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Individualism values individual interests, goals, values, freedom and beliefs over the group. Individualism has become embedded in American culture with an economy based on capitalism, images of the rugged individual, rhetoric about personal freedom and strong support of democracy. Although many may criticise the self-interested nature of individualism, individualism provides many advantages to society.
Members within an individualistic society share many characteristics; however, they also have the freedom to be different. These varied perspectives and personalities add novel lifestyle habits and means of social interaction. This creates a colourful and rich culture with influences from an array of religions, languages, foods, ideology and values. In contrast, collectivist societies encourage and even enforce similar lifestyle habits. This limits the variety in culture.
Individualism reduces groupthink, the tendency of groups to behave irrationally and make poor decisions due to suppressing contrasting ideas to prevent conflict. The reduction of groupthink results in people being more willing to express new ideas, which helps the team grow. Barry Staw of University of California-Berkeley and Jack Goncalo of Cornell University conducted a 2005 study, "Individualism-Collectivism and Group Creativity," which found that groups with an individualist culture and diverse individuals displayed more creativity than groups with a collectivist culture. Individualism also enables people to focus on their strengths without fear of punishment from deviating from the standard. The conflict of ideas fosters competition, which improves business and helps create an efficient society.
Increased Acceptance of Outside Groups
Individualism helps members be more tolerant and accepting of outside groups or people that are significantly different from themselves. Having their lifestyle challenged daily and the frequent exposure to differences provides ample practice. Individualism also acknowledges the fact that external influences should not meddle with your well-being and goals. Therefore, in individualistic society, members attempt to follow this belief and respect the diversity of other groups.
Individualism encourages being free-spirited and free, which contributes to individual progress. Individualistic members are less anxious about criticising institutions and behaviours and are more eager to work toward alleviating societal ills. For example, instead of being too afraid of disappointing your family by criticising the school system, an individualist would express her dissent against the school -- which, over time, would result in its improvement.
Individualism fosters the ability to perform well individually and find strength within yourself to overcome obstacles. P. Christopher Earley of the University of Minnesota revealed in the 1989 "Social Loafing and Collectivism: A Comparison of the United States and the People's Republic of China" that individuals from collectivist societies worked better in a group, while those from individualistic societies performed better individually. Individualism also promotes introspection and discovering who are so that you can improve your life. The introspection helps you determine areas of weakness and grow your strengths.
- International Business Cultures;Individualism versus collectivism
- U.S. News and World Report; Individualism- Collectivism and Group Creativity; Barry Staw & Jack Goncalo; July 2006
- J Stor; Social Loafing and Collectivism: A Comparison of the United States and the People's Republic of China; P. Christopher Earley
- Britannica; Individualism; Steven M. Lukes
- Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images