COM 372—Theory and Research in Intercultural Communication

John R. Baldwin

School of Communication

Illinois State University

Updated 22 May 2014


Cultural Values and American Culture


Read in conjunction with PPt: [Same content—PPt available upon request]


Main Objectives for this class:  After this class you should be able:

  • To describe the difference between high and low-context cultures
  • To explain Hofstede’s 4 axes (and Confucian dynamism/Long-Term Orientation and Indulgence/Restraint) and write an application essay using these dimensions
  • To recognize differences by label of other dimensions (Hall, Parsons, Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck). [You will not need to reproduce the whole dimensions on an exam]
  • To recognize differences between key terms of cultural difference (values, rules, norms, beliefs, worldview, etc.)
  • To recognize or define Triandis’ cultural syndromes and other key terms from Triandis (cultural distance, obj/subj culture)
  • To differentiate between main differences between Eastern and Western religious world views
  • To provide a brief explanation of each of several religious world views



I.  Understanding Cultural Influences

A. Cultural influences

Many writers attempt to model the communication process. As we learn in introduction to theory classes, every model has the strengths of allowing us to troubleshoot where problems might lie in a process or to visualize what is happening in the process. But we also know that by focusing on some elements, every model also leaves out other elements. Gudykunst and Kim (2003) suggest that the “cultural influences” on communication are group-held values, norms, beliefs and attitudes that influence the interaction. Triandis calls these the subjective culture, as opposed to the physical and even behavioral manifestations of culture (objective culture). As an example, a rule or norm is an expectation for how one should or can behave in a culture (with norms having more of a “morality” component, as we shall explain below). They guide behavior, but they are not the behavior itself.


The rest of this website will summarize some of these, with greatest attention to values. I will draw on the work of several authors.


B.  Cultural versus Individual difference:

At first read, it seems like self-construal and individualism/collectivism are pretty much the same thing. But they are not! One (I/C) describes a cultural orientation—that is, the values that the culture as a whole upholds or privileges. The other is an aspect of the individual person. Thus, even though Gwen might live in an individualistic culture, she might perceive herself as much more interrelated to those around her and consider their perspectives and needs as she makes decisions. So also, someone in a highly “collective” culture might, in fact, make very self-focused decisions. We will find that most “cultural-level” variables below also have an “individual-level” component. We should not say that a person is “individualistic” as that term refers to a whole culture. Rather, we would say she has an “independent” self construal. The same applies to uncertainty avoidance (she has a high tolerance for ambiguity, even though she lives in a culture with high uncertainty avoidance), gender orientation (she is “androgynous” even though she lives in a “masculine” culture), and so on.


Cultural Level

Individual Level

Individualism/ collectivism



Power distance

Egalitarianism (cf group/ individual power)

Uncertainty avoidance

Tolerance for ambiguity


Individual-level M/F (androgyneity)



C.  What do we mean by “cultural difference”? Further, we should realize that when we do speak of “cultural difference,” we are not making absolute predictions, but must recognize that each culture has variety and diversity within it. Often, students think that when we talk about cultural difference, we are suggesting that all Latinos think or communicate like that and all Pakistani-Americans think or communicate like this. Instead, we should think of differences between groups (including men and women, rich and poor, etc.) like overlapping bell curves. If I were to line up all of the class in terms of height, we would have some women who are taller than some men and some men who are shorter than some women. But if we plotted a bell curve, we would find that on average, we could predict that men are higher than women. It is very important to note that when making predictions about human (communication) behavior, we are making probabilistic, not absolute predictions! That is, we are predicting that “in most cases,” with “other variables being the same,” Chinese people are more likely to prefer such-and-such style of compliments, and Russians are more likely to sense that type of love in romantic relationships. If one is thinking as a “social scientist,” the critique of scientific studies and theories that “this theory does not work, because everybody is different” does not make sense and is not a valid critique!!!! (I’m trying to be subtle here!) Instead, the scientist would try to explain more and more of the difference between individuals with additional variables. All social scientists recognize that individuals are unique, but they tend to believe that we do act in patterned and predictable ways.



