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24 Examples of Collectivist Culture

A collectivist culture is a culture that values group membership over individual pursuits. This emerges with the shared experiences and history of groups and shouldn't be confused with systems that force collectivism such as communism. The following are common characteristics of collectivist cultures.


Responsibility is shifted towards what the individual owes the group and not what the group owes the individual. This tends to create very high levels of diligence such as workers or students who demonstrate attention to detail.

Social Support

As responsibility is shifted toward the individual, the individual can't blame the group for much. For example, if you are poor in a collectivist society this is unlikely to be viewed as society's fault.

Group Inclusion

Belonging to the group is critical in a collectivist society. Collectivist groups are less likely to exclude members but exclusion is more distressing. For example, a firm with a collectivist culture is less likely to dismiss employees and dismissal is viewed as an extraordinarily serious matter.

Social Anxiety

As belonging to the group is important, people may experience much anxiety around social problems such as criticism from others.

Social Comparison

Social comparison tends to run very high in a collectivist culture. For example, a neighborhood where people compete to be the most respectable and wealthy-looking on the block.

Individual Goals

It is a mistake to confuse culture with motivation. Individuals in a collectivist culture have individual motivations such as a desire to thrive and grow. The means to achieve this involves group membership. It is common for materials to claim that participants in a collectivist culture prioritize common goals. This may be a useful theoretical construct but is not a realistic depiction of actual collectivist cultures.


Generally speaking, people in an individualistic society view themselves as "special" and people in a collectivist culture view themselves as "normal." In fact, normal is the ideal in a collectivist culture where standing out is perceived as abhorrent.

Self Restraint

In a collectivist culture, individuals are expected to be in control of their emotions and do what is required in a situation as opposed to what they feel. Individualistic cultures historically have a similar tradition known as stoicism. However, since the late 1960s, many individualist cultures have embraced the assumption that keeping emotions "bottled up" without expressing them to others is harmful.


Relationships are important to a collectivist culture and tend to be taken seriously and maintained for long periods of time. In a collectivist culture, people behave very differently towards strangers as compared to how they treat anyone with whom they have some type of recognizable relationship. For example, the same people who easily engage in quarrels with strangers on the street may be very unlikely to do the same with a neighbor, customer or colleague. For this reason, introductions are extremely important as once this occurs, everything changes.

Saving Face

Collectivist cultures allow members to save face such that groups avoid embarrassing group members. Breaking this norm is likely to have strong repercussions. For example, a manager who is accustomed to an individualistic culture who strongly criticizes someone in front of the entire team may not realize that this could be an extremely negative experience for the individual that may result in much animosity from the entire team.

Reading the Air

In an environment where people save face, you must read subtle clues to understand criticism. For example, a neighbor in Japan who comments in a pleasant way that they noticed your child is learning piano may actually be complaining to you about noise in an indirect fashion. It is important to read these clues to thrive in a collectivist culture.

Group Harmony

Prioritization of group harmony over creative tension. This may allow poor ideas to progress without challenge.

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Where individuals are highly constrained by a strong collectivist culture they may act out in passive aggressive ways that are perfectly acceptable behavior on the surface but intended to attack.


In collectivist cultures, positivity is viewed as supporting the group and negativity is viewed as selfish. Roughly speaking, individualistic cultures are more likely to view negatively as intelligent and brave whereas positivity is viewed as complacent or spineless.

False Praise

The norms of collectivist cultures may view false praise as a kindness or politeness. Individualistic cultures are likely to view false praise in a very negative light. This can cause much difficulty in cross-cultural communication.

Group Decision Making

The view that decisions must be accepted by the entire group. For example, a company where a manager's peers must approve all of their hiring decisions. This tends to lead to irrational decisions such as the abilene paradox.

Tolerance for Ambiguity

As group decisions are the norm, an individual in a collectivist culture is unlikely to proceed without direction from the group such that situational flexibility may not materialize.


Due to the overhead of group decisions, it is common for collectivist culture to embrace heavy planning cycles that fail to respond to change in a timely fashion.


Group decisions tend to be closer to the status quo than individual decisions. As such, collectivist cultures produce stability whereby they do adapt to change but only in a slow and methodical way.

High Context

Collectivist cultures are typically high context such that there may be few written rules and many unwritten rules. In other words, they tend to have a strong culture that expects conformance to norms without any direction. For example, the Japanese business custom to seat customers on the side of a table that is deepest in the room. This may be extremely important but not listed in any manual as it's considered obvious.

Rights & Freedoms

Rights and freedoms may be muted in a collectivist culture. Systems may compensate for this. For example, employees may have no rights, from a cultural perspective, to refuse excessive work or to take time off for problems in their life such as a sick child. This can create much misery and is often corrected by systems such as laws.


In a collectivist culture, groupthink is common as criticising people in a higher role is viewed as individualistic and essentially selfish. This can lead to irrational or even dangerous situations. For example, a copilot who is hesitant to point out a dangerous mistake by a more senior pilot.


Corruption can thrive in a collectivist culture as authority tends to be relatively unquestioned. This can be remediated with systems such as internal controls.


Collectivist cultures aren't prone to postmodernist relativism that portrays reality as nothing but subjective experience with no universal truths such as facts. Collectivist cultures have common values, principles and knowledge that aren't subject to individual reinterpretation.
Overview: Collectivist Culture
A culture that values group membership over individual pursuits.
Opposite Of
Individualistic Culture
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