Washington: People who feel that they lack personal control are more likely to prefer a culture that imposes order, a new study has found.
Further, according to the study published by the American Psychological Association, these “tighter” cultures, in turn, perpetuate their existence by reducing people’s sense of personal control and increasing their sense of collective control.
“Strong social norms — a core feature of tight cultures — help people view the world as simple and coherent. As strong norms guide their behaviour and allow them to predict others’, they can provide significant order and predictability in everyday social life,” said lead author Anyi Ma from Tulane University, Louisiana, US.
“So, when people lack control and desire structure, they may come to prefer tighter cultures,” she said.
Researchers analysed survey data and conducted a series of experiments to better understand how a sense of personal control can affect preference for cultural tightness and vice versa. The findings are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
First, the researchers looked at data from more than 5,700 participants from the Midlife in United States (MIDUS) survey, a nationally representative, longitudinal study of health and well-being. The data was collected in two waves: 2004-2006 and 2013-2014.
As part of the survey, participants were asked a series of questions designed to assess their perceived level of personal control.
Researchers used scores for tightness and looseness of individual states calculated by experts from the University of Maryland in 2014. Scores for each state were derived using an established measure such as strength of punishment, latitude / permissiveness, diversity and prevalence and strength of institutions (e.g., how religious the population is).
Individuals who reported lower levels of perceived personal control were significantly more likely to express a preference for states that scored higher in societal tightness. These findings remained true, and even strengthened, after controlling for participants’ gender, age, income and education.
The researchers also conducted a survey of 225 employees from a large apparel retailer in southern China.
Similar to the findings from the MIDUS survey, participants who expressed lower levels of personal control were more likely to express a preference for a tighter organisational structure.
Additionally, employees who reported lower levels of personal control were more likely to express a higher need for structure and those with a higher need for structure were more likely to prefer a tighter organisational culture.
Researchers also tested whether being in a tight culture reduced people’s perceptions of personal control. Ninety eight participants, recruited online, were randomly assigned to read description of a company that either had a tight or a loose organisational culture and asked to imagine they had accepted a job there.
Participants who imagined working for a company with a tight culture perceived significantly lower personal control.
A separate but similar experiment, comprising 96 online participants, also asked individuals to imagine working for a company with tight or loose organisational cultures, but instead of asking about personal control, they were asked to respond to a series of statements designed to measure their sense of collective control (e.g., “I would feel that employees in the company can work together to control the fate of the company”).
Results from these experiments provide evidence for the idea that tight cultures lower people’s feelings of personal control but increase their sense of collective control, according to Ma.
“Scholars have argued that tight cultures evolved as a way for people to collectively mitigate societal threats. We support this idea by showing that being in a tight culture increases people’s perceptions of collective control, which makes them feel more confident in overcoming external threats as a group,” she said.
“The increased collective control afforded by tight cultures might be especially important in the COVID-19 pandemic, in which a coordinated collective response is vital for survival.” “Before doing this research, I used to think that we are products of the culture we live in,” said Ma.
“The idea that we are individual beings capable of shaping the cultures that we live in is absolutely fascinating to me.”