      D.  Some important terms dealing with “cultural difference”:

·         Attitudes: According to Samovar & Porter, a disposition to respond to something in a certain way. For our purposes, it will be you feelings towards a particular person, object, or idea.

·         Beliefs: According to S&P, a thought about the connection between two concepts, for example, “sky” and “blue” or “Communism” and “desirable.”

·         Values: What an individual or group of people hold to be important, either as a desired end-state or as a characteristic of a person.

·         Norms: “Guidelines of how we should or should not behave that have a basis in morality” (Gudykunst, 2004, p. 43)

·         Rules“Guidelines for the ways we are expected to communicate. Rules are not based in morality” (p. 43).

·         Taboos/Mores: A taboo or more is a strong norm, usually with stronger social consequences. For example, incest has been found to be a taboo in most cultures.

·         Laws: A rule or norm that is strong enough to be codified into a written or spoken formal code for a culture, usually with prescribed punishments.

·         World View: A view about the connections between the elements in the cosmos, such as between people and nature, between the deity, and so on. Also involves metaphysical views about the nature of life (e.g., reincarnation, judgment).


As brief examples, consider the following:

  • Most laws are probably based on norms, rather than rules (“Thou shalt not kill”). Interestingly, what might have “rule” status in one culture might have “norm” status in another culture (e.g., regarding notions of modesty). And in some cultures what is not even a rule in one culture might have law status in another. For example, chewing gum is against the law in Singapore (for purposes of cleanliness of the public spaces)
  • If someone violates a “rule” she or he would be weird. If the person violates a “norm,” people would consider the person “bad.” If the person violates a taboo, society would view that person as even worse—“evil,” “reprobate,” etc.
  • Rules are very similar to scripts. If anything, scripts are “prescriptions” (rules) for a series of interconnected acts, while a rule could be broader—the prescription for even a single act (like, “don’t pick your nose at the table”)
  • Many rules are known and spoken (“Don’t pick your nose at the table”), but many are informal and may not even be spoken (“Don’t disagree with the boss when the Cubs have lost a game—which is most of the time”).
  • Values are usually phrased in a word or two: “Hygiene” or “Respect”. See discussion of Reynolds in yesterday’s notes. Rules and norms are usually framed in terms of a sentence: “Do this,” “Don’t do that.”
  • Rules and norms are in flux. For example, there is currently a debate on the internet over restroom humor on public TV. While some see restroom commercials as simply violating a rule of what is expected, others question their appropriateness. And violation might in some cases be contextual—for example, I have heard of people using bathroom sinks in the men’s room for urinals during crowded sports games (And we used to think that washing your hands after you went to the bathroom was sanitary!) Speaking of rules and restrooms, for a bit of cultural fun, stop studying for a minute and play the Urinal Game!  Okay now, get back to work. . .


Thought Box: Go out this week and violate the “rules” or “scripts” of a situation. See what happens. One of my favorites is to get on a crowded elevator, put my back to the door and look everyone in the eyes and say, “You’re probably wondering why I’ve gathered you all here today,” or “I feel good all under!”  Be careful where you do this. For example, as one commercial demonstrated, offering to show your family pictures to the man at the urinal next to you in the public restroom might get you a punch in the eye. If this is an application essay, discuss what would make it fall under each of several categories (e.g., rules, norms, mores, laws), to demonstrate your understanding of these.



