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Culture and personality are two central topics in psychology. Individuals are culturally influenced influencers of culture, yet the research linking culture and personality has been limited and fragmentary. We integrate the literatures on culture and personality with recent advances in socioecology and genetics to formulate the Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality. Our framework not only delineates the mutual constitution of culture and personality, but also sheds light on (a) the roots of culture and personality, (b) how socioecological changes partly explain temporal trends in culture and personality, and (c) how genes and culture/socioecology interact to influence personality (i.e., nature × nurture interactions). By spotlighting the roles of socioecology and genetics, our integrative framework advances the understanding of culture and personality.
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A Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality:
Their Roots, Trends, and Interplay
forthcoming at Annual Review of Psychology
Jackson G. Lu1, Verónica Benet-Martínez2, & Laura Changlan Wang1
1 Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
2 Catalonian Institution for Advanced Research and Studies (ICREA) and Pompeu Fabra
University, Barcelona, Spain
Abstract
Culture and personality are two central topics in psychology. Individuals are culturally
influenced influencers of culture, yet the research linking culture and personality has been
limited and fragmentary. We integrate the literatures on culture and personality with recent
advances in socioecology and genetics to formulate the Socioecological-Genetic Framework of
Culture and Personality. Our framework not only delineates the mutual constitution of culture
and personality, but also sheds light on (a) the roots of culture and personality, (b) how
socioecological changes partly explain temporal trends in culture and personality, and (c) how
genes and culture/socioecology interact to influence personality (i.e., nature × nurture
interactions). By spotlighting the roles of socioecology and genetics, our integrative framework
advances the understanding of culture and personality.
Keywords: culture, personality, socioecology, genetics, cultural change, personality change,
nature–nurture, gene × environment interaction
Acknowledgements: We are indebted to Susan Fiske and Shinobu Kitayama for their editorial
guidance and feedback. We thank Emma Buchtel, Xubo Cao, John Carroll, Jane Minyan Chen,
Sylvia Xiaohua Chen, Yan Chen, Dov Cohen, Jared Curhan, Alex English, David Funder, Sam
Gosling, Friedrich Götz, Yiming Huang, Peter Jin, Heejung Kim, Ruisi Li, Wendong Li, Chen
Liang, Dan McAdams, Michael Muthukrishna, Martin Obschonka, Shige Oishi, Daniel Ozer,
Jason Rentfrow, Kyra Rodriguez, Krishna Savani, Lesley Song, Evert Van de Vliert, Jingjing
Yao, JoAnne Yates, and Lu Zhang for their help and feedback.
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Contents
1. Introduction
2. Definitions and Conceptualizations
3. The Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality
4. The Mutual Constitution of Culture and Personality
o Culture à Personality
o Personality à Culture
o Culture ßà Personality
5. Socioecology à Culture & Personality
o Socioecological predictors of culture and personality
o Socioecology explains trends in culture and personality
6. Genes à Personality
7. Gene × Culture/Socioecology Interactions à Personality
8. Culture (à Personality) à Gene Expression
9. Conclusion
Terms and Definitions:
Culture: a system of symbols (what is represented), beliefs (what is considered true), values
(what is considered important), norms (what is considered appropriate), and practices (what
is performed) shared among a collection of interconnected individuals
Socioecology: macro conditions of the socioeconomic and ecological environment (e.g.,
population density, ambient temperature)
Personality traits: individuals’ relatively stable patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition,
and behavior
Openness: the tendency to be receptive to new and intellectual experiences
Conscientiousness: the tendency to be organized, responsible, and hardworking
Extraversion: the tendency to seek stimulation and enjoy the company of other people
Agreeableness: the tendency to be sympathetic, warm, and cooperative
Neuroticism: the tendency to be emotionally unstable and prone to psychological distress
Genotype: the genetic constitution of an organism
Phenotype: the observable characteristics of an organism resulting from the interaction of its
genotype with the environment
Epigenetics: the study of environmental influences on gene expression (without changes in
DNA sequence)
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Section 1. Introduction
A marriage between culture and personality will never be a love match. Having been
pitted against each other for years, these two are an odd couple. Yet an arranged marriage
has the potential to bring out some hidden qualities in both parties. Most notably such a
union will inevitably reveal the importance of individual and collective meaning
systems… —(Markus, 2004, p. 75)
Culture and personality are two central topics in psychology. Many psychologists would
agree that it is essential to understand the interplay between culture (a collective meaning
system) and personality (an individual meaning system), but the literature linking them has been
limited and fragmentary. On the one hand, culture is a relatively under-studied topic in
personality research. For example, a recent Annual Review of Psychology article titled
“Personality Psychology” (Roberts & Yoon, 2022) offers an insightful review of the personality
literature over the last 20 years, but hardly mentions the word “culture.” Similarly, many
textbooks of personality neglect the role of culture (Kwan & Herrmann, 2015). Meanwhile,
personality is a relatively under-studied topic in cultural research. For example, a trend analysis
of the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology revealed that, from its inception in 1970 to 2004,
the journal moved closer to social psychology in lieu of other domains such as personality
psychology (Brouwers et al., 2004).
The lack of dialogue between cultural research and personality research is unfortunate
because, as we will elaborate, culture and personality are interdependent, such that integrating
the two literatures will deepen our understanding of both. What is more, the limited research on
the interplay between culture and personality (Benet-Martínez & Oishi, 2008; Heine & Buchtel,
2009; Oishi et al., 2021; Triandis & Suh, 2002) has not systematically considered the roles of
socioecology and genetics, which are intricately linked to culture and personality. Without a
grasp of these literatures, it is difficult to comprehensively understand the roots (i.e., sources of
influence) of culture and personality, how culture and personality change over time, and how
culture and personality shape each other. To address these important issues, we develop the
Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality, which attempts to integrate
socioecology and genetics with culture and personality to elucidate their interplay. Before
delving into our framework, we first define and conceptualize culture, socioecology, personality,
and genetics.
Section 2. Definitions and Conceptualizations
Culture. We define culture as a system of symbols (what is represented), beliefs (what is
considered true), values (what is considered important), norms (what is considered appropriate),
and practices (what is performed) shared among a collection of interconnected individuals.
Culture is continuously transmitted and reproduced through languages, media, institutions, and
the like. Gordon Allport, one of the founding figures of personality psychology, regarded culture
as fundamental to the understanding of personhood: “Culture is in part a set of inventions that
have arisen… to make life efficient and intelligible to mortals who struggle with the same basic
problems of life: birth, growth, death, the pursuit of health, welfare, and meaning” (Allport,
1961, p. 168). Culture takes many forms, including national, ethnic, political, religious,
technological, and social class cultures (Cohen & Varnum, 2016). Individuals can thus hold
multiple cultural identities reflecting their belonging to different forms of culture (Hong et al.,
2000; Morris et al., 2015).
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Socioecology. Socioecology refers to macro conditions of the socioeconomic and
ecological environment. For the purposes of our framework, socioecological variables are
objective variables measured with scientific units, including ecological variables like ambient
temperature, humidity, latitude, topography, pathogen prevalence, frequency of natural disasters,
and socioeconomic variables like population density, rice farming area, and median income. For
example, the temperature of a given place at a given time is an objective value. By contrast,
cultural variables (e.g., Hofstede’s cultural dimension indices) are subjective. Socioecological
psychology focuses more on how psychological processes are influenced by objective
socioecological conditions, whereas cultural psychology focuses more on how psychological
processes are influenced by subjective cultural beliefs, values, and so on. (Oishi, 2014).
Personality. The conceptualization of personality is highly debated (e.g., DeYoung 2015;
McAdams & Pals 2006; McCrae & Costa 2008). Due to space limitations, our framework
focuses on personality traits (also known as dispositions), which are commonly defined as
individuals’ relatively stable patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior.
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Based on
this definition, personality traits include not only the Big Five (openness, conscientiousness,
extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) and their facets, but also relatively stable individual
differences such as narcissism, regulatory focus (Higgins, 1998), and collectivistic orientation
(which Triandis [2001] referred to as allocentric personality). In other words, we argue that
stable individual-level cultural orientations are also part of personality. For example, there is
little methodological difference between measuring narcissism with a scale (e.g., “I like to be the
center of attention” from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory; Raskin & Hall 1979) and
measuring collectivistic orientation with a scale (e.g., “I usually sacrifice my self-interest for the
benefit of my groupfrom the Individualism-Collectivism Scale; Singelis et al. 1995)—provided
that the scales are psychometrically valid and reliable at the individual level.
Genetics. Genetics is the study of genes and heredity. As a branch of genetics,
epigenetics researches environmental influences on the expression of genes (without changes in
DNA sequence).
Section 3. The Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality
Our Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality (Figure 1) integrates
socioecology and genetics with culture and personality to elucidate the interplay among these
constructs. Before elaborating on the links in Figure 1 (Sections 4 to 8), we first provide an
overview of the framework.
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1
Several personality theories, including the Five-Factor Theory (McCrae & Costa, 2008), Cybernetic Big Five
Theory (DeYoung, 2015), and the “new Big Five” principles (McAdams & Pals, 2006), distinguish personality traits
from characteristic adaptations, which are “a wide assortment of motivational, social-cognitive, and developmental
constructs that are more specific than dispositional traits and that are contextualized in time, place, and/or social
role(McAdams, 2010, p. 177). However, some personality psychologists acknowledge that it is challenging to
empirically distinguish between personality traits and characteristic adaptations, especially because there are few
well-defined and testable criteria for distinguishing between them (Henry & Mõttus, 2020). Hence, for the purposes
of our paper, we do not distinguish between traits and characteristic adaptations.
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Throughout the paper, we use “à” to denote that a causal link is theoretically plausible, and discuss empirical
evidence for each link.
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Figure 1. The Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality
Note.
Culture ßà Personality: the mutual constitution of culture and personality
Socioecology à Culture: socioecology as one root of culture
Socioecology à Personality: socioecology as one root of personality
Genes à Personality: genes as one root of personality
Culture/Socioecology (à Personality) à Gene Expression: epigenetics. The parenthesis
indicates that personality is a theoretically plausible mechanism.
The dashed arrows represent the interactive effects of genes, culture, and socioecology on
personality, highlighting nature × nurture interactions.
Because our framework focuses on culture and personality (e.g., their roots), we do not elaborate
on links such as Culture à Socioecology (e.g., cultures high in long-term orientation may be
more environmentally friendly, leading to lower pollution).
To begin with, our framework posits that culture and personality are mutually
constitutive (Section 4): While culture shapes individuals’ personalities, individuals’
personalities collectively shape culture (Markus & Kitayama, 2010; Shweder, 1991). Cultural
influences on individuals are probabilistic and plural rather than deterministic and singular,
yielding personalized patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior (i.e.,
personalities). Meanwhile, individuals with different personalities invoke varying cultural
elements (symbols, beliefs, values, norms, and practices) as they engage with their environment
on a daily basis. At the aggregate level, the common patterns emerging from these cultural
elements can reproduce or change culture. In sum, culture is one root of personality, while the
aggregate influence of personality is one root of culture.
Culture
Personality Genes
Socioecology
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In addition to the mutual constitution of culture and personality, our framework posits
that socioecology can influence both culture and personality (Section 5: socioecology à culture
& personality). Socioecology is one root of personality (i.e., socioecology à personality)
because individuals are constantly responding to socioecological conditions (e.g., ambient
temperature) that shape individuals’ patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior.
Socioecology is also one root of culture (i.e., socioecology à culture) because culture evolves in
response to different socioecological affordances and constraints. As illustrated in Figure 1, our
framework suggests that socioecology may be a third variable that partly explains the association
between culture and personality (e.g., pathogen prevalence may be a third variable that partly
explains the well-replicated association between individualism and extraversion at the country
level; Hofstede & McCrae 2004). Relatedly, we suggest that socioecological changes partly
explain temporal trends in culture (e.g., increase in individualism) and personality (e.g., increase
in extraversion).
Besides highlighting cultural and socioecological environments as roots of personality,
our framework highlights genes as another root of personality (Section 6: genes à personality).
In other words, personality is attributable to both nurture (culture/socioecology) and nature
(genes). We argue that the key question is not whether personality is influenced more by nature
or nurture, but how personality is shaped by the interaction between nature and nurture (Sasaki &
Kim 2017). As illustrated by the dashed arrows in Figure 1, our framework highlights the
interactive effects of genes and culture/socioecology on personality (Section 7). On the one hand,
genes can moderate cultural/socioecological influences on personality, such that
cultural/socioecological influences on personality may be strengthened or weakened by certain
genes. On the other hand, cultural/socioecological environment can moderate genetic influences
on personality: An individual’s genes predispose him/her to certain personality phenotypes, but
the strength of this link may depend on the individual’s cultural/socioecological environment.
Finally, drawing on emerging research on epigenetics, our framework posits that an
individual’s continuous engagement with cultural and socioecological environments can alter the
expression of genes—sometimes by shaping the individual’s patterns of emotion, motivation,
cognition, and behavior (i.e., personalities). That is, we suggest that epigenetic changes due to
cultural and socioecological influences may be mediated by changes in personality (Section 8:
culture/socioecology à personality à gene expression).
Overall, our Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality offers an
integrative perspective on culture and personality by highlighting the roles of socioecology and
genetics. The framework helps organize and delineate the complex links among culture,
personality, socioecology, and genetics. Having provided an overview, we next elaborate on each
of the links in our framework (Sections 4 to 8).
Section 4. The Mutual Constitution of Culture and Personality
To understand the mutual constitution of culture and personality, this section discusses
(1) how culture influences personality (culture à personality), (2) how aggregate personalities
influence culture (personality à culture), and (3) how culture and personality are mutually
constitutive (culture ßà personality).
4.1. Culture
à
Personality. Culture shapes personality because individuals are always
embedded in cultural environments (Oyserman, 2017). Culture provides the context for
individuals’ emotions, motivations, cognitions, and behaviors—the relatively stable patterns of
which represent personality. Fundamental aspects of life (e.g., listening, speaking, reading, and
writing) are all situated within culture.
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Culture influences personality in intricate ways, and we highlight three characteristics
here. First, cultural influences on personality are often implicit, without individuals’ awareness.
As individuals go about their daily life, they absorb subtle and complex elements of their cultural
environment unconsciously, including cultural symbols, beliefs, values, norms, and practices
(Chiu et al. 2010). Second, cultural influences on personality are plural. Each person belongs to
numerous cultural groups (e.g., a working-class Asian American raised in a Christian family in
Montana), so his/her personality is partially influenced by elements of multiple cultures, which
are constantly interacting and evolving (Morris et al., 2015). Third, like all environmental
influences, cultural influences on personality are probabilistic rather than deterministic. A culture
may incline its members to think, feel, and behave in certain ways, but individuals within the
same culture will internalize its cultural elements differentially. What an individual internalizes
depends on numerous factors, including temperament, upbringing, education, and what cultural
elements happen to be salient in the individual’s local environment. As Allport (1961) noted,
although culture “prescribes limits for personal behavior and broad guidelines for developing
personality, it allows a wide range of freedom” (p. 166). Individuals internalize a culture’s
different elements to varying degrees, yielding within-culture heterogeneity (Kitayama & Yu,
2020).
