Examining the Individualism/collectivism Question in an International Academic Environment

By Hume, Evelyn C.; Smith, Aileen et al. | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Examining the Individualism/collectivism Question in an International Academic Environment


Hume, Evelyn C., Smith, Aileen, Davis, Alan B., Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


ABSTRACT

This research examines cross-cultural differences in the responses of university students (n = 792) from the United States (US), the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and Viet Nam (VN). The survey instrument uses ethical dilemmas familiar to the academic environment of the students.

General linear model (GLM) analysis of the students' responses was by CULTure, GENder, and a CULT*GEN interaction term. The results indicated significant differences (p < .05) by the CULTure variable on all 26 surveyed dilemmas. Some support for the individualism/collectivitism cultural dimension was indicated in the responses. However, in spite of the significant differences indicated in the analysis by culture, correlational analysis of the cultural means indicates a significant correlation between the responses of the two cultures. Significant GENder differences were indicated on 22 of the 26 items. On all 22 dilemmas, the female students supplied the more ethically sensitive responses. This result supports earlier studies where gender differences have been reported. Three of the survey items indicated significance on the CULT*GEN interaction term.

INTRODUCTION

Ethical studies have increased in number over the past few decades. As universities prepare students to enter the workforce, an understanding of the ethical orientation of our students takes on an added interest. Today's students will graduate into an international and multi-cultural work environment. These cultural differences can have an effect on the ethical beliefs and attitudes of the students coming from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The seminal work of Hofstede (1984) lays the foundation for the study of cultural elements in societies. It is Hofstede's individualism dimension that is of interest to this research. Individuals who "live in societies in which the interests of the individual prevail over the interests of the groups (p. 50)" are called individualistic. Those who "live in societies in which the interest of the group prevails over the interest of the individual (p. 50)" are called collectivistic (or low individualistic). From the research reported by Hofstede, the US ranks the highest on the individualism dimension of all of the 53 countries surveyed; and most of the Asian countries rank in the lower one-third of the countries surveyed.

The purpose of this research is to examine differences in the ethical orientation of university students from an individualistic culture and from a collectivistic culture. An appreciation for cultural characteristics and a better understanding of how cultural attitudes and beliefs act as a "cognitive filter" for societal perceptions and attitudes is a part of the overall understanding of how culture is linked to ethical orientation. Since the cultural tie is the focus of this study, it is the attitudes of the students toward the ethical dilemmas, not the actual behaviors, that will be examined. Because gender differences and their relationship to ethical responses are also studied in ethical research, it will be a secondary focus of this research.

LITERATURE REVIEW

A number of studies have used student subjects to investigate cultural differences based on the individualism dimension between the two global areas of interest. The results of these studies have offered additional validation of the differences between the subjects from the US and the Asian-Pacific area. Singh et al. (1962) found, as predicted by the individualism variable, societyversus self-orientation differences between American and Chinese students. Triandis et al. (1986) reported support for Hofstede's individualism cultural dimension, using students from nine countries. Bond et al. (1982) and Kim et al. (1990) reported support for the individualism dimension when their studies examined reward allocation intentions of students from the US and Asian countries (i.e., Japan, Korea, Hong Kong). …

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