Cultural Orientation- Attempting to reduce the COVID 19 spread

Cultural Orientation- Attempting to reduce the COVID 19 spread

October 9, 2020 by Sanghamitra Banerjee0

March 2020 marked the official outbreak of COVID 19 crisis officially labeled by (WHO, 2020a) when the governments internationally have since attempted  to control, contain and stop the spread of the virus by encouraging people to adhere to improved hygiene practices (washing hands, wearing masks and maintain social distancing at all times. Governments around the world had significant challenges to implement these measures (Tominey, 2020).

In order to understand how these challenges could be implemented, it would be interesting to investigate what factors that would influence people to comply. According to researchers the consideration and the importance of social and psychological factors need to be considered in attempting to limit the spread of COVID 19 (Van Bavel et al., 2020). Mental health experts and other advisory groups (SAGE, 2020), have emphasized the role of cultural factors that could play in people’s intention to engage or comply with government instructions and also establish a probable link between cultural orientation and people’s intention to engage in behaviors that would help in reducing the spread of COVID 19.

Social psychologists (Biddlestoneet,al. 2020) and mental health experts have further examined two potential mediators of this relationship, conspiracy theories(Sweney&Waterson, 2020) and feelings of powerlessness(Xiang et al., 2019; Jolley& Douglas, 2014a, 2014b).

Culture and the spread of COVID 19

Cultural psychology (Hofstede et al., 2010), has emphasized on the dimensions of individualism and collectivism that prioritizes individual’s needs over group and group’s needs of individuals.

According to researchers, there has been consistent observation that collectivist cultures demonstrate greater compliance and adherence to social norms as compared to the individualistic culture (Kim et al., 1994). In the collectivist culture it is ideal to follow norms and meet social duties to maintain the societal harmony (Miller, Bersoff& Harwood, 1990), whereas in the individualistic culture personal freedom is promoted over societal harmony (Markus &Kitayama, 1991).

Individualism and Collectivism (Singelis et al., 1995) is further broken down into vertical and horizontal Individualism ad collectivism and  is briefly discussed.   Vertical individualism (viewing the self as an autonomous individual who accepts inequality), horizontal individualism (viewing the self as an autonomous individual who prefers equality), vertical collectivism (viewing the self as part of a collective whilst accepting inequality), and horizontal collectivism (viewing the self as part of a collective that emphasizes equality.

According to (Murray et al., 2011), adherence to social norms can be an important response to collective crisis and behavioral science advisors in the UK have pointed out if individuals are aware of collectivist  behavior then they can reduce the instances of public disorder, increase self-policing, and promote appropriate social norms that would constitute apposite pandemic behavior (SAGE, 2020).

According to social psychologists a sense of collectivism can improve people’s attitudes toward personal sacrifices and actions. Tighter cultures are considered more collectivist at the cultural level (Gelfand et al. 2020)e.g., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea was able to contain the spread of the virus more effectively than looser cultures(considered more individualist; e.g., the United States, Spain, and Italy).

Climate change perceptions has also demonstrated that collectivists with their  personal sacrifice have engaged in climate friendly actions as compared to individualists (Xiangetal.,2019) and considering the findings, researchers have inferred  that individualism will have negative and collectivism will have positive impact and implication for adherence to appropriate behaviors aiming at limiting or reducing the spread of COVID 19.

Researchers have investigated the intensity to which belief in conspiracy theories and feelings of powerlessness conciliate the relationship between cultural orientation and intentions to engage in behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Conspiracy Theories

COVID 19 has given prominence to conspiracy theories, the notion that China has manufactured the disease as a bioweapon against various nations to implement 5G or use this technology to spread the disease (van Bavel et al., 2020). Although there is no direct links, according to research, between conspiracy theory, collectivism and individualism, researchers think that they should be related.

The need for uniqueness, for example according to (Caietal.,2018;Wang,Fan,&Ouyang, 2017), is considered to be the central feature of individualism that consistently predicts conspiracy beliefs (Hart &Graether, 2018; Lantian et al., 2017). “Moreover individualist (versus collectivists) score higher on the Dark Triad(narcissism,Machiavellianism,andpsychopathy;Wilson&Hartley,2015),and these very traits consistently predict conspiracy beliefs(Cichocka et al., 2015; Douglas & Sutton, 2011; March & Springer, 2019).”

Therefore according to (Mikey,,2020), that individualism is positively associated with conspiracy theories than collectivism.

According to  (Douglas et al., 2019), belief in conspiracy theories has meaningful impact on social and health-related consequences. This includes reduced engagement with politics, climate change initiatives, vaccination programs and others  that has been identified as a likely  obstacle to constructive response to the pandemic  (Van Bavel et al., 2020). Aggregating the researches together, experts predict that individualists rather than collectivists would show decreased COVID 19 compliance with its mitigating activities as a consequence of their belief in conspiracy theories around COVID 19.


The feeling of powerlessness, the sense of being unable to make significant and meaningful impact on important issues according to (Xiangetal.,2019), is associated with cultural orientation. According to Xiang et al. individualism was positively – and collectivism was negatively – related to feelings of powerlessness regarding climate change.

This according to the experts suggests that collectivists draw power from collective effort and rely on others to take action on global issues thereby making their own personal contribution more meaningful. Individualists on the other had do not feel empowered by collective support or effort and therefore feel their personal contribution to be less meaningful. Therefore, COVID 19 has exposed different feelings of powerlessness between individualists and collectivists.

According to researchers, there is a relation between the feelings of powerlessness that predict health related behaviors.According to (JolleyandDouglas,2014b) the feelingsof powerlessness negotiated  therelationship betweenconspiracybeliefsandlowervaccinationintentions, a demonstrated climate-friendly behavior too (Jolley& Douglas, 2014a). Feelings of powerlessness are therefore also likely to negatively influence people’s responses to the pandemic.

In conclusion, more research needs to be conducted in order to understand the impact of cultural orientation on the perception to reduce any pandemic.  Experts  feel the need to emphasize on the examination of the interplay between cultural orientation, personal feelings of powerlessness and information consumption (conspiracy theories) in times of crisis (pandemic or others).

It raises interesting possibility to that collectivism, during crisis encourages powerful response in contrast with individualism that removes a sense of power, replacing it with harmful conspiracy theories that may be harmful.

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Sanghamitra Banerjee

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