New Zealanders are "Loose"

By Michael Edmonds 27/05/2011 6

New Zealanders are a fairly loose bunch – at least according to a recent study by Michele J Gelfand and co-authors [1]

In a study involving 6823 people from 33 nations, participants were asked to rate the appropriateness of different behaviours in different situations (for example, is it appropriate to cry in a bank). Using the responses the subjects from each nation were then given a “tightness” score. Those cultures with a high score were those who displayed strong social norms and a low tolerance for non-conformist behaviour. Those cultures with a low score (also described as “loose” societies) were those displaying weak social norms and a corresponding high tolerance for non-conformist behaviour.

In the study, New Zealanders (Wellingtonians) were assigned a tightness score of 3.9, while Australians (Melbourne) are a bit tighter at 4.4. Ukrainians are the loosest of the lot with a tightness score of 1.6 while Pakistanis (Hyderabad) score a whopping 12.3.

Tight societies tend to have more restrictive laws, limited freedom of the press, and are more likely to have more severe punishments, including the death penalty. They are also more religious, allowing social norms to be enforced through enforced morality. Strikes and boycotts seldom occur in tight societies.

The researchers then looked historical and ecological factors associated with each culture, in order to determine possible correlations with the tightness/looseness of societies. One proposed correlation is that cultures that have been exposed to threats such as “territorial conflict, resource scarcity, or exposure to high levels of pathogens” are much tighter, strongly regulate social norms and punish behaviours deemed as deviant.

While this is an interesting study, I think one needs to be careful in it’s interpretation. The small number of sampled from each country plus the use of subjects from only one city ignores the potential geographic variations within countries (e.g. urban vs rural). However, it does provide an interesting snapshot comparison of different nations/cultures and their needs for social normality/acceptance of non-conformity. And the link to external threats is interesting though at this point I’m not completely convinced myself.

Tightness Score for different Countries

Country                                         Tightness Score

Australia (Melbourne)                         4.4

Austria (Linz)                                           6.8

Belgium (Leuven)                                   5.6

Brazil (San Paulo)                                   3.5

Estonia (Tartu)                                        2.6

France (Paris)                                           6.3

Germany (Chemnitz)                             7.5

Germany (Frankfurt)                             6.5

Greece (Athens)                                      3.9

Hong Kong                                                6.3

Hungary (Budapest)                              2.9

Iceland  (Reykjavik                                6.4

India (various cities)                             11.0

Israel (various cities)                             3.1

Italy (Padova)                                           6.8

Japan (Tokyo, Osaka)                            8.6

Malaysia  (Bandar Baru Bangi)          11.8

Mexico   (Mexico City)                         7.2

Netherlands  (Groningen)                   3.3

New Zealand (Wellington)                  3.9

Norway (Bergen)                                    9.5

Pakistan (Hyderabad)                          12.3

China (Beijing)                                         7.9

Poland (Warsaw)                                    6.0

Portugal (Braga)                                     7.8

Singapore                                                10.4

South Korea (Seoul)                            10.0

Spain (Valencia)                                     5.4

Turkey (Istanbul)                                  9.2

Ukraine (Odessa)                                   1.6

United Kingdom (Brighton)              6.9

United States (various)                       5.1

Venezuela (Caracas)                             3.7

Mean Tightness score = 6.5


[1] M. J. Gelfand et al., Science 332, 1100 (2011).

6 Responses to “New Zealanders are "Loose"”

  • Apologies for the wobbly data in my poor attempt at a table. Just being non-conformist 🙂
    (As soon as I work out how to format it, I’ll try and get it done.

  • I was relieved to read this & tighten up my understanding – the title could be ‘loosely’ interpreted (haha) & I was wondering, ‘loose what’? Bowels? Morals? Wallets?

    (Put it down to the impact of thesis marking on my tendencies to pedantry.)

  • Alison,

    I remember reading that using an ambiguous or provocative title is a good way to draw people in to read it.

    Darcy, thanks for the suggestion, though it still looks too technical for me to deal with on a Friday afternoon – maybe tomorrow 🙂

  • Oh, I don’t mind being drawn it – your title served its purpose admirably! Plus it gave me the LOLz & a smile on my face 🙂

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