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Neuroticism across cultures: Macro-level insights into the worldwide distribution of neuroticism

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Abstract

The chapter reviews the main explanations and interpretations for differences between cultures in mean levels of neuroticism. The relationships between neuroticism and cultural dimensions are also presented to provide a complex overview of current cross-cultural investigation in neuroticism. Three paradigmatic questions of current cross-cultural research in neuroticism were identified in the present study: the question of a) the heritability of neuroticism; b) randomness, i.e., if worldwide distribution of neuroticism is systematic or random; and c) independence of neuroticism in terms of the independence of its measurement with measurement of cultural dimensions. The present review distinguished six different interpretations for differences between cultures in mean levels of neuroticism that has emerged in current cross-cultural research: 1) intercultural differences in neuroticism reflect slight differences in culture-specific components of neuroticism, all cultures share a similar personality dimension of neuroticism, but this trait does not mean completely the same thing in various cultures; 2) the mainstream religion in a given culture influences the level of neuroticism in that culture; 3) geographically close cultures also show similar levels of neuroticism in comparison with geographically distant cultures; 4) intercultural differences in neuroticism are caused by culturally endorsed response styles; 5) intercultural differences in neuroticism reflect genetic differences between cultural groups; 6) intercultural differences in neuroticism may be caused by adaptations of psychometric personality questionnaires to other languages. Taking these interpretations together provides an intriguing theoretical background for further theoretical developments in this field. Various implications for both theory and empirical research are discussed in the Discussion subsection of this chapter. For example, we discussed the role of acquiescence response bias, differential item functioning in factor loadings, the Euclidean similarities of personality profiles across cultures, or various methodological problems of comparing neuroticism in different cultures.
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In: Di Fabio A. (Ed.). Neuroticism: Characteristics, Impact on Job Performance, and
Health Outcomes (pp. 161-185), Nova Science Publishers: New York.
Neuroticism across Cultures:
Macro-Level Insights into the Worldwide
Distribution of Neuroticism
Radek Trnka and Inna Čábelková
Abstract
The chapter reviews the main explanations and interpretations for
differences between cultures in mean levels of neuroticism. The
relationships between neuroticism and cultural dimensions are also
presented to provide a complex overview of current cross-cultural
investigation in neuroticism. Three paradigmatic questions of current
cross-cultural research in neuroticism were identified in the present study:
the question of a) the heritability of neuroticism; b) randomness, i.e., if
worldwide distribution of neuroticism is systematic or random; and c)
independence of neuroticism in terms of the independence of its
measurement with measurement of cultural dimensions. The present
review distinguished six different interpretations for differences between
cultures in mean levels of neuroticism that has emerged in current cross-
cultural research:
1) intercultural differences in neuroticism reflect slight differences in
culture-specific components of neuroticism, all cultures share a similar
personality dimension of neuroticism, but this trait does not mean
completely the same thing in various cultures;
2) the mainstream religion in a given culture influences the level of
neuroticism in that culture;
3) geographically close cultures also show similar levels of neuroticism in
comparison with geographically distant cultures;
4) intercultural differences in neuroticism are caused by culturally
endorsed response styles;
5) intercultural differences in neuroticism reflect genetic differences
between cultural groups;
2
6) intercultural differences in neuroticism may be caused by adaptations
of psychometric personality questionnaires to other languages.
Taking these interpretations together provides an intriguing
theoretical background for further theoretical developments in this field.
Various implications for both theory and empirical research are discussed
in the Discussion subsection of this chapter. For example, we discussed
the role of acquiescence response bias, differential item functioning in
factor loadings, the Euclidean similarities of personality profiles across
cultures, or various methodological problems of comparing neuroticism
in different cultures.
Introduction
Researchers working on neuroticism in the field of personality psychology
are traditionally focused on the individual level of analysis and inter-individual
differences. Whereas inter-individual differences reflect the distribution of
neuroticism inside a particular population, cross-cultural psychology
investigates the patterns of distribution of temperamental traits across different
populations and groups. Cross-cultural investigation provides us with a
broader, macro-level look at neuroticism and culture-personality links. Both
the individual and cultural levels of analysis are interrelated, and their
contrasting and mutual relationships are essential for an in-depth
understanding of this issue. For these reasons, this chapter provides a macro-
level overview exploring the distribution of neuroticism across cultures and
possible explanations for differences in the mean levels of neuroticism in
different cultures. In other words, the main goal is to provide an overview of
current approaches for interpreting intercultural differences in neuroticism.
Psychologists suggest neuroticism to be a high-order personality trait (Schmitt,
Allik, McCrae, and Benet-Martínez, 2007) and a component of temperamental
qualities. Temperament refers to individual differences in behavioral styles,
i.e., differences between people that appear early in life, show substantial
stability over time, represent predictable modes of response and possibly have
fairly direct neurobiological correlates (Ormel, Rosmalen, & Farmer, 2004).
Neuroticism is defined as an individual’s propensity to experience negative
emotions, i.e., to be anxious, nervous, sad and tense (John, Naumann, & Soto,
2008). It represents a contrast to emotional stability. Neuroticism, or Negative
Affectivity, belongs along with Extraversion, Agreeableness,
Conscientiousness and Openness to the basic components of the Big Five
model of personality (McCrae & Costa, 1997). Neuroticism is a
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temperamental trait of emotionality, i.e., the tendency to arouse quickly when
stimulated and inhibit slowly; a tendency to have unrealistic ideas; an inability
to control urges; a disposition to complain; inefficient ways of coping with
stress, a tendency to appraise events as stressful and a tendency to appraise
emotions more negatively (John et al., 2008; Trnka, Balcar, Kuška, & Hnilica,
2012). Typical facets of neuroticism are Anxiety, Angry Hostility, Depression,
Self-Consciousness, Vulnerability, Impulsiveness (Costa & McCrae, 1992),
Irritability, Depression, Rumination–Compulsiveness (Soto, John, Gosling, &
Potter, 2008) and Insecurity (Saucier & Ostendorf, 1999).
Currently, extensive cross-cultural comparisons of basic temperamental
traits have attracted the attention of researchers. Cross-cultural researchers
compared cultures with the use of mean-level trait scores, also called mean
levels of personality traits, national levels of personality traits or national trait
scores. Intercultural differences are thought to be detectable based on such
mean levels of personality traits. For example, Table 1 shows the intercultural
differences in neuroticism based on the study of Schmitt et al. (2007). This
research group applied the Big Five Inventory to map the geographical
distribution of high-order personality traits (Benet-Martínez & John, 1998).
Data from 56 different cultures were included in this large cross-cultural study
(Figure 1). The Big Five Inventory and the Revised NEO Personality
Inventory (NEO–PI–R) are members of the Big Five family of questionnaires
that belongs to the most frequently used personality inventories in current
cross-cultural research (Costa & McCrae, 1992). It is very important to note
that the Neuroticism scale of the NEO–PI–R also showed significant
correlation with the Neuroticism scale of Eysenck’s Personality Questionnaire
(EPQ, Eysenck & Eysenck, 1975), which was widely used by cross-cultural
studies in the 1980s and 1990s (see Allik, 2005, for an overview of this period
of cross-cultural research). As is apparent in Table 1, some cultures differ in
mean levels of neuroticism. For example, Japan, Argentina, Spain, or South
Korea had relatively high mean levels of neuroticism in comparison with
Congo, Slovenia or Ethiopia. These differences may elicit various
explanations and ideas. The main aim of this chapter is to summarize such
explanations for intercultural differences in neuroticism.
4
Table 1. Mean levels of neuroticism based on responses to the Big Five
Inventory across 56 Nations
nation Neuroticism (M) SD
1.QUARTIL
Congo 44.58 8.32
Slovenia 45.28 7.65
Ethiopia 46.12 6.90
Croatia 46.16 7.49
Estonia 46.99 8.79
Tanzania 47.73 6.55
Finland 47.84 9.75
Mexico 48.00 9.52
Ukraine 48.02 5.88
Fiji 48.03 7.39
Romania 48.03 8.44
Malaysia 48.14 6.31
Zimbabwe 48.26 9.14
Botswana 48.61 9.32
2.QUARTIL
Netherlands 48.61 9.71
Switzerland 48.72 6.02
South Africa 49.01 8.69
Israel 49.27 9.63
New Zealand 49.59 9.92
Austria 49.69 8.94
Indonesia 49.73 9.66
Jordan 49.86 8.76
Turkey 49.88 10.18
India 50.00 10.80
United States 50.00 10.00
Germany 50.17 8.33
Bolivia 50.21 9.62
Australia 50.29 7.74
5
nation
Neuroticism
(
M)
SD
3.QUARTIL
Marocco 50.29 8.44
Czech Republic 50.58 9.66
Serbia 50.82 10.41
Portugal 50.87 9.08
Canada 51.02 9.11
Latvia 51.11 9.49
Bangladesh 51.20 8.58
United Kingdom 51.39 8.48
Chile 51.39 9.87
Philippines 51.41 8.42
Cyprus 51.44 10.11
Slovakia 51.57 8.65
Italy 51.66 9.72
Poland 51.80 9.65
4.QUARTIL
Lithuania 51.87 8.74
France 52.29 9.34
Malta 52.35 10.07
Hong Kong 52.41 8.65
Taiwan 53.13 8.89
Brazil 53.14 9.07
Greece 53.19 9.80
Lebanon 53.35 9.14
Peru 53.39 8.29
Belgium 53.60 9.81
South Korea 53.99 6.62
Spain 54.03 9.20
Argentina 55.05 9.21
Japan 57.87 7.38
Extracted from data published in Schmitt et al., 2007.
Neuroticism may have serious impacts on depression, anxiety disorders,
distress, negative emotional outcomes, poor coping with stress, anger-
motivated aggression, physical tension-related symptoms and a negative link
to subjective well-being. Due to these negative health outcomes, more and
more scholars are interested in comparing different cultures from the
viewpoint of distribution of neuroticism across different populations.
Figure 1. Distribution of mean levels of neuroticism across 10 world regions. The numbers in brackets are congruence coefficients of
the Big Five neuroticism scales between the North America and other world regions. (extracted from data published in Schmitt et al.,
2007)
Such cross-cultural comparisons are fundamental for an effective public
health policy and planning intervention programs on both international and
national levels, because they are able to estimate the vulnerability of a
population toward some negative health outcome related to neuroticism.
Health interventions and campaigns are suggested to be more effective when
adapted to a specific cultural environment. For example, our previous study
focused on the function of cultural factors influencing the course of the
therapeutic treatments (Kuška et al., 2015). Cultural context and cultural
knowledge represented very important factors that may either facilitate or
block the treatment process. We concluded (ibid) that psychotherapy should
favor the development of interventions that originate from the characteristics
of each cultural group. Similarly, intervention programs are assumed to be
more effective when adapted to the character of a particular population.
As seen above, it is exceptionally important to gather in-depth knowledge
about today’s cross-cultural differences in neuroticism for effective public
health policy and planning. However, to our knowledge, no review including
systematic presentation of explanations and interpretations of these cross-
cultural differences has thus far been published. This chapter aims to fill this
gap and provide the readers with an interpretative overview of ways in which
cross-cultural researchers explain the empirical findings supporting various
differences and similarities between cultures in neuroticism. Therefore, the
main focus of this review is to put together various cross-cultural
interpretations, explanatory models and explanations. This focus will provide
researchers in this field with a broad and comprehensive interpretative
theoretical background that may be used for interpreting cross-cultural
differences in future empirical studies. The summarizing of interpretations
from current cross-cultural research has a very significant potential for the
theory development, because it enables the whole spectrum of interpretative
approaches for intercultural differences in neuroticism emerging in current
cross-cultural psychology to be seen.
Culture and Cultural Dimensions
When entering the field of cross-cultural psychology, we should first posit
an important question: “What is culture?” However, the answer is not very
easy. There are many definitions of culture (see Baldwin, Faulkner, Hecht, &
Sheryl, 2006, for an overview) and it is above the scope of the current review
to introduce all of the main approaches in this field. Culture may be
understood, for example, as a structure or as a pattern, i.e., as a system of
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ideas, behavior and symbols (Baldwin et al., 2006). When going into a more
detailed description, Baldwin et al. distinguished cognitive structure, structure
of behavior, structure of signification, relational structure and the social
organization of a given culture. Cognitive structure includes shared thoughts,
beliefs, assumptions, meanings, attitudes, preferences, values, standards and
interpretations. Structure of behavior is related to shared behavioral rules,
norms, social scripts, prototypical actions, normative patterns of behavior,
customs, habits, practices, ceremonies and rituals. Symbol systems, language,
and communication processes together constitute the structure of signification.
Relational structure means the patterns of relationships to others and it partly
overlaps with the structure of behavior, because behavioral norms, such as
feeling rules and display rules, also influence functioning in a shared relational
environment. Social organization includes political institutions, legal
institutions, religion and any other organizational forms. This structural
definition of culture covers plenty of different cultural dimensions and
provides a suitable theoretical rationale for the present study.
To make a statistical cross-cultural comparison possible, several more
empirically-focused definitions of culture have been developed. The above-
mentioned structural definition of culture, though all-encompassing, does not
allow for the sufficient degree of operationalization for statistical cross-
cultural comparison of cultural patterns and their effects. An important work in
this direction was conducted by Geert Hofstede, who suggested comparing
cultures according to a set of cultural dimensions on the country level
(Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010). This model required more narrow
definition of culture, namely “culture is the collective programming of the
mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from
the other” (Ibid, p. 6). This mental programming starts in families, continues in
schools and affects the behavior of individuals throughout their lifetime. The
cultural programs make the behavior of individuals within a culture
understandable for other members of the culture and diminish the number of
possible conflicts and misunderstandings. Conflicting mental programs of
members of different cultures may cause intercultural conflicts and
misinterpretations. The actual behavior of individuals is defined both by the
culture and by unique individual personal characteristics, for example,
temperamental traits.
Research studying the dimensions of culture and personality traits
required explanations about how cultures and personalities interact. Given the
wide variety of individual traits and possible biological nature of these
(McCrae & Costa, 2003), research on cultural differences no longer maps how
9
culture shapes personality but rather suggests how culture and personalities
interact in human behavior (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004; Triandis & Suh,
2002). Besides that, a number of studies map the specific traits of character
which are consistently more frequent in some cultures than others, suggesting
that some dimensions of culture and personalities are more in harmony with
each other and may offer an explanation of cultural differences in personality
traits. Let us provide a short outline of the theory relating to cultural
dimensions here.