II.  Some (Etic) frameworks for understanding cultural values

Gudykunst and Kim (2003) present a variety of frameworks that can be used to compare cultures. That is, they tend to be used for cross-cultural communication (with the assumption that when people engage in intercultural communication, they might reflect these same values). Further, to be able to compare cultures, these frameworks are used for all cultures studied, rather than specific to any single culture (that is, they are etic frameworks). Finally, they are most frequently used to be able to make predictions about cultures—for example, researchers have conducted studies to see if people in individualistic or collectivistic cultures are more likely to use hints or direct requests as a first strategy to influence someone’s behavior (see work by Min Sum Kim on South Korea, Hawaii, and mainland U.S.). A couple of points before we begin:

o   “Objective” (scientific) researchers seldom study cultures for the sake of the culture’s themselves, but rather use the cultures to tap some underlying variable, such as power distance or high/low context.

o   “Subjective” researchers would probably not use these frameworks as a whole; they might use specific terms, but may instead look at a single idea (such as “social status”) and how it is defined and communicated within a single culture.

o   Scholars are increasingly using both group- and individual-level variables. For example, the work of M.S. Kim above does group comparisons by country, but also measures “self-construal” to make predictions about people who see themselves independent or interdependent of others (regardless of culture) on how they make requests.

o   These frameworks provide some of the “basic language” of interculturalists. Just like learning a foreign language, your mastery of these terms is essential for your future reading in the course!


A.  High and Low Context: This deals with where one looks for meaning. According to Hall,

    • High context cultures tend to place meaning “internalized within the communicators (more or less his words—but from my memory). That is, meaning is embedded in the role relationships, the situations, the history of the individuals, etc. In a high-context classroom, you would just be expected to know what to do (or how to write a paper) based on the relationship with the instructor, the social prescriptions, the level and type of class.
    • Low context cultures place meaning in the “explicit code”—that is, the words. In these cultures, words are more likely to say what they mean, and we look for meaning in them. Note that many of our definitions of communication, as a “vehicle to transfer meaning from one person to another” reveal a low-context approach. Cultures with a high-context approach would not look for meaning in the words, but in nonverbal behaviors or in linguistic subtleties. These cultures, then, might use communication for different purposes, such as building unity (or resistance), being artistic or metaphoric, etc. Some cultures, in fact, distrust the verbalized word, thinking it only obscures reality.


Low Context/High Context Cultures


B.  Hofstede’s Dimensions Plus Two. Geert Hofstede, an organizational psychologist, developed a survey by studying IBM employees in 40 different nations. From the survey, he derived four dimensions that he then used to categorize the 40 nations. Now upwards of 100,000 people have taken his measure. You can find out more about his dimensions or see of the placement of many cultures in the world on his website: BTW, while I think that his approach has both strengths and limitations (what doesn’t!?), the company that I do intercultural training with on the side places a large amount of the cultural training in terms of Hofstede’s dimensions and Hall’s notion of high and low context. Note that each of these is meant to describe cultures as a whole, not specific individuals.

    • Individualism/collectivism: A culture’s value of interconnectedness of the individual to surrounding groups (such as family, workgroup). Some have expanded the notion to include also commitment to the community, such as seen among many African Americans (Gaines, 1995). Harry Triandis, a cross-cultural psychologist from the University of Illinois has done much work on this area specifically, including breaking I/C down into vertical and horizontal individualism/collectivism. This, in essence, joins I/C with Hofstede’s next dimension.
    • Power distance: A culture’s acceptance of status difference, especially by those lower on the status dimension. A culture with “high power distance” will value status difference more, often reflecting this in communication behaviors such as bows or other differential (and deferential) treatment for those higher in status, different “registers” of language (such as more formal language for higher status, as seen in the “honorific” verbs used in Korean)
    • Masculinity/femininity: A problematic dimension in that it contains two elements, which sometimes seem to contradict each other within a given culture. Hofstede wrote a book in the 1ate 1990s just on this dimension, as it had received much criticism:
      • Direct, goal-oriented behavior (M) versus relational, face-saving behavior (F)
      • Role rigidity (men do men things, women do women things—M) versus role fluidity (male and female roles overlap—F)
    • Uncertainty avoidance: A culture’s desire for structure and predictability. Cultures with high UA will seek more predictability and structure, often seen through more rigid religious systems, stronger punishments, and more clearly enforced laws. For these cultures, “different is bad.” Low UA cultures will be more flexible in rules and are more likely to see “different as interesting.”
    • Confucian work dynamism: The China Culture Connection (1987) suggested that the 4 dimensions were not enough to predict Chinese communication and created a fifth dimension (no—not that Fifth Dimension) that refers to a culture’s value on things such as thrift, persistence, respect for tradition, personal steadiness, and reciprocity (Gudykunst & Lee, 2002). This is also called Long-Term Orientation as it reflects a value on hard work, education, and so on that lead to long-term outcomes, rather than short-term pragmatism (for fun, go on to Hofstede’s Website and compare China and the United States on LTO!).
    • Indulgence versus Restraint: Since BCGS text went to press, Hofstede’s website ( has added a 6th dimension, indulgence versus restraint. In Hofstede’s words, “Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.”


