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Smith / NATIONS, CULTURES, AND INDIVIDUALS
NATIONS, CULTURES, AND INDIVIDUALS
New Perspectives and Old Dilemmas
As an introduction to the five articles in this section that present data analyses focused at the nation level,
three dilemmas pertinent to nation-level studies are discussed. First, reasons are explored as to why it is valu-
able for psychologists to give attention to the national contexts within which the behavior of individuals has
more typically been studied. Second, there is some discussion of the extent to which causal explanations of
cultural differences can be sustained. Finally, it is argued that nation-level studies have a crucial and growing
role to play in explaining variations in the findings of individual-level studies conducted at different
cultural-level comparisons; ecological fallacy; multiple-nation samples
This section of the journal highlights
an exciting new development within the field of
cross-cultural psychology. In recent years, an increasing range of results has become avail-
able that gives details of survey responses derived from large samples of respondents located
within a broad range of nations. These sources of data have made it possible to conduct sec-
ondary analyses that focus primarily on nations rather than on individuals as the units of
analysis. In terms of the development of conceptual frameworks that have guided the work of
cross-cultural psychologists, characterizations of nations have been influential since the
publication of Hofstede’s (1980) seminal work. However, an exploration of what can be
achieved through analyses focused at the level of nations has necessarily awaited the
availability of a fuller range of sources of data.
Analyses focused on national differences have the potential to illuminate issues that are
beyond the reach of other currently popular cross-cultural research strategies that typically
focus on individual-level data derived from no more than two or three nations. By way of
introduction to the articles that follow, I will discuss some of the issues that confront
researchers who choose to focus on nations rather than on individuals. I shall consider three
issues: the reasons for focusing on nations, models of why nations are as they are, and the
First of all, how do psychologists study nations? The most typical strategy, pioneered by
Hofstede (1980), has been to aggregate data obtained from individuals. Hofstede obtained
data from large numbers of individuals within each nation, and responses to each item were
averaged; each nation, then, became one single case, not many. Once this is accomplished,
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am grateful to Michael H. Bond, Jim Georgas, Geert Hofstede, and Evert van de Vliert for comments on an
JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 35 No. 1, January 2004 6-12
Smith / NATIONS, CULTURES, AND INDIVIDUALS
the nation-level relations between the variables in a survey may be explored using a full
range of data analysis procedures (as illustrated by the articles that follow). Within
Hofstede’s study, the dimensions of nation-level variance that were identified were treated as
independent variables, and their ability to predict a wide range of dependent variables has
been explored both by Hofstede (2001) and by many other researchers. This, however, is not
the only possible option. For instance, Georgas and Berry (1995) made an initial attempt to
identify clusters of nations with similar environmental and social attributes. Here, nations
are treated as unitary entities and their attributes are not derived from aggregation of individ-
ual-level psychological scores. This perspective is further developed by Georgas, Berry, and
van de Vijver (2004, in this issue) in the present section.
Why should cross-cultural psychologists be interested in characterizing nations rather
than individuals? Individuals comprise the subject matter of psychology and most (but not
all) of the data reported in the articles in this section are derived from individuals. The culture
of psychology as an academic discipline has long been one in which the prototypic study
places individuals in a controlled and simplified environment, within which the researcher
can study the impact of experimental manipulations. However, the types of manipulation
that are practically and ethically permissible exclude many of the factors likely to be impor-
tant in the socialization of individuals from different parts of the world. Consequently,
researchers must take one of two paths. First, they can take as their starting point a given
datum, such as that individuals have a certain type of culturally distinctive self-construal or
set of values; then, they seek to show consequent effects that help us to understand cultural
differences in this self-construal or these values at the individual level. As an alternative to
this standard approach, they need to find different ways of investigating possible environ-
mental effects, treating individuals’ cultural orientations and behaviors as dependent
measures. Nation-level studies provide one such alternative.
