High-context vs Low-context Culture -Mental Model 092

Why Westerners Seem More Expressive Than Easterners

In a higher-context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain them. In a low-context culture, communication is more explicit.


Example: Higher-context cultures are more likely to be found in the Eastern cultures of Asia, where the group is valued above the individual. Low-context cultures are more likely to be found in the Western culture of America, where the individual is valued above the group.


The context of culture affects people’s facial expressions. An experiment by the University of Glasgow shows the difference between (low-context culture) Western Caucasians and (high-context culture)  East Asians. The results showed that Western Caucasians express their emotions across their entire face, including eyebrows and mouth, while East Asians use their eyes to express most of the emotions, especially by changing the direction of their gaze.


In a high-context culture people don’t need to be as explicit, as the context does much of the communication. But in a low-context culture, the context does less communication so the individual must be more explicit in their communication.


Another example of high-context vs low-context culture is evident in the scientific fields. The ‘hard science’ fields like physics have lower-context cultures, compared to other scientific fields like sociology. As physics is dealing with knowledge closer to objective reality, they must be more explicit so they communicate exactly what they mean, as a tiny misunderstanding will mean they are completely wrong. Sociology is more subjective and less precise, which means that information is more ambiguous, and understanding it requires a shared subject perception, or a higher-context culture.


Wisdom: “Words and word choice becomes more important the higher-context the culture, as a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group.”


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