The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Are we conventional' You bet
Indians most conformist, says study of 49 cultures
We think we are like this...
...but we really are like this
You are either with us or against us
Americans have no illusions. They know they are assertive

New Delhi, Oct. 6: Indians are the most conventional among 49 cultures worldwide, says a new study that has shown that stereotypes linking personality traits to people from different countries are common, but unfounded.

The study that analysed character ratings of 3,989 people from more than 35 countries across six continents has shown that national stereotypes are not necessarily reflected in personality traits of people from those countries.

“Overall, there is little support for the view that perceptions of national character are accurate in any culture,” Robert McCrae, a scientist at the US National Institute of Aging, and his colleagues have said in a report to be published in the journal Science tomorrow.

Stereotypes are cultural phenomena transmitted through education, hearsay, history, media and jokes, they said.

Americans believe the typical American is very assertive and Canadians believe the typical Canadian is submissive. But the study revealed that Americans and Canadians have near identical scores on assertiveness, just a bit higher than the world average.

Indians classified themselves as unconventional and open to a range of experiences. But measurements of personality traits show that Indians are more conventional than any of the other cultures analysed in the study.

“This was an unexpected finding,” said Veeramachaneni Pramila, professor of psychology at Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, who collaborated in the study by analysing the perceptions and personality traits of students in Visakhapatnam.

“There was a clear discrepancy between their perceptions of the stereotype Indian national as being open to new experiences and their own personality trait test results which showed them as conventional,” Pramila told The Telegraph.

The study examined perceptions and actual personality traits of the participants through a test designed to capture measures of several character traits, including assertiveness, altruism, dutifulness, excitement-seeking, impulsiveness, modesty, straightforwardness and warmth, among others.

The Indian students perceived Indians as high in traits that represent openness to new experiences ' excitement-seeking, fantasy, aesthetics and feelings. But, in their own tests, they scored the lowest in these traits among all the 49 cultures studied.

Scientists say the study shows that popular perceptions about people may be incorrect. “It tells us that people are individuals, no matter which country or culture they come from,” Pramila said.

India has communities representing subcultures such as Tamils, Sikhs or Bengalis, among others. It is possible that common perceptions about such communities are also wrong, Pramila said.

• Excitement-seeking
• Fantasy
• Aesthetics
• Feelings

These traits measure openness to new experiences

“But this needs to be explored,” she said.

The study authors have cautioned that “when stereotypes of national or ethnic groups are unfavourable, they can lead to prejudice, discrimination, or persecution, of which history and the rest of the world today are full of tragic examples”.

The study also threw up a surprise for Czechs who perceived themselves as antagonistic and disagreeable. But when actual personality was measured, Czechs scored higher than most people in the world on altruism and modesty.

Perceptions about national character are not generalisations about personality traits based on observations of people, but appear to be “social constructions” that might be based on history, customs, myth and values of a culture, according to the study.

In the past, researchers trying to evaluate gender stereotypes did indeed find that women score higher on measures of warmth and men score high on assertiveness, confirming perceptions.

Attempts to evaluate the accuracy of national or cultural stereotypes have been rare. One of the problems has been the difficulty in finding a personality test that can be applied across different cultures.

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