Having discussed the characteristics of cultural influences on personality, we next review
four threads of evidence for cultural influences on personality: (1) cultural differences in
personality trait levels, (2) cultural differences in personality factor structure, (3) cultural
differences in personality development, and (4) the influence of cultural experiences on
personality.
Cultural differences in personality trait levels. Much research has examined cultural
differences in personality trait levels (i.e., higher vs. lower mean on a personality trait).
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A
comprehensive review of this literature is beyond the scope of our paper and would be redundant
with existing reviews (e.g., Benet-Martínez & Oishi, 2008; Church, 2016; Heine & Buchtel,
2009). Regarding the Big Five, both self-rating and peer-rating studies find that East Asians tend
to score lower on extraversion and openness than do individuals from other cultures (McCrae &
Terracciano 2005; Schmitt et al. 2007), whereas cultural differences in agreeableness,
conscientiousness, and neuroticism are less consistent across studies. As another example of
cultural influences on personality, allocentrism (collectivistic personality) is higher in East Asian
cultures, whereas idiocentrism (individualist personality) is higher in American cultures
(Triandis 2001).
Cultural differences in personality factor structure. Although studies suggested that the
five-factor structure is generalizable across a variety of different cultures (for recent reviews, see
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When using surveys to examine cultural differences in personality trait levels, there are many reasons for
researchers to interpret their results with caution. For example, participants may exhibit the reference-group effect,
or “the tendency for people to respond to subjective self-report items by comparing themselves with implicit
standards from their culture” (Heine et al., 2008, p. 309). Another issue is that individuals from different cultures
may respond to the same personality measure in different ways, such that observed results deviate from actual
cultural differences in personality trait levels (Hamamura et al., 2008). Furthermore, cross-cultural studies
sometimes show low convergence across different personality instruments. For example, Bartram (2013) has shown
that, except for neuroticism, which shows high convergence across different measures, the correlations among the
Big Five Inventory (BFI), NEO Personality Inventory, and Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32)
measures of the other four Big Five factors are inconsistent. Given such methodological concerns, it is valuable to
examine other types of evidence for cultural differences in personality trait levels, such as behavioral indicators of
personality traits (e.g., measuring conscientiousness using postal workers’ efficiency or the accuracy of clocks in
public banks; Heine et al. 2008).
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Kwan & Herrmann 2015; McCrae 2017), it did not replicate in some studies conducted on small-
scale populations (e.g., forager–horticulturalists; Gurven et al. 2013; Saucier et al. 2014).
Moreover, studies in different cultures and languages have identified seven-factor (Benet &
Waller, 1995; Benet-Martínez & Waller, 1997), six-factor (Ashton et al., 2004), four-factor
(Cheung et al., 2001), three-factor (De Raad et al., 2010), and two-factor (Saucier et al., 2014)
structures. For example, the six-factor model of HEXACO (honesty-humility, emotionality,
extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness) has been replicated across 18
countries (García et al., 2021) and 12 languages (Lee & Ashton, 2008).
Relatedly, studies have identified culture-specific, indigenous personality factors. For
example, Cheung et al. (2001) identified four personality factors in Chinese culture, including an
Interpersonal Relatedness factor. This indigenous factor is not represented in the Big Five
personality space, and taps harmony, face, and renqing (reciprocal relationship orientation),
which are elements central to Chinese culture.
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Similarly, an indigenous inventory project on
South Africans identified a six-factor model that includes a positive Social-Relational factor and
a negative Social-Relational factor instead of a single agreeableness factor (Fetvadjiev et al.,
2015). Such indigenous personality factors provide further evidence for cultural influences on
personality.
Cultural differences in personality development. Across cultures, individuals tend to
become more agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable as they mature into adulthood
(Roberts et al., 2006). Social-investment theory (Roberts et al., 2005) posits that such personality
maturation is mostly the result of culturally normative life transitions into adult roles, and thus
the age at which personality maturation occurs is a function of culture-specific social clocks.
Consistent with social-investment theory, a study of 884,328 participants from 62 countries
revealed that cultures with earlier entry into work were marked by earlier increases in self-
reported agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability (Bleidorn et al., 2013).
Besides such cultural differences in personality changes in early adulthood (Bleidorn et
al., 2013), research has also revealed cultural differences in personality changes in late
adulthood. Americans tend to value independence, autonomy, and youthfulness, but these
cultural values are incongruent with the reality of aging in late adulthood. Thus, Americans are
prone to experience declines in personality traits like extraversion as they age (Kitayama et al.,
2020). In comparison, East Asians are attuned to age-graded social roles, which protects them
from the declines in extraversion experienced by elderly Americans (Kitayama et al., 2020).
The influence of cultural experiences on personality. Personality can also change as a
result of individuals’ cultural experiences. In particular, multicultural experiences (e.g., living
abroad, intercultural dating, multilingualism) shape individuals by exposing them to diverse
cultural knowledge, beliefs, values, norms, and practices (Adam et al., 2018; Lu, Hafenbrack, et
al., 2017; Lu, Quoidbach, et al., 2017; Lu, Swaab, et al., 2022; Maddux et al., 2021). For
example, living abroad is associated with increased openness, agreeableness, and emotional
stability—above and beyond self-selection effects (e.g., open individuals may be more likely to
study abroad in the first place; Niehoff et al. 2017; Zimmermann & Neyer 2013).
In addition, research indicates that individuals’ personalities acculturate to their specific
cultural environments. For example, longitudinal studies suggest that East Asians’ engagement
in American culture fosters self-esteem, which tends to be higher among Americans (Heine et
al., 1999). Similarly, Güngör et al. (2013) compared first-generation Japanese immigrants to the
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Bond (2000) reported several Chinese studies where the Interpersonal Relatedness personality factorabove and
beyond the Big Fivepredicted culture-specific attitudes and behaviors such as filial piety and gentle persuasion.
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US with Japanese monoculturals and American monoculturals. Results suggest that the
personalities of the Japanese immigrants became more “American” and less “Japanese” as they
acculturated to American culture. Furthermore, research suggests that immigrants’ exposure to a
new culture (e.g., the length of residence) positively predicts the degree of personality
acculturation (McCrae et al., 1998).
4.2. Personality
à
Culture. While culture can influence individuals’ personalities (as
discussed in Section 4.1), individuals’ personalities can also collectively influence culture (Ozer
& Benet-Martínez, 2006).
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Individuals with certain personalities are apt to bring out certain
cultural elements (symbols, beliefs, values, norms, and practices) more than other cultural
elements. When individuals aggregate, their collective tendencies and preferences may cohere
along some general patterns and shape culture (i.e., personality à culture). Consider the example
of cultural products such as books, magazines, songs, films, and TV shows. A writer with
individualistic orientation (i.e., idiocentric personality) may tend to write books characterized by
individualism. When such individuals aggregate at the population level, the resulting culture
tends to feature cultural products characterized by individualism.
The “personality à culture” link can also occur when aggregate personality profiles
shape political outcomes that shape culture. For example, aggregate, region-level openness
negatively predicted the percentage of votes cast for conservative (Republican) candidates in
1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 US presidential elections (Rentfrow, 2010; Rentfrow et al., 2009). In
addition, lower openness and higher neurotic personality traits at the region level predicted votes
for Donald Trump’s election as US president and for Brexit (Obschonka, Stuetzer, Rentfrow,
Lee, et al., 2018)—events that shaped the cultures of the US, the UK, and even the world.
But why do individuals with certain personalities aggregate in the first place? One answer
is selective migration, or the notion that individuals select environments that meet and reinforce
their psychological needs (Rentfrow et al., 2008). Research on frontier voluntary settlement
offers a compelling demonstration of how selective migration contributes to the “personality à
culture” link. Before the arrival of any settlers, a frontier environment is uninhabited and devoid
of human culture, thus precluding the “culture à personality” link. According to the voluntary-
settlement hypothesis, individuals with independently oriented personalities (e.g., high openness
to experience) are more likely to migrate to frontiers, which are “ecologically harsh, sparsely
populated, and socially primitive regions” (Kitayama et al., 2010, p. 559). As more
independently oriented individuals voluntarily accumulate in the ecologically harsh frontier, an
individualistic culture forms gradually. (As we discuss below in the “socioecology à culture”
section, the socioecological conditions of the frontier also contribute to the development of an
individualistic culture).
4.3. Culture
ßà
Personality. Taken together, Sections 4.1 and 4.2 have delineated the
bidirectional links between culture and personality (culture à personality; personality à
culture). Integrating these links, we argue that culture and personality are mutually constitutive:
While culture influences individuals’ personalities, individuals’ personalities collectively
influence culture. Culture and personality thus form each other through a continuous, dynamic,
and reciprocal process of transaction (Benet-Martínez, 2021; Markus & Kitayama, 2010;
Shweder, 1991). As discussed earlier, cultural influences on personality are probabilistic and
plural, yielding personalized patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior (i.e.,
personalities). Meanwhile, individuals with different personalities invoke varying cultural
5
While a group of people can collectively influence culture, in certain circumstances, the personality of one or few
individuals (e.g., authoritarian leaders, influential activists) may also influence culture.
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elements as they engage with their environment on a daily basis. At the aggregate level, the
common patterns emerging from these cultural elements can reproduce or change culture.
Although the mutual constitution of culture and personality is theoretically cogent,
limited research has documented it within the same context. One exception is Kitayama et al.
(1997), who demonstrated a cycle of mutual constitution between (a) individuals’ self-
enhancement vs. self-criticism and (b) cultures of self-enhancement vs. self-criticism. American
culture encourages self-enhancement, whereas Japanese culture encourages self-criticism.
Individuals assimilate these cultural views into their personalities, such that American
individuals tend to be more self-enhancing and Japanese individuals tend to be more self-
criticizing (i.e., culture à personality). Empirically, Kitayama et al. (1997) found that
Americans considered success situations to be more relevant to their self-esteem (i.e., exhibiting
self-enhancing tendencies), whereas Japanese considered failure situations to be more relevant to
their self-esteem (i.e., exhibiting self-criticizing tendencies). Meanwhile, American individuals
collectively construct their everyday situations to encourage self-enhancement, whereas Japanese
individuals collectively construct their everyday situations to encourage self-criticism (i.e.,
personality à culture). Upon analyzing hundreds of everyday situations in America and Japan,
Kitayama et al. (1997) found that everyday situations in America (shaped collectively by
American individuals) facilitate self-enhancement, whereas everyday situations in Japan (shaped
collectively by Japanese individuals) facilitate self-criticism.
As another example of the mutual constitution of culture and personality, consider
Silicon Valley. The entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley attracts individuals with
entrepreneurial personalities (high extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness, low
agreeableness and neuroticism; Obschonka et al. 2013). The aggregation of individuals with
entrepreneurial personalities reinforces the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley (i.e.,
personality à culture). In turn, this entrepreneurial culture may strengthen the entrepreneurial
personality of these individuals (i.e., culture à personality).
Section 5. Socioecology
à
Culture & Personality
Besides delineating the mutual constitution of culture and personality (Section 4), our
framework suggests that socioecology can influence both culture and personality (Figure 1).
Socioecology is one root of personality because individuals are constantly responding to
socioecological conditions (e.g., ambient temperature, pollution severity, population density) that
shape individuals’ patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior. Socioecology is also
one root of culture because culture evolves in response to different socioecological affordances
and constraints. Culture does not exist in a vacuum, but rather is always situated in a
socioecological environment.
To demonstrate socioecological influences on culture and personality, this section
discusses (1) socioecological predictors of culture and personality and (2) how socioecological
variables partly explain temporal trends in culture and personality.
5.1. Socioecological predictors of culture and personality. Table 1 systematically
summarizes the scattered studies on socioecological predictors of cultural and personality
variables. Notably, many ecological variables (e.g., latitude, topography, ambient temperature)
are unlikely to be shaped by cultural and personality variables, especially in the short run, so
reverse causality is unlikely to explain observed links. For example, a study on Chinese
university students found that regional ambient temperature was associated with personality trait
levels (Wei et al., 2017). These students’ personality traits were unlikely to have shaped ambient
temperature, so this study precluded the “personality à socioecology” link. Moreover, the use of
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historical (rather than contemporary) socioecological indices in some studies strengthens causal
inference (e.g., Fincher et al. 2008; Talhelm et al. 2014).
--------------------------------------------------------------
Insert Table 1 about here
--------------------------------------------------------------
Socioecological predictors of individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures. Due to space
limitations, we cannot discuss each of the studies in Table 1. Instead, we focus on the well-
studied cultural dimension individualism-collectivism as an example, as disparate theories have
proposed how different socioecological variables contribute to individualistic vs. collectivistic
cultures, including (1) subsistence style theory (Talhelm et al. 2014), (2) modernization theory
(Inglehart & Baker, 2000), (3) climato-economic theory (Van de Vliert et al. 2013), (4) frontier
settlement theory (Kitayama et al., 2006), and (5) pathogen prevalence theory (Fincher et al.
2008).
Subsistence style theory. Subsistence style theory posits that different subsistence styles
can produce cultural differences. Whereas the mobility and social independence of herding
activities foster individualistic culture, the stability and social interdependence of farming
activities foster collectivistic culture (Uchida et al. 2019; Uskul et al. 2008). Within farming
activities, rice farming requires more social coordination and interdependence than does wheat
farming, thus breeding higher collectivism. A within-China study found that rice-growing
southern regions are more collectivistic than wheat-growing northern regions (Talhelm et al.
2014).
Modernization theory. Modernization theory posits that socioeconomic development is
one root of individualistic (vs. collectivistic) culture (Inglehart & Baker, 2000; Greenfield, 2013;
Hamamura, 2012). As a society modernizes from an agricultural to industrial and postindustrial
economy, individuals have more resources and opportunities to manage their own lives (e.g.,
income, living space, marriage decisions). Living in an economically developed society reduces
the perceived need to rely on others for survival, allowing individuals to prioritize personal goals
and freedom. As summarized in Table 1, modernization theory has been supported by both
between-country studies (e.g., Santos et al. 2017) and within-country studies (e.g., Grossmann &
Varnum, 2015).
Climato-economic theory. The climato-economic theory of culture (Van de Vliert et al.
2013) posits that collectivism can help people cope with temperature harshness, but the
relationship between temperature harshness and collectivism is weaker in wealthier regions
because economic resources can reduce the psychological need for collectivism. Consistent with
this interaction effect between temperature harshness and economic resources, a between-
country study (Van de Vliert & Postmes, 2012) found that collectivism was strongest in lower-
income countries with more demanding cold or hot climates, moderate in countries with
temperate climates regardless of income levels, and weakest in higher-income countries with
more demanding cold or hot climates. A similar interaction effect was found in a within-China
study, which precluded between-country confounds (Van de Vliert et al. 2013).
Frontier settlement theory. Frontier settlement theory posits that frontiers, which are
sparsely populated, ecologically harsh, and socially primitive, tend to foster individualism
(Kitayama et al., 2010). To survive and thrive on frontiers, people may develop individualistic
tendencies such as autonomy, self-determination, and self-promotion (Kitayama et al. 2010).
12
Consistent with frontier settlement theory, babies born in frontier regions tend to receive less
common names from parents—whether within the US, within Canada, or globally (Varnum &
Kitayama, 2011). Similarly, individualism is higher in recently settled Hokkaido (Japan’s
“Northern Frontier”) than in mainland Japan (Kitayama et al. 2006).
