Estonia, together with the Ukraine, Hungary and Israel are cultures that may be considered to be quite loose in terms of socially accepted behaviours and tolerance, according to a study in Science magazine comparing 33 nations.
The tightest countries (those that have many strong norms and a low tolerance for deviant behaviour) were Pakistan, Malaysia and India.
Anu Realo, senior researcher of personality psychology at the University of Tartu, was one of the authors of the article. She says researchers in the last few decades have tried to explain cultural differences on a scale of individualism and collectivism; however, this scale cannot explain everything.
The fresh survey is one of the first attempts to analyse tightness and looseness of cultures in the context of many different nations.
In the Estonian survey, participants had to evaluate whether there were specific rules of behaviour for most types of situations. It also studied whether or not Estonians had a large degree of freedom to decide how they want to behave in most situations.
The results were used to create a looseness–tightness index that was later tested by additional questions describing specific situations. For example, participants had to evaluate whether or not it was acceptable to argue in funerals, cry in the bank, laugh out aloud on the street or blow one’s nose in the cinema.
The survey showed to what degree people agree on what is the “right behaviour” – whether one needs to follow carefully the culturally dominant norms and if or how much people criticise others or receive criticism when breaking the norms. 6,823 participants from 33 countries took part in the survey.
In addition to the survey, the researchers also took account of how high the population density was in the year 1500, how many political and territorial conflicts the country had had in the 20th century, and how much it had been affected by diseases.
The researchers found the countries ravaged by ecological or historical dangers to be tighter. People of these countries expect more conformity to norms and provide more punishments for non-conformers. The tighter countries usually have a higher population density, possess fewer natural resources or agricultural land, suffer more famine, and have less drinking water and lower air quality.
Flooding, drought or tropical cyclones also contribute to tightness of a country. The tighter countries have had more conflicts with their neighbours during 1918–2001. They are also more autocratic, tend to harass dissidents, have less media freedom, more laws and regulations, and utilise new technologies more slowly.
The tighter countries also have a higher ratio of police officers per citizen, and less political and citizenship rights. Their population is more religious and less ready to protest, demand rights or sign petitions. On the other side of the coin, the tighter countries have less murders and robberies than the loose countries.
The survey also mentions that within natural or historical contexts, both tight and loose cultures might have a rationale. Researching the tightness and looseness of cultures helps to investigate cultural differences and also model their changes and development.
Gelfand MJ, Raver JL, Nishii L, Leslie LM, Lun J, Lim BC, Duan L, Almaliach A, Ang S, Arnadottir J, Aycan Z, Boehnke K, Boski P, Cabecinhas R, Chan D, Chhokar J, D’Amato A, Ferrer M, Fischlmayr IC, Fischer R, Fülöp M, Georgas J, Kashima ES, Kashima Y, Kim K, Lempereur A, Marquez P, Othman R, Overlaet B, Panagiotopoulou P, Peltzer K, Perez-Florizno LR, Ponomarenko L, Realo A, Schei V, Schmitt M, Smith PB, Soomro N, Szabo E, Taveesin N, Toyama M, Van de Vliert E, Vohra N, Ward C, & Yamaguchi S (2011). Differences between tight and loose cultures: a 33-nation study. Science (New York, N.Y.), 332 (6033), 1100-4 PMID: 21617077