Quantitative research on the interrelation of personality and culture
required a definition of “national character,” which is “relatively enduring
personality characteristics and patterns that are modal among the adult
members of the society” (Inkeles & Levinson, 1954/1969, p. 17; Hofstede &
McCrae, 2004, p. 54). Though easy to understand and apply, the concept was
extensively criticized, as it led to stereotyping on the basis of nationality or
cultural background. On the other hand, the concept enabled cross-cultural
statistical comparisons, and for this reason it was resurrected at the beginning
of 1990 as more quantitative data became available. However, though
frequently applied, the concept has still not been accepted by many cultural
anthropologists today, supposedly because they rarely use statistical methods
of analysis and mostly rely on traditional techniques while studying segments
of modern societies (Inkeles & Levinson, 1954/1969).
Hofstede’s original classification of cultures included four dimensions:
power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus
femininity and uncertainty avoidance. Later the author added long-term
orientation and indulgence versus restraint dimensions. The power distance
dimension maps how societies handle inequality and expresses the degree to
which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is
distributed unequally. The individualist side of the individualism-collectivism
dimension reflects preferences for a social framework in which individuals are
expected to care only for themselves and their nuclear families. The opposite
side, collectivism, expresses a preference for a framework in society in which
individuals are expected to care and be cared for by their widely defined
relatives or members of widely defined in-group in exchange for
unquestioning loyalty. The third dimension of masculinity-femininity reflects
the dichotomy between tough and tender. Masculine societies prefer values
like assertiveness, activeness and heroism. Feminine societies care more about
modesty, cooperation, caring for the weak and quality of life. The uncertainty
avoidance dimension deals with the fact that the future can never be known
and the extent to which societies tend to control the future. It expresses the
10
degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty
and ambiguity, and therefore tend to create rules and practices to minimize
ambiguity in the future. The next dimension – long-term orientationreflects
the relative role of the past and the future in decision-making. Societies which
score low on the long-term orientation dimension prefer to comply with
traditions and norms at the expense of modern social changes. Societies
scoring high on this dimension encourage modern approaches in order to be
prepared for the future. The last but not least dimension is indulgence versus
restraint. In indulgent societies members are allowed to gratify their needs
related to enjoying life and having fun relatively freely. In societies on the
restraint end the gratification of needs is regulated by strict social norms
(Hofstede et al., 2010).
After the early conceptualization of cultural differences by Geert Hofstede
in the late 1980s, other authors continued this line of analysis. One of the most
widely known conceptualizations was conducted by psychologist Shalom H.
Schwarz (Schwartz, 2006). Schwartz studied the differences in values of
college students and elementary school teachers in more than 60 countries. His
value dimensions were defined as embeddedness versus autonomy (both
intellectual and affective), hierarchy versus egalitarianism, and mastery versus
harmony. Embeddedness in collectivity reflects a situation when individuals
identify with a group and find their meaning through social relationships.
Autonomy suggests that individuals identify with themselves and find their
meaning in their own uniqueness. Autonomy is then broken down to
intellectual autonomy that reflects the pursuit of independent ideas, and
affective autonomy that suggests independent pursuit of positive experiences.
The hierarchy versus egalitarianism dimension reflects the way resources are
organized and distributed in society. In a hierarchical society resources are
distributed hierarchically, and individuals comply with the roles designated for
them in the hierarchy. In an egalitarian society individuals are seen as equals,
and there is a desire that resources be distributed more equally. The mastery
versus harmony dimension reflects the desire to direct and change the social
world to enhance one’s interests on one hand or to seek to live in harmony
with, preserve and understand the social and natural world as they are on the
other hand (Schwartz, 2006).
The other widely used concept of cultural dimensions belongs to Inglehart
and Welzel, who distinguished two main dimensions: survival values versus
self-expression values and traditional values versus secular-rational values
(Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). On the self-expression pole of the first dimension
the authors reported values such as subjective well-being, tolerance, trust,
11
civic activism and self-expression. These values are more characteristic for
post-industrial societies where economic survival is not an issue for the
majority of population. On the survival pole the behavior of population is
shaped by existential insecurity and intellectual and social constraints.
Traditional values then emphasize traditional values, such as the importance of
family, religion and respect for authority. The secular-rational pole expresses
values opposite to the list above (ibid. p. 52).
Cross-cultural research also covers further areas and topics, but we omit
them because they are far from the main aim of the present study. Let us turn
our attention to the method of retrieving manuscripts and the search procedure.
Our study has the character of a review focusing on interpretations,
explanatory models and explanations. At the first stage, the main goal was to
find and sort all available scientific evidence in this field between years 2004
and 2015. The review methodology was inspired by the Cochrane handbook
for systematic reviews (Higgins & Green, 2011) but modified for the purpose
of the present study. Given the objectives of our review, peer-reviewed
literature providing empirical evidence from 2004 to 2014 was retrieved using
a search strategy based on the search terms: neuroticism, cross-cultural and
personality. Criteria for considering studies were: cross-cultural focus or
design, inclusion of an interpretation (or several interpretations) for the
intercultural differences in neuroticism, and the year of publication between
2004 and 2015. Manuscripts published between 2004 and 2014 were accessed
via the Web of Science, Google Scholar, Econlit and Ebsco electronic
databases. A series of individual searches was conducted using various
combinations of the key words list with the logic operator “AND.” There were
no restrictions regarding language or types of participants. The retrieved
manuscripts were then scanned from the viewpoint of relevance for the main
focus of this chapter. The manuscripts included either any kind of explanation
for intercultural differences in neuroticism, or cross-cultural papers that
revealed an overlap of neuroticism with any cultural dimensions were chosen
for inclusion in the current review. Both theoretical and empirical studies were
included when they included interpretation (or several interpretations) for the
intercultural differences in neuroticism. On the other hand, studies that were
specialized, for example, on cross-cultural gender or age differences in
personality without any explanation for differences or similarities in
neuroticism between cultures, were not included for the present review.
Some of retrieved studies provided interpretations derived from
personality and cross-cultural theory; others provided interpretations of
findings from empirical cross-cultural research. Interpretations for intercultural
12
differences in neuroticism from 10 empirical studies and 2 theoretical studies
were summarized and sorted. Both interpretations based on theory and
empirical research are presented in the subsequent section in order to provide
readers with a comprehensive list of possible answers to the question of why
various cultures have reported different levels of neuroticism.
Why Do Cultures Differ in Levels of Neuroticism?
This question illustrates well the main focus of this subsection. During the
past decade, many explanations for intercultural differences in personality
traits have been proposed by cross-cultural researchers. Some of the
explanations are based on real differences reflecting cultural disparity, and
others are rather methodological, focusing on problems with data gathering or
research designs. All of the main groups of arguments are briefly introduced in
the following text. The goal of this study is not to determine what kinds of
interpretations are more common or to systematically determine which
interpretations have yielded more empirical support thus far. We would like
rather to provide readers with a broad range of various interpretations to map
the main streams of ideas in current cross-cultural research. The authors of this
chapter are sympathizers of a pluralistic interpretative approach in the social
sciences. Scientific thinking changes over time, and therefore we do not want
to discriminate against some interpretations that currently belong among the
marginal ones. The dominant interpretation today might not be a dominant
interpretation after a few years. The results of future empirical studies or
developments in theory cannot be anticipated. The following interpretative
overview provides readers with a basic orientation in this field and
summarizes the main arguments for intercultural differences in levels of
neuroticism.
We start at a general theory explaining the relationship between
personality and cultural factors. Benet-Martínez and Oishi introduced the basic
features of the cross-cultural approach to personality (Benet-Martínez & Oishi,
2008). They described the cross-cultural approach as relating implicitly with
the ecocultural model that posits causal links between the physical
environment, culture, socialization and personality. Each culture exists in a
particular physical and social environment. This environment shapes the
culture. Each culture has its own special characteristics, cultural norms and
standards, and members of these cultures acquire these patterns during the
process of socialization. Shared language, customs, and beliefs are suggested
to be the most important factors systematically shaping personality traits (Allik
13
& McCrae, 2004). Thus, the personality might be shaped by the socialization
within the particular cultural environment.
Neuroticism as a temperamental trait is not likely to be a product of
socialization without any influence of genetic predispositions, but the national
levels of neuroticism may be moderated, at least to some extent, by cultural
influences. The largest cross-cultural study conducted, that of Schmitt et al.
(2007), revealed a small to moderate main effect of nation on neuroticism
when comparing national levels of neuroticism from 56 different cultures.
These results show partial cultural disparity in this personality trait, but there
are more possible interpretations of it.
For example, one of the theory-derived explanations suggests cultural
variations in the components of traits captured from the Five-Factor Model.
This kind of explanation of cross-cultural differences works with the
assumption that most cultures share similar personality dimensions, for
example, extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness
(Benet-Martínez & Oishi, 2008), but these dimensions do not reflect 100% of
universal personality traits. On the other hand, both universal and culture-
specific components of temperamental traits are thought to exist. We may
speak about cultural variants of extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and
conscientiousness. So:
Interpretation # 1
Intercultural differences in neuroticism reflect slight differences in
culture-specific components of neuroticism. All cultures share similar
personality dimension of neuroticism, but this trait does not mean
completely the same thing in various cultures.
Church et al. revealed that about 40%-50% of the items from the Revised
NEO Personality Inventory exhibited some form of differential item
functioning in factor loadings and intercepts when comparing samples from
the United States, Philippines and Mexico (Church et al., 2011). The
differential item functioning refers to the lack of measurement invariance at
the item level. Some of the intercultural differences yielded were reduced or
eliminated after deleting the differential functioning items. This effect and the
differential item functioning in the scales from the Revised NEO Personality
Inventory support the idea about the existence of culture-specific components
within the basic dimensions of the Big Five model of personality.
Further, some empirical results indicated that the different levels of mean
scores for neuroticism may be related to mainstream religion in a given
culture. Allik and McCrae compared 36 different cultures using the five-factor
14
model of personality (Allik & McCrae, 2004). Multidimensional scaling
projected these cultures into four quadrants based on the mean levels of
neuroticism and extraversion, where the horizontal axis was associated with
extraversion and the vertical axis with neuroticism (see Figure 2 in Allik &
McCrae, 2004). Interestingly, the upper right quadrant included mostly
Catholic cultures, the lower right, Protestant, the lower left, Muslim, and the
upper left, Confucian cultures. It implies that members of Catholic and
Confucian cultures were high in neuroticism and, on the other hand, members
of Protestant and Muslim cultures reported lower levels of neuroticism.
Further, a meta-analysis of Saroglou compared mostly Protestant participants
from the United States with mostly Catholic participants from Europe
(Saroglou, 2010). The Protestant participants were lower in neuroticism than
the Catholic participants, similarly as in the study of Allik and McCrae (2004).
From these insights we may formulate the following interpretation:
Interpretation # 2
The mainstream religion influences the level of neuroticism in a given
culture.
The results of the study by Allik and McCrae (2004) also indicated that
cultures with adjacent positions based on mean scores of neuroticism and
extraversion were also geographically close. Therefore, it is reasonable to
interpret these findings that psychological distance may parallel physical
distance. Such similarities may be related to mutual cultural influences
between neighboring or geographically close cultures. Thus, this large cross-
cultural study supports the idea that distribution of personality traits like
neuroticism and extraversion is organized geographically:
Interpretation # 3
Geographically close cultures show similar levels of neuroticism in
comparison with geographically distant cultures.
The effect of geographical proximity was also tested in the cross-cultural
study of Schmitt et al. (2007). The authors used the Euclidean similarity of the
personality profiles of different cultures, that is the sum of the squared
differences among the five corresponding scores for each pair of two nations
in the sample. The empirical results did not show a clear trend between the
similarity of geographical region and the mean personality profiles of cultures.
Some pairs of cultures with high Euclidean similarity also shared the same
geographical region, history, culture and ancestry, for example, Germany and
Austria, Greece and Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania, Congo and Tanzania,
15
Botswana and South Africa, or Malaysia and the Fiji Islands. On the other
hand, some of the closest pairs had little in common that could explain the
similarity of their personality profiles. This is the example of Estonia and
Mexico, Indonesia and the United Kingdom, or Israel and Finland.
Similarly, Ladwig, Richter, Ringle, and Heitger (2012) compared the
mean personality profiles of 14 different cultures with hierarchical cluster
analyses using a squared Euclidean distance measure. Some clusters with
similar personality profiles included cultures from the same geographical
region, for example, Taiwan and Korea (cluster 3), but there were also clusters
including geographically distant cultures, such as Israel and Mexico (cluster 4)
or Germany, the United States and New Zealand (cluster 1). These cultures
were similar in the Euclidean distance between their personality profiles, but it
is rather not likely to expect some geographical, cultural or historical
relatedness.
Another explanation for different levels of neuroticism in various cultures
is related to the way in which members of different cultures respond to
questions in psychological questionnaires. The people in different cultures
may not differ in personality dimensions itself, but in their response styles.
The culturally endorsed response styles may also be a possible source of
intercultural differences in neuroticism. The Big Five personality traits are
measured by psychological psychometric personality questionnaires like the
Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO–PI–R, Costa & McCrae, 1992).
Allik (2005) pointed out that the differences between cultures in the levels of
neuroticism may be due to the non-identical response styles of people from
different cultures. The response style means the manner in which people
respond to questions in psychometric personality questionnaires. Response
styles may be shared in a given culture, and most members of a culture may
then respond in a similar manner. Thus, the measurement may show good
internal reliability of the scale in a particular population sample, but the
response style may influence the mean level for neuroticism for a particular
culture:
Interpretation # 4
Intercultural differences in neuroticism are caused by the non-
identical response styles of people from different cultures.
One of the possibilities is that members of different cultures may have a
culturally endorsed response style in terms of the manner in which they
respond to positively or negatively phrased statements. Therefore, the
formulations of statements in psychometric personality questionnaires may
16
influence the responding of participants. This kind of intercultural difference
in response styles is called acquiescence or acquiescence bias (Schmitt et al.,
2007; Terracciano et al., 2005). It is possible that in some cultures people have
a stronger tendency to agree with test items regardless of their content. In this
case, positively phrased statements are suggested to reach higher scores than
negatively phrased statements.
