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Self-assertive interdependence in Arab culture


Arabs represent a major cultural group, yet one that is relatively neglected in cultural psychology. We hypothesized that Arab culture is characterized by a unique form of interdependence that is self-assertive. Arab cultural identity emerged historically in regions with harsh ecological and climatic environments, in which it was necessary to protect the survival of tribal groups. Individuals in Arabian cultures were honour-bound to be respectable and trustworthy group members. Supporting this hypothesis, study 1 found that Arabs were interdependent and holistic (like East Asians), but also self-assertive (like Westerners). This psychological profile was observed equally for both Muslim and Christian Arabs, thus ruling out Islamic religion as an alternative explanation for our findings. Studies 2 and 3 showed that the self-assertive tendency of Arabs is in service of interdependence, whereas that of Westerners is in service of independence. Our work contributes to the current effort by cultural psychologists to go beyond the prevailing East versus West, interdependence versus independence paradigm. It also speaks to the emerging socioecological perspective in cultural research.

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All datasets are available through the following links: study 1a,b,; study 2,; study 3,


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This research was supported by a grant from the INSEAD Research and Development Committee (we thank the INSEAD alumni fund for their support). We greatly appreciate H. Sayarh for authorizing and facilitating data collection in Morocco, K. Knio and M. S. Al-Zein for facilitating data collection in Lebanon, and A. Lisak for assisting with data collection in Israel. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information




A.S.M., M.S., W.W.M. and S.K. designed the research. A.S.M., A.M. and S.T. collected the data. A.S.M. and S.T. analysed the data. A.S.M., M.S., W.W.M. and S.K. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Alvaro San Martin.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–3

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San Martin, A., Sinaceur, M., Madi, A. et al. Self-assertive interdependence in Arab culture. Nat Hum Behav 2, 830–837 (2018).

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