Gelfand (Psychology/Univ. of Maryland) describes the powerful role of social norms.
In 2011, the author and her colleagues conducted a major cross-cultural investigation of the behaviors of some 7,000 people in more than 30 countries. Published in Science, the study led Gelfand to develop the tightness-looseness classification system of cultures that is the focus of this debut. “Tight cultures have strong social norms and little tolerance for deviance, while loose cultures have weak social norms and are highly permissive,” she writes. For example, the United States, a relatively loose culture, tolerates casual norm violations “from littering to jaywalking to dog waste.” Tighter, norm-enforcing Singapore has clean streets and no jaywalkers. In Brazil, a loose culture, people arrive late for business meetings; in Japan, a tight country, trains arrive on time. In these brightly written, sometimes repetitive pages, the author explains how norms and their enforcement can help us better understand organizations and households as well as nations. Norms generally make us a “cooperative species,” as when we stop for a red light, line up, or go quiet in a theater, but their strength and enforcement shape cultural differences. Tight cultures have strict rules and punishments; they provide stability and tradition. Loose cultures foster innovation and rule-breaking. Based on this approach, Gelfand offers many intriguing observations: Cultural shocks, such as terrorism and globalization, drive tightness and often produce autocratic leaders. In the U.S., where “cultural divides run deep,” Donald Trump “masterfully created a climate of threat” and used the “psychology of tightness” to win the presidency. On class differences, she writes, “for those in the lower class, globalization is a looming threat; for those in the upper class, it’s an opportunity.” Other topics include how clashing norms can make moving from the working to upper class painful and the tightness of hospitals, the military, construction, and other life-or-death industries with strict rules.
A useful and engaging take on human behavior.