It is easiest to conceptualize the possible effects of proximal environmental influences,
such as families and peer groups, on the individual. Things get more difficult when we con-
sider distal influences, such as region or nation. Although it is self-evident that growing up in
one part of the world as opposed to another can lead the individual down different paths and,
hence, to different destinations, it is possible to argue that the distal influences on the individ-
ual are wholly or partially mediated by the proximal influences. If we take a culture as an
entity in which individuals tend to give shared meanings to the events, social artifacts, and
objects around them, it is possible to consider groupings at all levels of aggregation as having
elements of a culture. Families, peer groups, organizations, ethnicities, regions, and nations
may all be found to hold some shared perspectives. However, within the larger groupings,
there will inevitably be greater heterogeneity.
Thus, by seeking to identify and understand the basis of differences between nations, we
are engaged in a perilous enterprise. Our telescope is positioned in the far distance, targeting
the individual, but it is subject to many intervening sources of distortion. We know that if we
aggregate data derived from individuals, as, for instance, did Hofstede, we do find differ-
ences between nations that can be classified along a series of dimensions that have a psycho-
logical flavor because of their nature and their origins from individuals. What has been less
clearly delineated thus far is the degree to which we can avoid providing tautological
descriptions of cultural differences; after all, we have mostly been identifying nations in
ways that are dependent on the individuals within them and have been using psychological
measures as the initial data. The present contributors move beyond this psychologically
focused approach by reporting various steps in the direction of true culture measures,
drawing both on data about climate and on data about social institutions.
The contributors to the present section all treat nations (and states within the United States
of America; see Allik & Realo [2004, in this issue]) as cultures. The sheer convenience of
currently available databanks may force us into such simplifications. In future studies, it will
be important to use multiple levels of analysis so that variability attributable to individuals,
regions, or other subcultures may be taken into account before we address nation-level vari-
ance. The article by van de Vliert, Huang, and Levine (2004, in this issue) illustrates one step
in this direction through its use of multiple levels of analysis.
Outside of the psychology laboratory it is rarely possible to establish unidirectional mod-
els of causal relationships concerning human behavior. The authors of the present articles
have all established relations between the variables on which they focus that are based either
on correlations or on more sophisticated statistical procedures that do not differ in principle
from correlations. One can only infer the nature of causal processes in such circumstances if
one of the variables in question clearly predates the other. Herein lies the attraction of the
measures of temperature and climate that are utilized by three of the present contributors.
However, none of these authors finds that these factors are by themselves satisfactory in
explaining national differences in the psychological variables on which they focused.
Although climatic factors may well have influenced the emergence of differing cultural pat-
terns initially, the evolution of cultures over the past centuries has entailed a process of action
and reaction between a myriad of factors.
National wealth can be considered as both a result of this evolutionary process and a cause
of it. A nation’s wealth, as with other aspects of a nation’s culture, may be relatively uni-
formly spread across individuals, or it may characterize some groupings within a nation
more than others. In contrast to individual-level attributes, the amount and dispersion of
wealth is substantially dependent on a nation’s government and historical legacy. It can have
direct effects on many of the proximal-level sources of influence on individuals within a
nation. GNP per capita (or perhaps “affluence,” as Georgas, Berry, and van de Vijver [2004,
in this issue] label their broader measure of this construct) is a clear candidate for a central
place in nation-level, cross-cultural studies. It is a true nation-level measure in the sense that
it cannot be arrived at by averaging of the wealth of individuals within a nation.
The present authors are not in agreement as to how to make sense of this construct how-
ever it is measured. Georgas et al. see it as a variable that intervenes between their ecocultural
determinants of culture and the consequent national profiles of values and behaviors that
they sought to predict. Van de Vliert et al. (2004, in this issue) give it a status equal to climate
as a predictor of cultural effects. Smith (2004, in this issue) sees GNP as an integral part of a
nation’s culture and therefore declines to follow Hofstede’s (2001) decision to partial it out
of his analyses. Allik & Realo (2004, in this issue) compare the effects of partialling it out
with not doing so. Allik and McCrae (2004, in this issue) find GNP to be a correlate of one of
their emergent dimensions of cross-national variance in personality.
