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Culture and COVID-19: Impact of Cross-Cultural Dimensions on Behavioral Responses
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The global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted every sphere of human life across all nations of the world. Countries adapted and responded to the crisis in different ways with varied outcomes and different degrees of success in mitigation efforts. Studies have examined institutional and policy-based responses to the pandemic. However, to gain a holistic understanding of the pandemic response strategy and its effectiveness, it is also important to understand the cultural foundations of a society driving its response behavior. Towards that end, this entry focuses on a few key cultural dimensions of difference across countries and proposes that national culture is related to the protective behavior adopted by societies during COVID-19. The cultural dimensions examined in relation to COVID-19 include the dimensions of individualism vs. collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity and femininity, and future orientation. Inferences are drawn from academic research, published data, and discernible indicators of social behavior. The entry provides pointers for each dimension of culture and proposes that cultural awareness be made an important element of policy making while responding to crises such as COVID-19. 

  • culture
  • COVID-19
  • pandemic
  • cultural dimensions
  • individualism vs. collectivism
  • power distance
  • uncertainty avoidance
  • masculinity and femininity
  • future orientation
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For many, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, which began spreading across the globe in January 2020, has been the first and only pandemic people have witnessed in their lifetime [1]. The pandemic has been a crisis of unprecedented proportion which brought with it conditions never encountered by the current generations. Governments and people across the world have been left scrambling to contain the spread of the virus and to adopt effective risk mitigation strategies, even after pharmaceutical interventions such as vaccines have come on the horizon [2]. The scale of damage that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has unleashed in terms of the lives lost, harmful mental and physical health consequences [3], and constraints on public health systems [4] has been unprecedented. As of May 2022, more than 520 million cases of COVID-19 and 6.2 million fatalities have been reported worldwide, with the United States, India, Brazil, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Russia having reported the largest number of cases [5]. On the other hand, countries such as New Zealand, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Norway reportedly had fewer than 1.2 million cases [5]. Governments have exhibited wide variations in their responses to the pandemic. Some countries experienced nation-wide lockdowns such as India and China, while others adopted softer approaches such as that of Sweden [6][7][8][9]. Similarly, the societal response to the pandemic has also varied significantly. It can be argued that to understand a COVID-19 response strategy it is important to understand the interaction of both the formal (institutional mechanisms) and the informal (cultural underpinnings) elements guiding decision making [10].
There is increasing recognition today that one cannot understand pandemic responses without adopting a behavioral science approach [11][12][13]. Consequently, there is a mounting body of work in this direction with several published works focusing on understanding responses to the COVID-19 pandemic through a behavioral lens [13][14]. Early in the pandemic, when pharmaceutical interventions were limited, some researchers called for recognizing and changing behavior to control the transmission of the virus [12]. Several studies have emerged pointing to differences in country-level responses. For example, one such study [9] points to differences in cross-country perceptions of risk influencing social distancing amidst the pandemic.
Different cultures react and behave differently to threat perceptions based on shared belief systems [15]. Differences is how people behave in a social context are often grounded in varying expectations and learned behavior acquired through socialization [16]. National cultures shape people’s behaviors [15][17][18] and have been shown to predict people’s wellbeing amidst the pandemic [19]. This is particularly relevant in times of crisis such as the pandemic when people tend to adhere more strongly to prevailing social norms [20]. Indicative of the powerful effect of culture in shaping behavior amidst the pandemic, in a recent study using econometric data, culture has in fact been shown to act as a substitute for state action in ensuring compliance with COVID-19 policies [21]. Thus, if culture has the potency to supplement or replace policy, it merits attention to understand the cultural dimensions shaping and guiding behavior, which can augment policy-level interventions to manage the ongoing pandemic.
Culture has been widely studied for many decades. Geert Hofstede’s cultural diversity model is considered one of the major frameworks for understanding culture [15][16][17]. Since human behavior is a reflection of the underlying values that people subscribe to [22], it is worthwhile to reflect on the values that shape this behavior at the cross-cultural level. One of the earliest ways of understanding cross-cultural values or dimensions of difference was offered by Hofstede based on data from across 64 countries [17]. Hofstede conceptualized cultural differences emerging from differences in values categorized along certain dimensions [16][23]. The original four dimensions of difference across cultures were identified as individualism versus collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity versus femininity [16][23]. Other dimensions such as long-term versus short-term were later included in the conceptualization. Individualism versus collectivism captures the dichotomy of independence versus interdependence, or loyalty to oneself compared to that towards the group [24][25]. It refers to the extent to which people affiliate with loosely or tightly knit social groups [25]. Power distance refers to the acceptance of power differentials in a society, while uncertainty avoidance refers to the extent of perceived discomfort with ambiguities or uncertainties in a society [16][18][26]. Masculinity versus femininity refers to the extent to which cultures prefer equality or egalitarianism between the sexes in a society. It captures the degree to which cultures are prone towards competition and assertiveness, or caring and nurturance [16][26]. The long-term versus short-term dimension refers to a cultural orientation that is rooted in either the present or the future [27].
This entry explores some of the above dimensions of cross-cultural difference as it relates to understanding or shaping behavior amidst the pandemic. In the following sections, the entry examines the relevant cultural dimensions and attempt to synthesize emerging literature linking cultural dimensions to the pandemic. The effect of cultural dimensions on variations in behavior will also be illustrated through some country-level differences, where available. In offering this overview of culture and COVID-19, we aim to understand the relevant cultural variables influencing and guiding human behavior at the collective level amidst a crisis such as the current pandemic.

