Apparently, there’s no need for Israel to loosen up. So say the results of a psychological and cultural study published on May 27 in the journal Science looking closely at 33 different countries in an effort to better understand cultural differences, and consequently foster better cross-cultural communication and cooperation.
A large international team of scientists led by Michele J. Gelfand, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, considered the “tightness” and “looseness” of various countries and their cultures. “Tight” national cultures have many strong norms and a low tolerance of deviant behavior, and “loose” ones have weak social norms and a high tolerance of deviant behavior. In determining where nations stood on the tight-loose continuum, the researchers considered factors such as ecological and historical threats, broad versus narrow socialization in societal institutions like government and media, the strength of everyday recurring situations, and micro-level psychological affordances such as regulatory strength and the need for structure.
Of the 33 countries for which data was collected, Pakistan was found to be the tightest, and Ukraine the loosest. The results for many countries were not surprising, Gelfand said in an interview for PRI’s The World. Japan, for instance, predictably turned out to be rather tight.
Israel, however, was a bit of wildcard. “Israel is a country that should be quite tight according to our theory in terms of the threats that the nation faces,” she said. “However, it’s quite loose in our data, and I think it’s important to consider the unique cultural experiences and historical circumstances of any particular country…For example, Israel is a very young country. It’s a country where a lot of immigrants came from countries in Eastern Europe, which in our data are quite loose. Also, it’s a country with a religion that encourages dissent and argumentation, which promotes looseness.”
While the researchers may have found this result about Israel surprising, those of us who know the country well will not. We know it as a place where plenty of people think that rules are meant to be broken, and where everyone believes his or her own way of doing things is the best. And besides, what possible reason could there be to worry about things not going as planned? “Al tid’ag – y’hiyeh b’seder” (Don’t worry, everything will be okay).