Allocentrism is a personality trait that characterizes the attitudinal, cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns and preferences shared among people of a collectivist culture. Among those who are allocentric, self is defined as more interdependent than independent; ingroup goals and harmony take priority over individual goals and autonomy. People who hold allocentric beliefs tend to value social norms, self-sacrifice, cooperation, equality, and relatedness more than social recognition, self-reliance, competition, equity, and rationality. Allocentrism is usually conceptualized as an end point of a continuum, with idiocentrism as the opposite construct. The individual levels of the allocentric and idiocentric tendencies correspond to the cultural dimensions of collectivism and individualism.
The theorization of allocentrism has sparked 2 decades of research on the relationship between allocentrism and other individual and contextual variables. Multimethod measures have been developed to assess various dimensions of allocentric tendencies, such as the INDCOL scale, individualism-collectivism scales, the Self-Construal Scale, value surveys, sentence completion exercises, and scenario stimuli.
Research has demonstrated that there are more allocentrics than idiocentrics in collectivist cultures and vice versa. Women tend to be more allocentric than men across cultures. In the United States, racial and ethnic minorities appear to be more allocentric than White Americans. Among allocentrics, high self-esteem is related to self-efficacy in forming positive interpersonal relations. Allocentric persons reported having more and better social support than did idiocentrics. Moreover, they tend to transmit values such as obedience and obligations to their children. Allocentrics, compared to idiocentrics, also are more likely to perceive their group as homogeneous (regardless of how “homogeneous” the group actually is), which in turn may affect their behavioral patterns in a group setting (e.g., workplace performance).
Allocentrism is a complex construct that is multidimensional in nature and context dependent. Allocentric tendencies can be vertical (i.e., defining themselves as different from others and yet subordinate to the ingroup, thus likely to sacrifice for the interests of the group) or horizontal (i.e., perceiving themselves to be the same as others within the group, thereby unlikely to self-sacrifice for ingroup goals). Also, individual allocentric tendencies may differ depending on the tasks, groups, and settings. For example, a person may be a vertical allocentric at home and yet a horizontal allocentric at work. Furthermore, the strength of the relationship between allocentric tendencies and other psychosocial correlates (e.g., subjective well-being) may vary depending on the level of collectivism or individualism within a given cultural context.
Due to the contexualized multidimensional nature of the allocentric construct, individual allocentric tendencies may shift or intersect with a plethora of other factors, such as age, ethnic values, acculturation levels, socioeconomic status, religious/spiritual affiliation, sex roles, and situated contexts. Thus, conceptualizing and measuring allocentric and idiocentric tendencies as the end points of a single, bipolar continuum is a common practice, yet may be overly simplistic. Contemporary researchers have advocated the employment of multimethod and domain-specific approaches to assess the varying dimensions of allocentrism. At the same time, the use of myriad measurements for allocentrism also makes it difficult to interpret results. More longitudinal and qualitative research may provide better information about the complexity of this construct. Finally, the construct of allocentrism has significant implications for cross-cultural counseling. In working with clients, particularly those who identify with or whose values are influenced by a collectivist culture, counselors and psychologists should pay special attention to the potential impact of allocentric tendencies on psychosocial adjustment levels, work-family issues, and intergenerational or inter-group relations. Specifically, counselors should be aware that relationships with members of the ingroups play an essential role in the self-esteem and well-being of clients who subscribe to an allocentric perspective; counselors and mental health professionals may overpathologize allocentrics as “dependent,” without considering the cultural relevance and primacy of group-orientation versus self-orientation. Allocentrics may experience difficulties when pressured to compete and assert themselves in an individualist culture that values individual recognition over ingroup harmony. Also, because allocentric tendencies are multidimensional and context dependent, allocentric individuals may exhibit different behavioral patterns and value preferences when dealing with multiple ingroups in various settings (e.g., sacrifice family for work or vice versa). Younger generations who were reared by allocentric parents but grew up in an individualist society may face value conflicts and acculturation stress. Counselors should examine the cultural appropriateness of applying counseling theories and approaches that were developed in individualist contexts to working with allocentric clients. This will help counselors understand sources of conflicts and examine self-identity, as well as identify ways for clients to cope with acculturation stress.
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