How Personality Influences Culture

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  • 0:03 What Is Personality?
  • 0:41 Culture & Personality
  • 2:36 Chosen Cultures
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Studies show that cultural forces influence the expression of personality, but personality can also influence culture. In this lesson, we'll look at the two-way relationship between culture and personality.

What Is Personality?

Kendra is very different from her friend Kim. While Kim is very quiet, nurturing, and people-focused, Kendra is more forceful, adventurous, and business-oriented. Why are Kendra and Kim so different?

Personality is what makes a person who he or she is. In psychology, it is often thought of as the traits that define us and distinguish us from others. Being nurturing is part of Kim's personality just as being adventurous is part of Kendra's.

But what could have made them different from each other? To help Kendra answer the question of why that is the case, let's look closer at the relationship between culture and personality, including chosen cultures.

Culture & Personality

Though Kendra and Kim go to school together, they are from very different cultures, which are societal or social groups of people and their shared customs, traditions, and beliefs. For example, Kim was raised in a country whose culture stresses the virtue of women being nurturing and meek, whereas Kendra was raised in a culture where women are expected to be strong, tough, and no-nonsense.

Many studies show that culture can influence personality. Often, people have what's called a status personality, which is someone whose personality meets the expectations within a culture. For example, Kim's culture encourages women to be quiet and nurturing, and that's how she's turned out. She has a status personality. Likewise, Kendra's culture expects women to be strong and tough, and she meets those expectations, so she has a status personality.

But what happens when a person doesn't have a status personality? For example, what if Kendra lived in a society where women were encouraged to be meek and quiet instead of outspoken and adventurous? Certainly, this can cause stress for the person involved, especially if their society pressures them to act in a way that's culturally acceptable but different from what the person is like.

As we've seen, culture can influence personality, but non-status personalities can also change culture. For example, many women in America and other western countries are career-focused, adventurous, and outspoken. This has changed the culture: it used to be that women were expected to be quiet and meek, but now most of America recognizes that women can be outspoken and adventurous. Women whose personalities were not status personalities, such as Amelia Earhart, helped to change culture.

The same could be said for other aspects of society. Think how different our culture would be if people like Sojourner Truth or Malcolm X hadn't broken out of status personalities of people of color, or if people like Harvey Milk or John F. Kennedy hadn't used their personalities to change the culture's attitudes towards gays or Catholics.

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