Many other candidates for culture-level attributes of nations have been advanced by the
present authors as well as by other contributors to the literature. Most of these are based on
aggregation of individual-level scores, either from surveys or from secondary sources. For
instance, Georgas et al. (2004, in this issue) identify the percentage of a nation’s respondents
claiming religious affiliation as a strong predictor of national mean scores on psychological
variables. Allik and Realo (2004, in this issue) identify correlates of nation-level means for
Smith / NATIONS, CULTURES, AND INDIVIDUALS
social capital, and Smith (2004, in this issue) shows how nation-level acquiescence is
explicable in terms of cultural values.
Greater clarity is required regarding the nature of these types of nation-level scores.
Leung and Bond (in press) define a “citizen mean” as a score based simply on aggregating
data from individual to nation-level. In contrast, a “true” nation-level mean is a mean based
on analysis of the manner in which a series of citizen means interrelate with one another at
the nation level. Examples of true nation-level means are provided by Hofstede’s dimensions
and by Allik and McCrae’s (2004) contribution in this issue. A citizen mean will often not be
equivalent to a culture mean, because the attributes that go into the construction of a culture
mean may relate to one another differently at different levels of analysis. A citizen mean
based on aggregation of scores on a single item will be particularly vulnerable to misinter-
pretation because such a score gives no opportunity to explore the nomological network of
meanings associated with it at the two different levels of analysis.
Hypotheses asserting causal effects of true nation-level means have greater plausibility
than hypotheses asserting causal effects of citizen means. The best that we may be able to
achieve with citizen means is a clearer understanding of the various attributes of nations that
are consistently correlated with one another. For instance, when Allik and Realo (2004, in
this issue) establish an association between cultural individualism and citizen scores for
social capital, they enhance our understanding of the nature of cultural individualism.
Representativeness of sampling is a further issue that may be even more challenging to
nation-level researchers than it is to individual-level researchers. In individual-level studies,
a comforting assumption is often made that in sampling students from different nations, one
is comparing like with like. At the nation level, such assumptions become altogether untena-
ble. Students plainly differ from other members of their nation, and they do so in ways that
vary from one location to another. In search of better ways of characterizing whole nations,
secondary statistical sources are appealing, but there are few ways of determining how val-
idly data have been recorded. Some fortunate researchers have been able to draw on surveys
using representative sampling (Diener & Diener, 1995; Inglehart, Basanez, & Moreno,
1998). However, nations are not uniform entities, and we may need to draw on measures of
variability as well as national means. The GINI index, estimating variations in the distribu-
tion of wealth, may prove as useful as GNP (World Bank, 2000). Variations in national value
consensus are also found (Sagie & Schwartz, 1996). All of these limitations on measurement
will likely continue to attenuate our ability to map correlations and to propose causal
TAKING ACCOUNT OF THE ECOLOGICAL FALLACY1
The emphasis given by the authors in this section to nation-level analyses elicits another
of the key issues with which researchers have had to contend. When considering the causes
and consequences of cultural differences, there is a constant temptation to test the plausibil-
ity of hypotheses by thinking about how the variables of interest relate at the individual level
of analysis. However, there is no logical reason why the relationship between two variables
at one level of analysis should be the same at another level of analysis (Hofstede, 1980;
Leung, 1989). Numerous examples can be found which illustrate this point. As Allik and
Realo (2004, in this issue) note, the determinants of life satisfaction vary between levels.
Diener and Diener (1995) showed that at the nation level, the richest nations in the world are
the ones in which highest happiness, or, as they define it, “subjective well-being,” is reported.
