May 28, 2011

Tight/loose culture influenced by a nation's past

Audio interview with lead author in NPR, also has a table with 10 loosest and 10 tightest cultures (left).

Another podcast in Science.

From the press release:
Gelfand and colleagues found that countries such as Japan, Korea, Singapore and Pakistan are much tighter whereas countries such as the Ukraine, Israel, Brazil, and the U.S. are looser. Their research further showed that a nation's tightness or looseness is in part determined by the ecological and human factors that have shaped its history – including wars, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, population density and scarcity of natural resources. Tight and loose societies also vary in their institutions—with tight societies having more autocratic governments, more closed media, and criminal justice systems that had more monitoring and greater deterrence of crime as compared to loose societies.

The study found that the situations that people encounter differ in tight and loose societies. For example, everyday situations—like being in park, a classroom, the movies, a bus, at job interviews, restaurants, and even one's bedroom—constrain behavior much more in tight societies and afford a wider range of behavior in loose societies.

"We also found that the psychological makeup of individual citizens varies in tight and loose societies," Gelfand said. "For example, individuals in tight societies are more prevention focused (attentive to rules), have higher self-regulation strength (more impulse control) and have higher needs for order and self-monitoring abilities than individuals in loose societies. These attributes, Gelfand said, help people to adapt to the level of constraint (or latitude) in their cultural context, and at the same time, reinforce it.

Science 27 May 2011:
Vol. 332 no. 6033 pp. 1100-1104
DOI: 10.1126/science.1197754

Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study

Michele Gelfand et al.

With data from 33 nations, we illustrate the differences between cultures that are tight (have many strong norms and a low tolerance of deviant behavior) versus loose (have weak social norms and a high tolerance of deviant behavior). Tightness-looseness is part of a complex, loosely integrated multilevel system that comprises distal ecological and historical threats (e.g., high population density, resource scarcity, a history of territorial conflict, and disease and environmental threats), broad versus narrow socialization in societal institutions (e.g., autocracy, media regulations), the strength of everyday recurring situations, and micro-level psychological affordances (e.g., prevention self-guides, high regulatory strength, need for structure). This research advances knowledge that can foster cross-cultural understanding in a world of increasing global interdependence and has implications for modeling cultural change.



Roy said...

This pseudo-science is troublesome. How can the authors imply aiding 'cross-cultural understanding' when they have sampled barely one-sixth of all countries! Note that no African nation is included, where the head of state's whims most often determine the society's 'tightness' or 'looseness'. A lazy, arrogant study.

eurologist said...

The problem I see is that you cannot set up generally valid sets of mores that easily discern "tight" and "loose" countries.

For example, in "tight" Norway you may bath nude, and someone may politely tell you to put on a bathing suit if other people are around. In "loose" Greece, try this on a Sunday and get arrested on the spot.

Conversely, in "loose" Israel try to run a large pro-Palestinian demonstration (you might get shot), while in "tight" Pakistan you can stage a pro-Taliban rally and gain the applause of the people and (in some areas) even the police around you.

I really can't see how this can be easily generalized. Being rather free-spirited, of the "tight" countries, I'd have no problem living in Norway or Portugal. Of the "loose" counties, I wouldn't want to live in Venezuela, Brazil, Israel, or the Ukraine. Too many parameters.

Antonio Pedro said...

Eurologist, the Portuguese themselves are moving to Brazil...

sykes.1 said...

There is a huge interpretive error here. Certainly, with political correctness running amok and people going to jail for speech, countries like the Netherlands have to be classified as "tight."

This study is garbage

Fanty said...

Another hardcore example:

In Germany you can go to jail for whistling the MELODY of this song:

Using Lyric or even MELODY of this song in German public is illegal.

The "Horst Wessel Song".
The oldest use of the melody was for a propagandasong of German communists (!).

Horst Wessel then used this melody with a different lyric for the song of the Nazi Party.

The last step was, that this song became the National Athem of the Third Reich, replacing the "Song of the Germans".

this is almost as tight as stoning girls for not covering their faces with scarfs.

Dienekes said...

Banning a song is as tight as stoning girls?

Fanty said...


Its not the punishment, its the reason.

Its banning a melody versus banning girls from showing their faces or driving cars.

eurologist said...

"the Portuguese themselves are moving to Brazil"

Antonio, we are not talking about economic reasons, here.

As to the above, some countries, based on past experience, find it useful to reign in the political extreme (that doesn't agree on the political principles, foundation, and constitution of the country and wants to achieve change outside the political process via violent or semi-violent means. We are not really talking about prohibiting free speech, if what is not allowed can be counted on one hand and has strong symbolic usage.

Fanty said...


I still think that Germans are an extremely tight and paranoid people since centuries.

- Witchhunting
I once read an article about how withchunting and political stability, unity, are related.
It claimed, Germany killed 50% of all witches, ever killed in Europe.
It claimed, the pope himself send a message to Germany to imediately stop the sloughtering.

Spain was second in this article. But with only 9%. Italy was at 2%.

- 30 years war
Germany was totaly destroid over a war between 2 disagreeeing Christian sects.

- The Nazi party
No explanation needed.

- Nazi paranoia
Germany suffers of Nazi paranoia.
Its almost impossible to communicate without someone scream: NAZIS! Politicans need experts to tell them how to talk in a carefull way, that nobody screams: AAAH NAZIIIIIS!

- Google Streetview
Germanies newspapers and politicans ran a hate campaign against Google. 50% of the Germans said that google must be stopped because its a danger to all of mankind. 20% of the Germans made Google to blurr their houses. Nothing like this ever happend elsewhere on the planet.

etc etc....

A tradition of total intolerance and paranoia. Since centuries.

And currently we have a new witchhunting. 2/3 Germans want to end the age of nuclear energy because they are totaly paranoid again.

eurologist said...


I think you underestimate the paranoia that exists in other countries. For example, the US has had some of the last witch hunts of the developed world, was so paranoid as to put all people of Japanese descent into internment camps during WWII, then descended into total Communism paranoia that culminated in McCarthyism but persists today in mainstream political discourse, and is so afraid of Muslims that they have been taken out of airplanes just for adhering to that religion.

I agree that much paranoia is stirred by politicians/demagogues and the media; and for that reason I am not sure that "tightness" and paranoia can be easily related. Perhaps it is easier to generate paranoia in "tighter" countries?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

How can Ukraine with an intense history of war and food insecurity (from Stalin to the end of WWII) and high adult mortality (post-Communist) be such an extremely loose society by this measure, if war and food insecurity are supposed to make a society "tight"? Also notable is the presence of South Korea which is heavily Christian compared to its neighbors with other East Asian societies that are mostly non-Christian. The East-West dimension seems to explain more data than the profferred explanation.

I think that there is something to this dimension of societal variation, although it might be better defined or described, but the causation hypothesis offered seems sloppy in the extreme.

Onur said...

Results of such social studies usually do not make much sense as there are far too many variables to investigate and too many definitions of a given trait. Tightness/looseness of a population isn't something quantifiable as genetics or even linguistics.

Andrew B said...

A similar idea works for corporate cultures. If we consider sociability and solidarity of some corporations, then:
-- Result-oriented companies are dense;
-- Social ones are loose.

Lloyd Taylor presentation: