Tight & Loose Cultures and its impact

From the Freakonomics Podcast episode – The U.S. is just different – so let’s stop pretending we’re not:

So, culture is about values, beliefs, absorbed ideas and behaviors. But here’s the thing about culture: it can be really hard to measure. Which is probably why we don’t hear all that much about the science of culture. When something is not easily measured, it often gets talked about in mushy or ideological terms. Michele Gelfand wasn’t interested in that. She did want to measure culture, and how it differs from place to place. She decided that the key difference, the right place to start measuring, was whether the culture in a given country is tight or loose.

I had no idea there was a who study dedicated to cross-cultural psychology. Having worked in both Tight & Loose cultures, I was able to relate to this podcast and the impact this has had on me and my work.

All cultures have social norms, these unwritten rules that guide our behavior on a daily basis. But some cultures strictly abide by their norms. They’re what we call tight cultures. And other cultures are more loose. They’re more permissive. 

You have to listen to the podcast to understand why a country or its culture is shaped the way it is. It’s not just entire countries, but even states within the US have tight or loose culture.

Michele Gelfand and several co-authors recently published a study in The Lancet about how Covid played out in loose versus tight cultures. Controlling for a variety of other factors, they found that looser countries — the U.S., Brazil, Italy, and Spain — have had roughly five times the number of Covid cases and nearly nine times as many deaths as tighter countries. But, let’s look at the pandemic from a different angle: which country produced the most effective Covid-19 vaccines? Tightness may create compliance; but looseness can drive innovation and creativity.

This blew me away.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript.