DiscoverSean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas62 | Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Societies and People
62 | Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Societies and People

62 | Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Societies and People

Update: 2019-09-029


Physicists study systems that are sufficiently simple that it’s possible to find deep unifying principles applicable to all situations. In psychology or sociology that’s a lot harder. But as I say at the end of this episode, Mindscape is a safe space for grand theories of everything. Psychologist Michele Gelfand claims that there’s a single dimension that captures a lot about how cultures differ: a spectrum between “tight” and “loose,” referring to the extent to which social norms are automatically respected. Oregon is loose; Alabama is tight. Italy is loose; Singapore is tight. It’s a provocative thesis, back up by copious amounts of data, that could shed light on human behavior not only in different parts of the world, but in different settings at work or at school.

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Michele Gelfand received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Illinois. She is currently Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and affiliate of the RH Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a past president of the International Association for Conflict Management. Among her numerous awards are the Carol and Ed Diener Award in Social Psychology, the Annaliese Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the Outstanding International Psychologist Award from the American Psychological Association.

Comments (3)


Bit disappointed in this presentation. The topic is highly complex and difficult to quantify, but is in real need of some meaningful metrics. This discussion could lead to so many rabbit holes. The thing that was missing was a metric not only for tightness, but also for the myriad of factors that work for or against tightness or rules. For example a rule that's accepted by one culture can be totally unacceptable in another. The success or failure of a tight society is also governed by the enforcement of rules that are not wanted by the society. The discussion could've considered the success or failure (and the reasons for those outcomes) of repressive societies, but this aspect was not really touched on. As an example, Singapore's tight laws have been "successful" (the metric for this is unknown) - how does it compare to the "success" or otherwise of Nth. Korea. Can the "tightness" be compared? How? What are the cultural value comparisons? How do the different levels of repression and subjugation of the population affect the outcome?

Sep 14th

Go Billers

this one was really good

Sep 2nd
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62 | Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Societies and People

62 | Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Societies and People