References

  1. Honigsbaum, M. The Pandemic Century: A History of Global Contagion from the Spanish Flu to COVID-19; WH Allen: London, UK, 2020.
  2. Saif, K.; Zou, B.; Adler-Milstein, J. Factors and reasons associated with low COVID-19 vaccine uptake among highly hesitant communities in the US. Am. J. Infect. Control 2022, 50, 262–267.
  3. Hussein, N.H. COVID-19 in a collectivist culture: Social isolation and maintenance of social relations. Int. J. Sociol. Soc. Policy 2022, 42, 276–288.
  4. McGee, A.; Carter, D. The equivalence thesis and the last ventilator. J. Appl. Philos. 2022, 39, 297–312.
  5. World Health Organization. Available online: https://covid19.who.int/ (accessed on 9 May 2022).
  6. Chen, C.; Frey, C.B.; Presidente, G. Culture and contagion: Individualism and compliance with COVID-19 policy. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 2021, 19, 191–200.
  7. Gupta, M.; Shoja, A.; Mikalef, P. Toward the understanding of national culture in the success of non-pharmaceutical technological interventions in mitigating COVID-19 pandemic. Ann. Oper. Res. 2021, 3, 1–18.
  8. Dheer, R.J.S.; Egri, C.P.; Treviño, L.J. A cross-cultural exploratory analysis of pandemic growth: The case of COVID-19. J. Int. Bus. Stud. 2021, 52, 1871–1892.
  9. Milani, F. COVID-19 outbreak, social response, and early economic effects: A global VAR analysis of cross-country interdependencies. J. Popul. Econ. 2021, 34, 223–252.
  10. Geva-May, I.; Hoffman, D.C.; Muhleisen, J. Twenty years of comparative policy analysis: A survey of the field and a discussion of topics and methods. J. Comp. Policy Anal. Res. Pract. 2018, 20, 18–35.
  11. Bavel, J.J.V.; Baicker, K.; Boggio, P.S.; Capraro, V.; Cichocka, A.; Cikara, M.; Crockett, M.J.; Crum, A.J.; Douglas, K.M.; Druckman, J.N.; et al. Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2020, 4, 460–471.
  12. West, R.; Michie, S.; Rubin, G.J.; Amlôt, R. Applying principles of behaviour change to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2020, 4, 451–459.
  13. Nair, N.; Selvaraj, P. Using a cultural and social identity lens to understand pandemic responses in the US and India. Int. J. Cross Cult. Manag. 2021, 21, 545–568.
  14. Cao, C.; Li, N.; Liu, L. Do national cultures matter in the containment of COVID-19? Int. J. Sociol. Soc. Policy 2020, 40, 939–961.
  15. Triandis, H.C. The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts. Psychol. Rev. 1989, 96, 506–520.
  16. Hofstede, G.; Hofstede, G.J.; Minkov, M. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival, 3rd ed.; McGraw-Hill: New York, NY, USA, 2010.
  17. Hofstede, G. Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values; Sage: Beverly Hills, CA, USA, 1980.
  18. Hofstede, G. Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations across Nations, 2nd ed.; Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA, USA, 2001.
  19. Kowal, M.; Coll-Martín, T.; Ikizer, G.; Rasmussen, J.; Eichel, K.; Studzińska, A.; Koszałkowska, K.; Karwowski, M.; Najmussaqib, A.; Pankowski, D.; et al. Who is the most stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic? Data from 26 countries and areas. Appl. Psychol. Health Well-Being 2020, 12, 946–966.
  20. Biddlestone, M.; Green, R.; Douglas, K.M. Cultural orientation, power, belief in conspiracy theories, and intentions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Br. J. Soc. Psychol. 2020, 59, 663–673.
  21. He, Z.; Jiang, Y.; Chakraborti, R.; Berry, T.D. The impact of national culture on COVID-19 pandemic outcomes. Int. J. Soc. Econ. 2022, 49, 313–335.
  22. Han, S. Understanding cultural differences in human behavior: A cultural neuroscience approach. Curr. Opin. Behav. Sci. 2015, 3, 68–72.
  23. Hofstede, G.; Bond, M.H. The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth. Organ. Dyn. 1988, 16, 5–21.
  24. Hofstede, G. Culture and organizations. Int. Stud. Manag. Organ. 1980, 10, 15–41.
  25. Triandis, H.C. Individualism & Collectivism; Westview Press: Boulder, CO, USA, 1995; p. 259.
  26. Hofstede, G. Dimensionalizing cultures: The Hofstede model in context. Online Read. Psychol. Cult. 2011, 2, 8. Available online: http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/orpc/vol2/iss1/8 (accessed on 8 May 2022).
  27. Hofstede, G.; Minkov, M. Long-versus short-term orientation: New perspectives. Asia Pac. Bus. Rev. 2010, 16, 493–504.
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Subjects: Sociology
Contributors : , ,
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Online Time: 04 Jul 2022
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    Nair, N.; Selvaraj, P.; Nambudiri, R. Culture and COVID-19: Impact of Cross-Cultural Dimensions on Behavioral Responses. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24787 (accessed on 20 August 2022).
    Nair N, Selvaraj P, Nambudiri R. Culture and COVID-19: Impact of Cross-Cultural Dimensions on Behavioral Responses. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24787. Accessed August 20, 2022.
    Nair, Nisha, Patturaja Selvaraj, Ranjeet Nambudiri. "Culture and COVID-19: Impact of Cross-Cultural Dimensions on Behavioral Responses," Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24787 (accessed August 20, 2022).
    Nair, N., Selvaraj, P., & Nambudiri, R. (2022, July 04). Culture and COVID-19: Impact of Cross-Cultural Dimensions on Behavioral Responses. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24787
    Nair, Nisha, et al. ''Culture and COVID-19: Impact of Cross-Cultural Dimensions on Behavioral Responses.'' Encyclopedia. Web. 04 July, 2022.
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