We needed to define more precisely what culture is and how it affects human behaviour. Despite not having a consensual definition, House et al. affirms that “there are several essential common threads that run throughout the various conceptualisations and definitions of the construct generally referred to as culture.” He argues that culture often refers to “collectivities in which the members share several psychological commonalities – assumptions, beliefs, values, interpretations of events (meanings), social identities, and motives – and abide by a set of shared norms in a common manner.”
Considering that culture is a set of symbols and behaviour patterns that are learnt and shared by a group of individuals an important question emerges: Which specific symbols and behaviour patterns establish different cultures? Perhaps no other empirical study about differences in cultures has been as influential as the one from Hofstede et al. Culture, according to the authors is “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another”. These “mental programs” refer to patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting that are shared and learnt by members of the same culture. These patterns can manifest themselves at an implicit level under the form of values, or at a more explicit level as rituals, symbols or heroes:
- Values – represent cultural preconceptions about what is desirable/undesirable.
- Rituals – essential social activities that are carried out in a predetermined fashion.
- Symbols – words, gestures, pictures, or objects that are given particular significance in a given culture.
- Heroes – persons, alive, dead or even imaginary, that serve as role models for the values of the culture.