4.5: Mindsets

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10 Cultural Variables


Aim: To create an awareness of our own mindsets and the mindsets of others.

Recognizing boxes

A mindset is like an invisible box that we project out onto ”reality”. We see things (frames / walls / barriers) that do not exist. We perceive according to the cultural paradigm that we have. Our paradigm comes from our family, educational and cultural, as well as psychological, experiences. If you can be programmed in one simple demonstration to perceive nine dots as a box, just think how much programming you have perceived over many years from your family, school and society. To communicate with someone from another culture requires that we step outside our culturally conditioned boxes and see things from other people’s point of view. Children often get the solution to the nine dots puzzle more quickly than adults because their perceptions are not yet so locked in.


We know our own culture in detail from the inside. But when we don’t know another culture so well we are in danger of falling into absurd generalizations about ”those people”. This is called ”stereotyping” and can be insulting, disruptive and damaging when doing international business. We particularly fall into the trap of stereotyping when we are experiencing culture shock or stress. Realizing that we all do this, we have to suspend our stereotypes, be aware of our own mindsets and consciously step outside our boxes when working internationally.




A belief about a person or group considered to typify or conform to one pattern, lacking any individuality.
A principle, statement, or idea having general, not specific, application. When applied to individuals, a generalization serves as a hypothesis to be tested and observed.

• Contradictory information is rejected

• Contradictory information is amplified

Based On
Judgmental Attitude
Biased Perception
Refusal to Learn

• All data are included and analyzed

• Hypotheses are constantly tested
and refined

Based On
Open Attitude
Insightful Perception
Openness to Learn


Ethnocentrism vs. Cultural Relativism

Stereotypes lead to ethnocentrism which is the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s own culture. Generalizations are in line with cultural relativism which is the practice of judging another culture by its own standards.

Cultural Universals
Before, we consider differences between cultures, we need to consider some cultural universals and variations within cultures. Cultural universals are those items of society, language, behavior, psyche and culture for which there are no known exceptions among cultures. George Murdock identified 66 universals of culture, Donald Brown (1991) provides a list of more than a hundred features he suggests as universal.

Google cultural universals by George Murdock and write down the most significant ones:

Click here to see the answer.
• age
• grading
• athletic sports
• bodily adornment
• calendar
• cleanliness
• training
• community organization
• cooking
• cooperative labor
• cosmology
• courtship
• dancing
• decorative art
• divination
• division of labor
• dream interpretation
• education
• eschatology
• ethics
• ethnobotany
• etiquette
• faith healing
• family-feasting
• fire-making
• folklore
• food taboos
• funeral rites
• games
• gestures
• gift-giving
• government
• greetings
• hair styles
• hospitality
• housing
• hygiene
• incest taboos
• inheritance rules
• joking
• kin groups
• kinship nomenclature
• language
• law
• luck superstitions
• magic
• marriage
• mealtimes
• medicine
• obstetrics
• penal sanctions
• personal names
• population policy
• postnatal care
• pregnancy usages
• property rights
• propitiation of supernatural beings
• puberty customs
• religious ritual
• residence rules
• sexual restrictions
• soul concepts
• status differentiation
• surgery
• tool making
• trade
• visiting
• weaving
• weather control

A subculture is a unique culture shared by a smaller group of people who are part of a larger culture. A larger culture often contains many subcultures, and an individual can be part of several of them. Subcultures have different norms and customs that differ from the broader culture within which they exist. There may be so many subcultures in a country that it would be extremely difficult to identify all of them.

Identify some subcultures within your culture

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Religious denominations, teenagers and youth subcultures, regional cultures, diaspora communities, etc..

Just like subcultures, countercultures exist within a culture. Countercultures deviate from some aspect of society be it in personal values, norms or beliefs. Hippies are a prime example of a counterculture. They have manifested as a response to (or result of?) a new age of spiritual, sexual, and political revolution that prompted people to discard old habits and embrace different ways of doing things.

Identify some subcultures within your culture

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Survivalists, cults, hippies, punks, hipsters, (extreme) gamers, etc.

High Culture vs. Popular Culture
The term high culture is used to describe a subculture shared by the elite in a society. In fact, some people associate the term “culture” with high culture. Someone that attends theater, classical music concerts and museum-quality artwork is often considered “cultured.” High culture isn’t better than popular culture. It’s just not accessible and appealing to everybody. Popular culture follows the latest trends and appeals to a wider audience through the mass media.

Identify some examples of high vs. popular culture

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High culture: Expensive restaurants, exclusive clubs and associations, expensive sports and hobbies, museums, art galleries, opera, etc..

Popular culture: Top 40 radio, popular TV shows, major sports and entertainment (events), fast-food restaurants, etc..

Organizational Culture
Organizational culture can be defined as the values, norms and beliefs that stand out as the dominant characteristics of an organization as a whole. Organizational beliefs are representative of deep-rooted ideas commonly held by the members of an organization, such as what is most important and the best ways to meet its goals. The organizational norms are a reflection of accepted behaviors within the organization, such as particular leadership styles, ways of working and work environments.

According to Edgar Schein, there are three levels of organizational culture. These levels are referred to as artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions.

1. The artifacts level is also called the surface level because it represents visual organizational structures and processes, such as physical layouts and dress codes.
2. Espoused values are the middle level and are representative of organizational strategies, goals and philosophies.
3. The third and deepest level, basic underlying assumptions, manifests itself as automated responses and unconscious perceptions or opinions.

While the culture of an organization is representative of the organization as a whole, many smaller subcultures may also exist within this culture. As an example, consider the place where you work as being the organizational culture. The different departments/ divisions such as administration, sales and customer service are organizational subcultures. Each individual subculture has its own unique set of characteristics making it distinguishable from the other subcultures, but together, they still operate as a whole.

Identify artifacts, espoused values and basic underlying assumptions for an organization that you work in or have worked for.

Click here to see the answer.
Artifacts: Visual and perceivable organizational structures and processes such anecdotes, art, heroes, habits, jargon, language, management styles, myths, norms, rituals, spacial arrangements, stories, symbols, traditions, etc..

Espoused values: Strategies, goals and philosophies such as beliefs, cognitive processes, commitment, consensus, ethics, feelings, justification, purpose, sentiment, understanding, values, vision, etc..

Basic underlying assumptions: Unconscious taken for granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts and feelings such as various assumptions, ideologies, mindset, philosophy, worldview, etc..

Multiculturalism is the phenomenon of multiple groups of cultures existing within one society, largely due to immigration. Multiculturalism occurs naturally when a society is willing to accept the culture of immigrants (with immigrants also willing to accept the culture of the country they have come to). Supporters of multiculturalism claim that different traditions and cultures can enrich society. However, the concept also has its critics.

There is a spectrum between a monoculture and the negative stereotype of multiculturalism. In a monoculture everyone is exactly the same. In the negative stereotype of multiculturalism a society is divided into separate ethnic and/ or religious communities who never associate.

In any society, people will mix and associate with those of other cultures, while also maintaining some kind of social or cultural identity based on religion, heritage, subculture, etc.

Complaints about multiculturalism usually arise when people from a dominant culture feel that subgroups are mixing and adapting too little. This is known as acculturation which ultimately may give rise to assimilation. On the other hand, members of a subgroup may feel that they are forced to associate and compromise too much so that they are forced to assimilate and are not given the possibility to acculturate.

Google some news articles about multiculturalism. What is your opinion of multiculturalism? Do you see it as a good or bad thing? Why?

Click here to see the answer.
There is no right or wrong answer – everyone is entitled to their own opinion.


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10 Cultural Variables