However, within each nation, it is not the case that very rich persons report greater life satis-
faction than less rich persons. Diener and Oishi (2000) report weak and, in some nations,
negative relations between life satisfaction and income. Furthermore, as GNP has risen over
time, individuals’ life satisfaction has not. Similarly, the individualistic nations are the ones
in which greater job satisfaction is reported (Hui, Triandis, & Yee, 1995), but in Hong Kong,
the individuals who espouse collectivist values rather than individualistic values are the ones
How can these different effects be explained? They are explicable because the variables
that influence relations between variables at different levels of analysis are not likely to be
the same (Robinson, 1950). Take the example of job satisfaction. At the nation level, individ-
ualistic countries are the rich countries. Employees are rather well paid and receive a wider
variety of resources with which to do their job than would be available to most people in less
rich countries. However, at the individual level, the availability of good pay and working
conditions within a single nation will probably be much less varied than they are between
nations. Other issues will be more important in determining job satisfaction. In Hong Kong,
collectivist values proved to be a significant predictor, presumably because in that context, it
is particularly important to be in a harmonious relationship with one’s work colleagues. In
another nation, the significant predictors might be different.
Relationships between variables do not always vary at the two differing levels of analysis.
For instance, Allik and McCrae (2004, in this issue) report finding the individual-level Big
Five personality factors replicable at the nation level. No actual harm is done if one takes
hypotheses from one level and tests them at another level. The crucial point that needs to be
borne in mind is that relationships between variables must always be tested at the relevant
level of analysis, using measures appropriate to that level. Once this has been done, it
becomes possible to test whether nation-level measures can explain variations in individual-
One way of linking individual- and nation-level approaches is to develop parallel sets of
concepts applicable to each level of analysis. The prime exponent of this approach has been
Schwartz (1992, 1994). Schwartz argued that we cannot arrive at valid nation-level measures
until we have shown that the concepts used in constructing these measures have equivalent
meanings in all parts of the world. He has accomplished this by conducting individual-level
analyses of his data within each nation sampled separately. Similar results imply similar
meanings. Leung and Bond (in press) have extended this procedure to their current work on
Using these types of comparable individual- and nation-level measures, Schwartz has
demonstrated a further instance of variables that relate quite differently at each level of anal-
ysis. He found that at the individual level, persons who see “authority” as a guiding principle
in their life are not the same persons as those who see “humility” as their guiding principle.
Indeed, endorsement of the two values was negatively correlated. However, at the nation
level, nations in which authority is strongly endorsed are the same nations as those in which
humility is strongly endorsed. In other words, there are certain nations that contain an inter-
locking set of role relationships built around authority and humility much more than is found
in other nations. Leung and Bond (in press) likewise find different item groupings for dimen-
sions of social axioms at the individual and national levels of analysis.
If we accept the importance of clearly distinguishing levels of analysis, what is the value
of the nation-level studies in this section to the broader field of cross-cultural psychology?
The nations of the world may, or may not, be currently in the process of becoming more simi-
lar to one another. For now, they provide the contexts within which individuals seek to make
Smith / NATIONS, CULTURES, AND INDIVIDUALS
sense of their experience. If we neglect context, we risk misunderstanding the actions of
those who inhabit each context. Where individual-level investigations yield contrasting
results from persons in different nations, we need conceptual frameworks to help us identify
The ecocultural framework championed here by Georgas et al. (2004, in this issue)
achieves the sharpest differentiation between levels because it is less reliant on aggregation.
This approach enables the interpretation of psychological variables, either at the individual
level or at the nation level, within a framework that clusters nations with common ecological
and social elements. Focus on these elements, rather than on countries simply identified by
nationhood, should help us to order nations in terms of key contextual parameters. The simi-
larity or dissimilarity of nations on these parameters can then be employed in cross-cultural
studies to generate a priori hypotheses about how and why the observed similarities and
differences in psychological variables are found.