Hofstede plots nations upon pairs of dimensions, such as this following sample, which shows that generally, the more individualistic a culture, the lower the “power distance”; the more industrialized and urbanized a nation, the more individualistic; and certain regions of the world (e.g., East Asia, Latin America, Mediterranean Europe) might be similar in their placement.  See his reading in the Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel reader for a full explanation of the dimensions. Many scholars say that I/C is the fundamental, most important cultural value distinction by which cultures can be explained, and for our course, it will likely be the most important cultural value notion you can “pick up” all term!




Text Box: Thought Box: Visit Geert Hofstede’s extensive website: Get a feeling for his four dimensions and LTO (which he has added to his website). Then, for an application essay, describe a culture that you have visited (or your own), or do a comparison (e.g., southern versus Midwest, urban versus rural cultures) in terms of the five dimensions. Give evidence for how you place the culture(s) on each dimension (that is, don’t just describe the dimensions—give communication or other behaviors that support your point). After you are done (especially if it is national), go back to Hofstede’s website and see how his research places them! ( Do you agree or disagree with his classification (this may not fit in your application essay, but it will be fun to find out!)



C.  Parson’s Pattern Variables. Talcott Parsons, a sociologist, developed another framework to differentiate cultures. There is some overlap between this and some of Hofstede’s notions. Here are the dimensions, with my brief and simple explanations and examples:

    • Affectivity ßàAffect Neutrality: How a culture makes decisions: whether a culture values intuitive (emotional, affective) decisions or logical, rational decisions. Ex: If your culture values setting emotion aside in decision making, it is “affect neutral.”
    • ßàParticularism: Rules: whether a culture seeks to apply the same rules to all people equally (U) or holds different sets of expectations and rules for people in different (status) categories (P). Ex: If your culture believes that people of higher status should receive certain privileges or should be treated with more formal or more respectful communication, this is a “particular” culture.
    • Diffuseness ßàSpecificity: Roles: whether a culture values treating people more holistically, that is, as whole persons, or in specific roles. Ex: Mexican culture has the notion of “respecto,” in which one treats a waitperson or subordinate as a whole person, often knowing about several aspects of the person’s life. Roles overlap, so the padron might be both a boss but also like a father figure. In other cultures, the waitperson is only a waitperson, and when you go to work, you leave your personal issues at home.
    • Ascription ßàAchievement: Status: whether a culture assigns status based o n some pre-determined category (such as name of family, profession) or by one’s own accomplishments. Ex: Two cultures might value the diploma on the wall, but in the ascription culture, status is “ascribed” to the individual, or simply given, based on the fact that she has a diploma. In the “achievement” culture, the diploma is a representation of her hard work, and it is that hard work that gives her status. Generally speaking, in ‘achievement’ cultures, status is more changeable—that is, there is more “status mobility.”  
    • Instrumental ßàExpressive: Mode of communication, activity: whether one engages in behavior (including communication) in order to achieve some end-state (goal-driven, I), or for its own sake (E). Ex: Some cultures are really good at just “hanging out.” People can sit for hours just visiting and enjoying the moment (E). Others see communication as a means to an end. This might be reflected in the differences between men’s and women’s phone conversations in America. Men are more likely to call to achieve a goal, and then end the conversation when the goal is accomplished. Women are more likely to call to chat, or to continue chatting. Research suggests that women’s friendships and girls’ games are more based on “talk,” whereas men’s relationships are based more on “activity,” and boys’ games on clearly defined rules by which one can clearly be declared the “winner.”


