Four Overarching Patterns of Culture

A Look at Common Behavior

Cultures are different. Culture makes a difference.


Culture is the learned and shared patterns of perception and behavior of a particular group of people. No-one is born with culture but everyone is born into culture. It impacts all aspects of life.

Patterns of culture

How we think as well as what we say and do are most often predictable. They are patterned. At the same time, culture is mostly outside our awareness.

Four overarching patterns of culture

Over time researchers have observed four overarching patterns of culture that exist locally and globally. Understanding these patterns is part of cultural competency.

What are the four overarching patterns of culture?

The four overarching patterns of culture include: justice, honor, harmony, and reciprocity. Whether they realize it or not, justice-oriented people “see” through a legal lens and focus on right versus wrong behavior, generally based on written standards. A person who is from an honor society is ascribed honor or shame by his or her local community. Harmony cultures strive to “save face”. People may commonly interact with an unseen spirit world in order to assure harmony. In reciprocity cultures there are formal and informal networks of people, in which there are back-and-forth ties of exchange.

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