A new study surprisingly finds that Hungary belongs to the same group with Brazilia, the Netherlands, Israel, and Estonia regarding the “looseness” of the social fibre, as reported by

Classifying certain nations as “loose” or relaxed evokes positive connotations of youthfulness and spontaneity as opposed to what may be perceived as conservative “tightness”, but the picture is more complex than such a binary opposition of positive-negative values. As Psychology Today writes, it was an anthropologist in the 1960s who first studied traditional societies along the “looseness”-“tightness” scale. But the American psychologist Michele Gelfrand went further in her research conducted in the last decade, including modern states like Hungary, too. Her findings are to be published in an upcoming book entitled Rule Makers, Rule Breakers – How Culture Wires Our Minds.

However, the first results have already been published in Science 7 years ago. 7,000 people have been asked around the world to answer questions such as “Are there many social norms that people have to comply with your country?”, or “If someone breaks the rules, do others judge her/his behaviour severely?” Based on the answer, “strictness indexes” have been calculated and then compared with other factors, looking for the sociocultural and historical reasons behind and consequences of looseness and strictness.

Surprising results

We all have preconceived notions of which countries would rank high on a list of looseness, but the study confirmed only some of these biases. No one would be astonished to learn that Pakistan and India are among the nations with stricter social norms together with Japan or Turkey. Interestingly, however, Norway belongs to the stricter countries, too. Even more surprisingly, Hungary ranks as the third loosest nation, just after Estonia and Ukraine and behind Israel.

 The top 10 nations on the “looseness” scale
1. Ukraine
2. Estonia
3. Hungary
4. Israel
5. The Netherlands
6. Brazil
7. Venezuela
8. New Zealand
9. Greece
10. Australia

How are we interpret this finding? As Márta Fülöp, the Hungarian psychologist who took part in the research published in Science, explained to Index:

“Hungary proved to be loose in terms of perceptions of the importance of respecting social norms. In other words: people feel like others are cheating the rules wherever they can. So Hungary’s looseness is not a positive phenomenon at all.

What the research tells us is neither too much strictness, nor too much looseness is preferable. If people do not share a common consensus on the norms of living together, that society will be divided, chaotic, and unable to function well.”

The expert went on to add that we need “widely accepted norms which different groups can all agree on regardless of the reigning political directions. But such strictness cannot be imposed on people from above. This does not lead to the respect of norms practised by autonomous and responsible individuals.”


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