Thought Box: Where would you place either American culture or your own “culture” (whichever you choose to describe, or your national culture, if you are not American) on one of these sets of dimensions? Justify your answer.



Triandis, H. C. (2012). Culture and conflict. In L. A. Samovar, R. E. Porter, & E. R. McDaniel (Eds.), Intercultural communication: A reader (13th ed., pp. 34-45). Boston: Wadsworth.  Triandis’ cultural syndromes. Harry Triandis, a cross-cultural psychologist at the University of Illinois, is an extensive writer on culture, focusing especially on individualism-collectivism (see numerous articles or books he has collaborated on). Triandis (2012) summarizes what he feels are some key dimensions of culture. See if you can recognize the same concepts by different names from other frameworks? How might each apply to communication?

      1.   Before we get there…

·         Defining culture: For Triandis culture is “a shared meaning system found among those who speak a particular language dialect, during a specific historic period, in a definable region. It functions to improve the adaptation of members of the culture to a particular ecology, and it includes the knowledge that people need to have in order to function effectively in their social environment” (p. 35). What type of def is it? What does it include? What does it exclude?

·         Objective and subjective culture: Triandis mentions subjective culture more in passing (p. 35). In other works, he differentiates this, the norms, values, and other meaning components of a culture, from objective culture, which are the tangible artifacts that people in a group make, what he elsewhere calls “material culture” ( (I wonder where he would put communicative behavior?

·         Cultural distance: A very important notion in IC comm—cultures vary in how close or similar they are to one another, with greater conflict (the focus of this chapter) more likely between those cultures with greater distance.

·         Attribution (p. 39): Giving meaning to the behavior of others or ourselves. This is central to cultural (mis)understanding! We often make errors in attribution, especially between in- and out-groups or towards groups we are more favorable toward and those we like less. We’ll say more about this in our unit on intolerance.

·         Aggression: The chapter is about conflict, and we may not come back to it, but note the factors that lead to aggression (p. 41)—how many of those do you see in U.S. American culture?


2.   Cultural Syndromes: Be able to recognize these and see how they relate to other dimensions we have discussed. Especially, know bold, red terms. You’ll note many repeat ideas of earlier authors (e.g., Parsons)

·         Complexity

·         Tightness

·         Individualism-collectivism

·         Vertical and horizontal cultures

·         Active-passive cultures

·         Universalism-particularism

·         Diffuse-specific

·         Instrumental-expressive

·         Emotional expression or suppression


Important Notes:

  • All dimensions exist in all cultures—but cultures tend to have “preferences” for one dimension over the other.
  • Hofstede’s dimensions, especially, should not be thought of as dichotomies. One of the limitations of his approach is that most people who use it simply classify cultures as, for example, either “individualistic” or “collectivistic”—often choosing countries such as U.S. and Japan (the latter actually becoming increasingly individualistic!) for examples of the variables.  Unfortunately:
    1. His framework was developed in 1980, and culture scores seem to be based on the same data he collected at that time
    2. His data was collected from IBM employees who may not represent the rest of their cultures (for example, the placement of U.S. culture may mostly reflect White, middle-class men, and not women or other groups)
    3. Thus, by placing a culture on one point on his dimension, we could hide other differences among subgroups within a culture
    4. Sometimes the score on some measure (like a “47” on individualism”) may not tell us about the nuances of how individualism plays out in different cultures. In fact, those who study self-construal note that someone might have elements of both independent and interdependent self-construal at the same time. Some are now arguing that individualism/collectivism, past/future, and so on, be seen as “tensions” (dialectics) within culture, rather than opposites on a continuum.
  • There is some relationship between some of the dimensions—for example, on the PPt presentation, slide 15, we can see a trend in that, overall, the more collective a nation is, the more power distance (i.e., one’s place in the collective) becomes important
  • We can also see other trends in terms of I/C and PD: 1) five of the 6 most collective nations are all English-speaking! (Australia, Great Britain, U.S. New Zealand, Canada); 2) the more a nation industrializes and urbanizes, the more individualistic it becomes


