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From the editors

In this provocatively titled piece “On kissing in elevators and flirting in the office”, van Egmond talks about the different level of emphasis that countries place on obeying social norms and the possible outcomes of it. The background of this piece stems from a massive cross-country research led by Michelle Gelfand and colleagues. They found systematic differences across countries in their strictness of social norms, which were connected to variables such as population density and history of threats faced by the country. In particular, countries that experienced greater population density or greater threats (e.g., wars, natural disasters) showed greater cultural ‘tightness’ (strictness on obeying social norms). Conversely, countries with lower population density or faced few threats historically showed cultural ‘looseness’ (weaker emphasis on obeying social norms). According to the research team, a country’s need to defend itself from threats makes it essential to socially coordinate and enhance social order within the country; processes which are facilitated through social norms. It is possible to observe the tightness and looseness of social norms of countries through both micro-level phenomenon such as parenting methods, genetics, and macro-level phenomenon such as level of religiosity and severity of punishments in the justice system. van Egmond also speaks briefly about her own experience as a foreign student in Germany and the possible consequences when people of differing perspectives of social norms adherence meet. The relative difference between strictness of obeying social norms could be one potential source of unhappiness between the locals and the foreigners entering countries and cities that are cosmopolitan in nature.

As I read this article, several thoughts came to mind. What does the presence of this difference mean for countries or societies that are cosmopolitan or becoming cosmopolitan? At the macro-level, the knowledge of the strictness and looseness of social norms within the country’s society is definitely something useful for policymakers, especially when solving problems on social harmony and integration. Since the level of tightness or looseness is dependent on the history experienced by the country, does that mean that the tightness level is malleable over time and events? How do people within the country start to change their social norms emphasis level? Is the change a top-down or bottom-up process, or both?

At the individual level, do individuals explicitly and/or implicitly recognize the level of cultural tightness or looseness a society has? For example, if you have lived in a foreign country before, do you recognize that the foreign environment has a different tolerance level towards certain behaviors or responses? How has that affected your future choice in country destinations? Another area to think about would be the consequence (e.g., well-being) of a fit or misfit between the local cultural tightness and the foreigner’s cultural tightness. Generalizing the topic further, it is also possible that cultural tightness a person is accustomed to depends on the parenting methods and foci, creating possible sub-variations within a country. This piece by van Egmond is certainly thought provoking and provides plenty material for food for thought. Share your views, comments, or questions below!

Laysee Ong
Associate Editor

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