI: 10.1111/ajsp.12137   Self-Archived Version

For a You Tube video explaining the research, please click here.