Horizontal and Vertical Individualism and Collectivism:
Implications for Understanding Psychological Processes
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Carlos J. Torelli
University of Minnesota
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Chapter to appear in Advances in Culture and Psychology. M. Gelfand, C-y Chiu, Y-y Hong (Eds.). Oxford University Press.
The constructs of individualism (IND) and collectivism (COL) have dominated the discourse on the psychological impacts of culture over the last 20 years of cross-cultural research (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002). The conceptualizations of IND and COL have historically been broad and multidimensional, summarizing a host of differences in focus of attention, self-definitions, motivations, emotional connections to in-groups, as well as belief systems and behavioral patterns (Bond, 2002; Ho & Chiu, 1994; Hofstede, 1980; Oyserman et al., 2002; Triandis, 1995; Triandis et al., 1998; Triandis, Leung, Villareal, & Clack, 1985). Although the breadth and power of these constructs have profoundly advanced the field, critiques of their multifaceted nature and debates about the ‘core’ essence of IND and COL limit the insights afforded by these broad dimensions (Briley & Wyer, 2001; Oyserman et al., 2002; Maheswaran & Shavitt, 2000). In this chapter, we review evidence supporting the value of a horizontal (valuing equality) and vertical (emphasizing hierarchy) cultural distinction nested within the broader IND-COL classification. Together with our colleagues (Alokparna Basu Monga, Sergio Carvalho, Chi-yue Chiu, Timothy Johnson, Andrew Kaikati, Hean Tat Keh, Ashok Lalwani, Natalia Maehle, Aysegul Ozsomer, Jimmy Wong, and Jing Zhang), we have investigated this distinction and its implications for the understanding of cultural processes. Our findings underscore the value of the horizontal and vertical distinction for uncovering novel cultural patterns. This work and others’ highlights several sources of value for a vertical/horizontal distinction – as a predictor of new phenomena not anticipated by a broader focus on IND-COL, and as a basis for refining the understanding of existing phenomena linked to the IND-COL distinction. In this chapter, we describe the horizontal-vertical distinction and its measurement, and review several lines of research that show how it can contribute to predicting the role of culture in shaping perceptions, motives, values, and social relations. Our coverage is structured around a core set of questions: Who am I and what do I value? How should I present myself to others? How do I perceive the social environment? We close by discussing implications for understanding consumer psychology, and future directions for research on the horizontal-vertical distinction.
II. Horizontal and Vertical Individualism and Collectivism
Describing a delineation of different “species” of individualism and collectivism, Triandis and his colleagues (Singelis, Triandis, Bhawuk, & Gelfand, 1995; Triandis, 1995; Triandis, Chen, & Chan, 1998; Triandis & Gelfand, 1998) noted that, nested within each IND-COL category, some societies are horizontal (valuing equality) whereas others are vertical (emphasizing hierarchy). The horizontal-vertical distinction emerges from the observation that American or British individualism differs from, say, Swedish or Danish individualism in much the same way that Korean or Japanese collectivism differs from the collectivism of the Israeli kibbutz. In vertical-individualist societies or cultural contexts (VI; e.g., U.S., Great Britain, France), people tend to be concerned with improving their individual status and standing out – distinguishing themselves from others via competition, achievement, and power. In contrast, in horizontal-individualist societies or cultural contexts (HI; e.g., Sweden, Denmark, Norway,...
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