Pathogen prevalence theory. Pathogen prevalence theory posits that pathogen prevalence
is one root of collectivistic (vs. individualistic) culture (Fincher et al. 2008). When pathogens are
prevalent in a region, collectivism may be adaptive because its behavioral manifestations (e.g.,
conformity) inhibit the transmission of pathogens. When pathogen prevalence is low and non-
threatening, individualism may be adaptive because its behavioral manifestations (e.g., need for
uniqueness) can facilitate desirable outcomes such as innovations. As summarized in Table 1,
multiple between-country studies and within-country studies have found a positive link between
pathogen prevalence and collectivism. Consistent with pathogen prevalence theory, a study of
126,165 Chinese microblog (Weibo) users found an increase in the use of collectivistic words
(e.g., “we”, “family”) after the COVID-19 outbreak (Han et al., 2021).
The above five theories about the socioecological roots of individualism-collectivism are
all plausible and have all received some empirical support (based on different datasets and
empirical approaches). However, limited research has tested these socioecological variables
simultaneously. In an attempt to explain global increases in individualism, Santos and colleagues
(2017) tested socioeconomic development, temperature harshness, pathogen prevalence, and
disaster frequency as potential explanations (but not subsistence styles or frontier settlement).
The researchers concluded that cultural differences in individualism were primarily linked to
changes in socioeconomic development and somewhat linked to changes in pathogen prevalence
and disaster frequency (Santos et al. 2017). The socioecological literature is still fledgling, so
more systematic research is needed to test the various socioecological theories simultaneously
with diverse datasets.
Socioecology predicts personality trait levels. As detailed in Table 1, socioecological
variables can predict differences in personality trait levels. We consider ambient temperature and
pathogen prevalence as two examples.
Ambient temperature can shape personalities because individuals constantly experience
and react to it. As a warm-blooded species, humans have the existential need for thermal
comfort. Benign temperatures encourage individuals to explore the outside environment, where
social interactions and new experiences abound; by contrast, when the ambient temperature is
either too hot or too cold, individuals are less likely to go outside (e.g., to meet up with friends,
to explore new activities). Across two within-country studies in China and the US, Wei et al.
(2017) found that participants who grew up in more benign temperatures (i.e., closer to 22 °C)
tended to score high on personality traits related to socialization and stability (agreeableness,
conscientiousness, and emotional stability) and personal growth and plasticity (extraversion and
openness). In their study on Chinese university students, to rule out the possibility that certain
personalities may cause individuals to migrate to regions with certain temperatures, the
researchers limited the sample to students who had spent their pre-university youth in their
birthplace. To further rule out the possibility that parents with certain personalities chose to
migrate to a certain region and then gave birth to children with similar personalities, the
researchers further limited the sample to students whose birthplace matched their ancestral home.
In short, Wei et al. (2017) precluded selective migration as an alternative explanation for the
observed link between ambient temperature and personality.
13
Pathogen prevalence is theorized to deter individuals’ openness and extraversion because
their behavioral manifestations can accelerate pathogen transmission (Murray & Schaller, 2010;
Schaller & Murray, 2008; Thornhill et al., 2010). Across a 71-country study (Schaller & Murray,
2008), a 230-country study (Murray & Schaller, 2010), and a 227-country study (Thornhill et al.
2010), pathogen prevalence negatively predicted openness and extraversion. Across the three
studies, pathogen prevalence also predicted lower sociosexuality (e.g., lower sexual variety,
fewer casual sexual encounters), which can reduce pathogen transmission.
Socioecology predicts personality factor structure. Besides predicting personality trait
levels, socioecological variables also predict differences in personality factor structure. The
niche diversity hypothesis (also known as the socioecological complexity hypothesis) posits that
because humans react to the demands of socioecological niches, the diversity of social and
occupational niches in a society is positively associated with the diversity of distinct personality
profiles in that society (Durkee et al., 2022). As a hypothetical example, in a complex society
with diverse niches, one niche may require low extraversion, high conscientiousness, and high
emotional stability (e.g., tax clerks), while another niche may require high extraversion,
agreeableness, and openness (e.g., movie star scouts). These diverse niches “lead to the
development of a correspondingly diverse set of personality profiles” (Lukaszewski et al., 2017,
p. 945). In a less complex society, there are fewer unique niches, which are effectively fulfilled
by fewer distinct personality profiles. For example, to be successful in this society, individuals
may need to be simultaneously high on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness,
and emotional stability, such that the correlation between these personality traits is high. In
support of the niche diversity hypothesis, studies suggest that, compared to populations
characterized by high niche diversity (e.g., industrialized societies), populations characterized by
low niche diversity (e.g., forager–horticulturalists) tend to exhibit fewer unique personality
factors (Durkee et al., 2022; Gurven et al., 2013; Smaldino et al., 2019). Such findings provide
evidence for socioecological influences on personality factor structure.
Socioecology as a third variable that partly explains the link between culture and
personality. In addition to predicting cultural and personality variables, socioecological variables
provide insights into the link between culture and personality. As discussed in Section 4, this link
is partly attributable to culture and personality’s mutual influence (i.e., culture ßà personality).
Beyond this mutual influence, our framework suggests that socioecology may be a third variable
that partly accounts for the link between culture and personality.
As a case in point, consider the well-replicated association between individualism and
extraversion at the country level (e.g., r = .64 in Hofstede & McCrae 2004). This association
could be explained by several co-existing possibilities. The first possibility is culture à
personality: When people have internalized values of individualistic cultures like personal
expression, autonomy, and variety, they are more likely to exhibit extraverted (vs. introverted)
behaviors (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004). The second possibility is personality à culture: The
aggregation of extraverts is more likely to yield an individualistic culture because “individualism
allows the freer social interactions that come naturally to groups of extraverts” (Hofstede &
McCrae 2004, p. 77). The third possibility is socioecology à culture & personality: For
example, research suggests that pathogen prevalence negatively predicts both individualism
(Fincher et al., 2008; Grossmann & Varnum, 2015; Santos et al., 2017) and extraversion
(Schaller & Murray, 2008; Thornhill et al., 2010), such that pathogen prevalence may be a third
variable that partly explains the association between individualism and extraversion. This
example underscores the importance of understanding socioecological influences.
14
5.2. Trends in culture and personality (partly explained by socioecology). To further
demonstrate socioecological influences on culture and personality (i.e., socioecology à culture
& personality), we discuss how trends in culture and personality may be partly explained by
socioecological changes. Due to space limitations, we elaborate only on how temporal changes
in individualism-related constructs and extraversion may be partly explained by socioecological
changes.
Increases in individualism-related constructs. By and large, studies spanning different
time periods have documented the rise of individualism across the world (Greenfield, 2013;
Grossmann & Varnum, 2015; Hamamura, 2012; Santos et al., 2017; Zeng & Greenfield, 2015).
6
Examining 65 countries, Inglehart and Baker (2000) found increases in self-expression and
secular values (indicators of individualism) and decreases in traditional and survival values
(indicators of collectivism). Analyzing 78 countries across 51 years, Santos et al. (2017)
observed country-level increases in individualist practices (smaller household size, higher
percentage of people living alone, and higher divorce rate) and individualist values (higher
emphasis on friends relative to family, teaching children to be independent, and higher
preference for self-expression). Additionally, studies have documented increases in
individualism-related personality constructs, including self-esteem (Gentile et al., 2010; Li et al.,
2020; Twenge & Campbell, 2001), self-enhancement (Zhang et al. 2017), need for uniqueness
(Cai et al., 2018; Ogihara et al., 2015; Twenge et al., 2010), and narcissism (Twenge et al.,
2008).
