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Culture, essentialism, and agency: are individuals universally believed to be more real entities than groups?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 18:06 authored by Yoshihisa Kashima, Emiko Kashima, Chi-Yue Chiu, Tom FarsidesTom Farsides, Michele Gelfand, Ying-Yi Hong, Uichol Kim, Fritz Strack, Lioba Werth, Masaki Yuki, Vincent Yzerby
Are human individuals universally seen to be more real entities (or more entitative, to use Campbell's, 1958, term) than social groups? Although the individual may be seen to be more entitative than social groups in the West, it is unclear whether this is the case in other cultures, especially in East Asia. Two aspects of perceived entitativity are distinguished: psychological essentialism (belief in the presence of essence-like unchangeable properties) and agency (perception that a social entity is an agent), and examined for four social targets (individual, family, friendship group, and society) in three English-speaking cultures (Australia, UK, and USA), three East Asian cultures (Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea), and two continental European cultures (Belgium and Germany). In all cultures, the individual person was seen to possess essence-like unchangeable characteristics more than social groups (i.e. essentialized). As for agency, the individual person was seen to be more agentic than groups in Western cultures, but both individuals and groups were conferred an equal level of agency in East Asia. Individuals may be universally more essentialized than friendship groups and societies, but not always seen to be more agentic, than social groups. Implications of the results for conceptions of individualism and collectivism are discussed.


Publication status

  • Published


European Journal of Social Psychology




John Wiley & Sons



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Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Publications


Study conceived and initially designed by first author, with all others commenting on possible improvements throughout the process

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