Introduction to Autism and Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory

This is the introduction to a series of articles I will be producing on Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory and how it relates to ASD. Cultural theory is a complex subject and when mixing cultures (such as nationality and the Autism way of thinking) any clarity is useful; if nothing else someone can say “nope, that’s not it” and eliminate an avenue of explanation.

Prior to delving into the meat of the series I felt an introduction to Hofstede and his work was needed.

Geert Hofstede founded the office of personnel research at IBM in 1965. Between the research he conducted at the company (well over 117,000 respondents) and further refinement done afterwards he was able to develop a model of cultural dimensions that identified four dichotomies that measured the orientation of cultures to various internal values. Later he would add a fifth dichotomy following the involvement of Chinese managers and students.  A sixth (and so far final) dichotomy completed the theory in 2010. These dichotomies are:

Power distance index (PDI): “Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Cultures that endorse low power distance expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic. People relate to one another more as equals regardless of formal positions. Subordinates are more comfortable with and demand the right to contribute to and critique the decision making of those in power. In high power distance countries, less powerful accept power relations that are more autocratic and paternalistic. Subordinates acknowledge the power of others simply based on where they are situated in certain formal, hierarchical positions. As such, the power distance index Hofstede defines does not reflect an objective difference in power distribution, but rather the way people perceive power differences.

Individualism (IDV) vs. collectivism: “The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups”. In individualistic societies, the stress is put on personal achievements and individual rights. People are expected to stand up for themselves and their immediate family, and to choose their own affiliations. In contrast, in collectivist societies, individuals act predominantly as members of a life-long and cohesive group or organization (note: “The word collectivism in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state”). People have large extended families, which are used as a protection in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI): “a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity”. It reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more emotional. They try to minimize the occurrence of unknown and unusual circumstances and to proceed with careful changes step by step by planning and by implementing rules, laws and regulations. In contrast, low uncertainty avoidance cultures accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations or changeable environments and try to have as few rules as possible. People in these cultures tend to be more pragmatic, they are more tolerant of change.

Masculinity (MAS), vs. femininity: “The distribution of emotional roles between the genders”. Masculine cultures’ values are competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power, whereas feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life. In masculine cultures, the differences between gender roles are more dramatic and less fluid than in feminine cultures where men and women have the same values emphasizing modesty and caring. As a result of the taboo on sexuality in many cultures, particularly masculine ones, and because of the obvious gender generalizations implied by Hofstede’s terminology, this dimension is often renamed by users of Hofstede’s work, e.g. to Quantity of Life vs. Quality of Life.

Long term orientation (LTO), vs. short term orientation: First called “Confucian dynamism”, it describes societies’ time horizon. Long term oriented societies attach more importance to the future. They foster pragmatic values oriented towards rewards, including persistence, saving and capacity for adaptation. In short term oriented societies, values promoted are related to the past and the present, including steadiness, respect for tradition, preservation of one’s face, reciprocation and fulfilling social obligations.

Indulgence, vs. restraint (IVR): Societies with a high rate of indulgence allow hedonistic behaviors: people can freely satisfy their basic needs and desires. On the opposite, Restraint define societies with strict social norms, where gratification of drives are suppressed and regulated.

[source:  Wikipedia]

This framework is not without its criticisms but as with any good theory it offers a start for the conversation and a structure on which to hang the pro and con arguments. There are certainly further areas to look at including:

Hofstede’s academic site
Kwintessentials’ analysis of the theory
Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, Third Edition - Hofstede’s recent work
Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations - Original publication
Global Ambitions and Local Identities: An Israeli-american High-tech Merger - Work by Galit Ailon; critic of Hofstede’s theory

Scott J. Shea is the proprietor of Job Sink, offering career advice and exploring employment issues and workplace difficulties faced by those on the autism spectrum.

Introduction to Autism and Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, the first in a series of eight, appears here by permission.

->Part 2<-

->Part 3<-

->Part 4<-

->Part 5<-

->Part 6<-

->Part 7<-

->Part 8<-

->Part 9<

[image via Psychology Wiki]

on 07/26/11 in featured, Society | 1 Comment | Read More

Comments (1)


  1. I sometimes wonder that there are too many therists and not enough pragmatists out there.

    For sure I am building Castles in the air with thery, but my everyday life is grounded in something different and if I met this guy in a dark alley it is not his thery I would be wanting but his wallet :)

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