culture and personality and cultural traitsCulture and Personality and Cultural Traits

I get the question very often during a Cultural Awareness Training: “What is the relationship between Culture and Personality?” and “What’s the difference between cultural traits and personality traits?”.

This article is an attempt to shed some practical, non-academic light on this relationship between Culture and Personality. Let me start by saying that the question is actually invalid… (but do read on!)

Cultural Traits ≠ Personal Traits

Comparing culture and personality doesn’t make sense when you look at the definition of Professor Geert Hofstede: “Collective programming of the collective mind” (I know the definition is somewhat longer…).

The critical word here is “Collective“. When we want to talk meaningfully about a culture we compare one “collective” with another “collective“. And “Personality” is not a collective but refers to an individual. Meaning that one person (and his or her personality) does not make up a culture.

But What About Personality Tests Like MBTI®?

Good point! There are a number of well-known and well-validated personality tests out there. MBTI® is one of them.

A relatively short article on MBTI® and Culture can be found here.

It turns out to be that when you look at personality and culture and take two countries that have a lot of cultural similarities (they are not identical but they are similar), the way personalities (=MBTI® type) are similar in those countries does not mean that the observable behavior is the same.

The national culture seems to dominate the so-called “type” (in the case of MBTI®

An Example

Let’s pick two countries that have a lot of cultural similarities (except for one of Hofstede’s dimension): the UK and the US. Again the US and the UK are not identical, but they are similar.

Looking only at the broad scores on the MBTI® test, they appear to be very similar; almost identical. Using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions the only significant difference between the two countries is in the dimension Uncertainty Avoidance (the UK scores lower than the US).

So even though the MBTI® scores are almost the same, the “preference” for Introvert behavior is much greater in the UK than in the US (where it is more extrovert)

This difference in preference of expression (introvert for the UK and more extrovert for the US) typically can be linked to the difference in scores on the Hofstede dimension Uncertainty Avoidance.

Personality and Culture In Reality

My personal experience is that culture plays a much larger role in everyday life than the definition of Hofstede “allows“.

One day I was having a meeting in Japan with a Japanese colleague. He told me very bluntly how he disliked his job and disliked his boss even more. This gave me the idea that he was very direct as a person (and personality).

However, the next day, when we were having a team meeting (me being the only European, the rest Japanese), he did blend in seamlessly with the rest of his Japanese colleagues. Displaying the for me so very familiar collectivistic behavior.


If you’re interested in learning more why not get one of these books?

Overcome cultural differences in business

Uncertainty Avoidance in International Business


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