The Mutual Constitution of Culture and Psyche: The Bidirectional Relationship Between Individuals’ Perceived Control and Cultural Tightness–Looseness

Anyi Ma, Krishna Savani, Fangzhou Liu, Kenneth Tai, Aaron C. Kay

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


According to the theory of mutual constitution of culture and psyche, just as culture shapes people, individuals’ psychological states can influence culture. We build on compensatory control theory, which suggests that low personal control can lead people to prefer societal systems that impose order, to examine the mutual constitution of personal control and cultural tightness. Specifically, we tested whether individuals’ lack of personal control increases their preference for tighter cultures as a means of restoring order and predictability, and whether tighter cultures in turn reduce people’s feelings of personal control. Seven studies (five preregistered) with participants from the United States, Singapore, and China examine this cycle of mutual constitution. Specifically, documenting the correlational link between person and culture, we found that Americans lower on personal control preferred to live in tighter states (Study 1). Chinese employees lower on personal control also desired more structure and preferred a tighter organizational culture (Study 2). Employing an experimental causal chain design, Studies 3–5 provided causal evidence for our claim that lack of control increases desire for tighter cultures via the need for structure. Finally, tracing the link back from culture to person, Studies 6a and 6b found that whereas tighter cultures decreased perceptions of individual personal control, they increased people’s sense of collective control. Overall, the findings document the process of mutual constitution of culture and psyche: lack of personal control leads people to seek more structured, tighter cultures, and that tighter cultures, in turn, decrease people’s sense of personal control but increase their sense of collective control.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Culture
  • Mutual constitution
  • Need for structure
  • Perceived control
  • Tightness–looseness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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