Does Culture matter? Individualism vs Collectivism on Climate Change

Ever wondered where you are from plays a significant role in your perception on issues like Climate Change? YES! Our team found out that’s the case through a research project within Emory University.

(More of a visual person? Watch short videos we made to about project design and result!)

Survey Design

We sent out a short survey to the general Emory community including undergraduates, graduates, faculty, staff and alumni via social media (e.g. Facebook, WeChat, Groupme, etc.), asking about their cultural identification and attitudes & behavior on Climate Change.

The six questions were as follows:

  1. How do you define your affiliation with Emory University?
  2. Which culture do you regard yourself more of?
    • Individualism: stressing individual initiative, action, and interests
    • Collectivism: emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity
  3. How do you view Climate Change as an important problem for the world?
    • Please choose from 1-5 scale, with 1 being not important at all and 5 being very important.
  4. How often do you actively engage in sustainable behaviors that help mitigate the impact of Climate Change?
  5. Please indicate your gender?
  6. Please indicate your ethnicity?


The result was astonishing. By using T-test, we found that the the people in two cultures have a significant difference in their attitudes toward climate change at the 95% confidence level. In addition, the data showed that people from two categories are significantly different in their behavior at 90% confidence interval.

Out of 100 responses we obtained, 53 reported to be individualism and 47 reported to be collectivism, offering us a good representation from both sides.Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 13.17.11



So how did we come to examine whether individualistic or collectivistic influence our perception? We first brought up our research question when we realized the following:

Harry Triandis explores the constructs of collectivism and individualism. Collectivists are closely linked individuals who view themselves primarily as parts of a whole, be it a family, a network of co-workers, a tribe, or a nation. Such people are mainly motivated by the norms and duties imposed by the collective entity. Individualists are motivated by their own preferences, needs, and rights, giving priority to personal rather than to group goals. Source

Coming from different background, people are different culturally. Research found that Western cultures tend to be more individualistic while East Asian cultures tend to be more collectivistic. However, past researches have not shown how differences in cultures impact perceptions on Climate Change.



This cultural difference is crucial to understand when we talk about Climate Change. Because of its enormous scale and impact, climate change urges collaboration internationally from a poly-centric way. One nation could not mitigate or reduce the influence of Climate Change.

Moving forward, as we found out the differences in climate perception from individualism and collectivism, we could be more specific when tailoring and framing messages for different audiences.

Another potential interesting topic for future research is a discrepancy in people’s attitude and behavior. We observed from data that many people who reported highly concerned about the issue did not actively engage in relevant activity. Researchers could examine the potential obstacles that prevent people from behaving coherently with their attitudes.

Potential Bias

While the survey showed a significant differences on Climate Change perception from two cultures, there are three potential biases from the survey design that need to be noted.

  1. The sample might not be good representation of the whole population. The demographic of the respondents are not closely aligned with the Emory demographic in terms of ethnicity and affiliation composition. In addition, people who are not interested in Climate Change at all might already opted themselves out at the first place.
  2. We used self-reporting method to ask the respondents. Given Emory is a progressive university on different sustainability issues, respondents might report themselves to be more conscious about the climate change than they actually are.
  3. The survey question might not be clear enough. Despite we defined Individualism & Collectivism in the survey, we did not specify what behavior counts as “active engagement”. Thus, when answering how often they engage in certain activity, different people might perceive this differently.

Other sources:

Click to access Cultural%20dimensions%20of%20climate%20change.pdf

Cultural dimensions of climate change impacts and adaptation.
Adger, W Neil; Barnett, Jon; Brown, Katrina; Marshall, Nadine; O’brien, Karen. Nature Climate Change; London3.2 (Feb 2013): 112-117.

The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change

What shapes perceptions of climate change?
Authors: Elke U. Web

Risk Perceptions, General Environmental Beliefs, and Willingness to Address Climate Change
Authors: Robert E. O’Connor, Richard J. Bard, Ann Fisher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s