Some authors are against the possibility that response styles may cause
intercultural differences in the levels of neuroticism. For example, Schmitt et
al. (2007) argued that culturally endorsed styles of responding to personality
questionnaires are not likely to distort the cross-cultural trait measures. Their
previous study (McCrae, 2001) showed that personality trait measures
possessed five major dimensions, and that these are not only based on
individual responses but also from group data, where each culture was
represented as a single subject by their mean scores. This argument stands
against the above-mentioned interpretation.
Besides approaches highlighting cultural influences on personality, there
are also more biologically based approaches. For example, the genotypic view
(Benet-Martínez & Oishi, 2008) understands temperamental traits as inherited
basic tendencies that are largely independent from culture. Such personality
traits may be, for example, biologically-based traits captured from the Five-
Factor Model. Some authors call them the high-order personality traits
(Schmitt et al., 2007). These basic personality tendencies are supposed to be
universal and are suggested to be a result of variation in the distribution of
alleles of trait-related genes (Allik & McCrae, 2004):
Interpretation # 5
Intercultural differences in neuroticism reflect genetic differences
between cultural groups. Neuroticism is thus a universal personality trait
and is fully comparable between members of different cultures.
This interpretation was supported by the large cross-cultural study of
Church and Terracciano (2005). This research group compared 50 different
cultures using the 3
rd
-person version of the Revised NEO Personality
Inventory. The authors concluded that the personality traits captured from the
Five-Factor Model are common to all human groups. The “Psychic unity of
mankind” supports the assumption that all human beings share all basic
cognitive and psychological characteristics. This study also rejected the
critique focusing on the self-reported character of most previous cross-cultural
comparisons. Due to the use of the 3
rd
-person version of the Revised NEO
Personality Inventory, self-reporting bias was not likely to be expected.
17
Some scholars (Allik, 2005; Terracciano et al., 2005) pointed out that
adapting psychometric personality questionnaires to another linguistic group
may be an important source of bias for cross-cultural comparisons. This
methodological shortcoming is suggested to be a serious problem for
achieving the true metric comparability of scores on the same test in different
languages. When true metric comparability of mean-level trait scores would be
questionable, the yielded intercultural differences may be distorted by such
translation bias. So:
Interpretation # 6
Intercultural differences in neuroticism may be caused by adaptations
of psychometric personality questionnaires to other languages.
Are Neuroticism and Cultural Dimensions Interrelated?
When exploring neuroticism across cultures, one important question
arises: is neuroticism correlated with any other cultural dimensions? Some
cross-cultural studies have revealed very interesting results in this field.
Hofstede and McCrae conducted simple zero order correlations between the
neuroticism measured by the Revised NEO Personality Inventory and
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions for a sample of 33 countries (Hofstede &
McCrae, 2004). The correlation coefficients were 0.57 for masculinity
(significant at the 1% level) and 0.58 for uncertainty avoidance (significant at
the 1% level). In other words, countries with higher scores on neuroticism
scored higher in both uncertainty avoidance and masculinity. Further,
Hofstede and McCrae (2004) also conducted stepwise multiple regression
analysis to study the relationship between neuroticism and cultural
dimensions, where neuroticism was used as the dependent variable and
cultural dimensions as the explanatory ones. In this regression the variance in
national scores for neuroticism was explained by uncertainty avoidance at 31%
and masculinity accounted for another 24% (stepwise regression analysis). All
together these two variables explain 55% of the variability in neuroticism.
Allik and McCrae (2004) studied the relative distances between countries
in personality characteristics, employing multidimensional scaling (MDS)
where the orientation of axes followed the two most significant personality
dimensions: neuroticism and extraversion. They computed the correlations of
country scores on vertical (neuroticism) and horizontal (extraversion) axes
with various personal and cultural characteristics. Their results suggest,
18
similarly to (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004) that neuroticism is significantly
related to Hofstede’s dimension of uncertainty avoidance (significant at the
0.01% level) and masculinity (significant at the 5% level). In addition,
countries with higher mean levels of neuroticism were lower in the
interpersonal trust dimension coming from Inglehart’s model (significant at
5% levels).
Somewhat different correlations between neuroticism and cultural
dimensions were reported by Özkan and Lajunen (2007). The purpose of
Özkan and Lajunen (2007) was to study unintentional injuries and fatalities
internationally and explain them with the differences in cultural and
personality characteristics. Before doing so, Özkan and Lajunen computed
correlation coefficients for all the variables in the analysis. The results suggest
that neuroticism correlated positively with power distance and masculinity
(significant at the 5% level) and with the harmony value of the Schwartz scale
(significant at the 1% level). Interestingly, the correlation of neuroticism with
power distance was not statistically significant in the above-mentioned studies
(Özkan & Lajunen, 2007).
Further, Migliore (2011) studied the relationship between neuroticism, as
one of the Big Five personality traits, and Hofstede’s cultural dimensions in
the US and India. The sample criteria included: minimum two years of work
experience, living and working in the US and India, a minimum education of a
four-year bachelor’s degree from a college or university in business or in a
technical specialty. The methods included the Pearson correlation analysis
(zero-order and partial-order) and multiple analyses of variance. The results
showed statistically significant correlations between neuroticism and
masculinity for academically trained professionals, but not for managers
(Migliore, 2011). This study showed that the relation between neuroticism and
culture may work well for some categories of people but not for others in
terms of different occupational, economic or social characteristics.
At this point, we have to define Hofstede’s dimensions of uncertainty
avoidance and masculinity in more detail to better understand these constructs
strongly correlated with neuroticism in the above-mentioned studies.
Uncertainty avoidance means the ability to tolerate the fact that the future is
uncertain or the tendency to avoid uncertainty (Hofstede et al., 2010). It is “the
extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or
unknown situations” (Ibid, p. 191). Hofstede et al. suggested that all people
understand that the future is uncertain and that they need to cope with this
awareness (Hofstede et al., 2010). Individuals who scored lower in coping
with unpredictability also reported higher levels of neuroticism (Hofstede &
19
McCrae, 2004). Hofstede et al. suggested that extreme uncertainty may cause
intolerable anxiety, fear and worry (Hofstede et al., 2010). These unpleasant
feelings may be partially caused by potential situations that have yet to occur,
but they are also driven by our reactions to certain situations. Similarly to
Hofstede’s other dimensions, the ability to tolerate the future being uncertain
varies on individual and cultural levels and needs to be dealt with.
On the national level we are able to diminish uncertainty caused by nature
via technological progress. Uncertainty caused by behavior of other people can
be reduced by the system of laws. Religion helps to accept uncertainties we
cannot eliminate by our own effort. As a result, a low ability to tolerate
uncertainty may lead to a disproportionate development of laws and rules and
the rise of religious practices and technological progress in certain cultures
(Hofstede et al., 2010).
