Individualism and Collectivism in Sweden versus in the United States

Assignment – Discussion – Personality Theory & Research: I invite you to consider your own cultural background and how you feel it has shaped your personality in certain aspects (you will need to limit yourself to just 2-3 aspects) and perhaps differentiates you from others you know well from other cultures. Be sure to bring in the assigned readings (i.e. at least 2 of the articles and the Funder). Finally, mention two things (e.g. research findings, constructs, etc..) that you learned that may change the way you think about things, approach clients, research etc..

Certain Distinctions between Sweden and the United States in terms of Individualism and Collectivism

As a naturalized citizen of the United States born in Sweden, I’ve always been fascinated by the subtle and significant distinctions between the two cultures. Despite the fact that America heavily influenced Swedish society after WWII, it is still very different. For instance, while Swedes regard themselves as highly individualistic, they are not in comparison to Americans on a collective level. As a result, I will shortly compare and contrast my perceptions of collectivism and individualism between Swedes and Americans in this discussion.

Despite having a high level of bicultural identity integration (BII), which means that I perceive my “two cultural identities as compatible (fluid and complementary)” (Haritatos & Benet-Martnez, 2002, p. 598), I still feel as if I conceal a certain Swedish aspect of myself while in the US, just as I hide certain aspects of my American self while in Sweden. According to Balcetis et al. (2008), “being a good person” in an individualistic culture entails expressing advantageous characteristics and standing out from the crowd, which I believe is much more prevalent in the United States than in Sweden. Furthermore, in a collectivistic culture, it is more important to adapt to social contexts and even change oneself to fit in with the group, which I have observed to be much more common in Sweden than in the US, which is one of many reasons why I believe Sweden is a more collectivistic culture than the American culture. For example, if I’m at a social gathering in Sweden and asked what to drink, my Swedish instinct is to first look around to see what everyone else is going to drink, and then consider that before deciding whether to drink water, a Coke, a bear, or a glass of wine.

Another reason I believe Sweden is a more collectivist culture is that it fits Markus and Kitayama’s (1991a, 1991b, as cited in Balcetis et al., 2008) description of such cultures striving to live up to society’s social obligations, as well as Su et al’s (1999, as cited in Balcetis et al., 2008) assertion that understanding one’s place in society and acting appropriately is critical in such cultures. For example, in Sweden during the Covid 19 pandemic, it was more or less sufficient for the government to issue recommendations on social distancing and various other behaviors, and the majority of people simply complied without the need to shut down society, whereas the situation was somewhat different in the United States.

As Rosenberger (1992, as cited in Balcetis et al., 2008) states, maintaining interpersonal harmony is critical in collectivist cultures. This is especially true in Sweden. Perhaps this is why we Swedes are arguably the world’s best at standing in lines? Despite the bitter cold, we are patient people who do not mind waiting our turn. Here in America, I’ve had numerous instances where I was glad to be the first to form my own line, while others didn’t even recognize it as a line.

Overall, while Sweden is more collectivistic than the United States, I find that Sweden is both individualistic and collectivistic. Perhaps this is because Sweden is a neutral country located between the former east block and the West, which some regard as the planet’s right and left brain hemispheres, with the East being more associated with the right brain hemisphere and the West with the left brain hemisphere. Perhaps this is why social democracy has been so popular in Sweden; in the spirit of “lagom,” the Swedish expression for a happy medium that is deeply ingrained in Swedish culture, social democracy is a synthesis of the more capitalist system prevalent in the United States and the more collective, solidarity-based system associated with the east or the right brain hemisphere.


Balcetis, E., Dunning, D., & Miller, R. L. (2008). Do collectivists know themselves better than individualists? Cross-cultural studies of the holier than thou phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6), 1252-1267. (Links to an external site.)

Funder, D. C. (2019). The personality puzzle. W. W. Norton & Company.

Haritatos, J., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2002). Bicultural identities: The interface of cultural, personality, and socio-cognitive processes. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 598–606.

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