The individualism-collectivism dimension refers to how people define themselves and their relationships with others. In an individualist culture, the interest of the individual prevails over the interests of the group. Ties between individuals are loose. People look after themselves and their immediate families. In a collectivist culture, the interest of the group prevails over the interest of the individual. People are integrated into strong, cohesive ingroups that continue throughout a lifetime to protect in exchange for unquestioning loyalty (Hofstede, 1997). One difference is reflected in who is taken into account when you set goals. In individualist cultures, goals are set with minimal consideration given to groups other than perhaps your immediate family. In collectivist cultures, other groups are taken into account in a major way when goals are set. Individualist cultures are loosely integrated; Collectivist cultures are tightly integrated.
In individualist cultures such as the US, for example, when meeting a new person you want to know what that person does. You tend to define people by what they have done, their accomplishments, what kind of car they drive, or where they live. Individualistic cultures are more remote and distant.
Cultures characterized by collectivism emphasize relationships among people to a greater degree. Collectivist cultures stress interdependent activities and suppressing individual aims for the group’s welfare.
(F. Jandt. An Introduction to Intercultural Communication. Pp.184.
Harry Triandis, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, is well known for his work on individualism and collectivism. Triandis writes that in individualistic cultures, emphasis is placed on an individual’s goals over group goal. In individualistic cultures, social behavior is guided by personal goals, perhaps at the expense of other types of goals. Individualistic cultures stress values that benefit individual person. The self is promoted because each person is viewed as uniquely endowed and possessing distinctive talent and potential. Individuals are encouraged to pursue and develop their abilities and aptitudes. In many individualistic cultures, people are taught to be creative, self-reliant, competitive, and assertive.
Triandis argues that an important ingredient of individualistic cultures is that the individual is emotionally disconnected from in groups, such as the family. Because the individual has been taught to be independent, social control depends more on personal guilt than on shame or other social norms of conformity. Ironically, members of individualist cultures tend to belong to many groups, but their affiliation with them is short-lived. Many of the groups to which an individualist belongs are designed to enhance self-worth – for example, self-help, therapy, or occupational groups.
Affluence also correlates with individualism. Financial independence means that one may be less dependent on others to satisfy needs. As cultures become more affluent, they tend to become more individualistic.
In contrast, according to Triandis, in collectivistic cultures, group goals have precedence over individual goals. Collectivistic cultures stress values that serve the in-group by subordinating personal goals for the sake of preserving the in-group. Collectivistic societies are characterized by extended primary groups – such as the family, neighborhood, or occupational group – in which members have diffuse mutual obligations and expectations based on their status or rank. In collectivistic cultures, people are not seen as isolated individuals. People see themselves as interdependent with others, with shared responsibility and collective accountability. A person is seen not as an individual, but as a member of a group.
Triandis points out that although collectivistic cultures stress the importance of the group over the individual, their...