We need to separate uncertainty avoidance and risk avoidance. The
essence of uncertainty avoidance is the feeling of being threatened by
ambiguous or unknown situations, where certain probabilities of occurrence
are not evident. On the other hand, risk avoidance is focused on an event with
a certain probability of occurrence. For example diving fast or practicing
certain sports may be a source of fear, but they rarely produce anxiety feelings
and cannot be classified in terms of uncertainty avoidance (Ibid, p. 197).
Therefore, uncertainty avoidance, as the factor producing anxiety, is likely to
be correlated with neuroticism.
Further, Hofstede et al. define the masculinity dimension as follows: “A
society is called masculine when emotional gender roles are clearly distinct:
men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success,
whereas women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the
quality of life. A society is called feminine when emotional gender roles
overlap: both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and
concerned with the quality of life” (Ibid, p. 120). In general we can call the
assertive, tough pole “masculine” and the modest, caring pole “feminine,”
though the gender differences described above also play an important role.
Table 2 describes both the masculine and feminine poles of this dimension
using Hofstede’s original questions employed for the measurement of
masculinity-femininity.
Hofstede and McCrae (2004) interpreted their findings by three possible
causes of systematic differences in mean levels of personality traits across
cultures:
20
a)
The distribution of genetically determined traits of personality factors
differs systematically across nations
b)
Common personality characteristics are acquired in children during
the process of their development in a given culture
c)
National cultures influence the ways respondents answer personality
tests. (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004, p. 70)
Explanations a) and c) are in line with the above-mentioned Interpretation
# 5 and Interpretation # 4. However, for the case of neuroticism as a
temperamental trait, it is rather unlikely to suppose that it would be fully
acquired during the process of socialization in childhood without any inherent
predisposition (Ormel et al., 2004). In contrast, masculinity-femininity on the
individual level is suggested to be influenced more by socialization within a
particular culture than neuroticism.
Table 2. Masculine and feminine poles of Hofstede’s masculinity
dimension
Masculine pole Feminine pole
Earnings: have an opportunity for high
earnings Manager: have good working
relationship with your direct superior
Recognition: get the recognition you
deserve when you do a good job Cooperation: work with people who
cooperate well with one another
Advancement: have an opportunity for
advancement to higher-level jobs Living area: live in an area desirable
to you and your family
Challenge: have challenging work to
do – work from which you can get a
personal sense of accomplishment
Employment security: have the
security that you will be able to work
for your company as long as you
want to.
Source: Hofstede et al., 2010.
Discussion
The main aim of this chapter was to search for various interpretations,
explanatory models and explanations that have been applied to explain
differences or similarities between cultures in neuroticism in previous
research. Discussions of intercultural differences in neuroticism have
oscillated along three general key issues or paradigmatic questions. First, the
“heritability of neuroticism” is a dilemma that has attracted the attention of
21
researchers. This dilemma is not new (Church et al., 2006, 2011) and may be
seen as a classical dilemma in cross-cultural psychology focusing on
personality traits. The essential questions are “to what extent is neuroticism the
result of genetic predispositions?,” or “to what extent is neuroticism the result
of socialization practices of parents?,” or “to what extent is neuroticism the
result of socialization within a particular culture?”
A second key issue is the randomness or regularity in distribution of mean
personality profiles across different cultures. Two different cultures may have
similar or different mean levels of neuroticism, but are these similarities or
differences the results of systematic distribution patterns or rather a random
coincidence? We call this dilemma “randomness.”
Third, the interrelation of neuroticism with some cultural characteristics is
questioned. Does the measurement of neuroticism map a unique personality
trait that is not correlated with any other cultural variable? Or, is neuroticism
correlated with some cultural dimensions? This question is one of the
“independence of neuroticism.”
Genetic Predispositions or Cultural Influences?
The three above-stated questions reflect several basic dilemmas of current
cross-cultural research in neuroticism and other temperamental traits. When
starting with the question of heritability, one of possible views regarding how
to sort out the interpretations of intercultural differences in neuroticism is the
hypothesized degree of cultural or biological determinism. For example,
Interpretation # 5 represents the extreme biologically deterministic
explanation, suggesting that the level of neuroticism depends exclusively on
the genetic information of the individual, i.e., on specific alleles of trait-related
genes. This perspective has its roots in biology, and it posits that intercultural
differences in neuroticism can be explained from a genetic point of view
(Church & Terracciano, 2005; McCrae, 2004; McCrae et al., 2010; Hofstede
& McCrae, 2004; Triandis & Suh, 2002). Adherents of this explanation
suggest that biology interacts with culture in the process of adaptation and
forms specific skills, habits and values. Culture then shapes the manifestations
of traits but does not influence the traits per se. In the extreme form of these
theories, cultures do not have any influence on genetically given personality
traits (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004; McCrae, 2004). From this view, the
different world populations have different mean levels of neuroticism (see
22
Table 1) as a result of the distribution of trait-related genes within these
populations.
At this point, the simple question “how did it happen?” may be posited. In
other words, the dynamic and evolutionary aspects should be taken into
account here. If different populations differ in mean levels of neuroticism
today, it implies that 1) these populations might have different genetic origins
in their ancestry and that the genetic pool of these populations remains
relatively stable over time, i.e., were not significantly changed by migrations,
or that 2) different levels of neuroticism are the results of different selection
processes during the course of cultural evolution, or that 3) different levels of
neuroticism are the results of a random coincidence of two independent
pathways of cultural development. These hypothetical alternatives are highly
speculative, because we do not have evidence about the levels of neuroticism
in different cultures from the past available. Information about the levels of
neuroticism and other temperamental traits in our ancestors is lacking.
However, such questions might be stimulating and thought-provoking for the
researchers in the field of evolutionary psychology and for this reason are
briefly outlined here.
In a similar vein, Hofstede and McCrae (2004) posited two hypothetical
processes that may cause the current geographical distribution of
temperamental traits across countries: selective migration and reverse
causation. Selective migration suggests that people move to and from a certain
social group and to and from a certain country on the basis of the availability
of positions comfortable given their personality traits. So, if genetically
determined personality traits are not in harmony with culture of the country,
the person immigrates to another country with a more favorable culture. The
reverse causation hypothesis suggests that culture is shaped by the genetically
determined personalities of its members. From this point of view, it is possible
that cultures are the effect of the genetically given personality structures
(Hofstede & McCrae, 2004).
Some empirical studies have brought evidence that does not support the
assumption of 100% genetic determination of neuroticism. Ormel et al. (2004)
took together the results of various twin and adoption studies and concluded
that genetic influences account for 40-50% of the individual differences in
neuroticism. They pointed out that about 50-60% of such differences is due to
environmental influences, measurement error and random processes. The
general term, environmental influences, covers both the physical environment
and cultural influences. The authors distinguished “the immutable component
of neuroticism” involving the effects of genes, intrauterine and perinatal
23
influences, and environmental exposures and experiences during childhood.
On the other hand, “the changing component of neuroticism” covers the
effects of cumulative environmental exposures and experiences during adult
life. The purely genetic predisposition of a person is called the pre-behavioral
phenotype or endophenotype. The pre-behavioral phenotype for neuroticism is
suggested to be linked with neural systems subserving emotional processes
(Ormel et al., 2004).
When turning back to the interpretations provided in this chapter, some of
them posit the idea that cultural influences really do play an important role in
differentiating mean levels of neuroticism on the cultural level of analyses.
