Country and Culture Differences

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Country and Culture Differences

Man’s culture, his passions, and anxieties are a cultural product. (Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, 1941)

Culture has the power to impose itself on culture from within. (S. Touli, NY Review of Books, 1977)

With the increase in travel, people are now used to comparing countries and cultures. They differ in history and geography; in wealth and religion; in language and food. Some believe it is impossible to categorize or dimensionalize countries, in much the same way as they argued it can’t be done with people.

But over the past 30 years two Dutch psychologists have revolutionalized cross-cultural psychology and management with their overlapping theories. Hofstede (1981), in a study of 116,000 people from 70 different countries argued that there were four basic cultural dimensions that inevitably affected the way people behaved at work. In a later book (1984) he suggested there were six. The argument goes that we can adequately describe and compare all national and corporate cultures on these dimensions.

1 High power—low power distance refers to the fact that people accept that power (and influence) are not equally distributed. Decentralized, flatter cultures and organizations with less supervisory personnel tend to have lower distance scores.

2 Uncertainty avoidance refers to tolerance of ambiguity and the extent to which people and organizations attempt to avoid or reduce uncertainty. People and cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance needs tend to like experts and be risk averse. High uncertainty avoidance cultures are more rule-oriented.

3 Individualism—collectivism is in many ways a West—East difference. Individualism and collectivism are deeply ground in the cultural values and consciousness. Individualists find teamwork difficult and are less team and group oriented.

4 Masculinity—femininity reflects different values associated with the two genders. Masculinity refers to maleness of dominant values like money, possessions and status while femininity refers to female values of caring, fairness and quality of life.

Long-term orientation—short-term orientation. This associates the connection of the past with the current and future actions/challenges. A short-term orientation indicates that traditions are honoured and kept, while steadfastness is valued. Societies with long-term orientation views adaptation and circumstantial, pragmatic problem-solving as a survival necessity.

5 Indulgence—restraint. This is a measure of happiness; whether or not simple joys are fulfilled. Indulgence is defined as enjoying life and having fun. Restraint is defined as a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms. Indulgent societies believe themselves to be in control of their own life and emotions; restrained societies believe other factors dictate their life and emotions.

Trompenaars (1997) has a similar way of classifying cultures. The aim of his work is mainly to help people in managing others from different cultures. Further, it is his avowed aim to help people in international management.

1 Universalism: A universalistic corporate culture occurs when the organization shares a predominate belief that the rights of the organization prevail over the rights of a specific individual. Rules apply equally to everybody.

Particularism: The rights of individuals are seen to be more important than the rights of the larger community. Rules and laws are likely to be broken for the sake of friendship or family members, even at the cost of order within the large society.

2 Individualism: People are expected to make their own decisions and to take care of themselves. Success is seen in the personal freedom and individual development of its members.

Communitarianism: Members of these cultures are integrated into groups which provide help and protection in exchange for a sense of loyalty.

3 Specific orientation: An employee with this orientation makes close contact with others and knows what to share with others and what not to. Successes and failures are seen in terms of personal competencies or weaknesses.

Diffuse orientation: An employee with this orientation is less explicit in what he or she expects from relationships. They are thus less likely to become socially aware or skilled. Success is seen as resulting from being authentic.

4 Neutral orientation: People with this orientation are reluctant to show what they feel, even if it involves a considerable amount of self-control. They tend to be stoical.

Affective orientation: People with this orientation prefer to show spontaneously how they feel and to act accordingly. They may be known for their high emotional intelligence.

5 Achievement orientation: Social status results from the individual’s success in building up a personal portfolio of success through individual effort and ability.

Ascription orientation: Social status depends on the descent, sex, age or affluence that one somehow finds oneself with.

6a Past orientation: A past-oriented organization bases its future on past events.

Present and future orientation: An organization oriented towards the future cares less about past events and views the present only as the first step towards the future.

6b Sequential orientation: Employees structuring time sequentially tend to do one thing at a time. Time is linear, tangible and divisible. Time commitments are taken very seriously and keeping to a schedule is crucial.

Synchronic orientation: Employees who structure time synchronically do several things at the same time. Time is flexible and intangible. Promptness depends on the type of relationship in question.

7 Internal orientation: Internals believe we are each captain of our ship and master of our fate. What happens to us is primarily a function of personal effort and ability.

External orientation: Externals believe their working lives are controlled by chance, luck, fate and other powerful forces.


Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences. Beverly Hills, California: Sage.

Triandis, H.C. (2004). The many dimensions of culture. Academy of Management Executive, 18, 88—93.

Trompenaars, F. (1997). Riding the waves of culture: understanding cultural diversity in business. London: Nicholas Brealey.