Low sense of personal control increases peoples affinity for tighter, rules-based culture: Tighter cultures also self-perpetuate by reducing individuals sense of personal control in favor of collective control, study says

People who feel a lack of personal control in their lives are more likely to prefer a culture that imposes order, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. These “tighter” cultures, in turn, perpetuate their existence by reducing individuals’ sense of personal control and increasing their sense of collective control.

“Strong social norms — a core feature of tight cultures — help people view the world as simple and coherent. As strong norms guide people’s behaviors and allow them to predict others’ behaviors, they can provide a significant source of order and predictability in everyday social life,” said lead author Anyi Ma, PhD, of Tulane University. “So, when people lack control and desire structure, they may come to prefer tighter cultures.”

The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers analyzed survey data and conducted a series of experiments to better understand how a sense of personal control can affect a preference for cultural tightness, and how cultural tightness can affect people’s sense of personal control.

First, the researchers looked at data from more than 5,700 participants from the Midlife in United States survey, a nationally representative, longitudinal study of health and well-being. Data were collected in two waves: 2004-2006 and 2013-2014.

As part of the survey, participants were asked a series of questions designed to assess their perceived level of personal control. Participants in both waves were also asked, “Thinking back over all the places you’ve lived during your lifetime, including where you live now, which state would you most like to live in for the next 10 years if you could easily move there now?”

Researchers used scores for tightness and looseness of individual states calculated by researchers from the University of Maryland in 2014. Scores for each state were derived using an established measure that included criteria such as strength of punishment (e.g., the legality of corporal punishment, punitiveness of laws), latitude/permissiveness (access to alcohol), diversity (as measured by the percentage of total population that is foreign) and prevalence and strength of institutions (e.g., how religious the population is).

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