More specifically, Interpretation # 1 supposes slight differences in the culture-
specific components of neuroticism; Interpretation # 2 highlights the influence
of mainstream religion; and Interpretation # 4 is based on the assumption that
different cultures vary in the response styles of their members. All of these
interpretations share the assumption of cultural influence on mean levels of
neuroticism in different cultures, but each represents a different explanatory
model.
Interpretation # 1 suggests that different cultures have slightly
differentiated ideas about what the neuroticism is, or what it means to be
neurotic. Each culture has its own history, which means the development of
ideas, meanings, behavior and symbols over time. Therefore, the dominant
shared meaning about the semantic content of the words neuroticism/neurotic
is a part of the cognitive structure of each culture. For this reason, it is
reasonable to think about the cultural origin of the research tool that is used for
cross-cultural comparison.
Western psychologists constructed the trait of neuroticism based on the
items that were most frequently reported by respondents from these cultures to
characterize the neuroticism. The scales in psychometric personality
questionnaires consist of groups of these items representing shared meanings
about what the neuroticism is, or what it means to be neurotic. These meanings
are shared in the culture where the psychometric personality questionnaire was
originally developed and standardized. These scales have also shown quite
good internal reliability when applied on samples from the same culture. The
neuroticism scales from the Big Five family of questionnaires has also shown
relatively high congruence coefficients even across various cultures (Schmitt,
et al., 2007; Church & Terracciano, 2005), which means that most of the
studied cultures share the basic meaning of neuroticism as a personality
construct. On the other hand, Church et al. (2011) revealed that about 40%–
50% of the items from the Revised NEO Personality Inventory exhibited some
24
form of differential item functioning in factor loadings and intercepts when
comparing samples from the United States, Philippines and Mexico. Some of
the intercultural differences were reduced or eliminated after deleting the
differential functioning items. These results are very thought-provoking,
because the differential functioning items that alone showed the lack of
measurement invariance may be seen as culture-specific components in the
meanings of these high-order personality traits.
Aside from the hypothesis about culture-specific components of
neuroticism, some explanations highlight the role of language and response
style. Both Interpretation # 4 and Interpretation # 6 share the assumption that
intercultural differences in neuroticism may reflect the differences in
responding rather than real differences in temperament. Interpretation # 6
suggests that intercultural differences in neuroticism are the results of
problematic translations of psychometric personality questionnaires into other
languages. From a cognitive perspective, various languages often differ in
phrase-structure rules and phrase-structure grammars. These differences may
complicate the adequate translations of the Big Five scales into other
languages. On the other hand, the neuroticism scale belongs among those
scales showing relatively high internal reliability and congruence coefficients
across languages (Schmitt et al., 2007; McCrae & Terracciano, 2005).
Another argument is that a culture influences the manner in which its
members respond to questions on psychological questionnaires. Interpretation
# 4 is based on the assumption that different cultures vary in the response
styles of their members and that this cultural influence may be responsible for
intercultural differences in neuroticism. Harumi conducted a study that was
specialized on cross-cultural comparison in terms of response biases (Harumi,
2011). Several types of response biases were investigated in samples from the
United States, Mexico, the Philippines, Australia, Japan and Malaysia. This
study confirmed the previous assumption about the existence of intercultural
differences in acquiescence bias. Mexico and the Philippines showed a very
high acquiescence response bias in relation to other cultures. On the other
hand, Japan showed the least acquiescence response bias in relation to other
cultures.
The study of Harumi compared only a limited number of cultures, and it
does not cover all cultures included in contemporary large cross-cultural
studies (Harumi, 2011). However, it brought very significant results, also
revealing another kind of response bias that may possibly influence the results
of psychological personality assessments. This kind of bias is called the
“extreme response style.” The extreme response style refers to the tendency to
25
endorse items on the extreme ends of a multiple category response scale, such
as “strongly agree/disagree.” The study of Harumi revealed significant
differences in the extreme response style between the above-mentioned
cultures (Harumi, 2011). The extreme response bias was generally highest in
Mexico, intermediate in the United States, Japan and Australia, and lowest in
the Philippines and Malaysia. This kind of response bias has not been
previously discussed in the field of intercultural differences in mean levels of
neuroticism, and it should be taken into consideration by future cross-cultural
studies.
Intercultural differences in response styles are often described with the
word “bias.” The word “bias” implies a methodological limitation of the
research design – let’s say “the results may be biased.” This kind of influence
of culture on research procedure is understood as something negative, i.e.,
something that distorts the effort of researchers to get reliable results and
compare different cultures with one another. If we try to withdraw from the
position of a researcher who wants to get reliable results, another view is then
allowed to emerge. The culturally endorsed response style may be understood
not as a bias, but as a part of the particular culture, for example, as a
component of its cognitive structure or structure of behavior. From this view,
culturally specific aspects of response styles should be explored first before
proceeding further to cross-cultural comparisons of mean levels in neuroticism
or other temperamental traits. Taking the effects of acquiescence response bias
and the extreme response style into consideration may be helpful for
questioning in cultures where the questionnaire was not originally developed.
The yielded results may be adjusted based on the level of acquiescence
response bias and the level of extreme response style. This kind of adjustment
would enable the mean levels for personality traits to be balanced with the
basic levels from the culture where the questionnaire was originally
developed. The results after these kinds of adjustments may lead to more
calibrated mean levels of personality traits for possible cross-cultural
comparisons.
Finally, Interpretation # 2 highlights the role of mainstream religion on the
worldwide distribution of neuroticism. Members of Catholic and Confucian
cultures were high in neuroticism and, on the other hand, members of
Protestant and Muslim cultures reported lower levels of neuroticism in the
study of Allik and McCrae (2004). Similarly, mostly Protestant participants
from the United States were lower in neuroticism than Catholic participants
from Europe in the meta-analysis done by Saroglou (2010). Saroglou and
Cohen (2013) pointed out that these results reflect the presence of more
26
positive emotionality in personality traits in cultures with dominant Protestant
religiosity and less positive emotionality in personality traits in European
cultures with a prevailing Catholic religiosity, which is characterized by high
unhappiness, dependency, fear of divine judgment and guilt-inducing (Hills,
Francis, Argyle, & Jackson, 2004; Saroglou & Munoz-Garcia, 2008).
Protestant cultures also showed lower uncertainty avoidance than Catholic
cultures (Georgas, Van De Vijver, & Berry, 2004). It must be said that little is
still known about the cultural influence of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and
Confucian mainstream religious denomination on temperamental traits, though
this represents a developing and fascinating field for future research.
Systematic Patterns of Distribution or Random Coincidence?
The study of Allik and McCrae (2004) indicated that cultures with
adjacent positions based on mean scores of neuroticism and extraversion were
also geographically close. Interpretation # 3 posits that geographically close
cultures have similar levels of neuroticism in comparison with geographically
distant cultures. Mutual influence between geographically close cultures is one
of the possible reasons for these similarities. On the other hand, Schmitt et al.
