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High-Context Culture: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Defining High-Context Culture
  • 1:17 Characteristics of…
  • 2:39 Ingroups in…
  • 3:18 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

High-context culture is a phrase that was created by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in the 1970s to describe a culture's style of communication. Learn more about high-context cultures from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining High-Context Culture

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall first discussed high-context culture in his 1976 book titled Beyond Culture. High-context cultures are those in which the rules of communication are primarily transmitted through the use of contextual elements (i.e., body language, a person's status, and tone of voice) and are not explicitly stated. This is in direct contrast to low-context cultures, in which information is communicated primarily through language and rules are explicitly spelled out.

It is important to note that no culture is completely high-context or low-context, since all societies contain at least some parts that are both high and low. For example, while the United States is a low-context culture, family gatherings (which are common in American culture) tend to be high-context.

Members of high-context cultures usually have close relationships that last for an extended period of time. As a result of these years of interacting with one another, the members know what the rules are, how to think, and how to behave, so the rules do not have to be explicitly stated. This makes high-context cultures difficult to navigate for those who do not understand the culture's unwritten rules.

Characteristics of High-Context Cultures

Some common characteristics of high-context cultures include:

  • Primarily use non-verbal methods to relay meaningful information in conversations, such as facial expressions, eye movement, and tone of voice.
  • The situation, people, and non-verbal elements are more important than the actual words that are communicated.
  • People are comfortable standing close to each other.
  • The preferred way of solving problems and learning is in groups.
  • Members of the culture place emphasis on interpersonal relationships.
  • Trust must be developed before business transactions can begin.

High-context cultures include:

  • Japan and other countries located in Asia
  • Brazil and other countries located in South America
  • African tribal groups and most countries located in Africa
  • A majority of the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran

Though the United States has a low-context culture, we have all been placed in situations that are considered high-context. For example, if you have ever been to a family gathering, then you have experience with a high-context culture. We have close, personal relationships with our relatives. We know that the way in which we say things at these gatherings is more important than what we say. We also make strong distinctions between those who are a part of our family and those who are not.

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