Sunday, November 21, 2021

Loosening the definition of culture... An investigation of gender and cultural tightness: We find that American women felt their gender culture is “tighter” than men

Loosening the definition of culture: an investigation of gender and cultural tightness. Alexandra S. Wormley et al. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, November 14 2021, 100021.


• Cultural tightness has previously been studied at the national or regional level.

• We find that American women felt their gender culture is “tighter” than men.

• This gender difference is mediated by gender related threats, in line with theories about tightness as a way of managing ecological threats

• We find a lack of measurement invariance comparing tightness in men and women in Singapore, pointing to a need for future work refining measurement

Abstract: To date, the study of cultural tightness has been largely limited to exploring the strictness of social norms and the severity of punishments at the level of nations or regions. However, cultural psychologists concur that humans gather cultural information from more than just their nationality. Gender is a cultural identity that confers its own social norms. Across three studies using multi-method designs, we find that American women feel the culture surrounding their gender is “tighter” than that for men, and that this relationship is mediated by perceived gender-related threats to the self. However, in a follow-up study in Singapore, we do not find measurement invariance, suggesting future work is necessary to refine the study of gender tightness cross-culturally. We close with an important discussion of understanding how tightness looks across a variety of cultural identities and introduce a novel, qualitative method for the study of the tightness of social norms within groups.

Keywords: gendertightness-loosenessculturepsychology


Across hundreds of US participants, we found robust evidence for a difference in perceived tightness and looseness across men and women, such that women perceived greater tightness using a modified, 4 item scale and qualitatively reported more gender norms for themselves (Studies 1-2). Further, in line with ideas about tightness functioning to manage threat, we found that gender-specific threats mediated the relationship between gender and tightness (Study 3). This is in line with previous work which has suggested the broader adaptive purpose of cultural tightness is to manage environmental and social threats to the group. However, here we apply this to gender within a given society in a novel way.

We attempted to replicate in a tight country, Singapore. We had thought perhaps national tightness might moderate the relationship between gender and tightness, such that a gender difference might appear in relatively loose cultures (like the US) but not in a culture in which there are very tight norms for everyone (like Singapore). We could not explore these novel questions because of bad model fit and a lack of measurement invariance. Once the measurement is sorted out in future work, we think that will open questions of how individuals, with their many cultural identities, manage competing expectations and prioritize certain parts of their identity (say, national identity) over others (like gender).

Other cultural dimensions may provide insight as to why Singaporean men and women reported similar numbers of norms in an open-ended prompt. Gender egalitarianism which varies by country is (somewhat paradoxically) known to increase gender differences since the equality allows the genders to pursue their different, respective goals (Schwartz & Rubel-Lifschitz, 2009). Singapore is higher than the United States on egalitarianism (Schwartz, 2007), suggesting that we should expect Singapore to have larger differences in gender norms than the United States. An interesting future direction would examine gender and tightness in societies that vary in gender equality and in tightness at the national level; we propose an interesting set of comparisons could be New Zealand (relatively loose, relative gender equality), Ukraine (relatively loose, relative gender inequality), Austria (relatively tight, relative gender equality), and India (relatively tight, relative gender inequality) (Gelfand et al., 2011Schwartz, 2007). Do women report greater feelings of tightness in unequal societies? Do they report differences in the kinds of norms they must follow in comparison to men?

Additionally, our work presents a new qualitative method for studying cultural tightness. In having participants record social norms, we gain not only a proxy for the cognitive accessibility of social norms in their mind, but the content of these norms. This allows us to further dive into what threats are managed by social norms, revealing a cross-cultural convergence upon the importance of affiliation and appearance-related norms for women especially. Thus, we add yet another measure to the growing number of ways to capture perceptions of social norms and cultural tightness (Mu et al., 2015Uz, 2015).

Theoretically, the most exciting prospect this line of research offers is the idea that tightness varies across different cultural identities, with identity-related threat as a mediator. What other differences might we then expect? Do African-Americans or other minority ethnic groups report tighter cultural norms than their White counterparts (US Census Bureau, 2019)? Do Jewish people, who have historically faced immense religious persecution (Phillips, 2018), have tighter norms than Christians do? Is a long history of threats needed to shape norm tightness or can tightness be affected by recent current threats to identity (e.g., a wave of hate crimes)? Do transgender individuals, who face four times the amount of violent crime as cisgender ones (Rude, 2021), have tighter in-group norms? Further, since threat influences cultural tightness, might norms be specific to the domain of threat? For example, in an environment where women outnumber men, might men face stricter mating norms (Bleu et al., 2012)?

Beyond replicating in other countries, gender differences in cultural tightness should be investigated from a more representative sample because student participants may not be entirely representative of the population. The consistent evolution of gender norms in developed countries means that generational, and perhaps social class, differences are likely to exist. Further, these studies cannot rule out the fact that women may overperceive norms in comparison to men. Is the observed difference in gender tightness due to a difference in sensitivity to threat or differences in actual threats? There is reason to think it may be beneficial for women to be especially attuned to the social landscape and the rules within it, in the same way they seem attuned to threat (Brebner, 2003Burani & Nelson, 2020). To rule this out, women could be compared to men in their reporting of norms within other cultural contexts, like the workplace or the nation.

The tightness-looseness continuum represents an exciting trait of cultural groups that lie outside the traditional conception of “culture.” Through a mixed-method design, we establish that while other cultural groups may differ on these traits, special attention must be paid to measurement and the proper application of scales across group types. We leave the reader with two tools for continuing the study of gender and tightness—the GTS and the Gender Norm Perception Task—and further it beyond gender to other cultural identities.

No comments:

Post a Comment