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Title: Culture and Social Situations: An Multilevel Analysis of Situational Constraint Across 35 Nations

Authors: Michele J. Gelfand


Despite wide recognition that situations play a critical role in understanding human behavior, there has been a lack of systematic research on situations in cross-cultural organizational behavior. In this research, I focus on cultural influences on social situations, and argue that social situations are an important mediating mechanism between ecocultural and historical factors and individual level psychological processes. I focus specifically on the degree to which situations are strong versus weak (Mischel, 1977) across 35 cultures. Although I expected that there are strong and weak situations in all cultures, I examined the notion that there are systematic differences in the degree of situational constraint across cultures, which is related to a number of macro ecological and historical factors (e.g., population density, history of conflict) and is reinforced through micro-psychological attributes that are cultivated within cultures (e.g., prevention focus, impulse control, need for structure).

A multilevel study using survey, archival, and observational methods was conducted to test the theory across 35 nations. The results illustrated that there is wide cross-cultural variation in situational constraint. Nations that have high population density, a history of territorial and political conflict, many natural disasters, and a high percentage of Muslims have higher situational constraint. Situational constraint is related to higher levels of autocracy, lower openness of the media, and lower economic freedom, but also lower rates of national crime. Hierarchical linear modeling illustrated that nations that are high on situational constraint tend to have citizens who have greater dutifulness, impulse control, need for structure, and self-monitoring ability. The results also illustrated that situational constraint is related to lower standard deviations in personality across individuals within cultures (McCrae). I will also discuss the relationship between situational constraint and cultural values (Hofstede, Schwartz), social axioms (Bond & Leung), and new measures of cultural tightness-looseness. I will conclude with a discussion of the promise of studying social situations in cross-cultural organizational behavior, and potential re-interpretations of well-established findings when adapting a cross-cultural situationalist lens.