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Culture and Personality - Culture

01 Sep 2012

Culture is defined by the patterns of thought and behavior shared by a group of people. Bond (2004) provided a psychological definition of culture consistent with this broad description:

A shared system of beliefs (what is true), values (what is important), expectations, especially about scripted behavioral sequences, and behavior meanings (what is implied by engaging in a given action) developed by a group over time to provide the requirements of living (food and water, protection against the elements, security, social belonging, appreciation and respect from others, and the exercise of one’s skills in realizing one’s life purpose) in a particular geographical niche. (p. 63)

There are five points about culture that should be remembered. First, it is learned, and must be learned anew by each generation. The process of inculcating the rules of culture into young people is called the socialization process, and the underlying dynamics of socialization are a human universal—because people evolved as group-living and culture-using animals (cf. Keller, 2007).

Second, the specific contents of any culture are somewhat accidental. They result from the interplay of historical events occurring within an ecological niche whose physical conditions afforded differing survival possibilities. Members of each culture are socialized to be able to survive within the constraints of their specific environment (rain forest, savannah, coast line).

The third point is that cultures vary independently of race or ethnicity. Members of all races acquire the cultural patterns that taught by their socializing agents. Children are first taught by their families, then by the social institutions—schools, religious groups, and political agents—of their wider society.

Fourth, cultures exist in two forms. They exist “out there” in society in the form of architecture, modes of transportation, and eating utensils, as well as written rules and informal customs. But, they also exist inside peoples’ heads in the form of expectations regarding what is true and what counts as correct social behavior. Each member of a culture will internalize his/her external culture in varying degrees, a process that Berger (1967) described as “…the reabsorption into consciousness of the objectivated world in such a way that the structures of this world come to determine the subjective structures of consciousness itself.” (p. 17)

Finally, our definition of personality stipulates that people are inherently social and meet their primary needs during social interaction. Culture structures those interactions: “This shared system enhances communication of meaning and coordination of actions among a culture's members by reducing uncertainty and anxiety through making its member's behavior predictable, understandable, and valued” (Bond, 2004, p. 63). Thus, culture provides the rules for social interaction and the methods to enforce those rules.

Robert Hogan and Michael Harris Bond
Hogan Assessment System and Chinese University of Hong Kong

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