Such increases in individualism-related constructs have been partly attributed to
socioecological changes, including increased socioeconomic development and decreased
pathogen prevalence (Grossmann & Varnum, 2015; Santos et al. 2017). For example, cross-
temporal studies found that individualism in the US rose during prosperous times and fell during
recessionary times (Bianchi, 2016). Notably, Grossman and Varnum’s (2015) time-lagged
analyses provide evidence that changes in socioeconomic development preceded changes in
individualism, but not that changes in individualism preceded changes in socioeconomic
development.
Increases in extraversion. Consistent with the aforementioned positive link between
individualism and extraversion (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004), extraversion has also increased over
time in many parts of the world, including Australia (Scollon & Diener, 2006), China (Peng &
Luo, 2021), the Netherlands (Smits et al., 2011), and the US (Twenge, 2001). Theoretically, such
increases in extraversion have been partly attributed to socioecological changes, such as (a) the
development of day-care and educational systems that allow parents to socialize more and (b) the
shift from manufacturing-oriented economies to service-oriented economies, which promote
extraversion (Twenge, 2001).
In sum, socioecological changes may partly explain trends in both culture and
personality. This body of research provides further evidence for the “socioecology à culture &
personality” links in our framework.
Section 6. Genes
à
Personality
Besides highlighting cultural and socioecological environments as two roots of
personality, our Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality highlights genes
as another root of personality (Figure 1). A consensus in the genetics literature is that all
personality traits are partly heritable (Plomin et al., 2016; Turkheimer et al., 2014). This “genes
à personality” link has received consistent support from two findings: (1) monozygotic twins
6
For exceptions and nuanced trends in different countries, see Kashima et al. (2019).
15
(who share 100% of their genes) are more similar in personality than are dizygotic twins (who
share 50% of their genes on average); (2) the personalities of adopted children are more similar
to the personalities of their biological parents than to the personalities of their adoptive parents
(Turkheimer et al. 2014). A meta-analysis of 45 twin, family, and adoption studies found that
about 40% of between-individual variation in personality is explained by between-individual
genetic variation (Vukasović & Bratko, 2015). Similarly, Bouchard and Loehlin (2001)
suggested that genetic variation accounted for almost 50% of the variance in each of the Big Five
personality factors (e.g., agreeableness). To be clear, it does not mean that 50% of a given
individual’s agreeableness is explained by genes; rather, it means that 50% of the variance in
agreeableness in a population of individuals is explained by genetic variance across those
individuals (Krueger & Johnson, 2021).
Given the genetic influences on personality traits, a natural question is which genes are
linked to which personality traits. This question turns out to be challenging because personality
traits are polygenic, which means that numerous genes are involved in the expression of a
personality trait. Mounting evidence suggests that heritability is caused by numerous genes of
miniscule effect (Plomin et al., 2016). Moreover, most genes involved in personality traits are
also pleiotropic, which means that the same genes can be involved in the expression of many
traits. To understand the genetic underpinnings of personality traits, researchers increasingly
conduct genome-wide association studies (GWAS). For example, one large GWAS meta-
analysis (N = 449,484) identified 136 independent genome-wide significant loci associated with
neuroticism (Nagel et al., 2018). While promising, this literature is still nascent.
Notably, “genetic effects must be understood in the environmental conditions under
which the genes are expressed” (Uchiyama et al., 2021, p. 4). Consider the example of height,
which is highly heritable. Although North and South Koreans are genetically similar, North
Koreans are about 13 cm shorter than South Koreans because of nutritional differences
(Schwekendiek, 2009). This example underscores the importance of understanding the
interactive effect of genes and culture/socioecology on personality, which we discuss in the next
section.
Section 7. Gene × Culture/Socioecology Interactions
à
Personality
Besides identifying genes, culture, and socioecology as roots of personality (the solid
arrows in Figure 1), our framework highlights the interactive effects of genes and
culture/socioecology on personality (the dashed arrows in Figure 1). The key question is not
whether personality is influenced more by nature (genes) or nurture (culture/socioecology), but
how personality is shaped by the interaction between nature and nurture (Sasaki & Kim 2017).
As illustrated by the dashed arrows in Figure 1, genes can statistically moderate
cultural/socioecological influences on personality, while culture/socioecology can also
statistically moderate genetic influences on personality. In other words, “being in the same
environment may predict different outcomes depending on variation in genes, and likewise,
having the same genetic predisposition may predict different outcomes depending on variation in
the environment” (Sasaki & Kim 2017, p. 5).
On the one hand, genes can moderate cultural/socioecological influences on personality,
such that cultural/socioecological influences on personality may be strengthened or weakened by
certain genetic polymorphisms (Kitayama & Yu, 2020). As an example of genes moderating
cultural influences on personality, Kitayama et al. (2014) found that while Asians born in East
Asia were more interdependent in social orientation than European Americans on average, this
cultural difference in personality was observed only among carriers of the 7/2-R allele of the
16
dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4) because carriers tend to be more sensitive to cultural
influences. As an example of genes moderating socioecological influences on personality, Jokela
et al. (2007) found that urban (vs. rural) residency predicted lower levels of depressive disorder
in Finnish individuals carrying the T/T or T/C genotype of the HTR2A gene T102C
polymorphism, but not in those carrying the C/C genotype.
On the other hand, culture/socioecology can moderate genetic influences on personality.
An individual’s genes predispose him/her to certain personality phenotypes, but the strength of
this link may depend on the individual’s cultural/socioecological environment. As an example of
culture moderating genetic influences on personality, Kim et al. (2011) conducted a cross-
cultural study on the expression of the oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR) rs53576, a gene
related to socioemotional sensitivity. As emotional suppression is normative in Korean culture
but not in American culture, the study found that culture (Korean vs. American) moderated the
effects of the oxytocin receptor polymorphism on emotional suppression: Koreans with the GG
genotype (i.e., the more socioemotionally sensitive genotype) reported suppressing emotions
more than Koreans with the AA genotype (i.e., the less socioemotionally sensitive genotype),
whereas Americans showed the opposite pattern (Kim et al., 2011). As an example of
socioecology moderating genetic influences on personality, Fischer et al. (2018) found that
dopamine genes (which are involved in reward processing) were linked to extraversion and
emotional stability, but only in demanding climates.
Together, such gene × culture/socioecology interaction effects on personality demonstrate
the interplay between nature and nurture. This literature is still fledgling and fast-developing, so
future studies should examine the replicability of these findings, some of which were based on
small samples.
Section 8. Culture/Socioecology (
à
Personality)
à
Gene Expression
7
In Sections 4.1 and 5.1, we elaborated on how culture and socioecology shape personality
traits. Taking a step further, our framework suggests that culture and socioecology may shape
individuals’ gene expression. This idea is consistent with emerging research on epigenetics, the
study of environmental influences on gene expression. Although an individual’s DNA is fixed at
conception, the expression of DNA is continuously shaped by the environment (Cole, 2009).
While each modification in gene expression is small, such modifications may accumulate over
time into significant changes. In support of environmental influences on epigenetics, evidence
suggests that although monozygotic twins are epigenetically indistinguishable during the early
years of life, their epigenetic differences increase over time (Fraga et al., 2005).
To date, epigenetic research has focused on how adverse upbringing conditions (e.g.,
trauma, childhood abuse) influence gene expression. For example, childhood maltreatment can
lead to the epigenetic regulation/modification of glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) gene
expression (McGowan et al., 2009; Perroud et al., 2011). McGowan et al. (2009) found that, for
suicide victims, a history of childhood abuse corresponded to decreased hippocampal NR3C1
gene expression. Similarly, Perroud et al. (2011) found that the severity of childhood sexual
abuse was associated with decreased NR3C1 gene expression.
