Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2018, Vol. 10 ›› Issue (5): 436-446.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2018.00436

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Sociodemographic characteristics, cultural biases, and environmental attitudes: An empirical application of grid-group cultural theory in Northwestern China

FangLei Zhong1,2,*(),AiJun Guo2,XiaoJuan Yin3,JinFeng Cui2,Xiao Yang2,YanQiong Zhang4   

  1. 1 Key Laboratory of Ecohydrology of Inland River Basin, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    2 School of Economics, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    3 Institute For Public Policy, Gansu Academy of Social Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    4 School of Foreign Languages, Lanzhou University of Finance and Economics, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
  • Received:2018-03-15 Accepted:2018-08-28 Online:2018-11-19 Published:2018-11-21
  • Contact: FangLei Zhong
  • Supported by:
    This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) (41571516), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA19040500, XDA19070502, XDA2010010402), and Gansu Province Social Science Planning Project (YB063).


Natural resource-management studies have become increasingly attentive to the influences of human factors. Among these, cultural biases shape people's responses to changes in natural resource systems. Several studies have applied grid-group cultural theory to assess the effects of multiple value biases among stakeholders on natural resource management. We developed and administered a questionnaire in the Heihe River Basin (n = 364) in northwestern China to investigate the appropriateness of applying this theory in the Chinese context of natural resource management. The results revealed various cultural biases among the respondents. In descending order of prevalence, these biases were hierarchism (46.98%), individualism (26.65%), egalitarianism (18.96%), and fatalism (2.78%), with the remaining respondents (4.67%) evidencing no obvious bias. Our empirical study revealed respondents' worldviews and the influence of sociodemographic characteristics on cultural biases, as theoretically posited. Among the variables examined, age had a positive and significant effect across all biases except individualism. The correlation of income to all cultural biases was consistently negative. Only education had a negative and significant effect across all biases. Women were found to adhere to egalitarianism, whereas men adhered to individualism and hierarchism. Thus, grid-group cultural theory was found to be appropriate in the Chinese context, with gender, age, education, and income evidently accounting for cultural biases. Relationships between environmental attitudes and cultural biases conformed with the hypothesis advanced by grid-group cultural theory. This finding may be of value in explaining individuals' environmental attitudes and facilitating the development and implementation of natural resource-management policies.

Key words: sociodemographic characteristics, environmental attitudes, cultural biases, grid-group cultural theory, rural residents, Northwestern China

Figure 1

Administrative map of Ganzhou District"

Figure 2

The grid-group taxonomy"

Table 1

Characteristics and performances of cultural biases"

Cultural biases Characteristics Main opinions
Individualism Membership in a loose personal network. Prefers self-regulation, freedom of market rationality, minimization of authoritarian control. Support public participation and fair treatment. Wealth can be obtained through hard work.
Fatalism Strict, binding regulations but no strong relation to any group or to a strong personal network. A person's destiny is a matter of coincidence.
Egalitarianism Membership in groups without strong internal regulations; strong boundaries between groups, with no external contacts other than within group. Men are born equal, and inequality is a deficiency of society.
Hierarchism Membership in strongly hierarchically organized group. Strong group boundaries, with strong, binding internal regulations; little personal contact outside the group. One has to obey authority and the social order.

Table 2

Results of the prediction and evaluation of residents' cultural biases"

Hierarchist Individualist Egalitarian Fatalist
Average 3.86 3.64 3.61 2.59

Table 3

An overall profile of residents' cultural biases in Ganzhou District"

Cultural bias Number Proportion
Hierarchist 171 46.98%
Individualist 97 26.65%
Egalitarian 69 18.96%
Fatalist 10 2.78%
No cultural bias 17 4.67%
Total 364 100%

Figure 3

Levels of agreement with each cultural bias statement by age"

Figure 4

Levels of agreement with each cultural bias statement by income"

Figure 5

Levels of agreement with each cultural bias statement by education"

Table 4

Correlation analysis of cultural types and environmental perceptions"

Spearman test Hierarchism Individualism Egalitarianism Fatalism
Nature capricious Correlation coefficient 0.099 ?0.013 0.322** 0.671*
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.196 0.896 0.007 0.034
Nature benign Correlation coefficient ?0.139 0.192 0.499** 0.518
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.069 0.059 0.000 0.125
Nature tolerant Correlation coefficient 0.199** 0.067 0.006 0.448
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.009 0.513 0.962 0.194
Nature ephemeral Correlation coefficient 0.178* 0.176 0.287* 0.718*
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.02 0.085 0.017 0.019
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