Note: The last (K&S) really seems to deal more with world view than with values per se. I will outline these when I fill out the webpage, but if you want to know more about the latter sets of dimensions or want to read about them on your own, I refer you to Ch. 3 of Communicating with Strangers:


II.  Some other frameworks for understanding cultural values: Emic and Not

While many authors seek a single set of dimensions or terms that can be applied for comparison across all cultures, other researchers prefer to study a single culture, or sometimes only two cultures, to compare them against one another. And still others seek a single framework that might apply to all cultures. Neuliep, for example, presents both in his section on “value orientations” (pp. 64-76). In a way, the wording is a bit broad, because the other orientations in the chapter are also value orientations, and at least one of the items contained here (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck) deals as much with world view as with values (so you’ll find discussion of their dimensions, important for the exam, below!). Here are some examples:

A.    Emic approaches:

1.      Hsu’s postulates of basic American values.

2.      The Chinese Value Survey (this original measure of Chinese culture later developed into the long-term orientation now considered often with Hofstede’s analysis, above).

3.      We will see others from a variety of cultures as we move through the course!

B.     Schwartz’s Universal Values: Shalom Schwartz sought to develop a framework for values that would apply to all cultures—11 “motivational types of values” (Neuleip, 2006, p. 69). These values represent underlying universal needs (biological, social coordination, survival & welfare), though each culture might have its own priorities. This is a frequently cited list and useful to know! (though not for our exam…)



Text Box: Thought Box: Analyze a video about different national or domestic cultures, either from the Internet or one that you are aware of. Use the video to discuss either one of the etic frameworks of cultural difference or use what you can find out on the Internet to describe emic approaches (that is, values appropriate for each culture, but not necessarily from some pre-determined framework like Hofstede).

Possibilities (or choose your own!):
•	Values through manners?
•	Steve Jobs versus Confucius:
•	Doing business in India: 
•	Dutch culture:



Optional Sources:

Gudykunst, W. B., & Kim, Y. Y. (2002). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

·         Ch 3: Part A (individual versus cultural differences:

·         Ch. 3: Part B (various frameworks briefly described):

Web Resources: (links provided, rather than hotlinks, due to PDF format for Blackboard)

·         How stuff works: Culture & tradition channels:

· on E.T. Hall’s Dimensions (hi/low context):

·         Youtube on Hi/Lo context cultures:

·         Intercultural Press’s books on specific cultures:

·         Let me know if you find other helpful links!




Dodd, C. H. (1998). Dynamics of intercultural communication (5th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Friday, R. A. (2000). Contrasts in discussion behaviors of German and American managers. In L. A. Samovar & R. E. Porter (Eds.), Intercultural communication: A reader (9th ed., pp. 329-334). Belmont, CA: Wadsorth.

Gudykunst, W. B., & Lee, C. M. (2002). Cross-cultural communication theories. In W. B. Gudykunst & B. Mody (Eds.), Handbook of international and intercultural communication (2nd ed., pp. 25-50). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nakayama, T. K., & Martin, J. N. (2002). Worldview, religion, and intercultural communication. In J. K. Martin, T. K. Nakayama, & L. A. Flores (Eds.), Readings in intercultural communication (2nd ed., pp. 21-31). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Reynolds, B. K. (1984). A cross-cultural study of values of Germans and Americans. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 8, 269-278.