(Schmitt et al., 2007) compared the Euclidean similarities of the personality
profiles of 56 different cultures, and these results did not show any clear trend
between similarity of geographical region and the mean personality profiles of
cultures. Some pairs of cultures with high Euclidean similarity also shared the
same geographical region, history and ancestry, while other pairs had very
similar personality profiles, but it was not likely to expect any geographical,
cultural or historical relatedness. The authors concluded that these similarities
occurred because of pure coincidence. Similarly, Ladwig et al. (2012) found
similarities in the mean personality profiles in geographically distant cultures.
These suggestions bring us back to the beginning of the Discussion
subsection and the question of randomness in the worldwide distribution of
mean personality profiles. If some cultures had very similar personality
profiles regardless of their geographical, cultural or historical relatedness, it is
possible to consider these mean levels of traits as being the result of
coincidence, more specifically, the coincidence in the time when data for a
particular study are gathered. Schmitt et al. (2007) also pointed out that their
results did not show a clear trend between similarity of geographical region
and the mean personality profiles of the studied cultures. These comparisons
did not support Interpretation # 3 suggesting that geographic distance
27
determines similarity in mean personality profiles. Further, it is likely that the
mutual intercultural influences are less determined by physical distance in the
age of the Internet and globalization.
When seeking the causal explanation for similar personality profiles in
cultures without geographical, cultural or historical relatedness, the principle
of equifinality may be posited. Pervin (2001) employed the principle of
equifinality when exploring the dynamics of personality on the individual level
of analysis. The principle of equifinality simply suggests that the same
endpoint can be reached through different routes. Keeping the very speculative
nature of this parallel in mind, it would be possible to think about the
application of the principle of equifinality for the explanation of geographic
distribution of mean personality profiles across some cultures. From this view,
the similarities in mean personality profiles of two different cultures may be
the random results of two independent routes of cultural development. This
line of reasoning is highly speculative and should be approached very
critically. On the other hand, the principle of equifinality may explain why
some pairs from the 56 different cultures in the study of Schmitt et al. (2007)
had similar personality profiles without any geographical, cultural or historical
relatedness.
Independence of Neuroticism?
Finally, we would like to pay attention to the question of “independence
of neuroticism.” Neuroticism has been found to be positively correlated with
cultural dimensions of masculinity and uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede
model, see Hofstede & McCrae, 2004; Allik, & McCrae, 2004), power
distance (Hofstede model, Özkan & Lajunen, 2007) and harmony value
(Schwartz model, Schwartz, 2006) and negatively correlated with the
interpersonal trust dimension from the Inglehart model (Allik & McCrae,
2004). Thus, it is not likely that neuroticism is an independent personality trait
that is not related with any other construct measured on the cultural level of
analysis.
High levels of neuroticism predicted higher uncertainty avoidance and
masculinity, resulting in more rules adopted to avoid tensions and conflicts.
Hofstede and McCrae (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004) suggested that neurotic
people are irritable and prone to tensions in general, making social interactions
difficult and interpersonal conflicts more probable, especially if new decisions
28
are to be made. From this point of view it is likely that they will avoid new
decisions, thus creating high uncertainty avoidance (ibid).
The question is whether culture predicts neuroticism or vice versa? This
substantial question cannot be fully answered given the data and methods
available at this moment. Simple correlations between neuroticism and
uncertainty avoidance or neuroticism and masculinity did not allow us to
exclude the influence of possible third variables. Neither of the simple
correlations answers the question about causality. Do high levels of
neuroticism cause high masculinity and uncertainty avoidance or is it the
opposite? Do cultural dimensions predict neuroticism, or are they the effect of
neuroticism in a given population? These questions represent incentives for
future research in this field.
Further, there are also problems in constructing variables that are used for
comparing different cultures. Cultural dimensions were created in order to
compare a large number of nations or groups, and the scores for each country
were computed on the basis of averaging the answers of relevant questions on
questionnaires. The application of these mean scores for cross-cultural
comparisons is questionable. For example, Hofstede et al. (2010) suggested
that some dimensions need to be divided in two if considered on the individual
level. Further, some dimensions may also have more explanatory power for
some groups of people than for the others. For example, the differences in
masculinity were more pronounced for men than for women and for the
younger generation comparing with the older generation. For this reason,
Hofstede warned against application of his cultural dimensions on the
individual level of analysis (Hofstede et al., 2010). On the other hand, other
researchers have claimed that the ecological fallacy in using macro data for
deriving micro implications typical for these type of studies can be avoided
under some circumstances (for a discussion, see Grenness, 2012).
Conclusion
This chapter maps the current approaches for interpreting intercultural
differences in neuroticism. Despite previous cross-cultural studies employing
different ideas to explain different or similar national mean levels of
neuroticism, none of these studies has yet to provide readers with a systematic
overview of these interpretations. Our current study outlines the main streams
of ideas that have emerged in past cross-cultural research. The present
29
interpretative overview enables the whole spectrum of interpretative
approaches to be seen and has important implications for both theory and
empirical research in this field.
We put together six different interpretations of the patterns of distribution
of neuroticism across different populations (see the section Why Do Cultures
Differ in Levels of Neuroticism?) and also discuss the interrelations of
neuroticism with cultural dimensions. Further, three main paradigmatic
questions were indicated based on previous cross-cultural research on the
distribution of neuroticism across different cultural groups. We call them
questions of a) heritability of neuroticism, b) randomness, i.e., if worldwide
distribution of neuroticism is systematic or random, and c) independence of
neuroticism in terms of independence of measurement of neuroticism with the
measurement of cultural dimensions.
There are several limitations of the present study that should be noted
here. First, only interpretations for intercultural differences in neuroticism
have been introduced and summarized here. Neuroticism is just one of the
temperamental traits of the Big Five model, and omitting other traits reduces
the complexity of the phenomena. Second, the individual interpretations for
intercultural differences in neuroticism were not evaluated from the position of
their explanatory power, i.e., what interpretation better fits the data available.
We decided not to do this, because current research findings are limited and
more research is needed to bring further empirical evidence, for example, from
cultures that have not been included in previous cross-cultural surveys. We
presented all the interpretations as possible explanations and our effort was not
to strictly reject or discriminate some of them. We adopt the pluralistic
interpretative approach and leave the decision to each reader regarding how he
or she shall utilize the incentives provided here.
An important avenue for future research is to study possible moderating
effects of cultures on the psychological processes involving neuroticism and
other possible variables. Given that cultures, defined above as the value
structures or mentalities of populations, can be viewed as an environment in
which psychological processes work, it would be interesting to explore how
these processes function in different cultures. It would be challenging to study
the influence of cultures on other indicators and variables in countries with
significantly different levels of neuroticism.
While cultural dimensions are supposed to characterize cultures as a
whole on the macro level, the values of neuroticism are more likely to present
a certain profile of the culture not only on the level of mean scores, but also on
the levels of other distributional characteristics, such as variance and other
30
statistical aggregates. It would be important not only to study the relationships
between the average characteristics of cultural dimensions and neuroticism but
also to investigate how the within-the-country-differences of these indicators
influence each other, i.e., for example, whether countries with more uniform
personality profiles in the population show lower degrees of neuroticism
compared with countries having more differentiated personality profiles.
Acknowledgments
This publication was supported by the Ministry of Education, Youth and
Sports - Institutional Support for Long-term Development of Research
Organizations - Charles University, Faculty of Humanities (Charles Univ, Fac
Human 2015).
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