Culture and Self-Deception: A Theoretical Perspective

By Triandis, Harry C. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, February 2011 | Go to article overview
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Culture and Self-Deception: A Theoretical Perspective

Triandis, Harry C., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

In this paper the relationships between cultures and self-deception are explored. Self-deception occurs when individuals use their hopes, needs, and desires to construct the way they see the world. When individuals set out to deceive, it is difficult to know whether they self-deceive or simply intend to deceive others, because it depends on whether they believe their statements or they are simply trying to influence others. It is useful to be aware that some individuals and some cultures are high in self-deception, because when we meet persons from such cultures we can then anticipate that their beliefs and opinions may not be realistic.

For example, Cerf and Navasky (2008) presented scores of self-deceptions associated with the Iraq war (e.g., "We will be greeted as liberators in Iraq", Senator John McCain on May 20, 2003). Did Senator McCain believe this or did he say it simply to influence the public? When people make a number of statements that are potential self-deceptions the probability is high that they believe them. People who have often deceived themselves in the past are likely

to do so in the future. In the case of the Iraq war, life-and-death decisions were the result of self-deceptions (Triandis, 2009b).


Culture There are hundreds of definitions of culture (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952) but a useful definition is that culture is to society what memory is to individuals (Kluckhohn, 1954). It includes what has worked in the experience of a society, so that it was worth transmitting to future generations. There is also some consensus (Borofsky, Barth, Shweder, Rodseth, & Stolzenberg, 2001) about the usefulness of Redfield's (1941, mentioned in Borofsky et al.) definition of culture as shared understandings made manifest in act and artifact. A related view is that culture is the theory that members of a society have about what members of the society consider the "code being followed, the game being played" (Keesing, 1974, p. 89). This view is similar to the recent development of the view that culture is based on perceived consensus (Zou et al., 2009).

Elements of culture are shared standard operating procedures, unstated assumptions, meanings, practices, tools, myths, religions, art, kinship, norms, values, and habits about sampling information in the environment. Dawkins (1989) called the elements of culture memes. They could include a word, tune, idea, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots, and so on. The essence of a meme is that it is a replicating entity. Cultural evolution involves the transmission of memes from generation to generation.

Self-deception Triandis (2009b) argues that self-deception occurs because humans use their hopes, needs, and desires to "construct" the way they see the world. Self-deception can be found in a wide range of everyday phenomena. God is an excellent example of self-deception. What would be more consistent with our hopes, needs, and desires than to have an omnipotent entity support our battles, whether they are to grow better crops, to reach health and happiness, or to eliminate our enemies? Examination of the gods around the world (Triandis, 2009b) indicates that in most cultures gods help people reach their goals. Also, by praying people reduce perceived uncertainty and their anxieties caused by terrorism, physical or economic calamities, crime, and other factors.

Furthermore, in the case of many religions, the beliefs are extremely complimentary to the adherents. In some religions believers become God-like by participation in that religion (e.g., Mormons become "Latter-day Saints"). In many religions people believe that they are guaranteed eternal life in paradise. Perhaps the clearest case of self-deception is provided by Shinto, because it is a Japanese folk religion that is less sophisticated than the universal religions of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism that have adherents in many countries (Holton, 1946) so it does not include the public relations facets of those other religions.

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