Until recently, nation-level studies have more often focused on contrasts in values. Sub-
stantial convergent validity has been established (Hofstede, 2001; House, Hanges, Javidan,
Dorfman, & Gupta, 2003; Inglehart et al., 1998; Schwartz, 1994; Smith, Dugan, &
Trompenaars, 1996;). Some progress has also been achieved in defining valid nation-level
measures of both values and beliefs. However, the only nation-level contrast that has
achieved widespread influence among researchers has been that between nations said to be
individualistic and those said to be more collectivistic. The present articles encourage us to
eschew individualism-collectivism as the explanation for everything. They encourage us to
broaden the net; nations also differ in respect of climate, wealth, preponderance of personal-
ity types, religiosity, social capital, belief systems, acquiescence, and much more. Just as
Hofstede’s project has led to the spawning of a variety of individual-level measures of self-
construal, each of these other aspects by which nations differ can also stimulate our concep-
tual development of individual-level predictors of individual effects. Some examples, such
as the trust measures derived from Fukuyama’s (1995) analysis of capitalist economic sys-
tems, are already in use. Continued attention to nation-level analyses may well help us to
identify further promising candidates.
1. Parts of this section are drawn from Smith (2002).
Allik J., & McCrae, R.R. (2004). Towards a geography of personality traits: Patterns of profiles across 36 cultures.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Allik, J., & Realo, A. (2004). Individualism-collectivism and social capital. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995).Cross-cultural correlates of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology
Diener, E., & Oishi, S. (2000). Money and happiness: Income and subjective well-being across nations. In E. Diener
& E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being
(pp. 185-218). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity
. New York: Free Press.
Georgas, J., & Berry, J. W. (1995). An ecocultural taxonomy for cross-cultural psychology. Cross-Cultural
Georgas, J., Berry, J., & van de Vijver, F. (2004). The ecocultural framework, ecosocial indices, and psychological
variables in cross-cultural research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values
. Beverly Hills, CA:
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across
. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
House, R. J., Hanges, P., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. (2003). Leadership and organizations: A 62
nation GLOBE study
. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hui, C. H., Triandis, H. C., & Yee, C. (1995). The relationship between individualism-collectivism and satisfaction
at the work place. Applied Psychology: An International Review
Inglehart, R., Basanez, M., & Moreno, A. (1998). Human values and beliefs: A cross-cultural sourcebook
Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Leung, K., & Bond, M. H. (in press). Social axioms: A model of social beliefs in multi-cultural perspective. In M. P.
Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology
. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Leung, K. (1989). Cross-cultural differences: Individual-level versus cultural-level analysis. International Journal
Robinson, W. S. (1950). Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals. American Sociological Review
Sagie, G., & Schwartz, S. H. (1996). National differences in value consensus. In H. Grad, A. Blanco, & J. Georgas
(Eds.), Key issues in cross-cultural psychology
. Lisse, the Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Schwartz, S. H. (1992).Universals in the structure and content of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in
20 countries. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology
(Vol. 25, pp. 165). Orlando, FL:
Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Beyond individualism/collectivism: New cultural dimensions of values. In U. Kim, H. C.
Triandis, C. Kagitçibasi, S. C. Choi, & G. Yoon (Eds.), Individualism and collectivism: Theory, method and
(pp. 85-119). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Smith, P. B. (2002). Levels of analysis in cross-cultural psychology. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D.
N. Sattler (Eds.), On-line readings in psychology and culture
. Available at http://www.wwu.edu/~culture
Smith, P. B. (2004). Acquiescent response bias as an aspect of cultural communication style. Journal of Cross-Cul-
Smith, P. B., Dugan, S., & Trompenaars, F. (1996). National culture and the values of organizational employees: A
dimensional analysis across 43 nations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
van de Vliert, E., Huang,X., & Levine,R. V. (2004).National wealth and thermalclimate as predictorsof motives for
volunteer work. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
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Peter B. Smith is a professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex. Receiving his Ph.D. from the
University of Cambridge, he has held teaching posts at the University of Sussex since 1966. His current
interests are in cross-cultural aspects of social and organizational psychology, focusing particularly on
leadership, values, cross-cultural communication,and the relationshipbetween individualand culture-level
analyses. From 1995 to 2001, he was editor of this journal, and he is currently president of the International
Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology.
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