By contrast, little research has examined cultural and socioecological influences on gene
expression (Kitayama & Huff, 2015). Drawing on the aforementioned epigenetic research, we
submit that sustained exposure to and engagement with cultural and socioecological
environments may modify the expression of certain genes. By integrating epigenetic research
7
Due to space limitations, we do not discuss culturegene coevolution theory (Laland et al., 2010; Richerson et al.,
2010), which suggests that culture and genes may shape each and co-evolve over time at the population level.
17
into our framework, we depart from the common assumption that anything gene-related is
immutable. Moreover, we submit that changes in gene expression due to cultural and
socioecological influences may be mediated by changes in personality (i.e., culture/socioecology
à personality à epigenetic changes). This sequence is theoretically plausible because culture
and socioecology may have a stronger and more direct influence on people than on gene
expression. We argue that personality traits—defined as individuals’ relatively stable patterns of
emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior—may serve as the link that connects culture and
socioecology (macro environments) with gene expression (micro processes). If cultural and
socioecological influences are so strong as to have changed an individual’s gene expression, then
it is possible that such changes in gene expression are mediated by changes in the individual’s
personality. The examination of such links awaits empirical research.
Section 9. Conclusion
In summary, our Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality (Figure
1) provides an integrative perspective on culture and personality. First, the framework delineates
the mutual constitution of culture and personality (Section 4). We reviewed multiple threads of
evidence demonstrating that culture shapes individuals’ personalities, while individuals’
personalities collectively shape culture. Second, in addition to the mutual constitution of culture
and personality, the framework spotlights socioecological influences on culture and personality
(Section 5). Relatedly, we suggest that socioecology may be a third variable that partly explains
the association between culture and personality, and that socioecological changes partly explain
temporal trends in culture and personality. Third, our framework goes a step further to consider
how cultural and socioecological influences on personality may result in changes in the
expression of genes (i.e., epigenetics; Section 8). Fourth, besides cultural and socioecological
influences on personality, our framework accounts for genetic influences on personality (Section
6). Fifth, we emphasize that instead of debating whether personality is influenced more by nature
(genes) or nurture (culture/socioecology), it is essential to understand how personality is shaped
by the interaction between nature and nurture (Section 7). Hence, besides identifying the main
effects of genes, culture, and socioecology on personality (the solid arrows in Figure 1), our
framework highlights the interactive effects of genes and culture/socioecology on personality
(the dashed arrows in Figure 1). To our knowledge, we are the first to organize culture,
personality, socioecology, and genetics within the same framework, which broadens and deepens
the understanding of their interplay.
We would be delighted if our framework led researchers from diverse disciplines to dive
into unfamiliar domains (e.g., personality geneticists learning more about socioecology and
culture; cultural psychologists appreciating the aggregate influence of personality). By
integrating socioecology and genetics, researchers will have a more comprehensive
understanding of culture and personality. Culture and personality may be an odd couple (Markus
2004), but a marriage between them could be a love match after all.
Summary Points:
1. Personality traits—defined as individuals’ relatively stable patterns of emotion, motivation,
cognition, and behavior—include not only the Big Five and their facets, but also relatively
stable individual differences such as individualistic and collectivistic orientations (which
Triandis [2001] referred to as idiocentric and allocentric personalities). In other words, we
argue that stable individual-level cultural orientations are also personality traits.
18
2. The Socioecological-Genetic Framework of Culture and Personality (Figure 1) provides an
integrative perspective on culture and personality by spotlighting the roles of socioecology
and genetics.
3. In a cycle of mutual constitution, culture shapes individuals’ personalities, while individuals’
personalities collectively shape culture. Therefore, individuals are culturally influenced
influencers of culture.
4. In addition to the mutual constitution of culture and personality, socioecology may be a third
variable that partly explains the association between culture and personality. Relatedly,
socioecological changes partly explain the temporal trends in culture and personality (e.g.,
increases in individualism and extraversion over time).
5. Roots of culture. Socioecology is one root of culture because culture evolves in response to
different socioecological affordances and constraints. The aggregate influence of personality
is another root of culture because individuals collectively construct and influence culture
through relatively stable patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior (i.e.,
personalities).
6. Roots of personality. Rather than debating whether nature (genes) or nurture
(culture/socioecology) is the root of personality, we argue that genes, culture, and
socioecology are all roots of personality. Moreover, the key question is not whether
personality is influenced more by nature or nurture, but how personality is shaped by the
interaction between nature and nurture.
Future Issues:
1. While theoretically plausible, aggregate personality influences on culture need future
research to establish causality. For example, researchers could conduct a longitudinal field
study on unacquainted participants in a new environment (e.g., a summer camp). First, assess
their personalities. Second, assign them to different communities based on their personalities
(e.g., some communities are comprised of extraverts, whereas other communities are
comprised of introverts). Third, assess what types of cultures emerge naturally in the
different communities (e.g., are introverts more likely to develop a collectivistic culture?).
2. Drawing on epigenetic research, we propose that an individual’s continuous engagement with
cultural and socioecological environments can alter the expression of genes—sometimes by
shaping the individual’s patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior (i.e.,
personality). That is, we propose that epigenetic changes due to cultural and socioecological
influences may be mediated by changes in personality. This proposition awaits future
research.
3. As shown in Table 1, socioecological studies have been mostly limited to a few well-studied
cultural dimensions (e.g., collectivism, tightness) and the Big Five personality factors. While
it is fruitful to study these constructs given their centrality in culture and personality research,
future research could examine socioecological influences on other cultural constructs such as
power distance and dignity/face/honor cultures (Leung & Cohen, 2011) and other personality
constructs such as narcissism, assertiveness (Lu et al., 2020; Lu, Nisbett, et al., 2022), and
narrative identity (McAdams & Pals, 2006).
4. The extant literatures have mostly focused on comparing Westerners and East Asians. Future
studies should move beyond the West-versus-East paradigm to examine other cultural
groups.
19
5. Given the intricate interplay among culture, personality, socioecology, and genes, strict
causal inference is challenging. To mitigate (but not eliminate) causal concerns, studies have
used time-lagged analyses, the Granger test of predictive causality (Götz et al., 2021;
Grossmann & Varnum, 2015), and instrumental variable analysis (Obschonka, Stuetzer,
Rentfrow, Shaw-Taylor, et al., 2018). Additionally, the COVID-19 outbreak—an exogenous
socioecological shock to the mutual constitution of culture and personality—offers an
opportunity to study the causal effects of infectious diseases on personality and culture.
Because of COVID-19, social distancing and physical isolation (due to quarantine, school
closures, travel bans, etc.) may have shaped personalities at the individual level (e.g.,
increase in introversion) and cultures at the population level (e.g., increase in collectivism).
Meanwhile, culture can shape the transmission and prevalence of COVID-19. For example,
large-scale studies have shown that collectivism predicts mask use (Lu et al., 2021) and
cultural tightness predicts lower COVID-19 morbidity and mortality (Gelfand et al., 2021).
20
Table 1
Socioecological Predictors of Cultural and Personality Variables
Category
Predictor
Context
Citation
Population density
population density
US
(Vandello & Cohen,
1999)
population density (both in 1500
and 2000)
33 countries
(Gelfand et al., 2011)
population density
China
(Chua et al., 2019)
population density (both in 1500
and 2013)
39 countries
(Thomson et al., 2018)
population density
227 countries; within US
(Sng et al., 2017)
Subsistence style
agricultural crop farming (vs. self-
run farming and herding)
US
(Vandello & Cohen,
1999)
farming (vs. non-farming)
Japan
(Uchida et al., 2019)
rice (vs. wheat) farming
within China; 32 countries
(Talhelm & English,
2020)
interdependent subsistence style
(rice vs. wheat, herding vs. less
herding)
39 countries
(Thomson et al., 2018)
rice (vs. wheat) farming
China
(Talhelm et al., 2014)
farmer and fisher (vs. herder)
Turkey’s eastern Black
Sea region
(Uskul et al., 2008)
historical employment in (a) coal-
based industries and (b) agriculture
UK; US
(Obschonka, Stuetzer,
Rentfrow, Shaw-Taylor,
et al., 2018)
Socioeconomic
development/
Modernization/
Urbanization
urbanization
US; UK
(Greenfield, 2013)
GDP per capita
Japan
(Ogihara et al., 2015)
GDP per capita
Japan
(Yamawaki, 2012)
socioeconomic development
US
(Grossmann & Varnum,
2015)
socioeconomic development
individualistic practices:
41 countries;
(Santos et al., 2017)
21
individualistic values: 53
countries
unemployment rate
US
(Bianchi, 2016)
poverty rate
US
(Vandello & Cohen,
1999)
GDP per capita
China
(Chua et al., 2019)
GDP per capita
within China; 32 countries
(Talhelm & English,
2020)
GNP per capita
33 countries
(Gelfand et al., 2011)
GNP per capita
65 countries
(Inglehart & Baker, 2000)
historical GDP per capita
39 countries
(Thomson et al., 2018)
urban (vs. non-urban) residence
Japan
(Yamagishi et al., 2012)
urban (vs. rural) residence
Australia
(Jokela, 2020)
urban (vs. suburban) neighborhood
London
(Jokela et al., 2015)
neighborhood affluence
Australia
(Jokela, 2020)
median annual income
UK
(Rentfrow et al., 2015)
housing price
US
(Götz et al., 2021)
Climate/
Geography
latitude
Study 1: 90 preindustrial
societies;
Study 2: 53 countries;
Study 3: 104 countries;
Study 5: 222 countries;
(Van de Vliert, 2020)
latitude
over 140 countries
(Van de Vliert & Van
Lange, 2019)
frontier
Study 1: US;
Study 2: Canada;
Study 3: 13 countries
(Varnum & Kitayama,
2011)
demanding climate
× income
China
(Van de Vliert et al.,
2013)
22
demanding climate
× income
social collectivism: 121
countries;
political autocracy: 174
countries
(Van de Vliert &
Postmes, 2012)
demanding climate
× income
compatriotism: 73
countries;
nepotism: 116 countries;
familism: 57 countries
(Van de Vliert, 2011)
demanding climate
39 countries
(Thomson et al., 2018)
frontier
Japan
(Kitayama et al., 2006)
demanding climate
China; US
(Wei et al. 2017)
mountainous areas
US
(Götz et al., 2020)
Pathogen
prevalence
non-zoonotic pathogen richness
over 57 countries
(Thornhill et al., 2010)
pathogen prevalence
individualistic practices:
41 countries;
individualistic values: 53
countries
(Santos et al., 2017)
pathogen prevalence
US
(Grossmann & Varnum,
2015)
historical pathogen prevalence
over 58 countries
(Murray & Schaller,
2010)
historical and contemporary
pathogen prevalence
68 countries
(Fincher et al., 2008)
historical pathogen prevalence
33 countries
(Gelfand et al., 2011)
historical pathogen prevalence
behavioral conformity: 17
countries;
obedience: 83 countries;
tolerance for
nonconformity: over 20
countries
(Murray et al., 2011)
pathogen prevalence
US; UK
(Varnum & Grossmann,
2016)
pathogen prevalence
democratization: over 169
countries;
gender equality: over 50
countries
(Thornhill et al., 2009)
23
pathogen prevalence
31 countries; 90 cultural
populations
(Murray et al., 2013)
historical pathogen prevalence
71 countries
(Schaller & Murray,
2008)
historical pathogen prevalence
230 countries
(Murray & Schaller,
2010)
non-zoonotic pathogen richness
227 countries
(Thornhill et al., 2010)
Disaster and threat
disaster frequency (both natural
and technological disaster)
US
(Grossmann & Varnum,
2015)
disaster frequency (both natural
and technological disaster)
individualistic practices:
41 countries;
individualistic values: 53
countries
(Santos et al., 2017)
Natural disaster risk
173 countries
(Oishi & Komiya, 2017)
natural disasters and
territorial threats
33 countries
(Gelfand et al., 2011)
tornado risk
US
(Harrington & Gelfand,
2014)
threat exposure (% of a province
destroyed and occupied during
World War II, whether a province
is located along a national border)
China
(Chua et al., 2019)
threats of violence (proxied by %
of GDP spent on military)
54 countries
(White et al., 2012)
Note. (+) indicates a positive link; () indicates a negative link; (n.s.) indicates non-significant link. O = openness, C = conscientiousness, E = extraversion, A =
agreeableness, N = neuroticism, ES = emotional stability. Beyond the scope of Table 1, there is also a growing literature on the effects of air pollution (a
socioecological variable) on patterns of emotion, cognition, and behavior (for a review, see Lu 2020).
24
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Personality psychology, which seeks to study individual differences in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that persist over time and place, has experienced a renaissance in the last few decades. It has also not been reviewed as a field in the Annual Review of Psychology since 2001. In this article, we seek to provide an update as well as a meta-organizational structure to the field. In particular, personality psychology has a prescribed set of four responsibilities that it implicitly or explicitly tackles as a field: ( a) describing what personality is—i.e., what the units of analysis in the field are; ( b) documenting how it develops; ( c) explaining the processes of personality and why they affect functioning; and ( d) providing a framework for understanding individuals and explaining their actions, feelings, and motivations. We review progress made over the last 20 years to address these four agendas and conclude by highlighting future directions and ongoing challenges to the field. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 73 is January 2022. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
Article
Objectives The present paper tests the cross-national stability of the HEXACO-60 structure across 18 countries from four continents. Gender and age differences across countries will be examined. Finally, this is the first study to explicitly analyze the relationships between the HEXACO and social position. Method 10,298 subjects (5,410 women and 4,888 men) from 18 countries and 13 languages were analyzed. Confirmatory factor analysis techniques were used to test configural, metric and scalar invariance models. Congruence coefficients with the original structure of the HEXACO-60 were computed for every culture. Effect sizes of gender, age, and social position factors across countries were also computed. Results HEXACO-60 demonstrates configural and metric invariance, but not scalar invariance. Congruence coefficients show a great equivalence in almost all countries and factors. Only Emotionality presents a large gender difference across countries. No relevant effect of age is observed. A profile of high scores on Honesty-Humility, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience, and low scores on Emotionality increases the likelihood of achieving a higher social position, although the effect sizes are small. Conclusions HEXACO-60 is a useful instrument to conduct personality trait research and practice around the world. Implications of gender, social position and country differences are discussed.
Article
Behavioral genetics and cultural evolution have both revolutionized our understanding of human behavior—largely independent of each other. Here we reconcile these two fields under a dual inheritance framework, offering a more nuanced understanding of the interaction between genes and culture. Going beyond typical analyses of gene–environment interactions, we describe the cultural dynamics that shape these interactions by shaping the environment and population structure. A cultural evolutionary approach can explain, for example, how factors such as rates of innovation and diffusion, density of cultural sub-groups, and tolerance for behavioral diversity impact heritability estimates, thus yielding predictions for different social contexts. Moreover, when cumulative culture functionally overlaps with genes, genetic effects become masked, unmasked, or even reversed, and the causal effects of an identified gene become confounded with features of the cultural environment. The manner of confounding is specific to a particular society at a particular time, but a WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) sampling problem obscures this boundedness. Cultural evolutionary dynamics are typically missing from models of gene-to-phenotype causality, hindering generalizability of genetic effects across societies and across time. We lay out a reconciled framework and use it to predict the ways in which heritability should differ between societies, between socioeconomic levels and other groupings within some societies but not others, and over the life course. An integrated cultural evolutionary behavioral genetic approach cuts through the nature–nurture debate and helps resolve controversies in topics such as IQ.