The word idio means own, personal, private, peculiar, and distinct. The word centrism refers to adopting the middle position between two extreme viewpoints. The combination of these words, idiocentrism, should be used when measuring individual-level orientations reflecting individualistic cultures. Individualistic cultures are common in countries in North America and Western and Northern Europe, and the term individualism represents general attributes of such cultures. Individualistic cultures often are described in contrast to collectivistic cultures, which are more common in Asia and Africa. The term allocentrism should be used when measuring individual-level orientation in collectivistic cultures. Separating the terms idiocentrism from individualism, and allocentrism from collectivism, helps eliminate confusion concerning across-versus within-culture analyses. However, the term individualism continues to be used as a substitute for idiocentrism in the literature.
Idiocentrism is reflected in attitudes, beliefs, norms, roles, and values. Several personality characteristics, such as competition, emotional distance from ingroups, self-reliance, and hedonism, are associated with idiocentrism. Further, idiocentrism is a situation-specific disposition that can be measured along a normal distribution and, as such, allows for examination of idiocentric dispositions in both individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Thus, individuals vary in the degree they value individualism, and a person can be more or less idiocentric within either an individualistic or a collectivistic culture. Idiocentrics in a collectivistic culture will tend to strive for their individual goals and may feel repressed by the culture and desire to break away from it. Allocentrics in individualistic cultures will seek for something communal to belong to, such as organizations, gangs, and other types of groups.
Characteristics of Idiocentrism
Harry C. Triandis proposed that there are four main elements of difference between individualism and collectivism: (1) the self (independent vs. interdependent), (2) goals (goal priority based on self vs. group), (3) relationships (rationality vs. relatedness); and (4) social behaviors (determined by attitudes vs. norms). In individualistic cultures, the self is viewed as stable and internally located, and the surrounding environment is changeable. For allocentrics, the environment is stable and the self is changeable, adjusting to the environment.
Idiocentrics focus on individual ability, unique characteristics, personal freedom, expression, independence, self-enhancement, and actualization; the self is the vehicle for such enhancement and actualization. Being achievement oriented, idiocentrics tend to have higher levels of academic motivation and place more importance on social competition and recognition than do allocentrics. Further, idiocentrics’ personal likes and dislikes determine their behavior, and they are likely to attribute events or behaviors to internal dispositional factors. Their communication style is associated with content rather than context, focusing on what is said rather than how it is said.
Similarly to allocentrics, idiocentrics have ingroups (e.g., family, tribe, and nation), but their ingroups are often small, for example, consisting of first-degree relatives or a few friends. In addition, idiocentrics do not behave differently toward their ingroups compared with other groups (outgroups), which is a pattern of allocentrics. Idiocentrics also tend to be emotionally disconnected from larger ingroups and value their own personal goals over the goals of their ingroups. For example, when there is a conflict between idiocentrics and their ingroups, the goal or need of the individual is given priority over that of the group. Basically, idio-centrics’ social experiences are structured and arranged in relation to the self. Allocentrics, on the other hand, have internalized the values of their ingroups, and following these values and expectations becomes a normal and expected activity.
Because idiocentrics tend to be focused more on themselves than others, there is a tendency for them to be lonelier and have less of a social support system compared with allocentrics. They also tend to be more emotionally unstable, experience higher rates of depression and suicide, and be less adjusted in intimate, romantic relationships. They also show less preference for seeking professional help for their problems.
Since the 1980s, individualism and collectivism have been of growing interest to scholars and researchers. Empirical data have shown consistently that there is substantial variation among cultures regarding behavior and psychological processes. The first empirical study that identified the factors of individualism and collectivism was published in 1980 by Geerte Hofstede. In 2002, the first meta-analytic study on individualism and collectivism was published by Daphna Oyserman, Heather M. Coon, and Markus Kemmelmeier. These authors identified over 170 articles on the topic. In terms of personal constructs and individualism, Oyserman and colleagues found support for relationships between higher scores on individualism and optimism, inflated sense of self, dispositional attribution style, goal orientation, and direct communication. In addition, for individuals who scored high on individualism, self-esteem was associated with more personal success than family life, and more personal control was associated with less depression. In counseling, individualism has been associated with a lesser ability to conceptualize clients from a multicultural perspective, and many scholars have pointed out the importance for mental health professionals to be aware of possible cultural (individualistic) bias when working with clients from other cultures.
Future research on idiocentrism should examine the conflict that children from collectivistic cultures may experience when living and growing up in Westernized, individualistic cultures. However, concerns have been raised regarding the low number of adequate and reliable measures of idiocentrism and how difficult it is to measure this construct as well as the related constructs of idiocentrism, collectivism, and allocentrism. Thus, additional scale development studies are needed as well as studies that would help clarify within- and between-group differences in terms of idiocentrism.
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- Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Kim, U., Triandis, H. C., Kagitcibasi, C., Choi, S., & Yoon, G. (1994). Individualism and collectivism: Theory, method, and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 3-72.
- Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
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