Emic and Etic Concepts

Etic and Emic are different approaches to the studying of behavior. Etic studies aim to discover or investigate a behavior or set of characteristics that all humans have in common, this involves cross-cultural analysis. However, emic based studies aim to investigate a culture-specific phenomena and is rooted by the theory that the attribution of a behavior can only be understood within that specific culture.

An example of an etic approach is the study of conformity by Bond and Smith (1996). This study involves a meta-analysis of findings of studies with the same technique (Asch’s Paradigm) which was repeated across 17 different countries. The researchers found that countries with a collectivisitc rooted culture showed higher levels of conformity and individuals from an individualistic culture showed low levels of conformity.

An example of an emic based study is that of Manson et al (1985) aiming to investigate the depression in Native American Indians. The researchers used the method of interviewing with Hopi native informants to understand the illnesses relevant to depression. They found 5 behaviors that were similar to depression: worry sickness, unhappiness, heartbroken, drunken-like craziness and disappointment. Most Hopi natives could not identify a word that was equivalent to the term of depression but they were all familiar with the 5 behaviors. The Hopi diagnosis of depression shows not to be consistent with the Western diagnosis of that mental illness thus supporting that behaviors are culture dependent.


Cultural dimensions

Hofstede in 2001 conducted a meta-analysis of 72 IBM employees from 40 different countries aiming to deepen the understanding of work-related attitudes pertaining to culture. These are called cultural dimensions. Cultural dimensions are measures of characters, beliefs, or attitudes/behavior that are used to classify a particular sub-cultural group. Cultural dimensions are used by psychologists to help with international interactions in the means of minimizing ‘culture shock’, however this could lead to over-simplifying and stereotypes. Hofstede identified 5 cultural dimensions: individualism/collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity/femininity, and long-term or short-term orientation.

The following will focus on individualism/collectivism and long-term or short-term orientation, however, a brief definition of the other cultural dimensions are:

Power distance: the extent to which legitimize power and social status is distributed amongst individuals. In high power distance cultures, individuals tend to be used to a large inequality gap and accept it as a naturally occurring condition.

Uncertainty avoidance: this measures the maximum level of social ambiguity an individual can attend to without feeling anxious. Research has found that individuals from cultures high on uncertainty avoidance feel more threatened in spontaneous or unknown situations than those of other cultures.

Masculinity and femininity: this dimension refers to the extent of which the culture promotes a difference in gender roles.

Individuals from individualistic cultures are defined with a personal identity with an independent set of characteristics. Collectivistic cultures have identities that are more so defined by the characteristics of the collective group of that individual. A study supporting this cultural dimension is the cross-cultural analysis of Bond and Smith (1996). Bond and Smith carried out a meta-analysis of 133 conformity studies of the Asch paradigm. These studies were carried out through 17 different countries. He found that for countries that had a collectivistic culture, like Hong Kong, Japan, and Brazil, the level of conformity was significantly higher than that of countries with individualistic cultures like UK, France and USA. The findings of this study confirms the cultural dimension theory that Hofestede proposed as social harmony and a reduction of conflict can be achieved through conformation and it is shown from individuals of a collectivistic culture.

Long-term or short-term orientation is also called time orientation, it refers to the scope to which a culture can identify a dynamic future-orientated goal or obtains this mindset and encourages the sacrificing of material, social and emotional needs in order to achieve the goal. Chen et al’s study on impatience reflects the focus of this cultural dimension. Patience is promoted in Eastern countries whereas immediate consumption is imparted to Western countries. Chen investigated the time orientation factor in 147 Singaporean ‘bi-cultural’ participants. These participants were previously exposed to 2 different cultures and them being Singaporean and American. Chen purposefully activated only one of the two cultures of the participants (half of the participants were exposed to the Singaporean culture and half to the American culture) by presenting them a collage of photos with pictures pertaining to that culture. They were then tasked to buy a book online but the delivery of the book took 4 working days with standard fee, the participants had the option of express delivery with an additional charge. Chen found that the participants with a Singaporean-primed culture continued with the standard delivery, however those of a US-primed culture were more willing to pay for the express delivery. And hence concluded that participants of US-primed (western) cultures valued immediate consumption more than Singaporean-primed (eastern) cultures.



What is culture? Although there is no one set definition for culture, it is known as an umbrella term that encompasses the attitudes, symbols and behaviors of a group of people and can be seen as an information system transcending through generations. For example in a Chinese culture, there is a normative attitude in terms of superstitions that during Chinese New Year, a plate breaking is seen as an ominous sign that the new year would bring bad luck. There is also a symbol of a red lion that celebrates the freedom of people and wards off monsters. Lastly, there is a shared behavior in that an individual should always greet and respect the elderly. In many ways, culture is also seen to be a building block of numerous social networks and ways of recycling information. Culture also allows for a platform in which people can socially interact with others to form the basis of society by food production, knowledge development and procreation.

In establishing culture, we can also establish cultural norms, which are simply attitudes, symbols, and behaviors shared across a group of the same culture which is passed on through generations. Cultural norms are a subset of social norms where the social dimension is set by the elements of culture (eg. ethnicity), this in-group is usually a larger group in comparison with other social groups (eg. friendship circles). Sub-culture norms can also be apparent in large cultural groups where sub-units can be formed in terms of social hierarchy, or specific behaviors (eg. particular organizations).