Working as part of a group is often an educational and occupational necessity, but different cultural values can lead to different group behaviors. For example, consider a group that has been tasked with organizing a fundraiser. The group must decide what kind of refreshments to serve that everyone will like, and that will not exceed the budget. The more money the group spends on refreshments the less they will have to spend on other aspects of the fundraiser. Members of a group from an individualistic culture would likely approach this problem by sharing their independent ideas, and then give reasons why their idea would be the most successful. According to Costigan, Bardina, Cauce, Kim, and Latendresse (2006), individualists use direct communication with the focus of achieving a desired outcome; whereas, collectivists use indirect, more tactful communication and focus on the feelings of others and reducing conflict. This means that members of a collectivist group would likely politely discuss the safest solution to their dilemma, and not suggest anything too extreme or emphasize an idea that did not receive reassuring reactions. These cultural differences would lead these two groups to interact and make decisions in very different ways.
Collectivist and individualistic cultures focus on different goals when making decisions which would lead groups from each culture to have different dynamics. According to Briley, Morris, and Simonson (2005), collectivist cultures approach decisions with a focus on avoiding harmful actions, and with an awareness of potential problems they could cause. However, individualistic cultures focus on what they can achieve, and the positive things that can be accomplished. This is due to collectivist socialization that endorses duty, harmony, and preventing loss; and individualistic socialization that endorses accomplishments, improvement, and individual rights (Briley, Morris, & Simonson, 2005). Therefore, the group relationships in a collectivist group would be positive and carefully maintained, and the members would be more concerned with cooperating with the group and having mutual consent than achieving the most successful outcome. On the other hand, the group relationships in an individualistic group may not be so positive or cooperative, and the members would not avoid expressing their opinions about which decision would be best. Research shows that group conflict that involves critical task evaluation increases a group’s performance on the task (Nibler, & Harris, 2003). Individualists in a group may challenge decisions or rationales supporting decisions because they value success over group conformity. However, collectivists would likely agree with the decisions of the other members, and express any doubts in a non-confrontational and indirect way. According to Nibler and Harris (2003), collectivists avoid conflict “at all costs” and view any disagreements within a discussion as conflict (p. 618). This emphasis on conformity in the collectivist culture may cause group members to measure its success by how cohesive it is.
Collectivist and individualistic groups would engage in different types of cooperation as a result of the disparate value placed on conformity and group relationships. Individualist group members would cooperate to achieve the desired result, but would not consider themselves subordinate to any specific group member or obligated to submissively accept any given task. However, collectivist group members would respect the authority of a group leader and would be willing to complete any task that would benefit the group. According to Cinnirella and Green (2007), collectivist cultures emphasize harmony and group prevalence; whereas, individualistic cultures emphasize “the rights of the individual over the group” (p. 2012). Comparing a culture that endorses principles of obedience and respect with a culture that endorses assertiveness and independence clearly shows differences that would occur in group behavior (Rhee, Chang, & Rhee, 2003). The group dynamic from a collectivist culture would be considerate, cohesive, and sensitive to the needs of the group; whereas, the group dynamic from an individualistic culture would be opinionated, goal-oriented, and include analytical discussion.
Briley, D. A., Morris, M. W., & Simonson, I. (2005). Cultural chameleons: Biculturals, conformity motives, and decision making. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15(4), 351- 362.
Cinnirella, M., & Green, B. (2007). Does ‘cyber-conformity’ vary cross-culturally? Exploring the effect of culture and communication medium on social conformity. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(4), 2011-2025. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2006.02.009
Costigan, C. L., Bardina, P., Cauce, A. M., Kim, G. K., & Latendresse, S. J. (2006). Inter-and intra-group variability in perceptions of behavior among Asian Americans and European Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 12(4), 710-724. doi:10.1037/1099-9809.12.4.710
Nibler, R., & Harris, K. L. (2003). The effects of culture and cohesiveness on intragroup conflict and effectiveness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 143(5), 613-631.
Rhee, S., Chang, J., & Rhee, J. (2003). Acculturation, communication patterns, and self-esteem among Asian and Caucasian American adolescents. Adolescence, 38(152), 749-768.