Distinguished visiting professor explores social axioms

Dr. Michael Harris Bond, an international professor emeritus of psychology in Hong Kong, visited the University of Manitoba on Friday, Feb. 8 to give a lecture on the topic of social axioms entitled “Culture and our beliefs about how our world operates: Two decades of research on social axioms.”

Bond is an author of over 200 international journal articles, 60 chapters in various books, and a co-author of Understanding Social Psychology Across Cultures. He is also credited for bringing the study of psychology to Hong Kong.

Bond was nominated and sponsored to give the lecture by the John G. Adair Endowment Fund, the department of psychology, the Asper school of business, and the faculty of arts. The John G. Adair international distinguished visiting lectureship is rewarded to psychologists who practice at the international level outside of Canada and the United States. The chosen psychologist also has to be recognized for contributing valuable research to the field.

Bond presented his cross-cultural research on social axioms from over 40 different countries. He defined social axioms as “generalized beliefs about people in general, the social environment, or the spiritual and physical world.” Bond’s findings stressed the importance of taking culture into consideration when studying social psychology.

The lecture opened with the ancient Chinese idiom, “when drinking from a stream, remember its source.” Bond then delved into an overview of culture as a way for organized groups of people to make sense of the world. Bond argued that humans, who are highly social by nature, are “socialized into a coherent and manageable world view through acquisition of language and education about reality.”

According to Bond, cultures are systems created so that individuals have ways for basic necessities to be met. These basic necessities include physical survival, shelter, security, and sustenance. In a successful culture, individuals learn “how to flourish, play, create, produce, beautify surroundings, love, and embrace what others do.”

Bond said that when people explore the concept of culture, they tend to look at nations and the relationships among them, but that culture can be created in other ways. Culture can also be explored through the concepts of family culture and relationship culture.

“A relationship you have with somebody has a culture; you develop a culture in that relationship.”

These systems, says Bond, are shared systems, which facilitate communication of meaning. They create a way for individuals to work together with the intention of reducing anxieties and uncertainties about the world. According to Bond, the two key elements of a culture are values and beliefs.

Bond’s research found five belief domains that dominated the 40 countries he studied: social cynicism, social complexity, reward for application, religiosity, and fate control. He argued that beliefs manifest as a worldview about what is, what ought to be, what exists, and what is true.

Social cynicism refers to the belief that the rest of the world cannot be trusted. Social complexity is the notion that relationships between others are always changing and what people say or do are often contradictory. Reward for application holds that people tend to get out of life what they put into it. Religiosity deals with the amount of religion within in a culture, and fate control is the belief that fate has an impact on life’s outcomes.

The countries Bond studied differ in the degree of each belief, but often not by much. The amount found in each culture moderately depicted psychological aspects of personality. Bond stated that behaviours, such as conflict resolution, life outcome, satisfaction, and influence tactics, have all been predicted, depending on the amount of each social axiom present within the culture.

Bond stated that Canada is open to deviance from the norm but that other cultures are not as open, accepting, or tolerant.