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Key Attributes Are Linked to the Label "Citizen of the World"

Cosmopolitan identities and being culturally open are a few characteristics.

Key points

  • Culture influences how people neurocognitively process information such as what it means to be a "citizen of the world."
  • Research suggests that characteristics of being a "citizen of the world" include cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, and openness.
  • Central characteristics of being a "citizen of the world" are recalled better and reacted to faster than peripheral characteristics of the label.

It's common that internationally, people may refer to themselves and others as being "citizens of the world." But until recently, psychologists have not examined what everyday citizens are thinking when they reference this social category. How we cognitively process social categorizations is relevant to our identity, attributions about others' identities, and how we interact with others in the world.

Carmona, Guerra, and Hofhuis (2022) believe it is important to understand the cognitive processing that is involved in our use of the label "citizen of the world" because of the likely consequences for deciding to take significant action in the world. For example, recently, officials in Shanghai announced that they will soon impose the tightest restrictions yet for Covid-19. The officials aim to reach "societal zero" for new Covid-19 cases outside of designated quarantine facilities. How a person cognitively processes what it means to be a "citizen of the world" may have global implications for citizens' health behaviors in response to this news in Shanghai.

Central Attributes

From a series of studies, researchers concluded that a prototype of attributes was found for cognitive processing of the label "citizen of the world" (Carmona, Guerra, & Hofhuis, 2022). There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut universal definition of what people mean when they refer to this social category. However, research participants did link some attributes more frequently than other attributes to what they thought of the label "citizen of the world." Some of the central attributes that participants reported were:

  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Multiculturalism
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Mobility
  • Concern for peace
  • Intercultural contact
  • Globalization
  • Concern for others' well-being
  • Integration
  • Sharing
  • Humanism
  • Help

These central attributes of "citizen of the world" were obtained from doing a series of studies that surveyed a sample of educated and mostly female Portuguese adults. Their cognitive processing of the label was specifically of interest. Peripheral attributes of "citizen of the world" were also identified; but, the research participants recognized and gave a faster reaction time to the central attributes, relative to peripheral attributes such as "intelligence" and "persistence."

Cognition Is Cultural

The researchers pointed out that some of the participants stated that they didn't necessarily believe that caring for all human beings is central to being a "citizen of the world." This shouldn't be considered a universal belief, because it may reflect the participants' culturally influenced neurocognitive reactions to the label "citizen of the world." Less socioeconomically privileged and more diverse populations of adults need to be studied too for how they cognitively process the social category "citizen of the world." A more international cross-cultural sample would likely think differently about what the category means. Cultural neuroscience incorporates terms such as embrainment and enculturation (Northoff, 2021). Embrainment describes how cultural contexts are encoded into the brain’s neuronal activity. Enculturation means that neuronal activity is impacted by cultural contexts that influence our brain’s cognitive and emotional functions.

Being Human, Being Alive

Finally, another interesting outcome of the research is that the participants thought differently about "citizen of the world," compared to how scholars have defined it. For example, research participants believed that to be a "citizen of the world" can include “being human,” “living around the world,” and “being alive," although scholars who have studied the topic have not included such characteristics. Though the researchers addressed these descriptions as atypical, such descriptions wouldn't be considered surprising from a non-western worldview as in the field of African psychology, which asserts that "humans are made persons by other persons" (Nwoye, 2017).

How does your sociocultural brain perceive the social category "citizen of the world"?


Carmona, M., Guerra, R. & Hofhuis, J. (2022). What Does It Mean to be a “Citizen of the World”: A prototype approach. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,

Northoff, G. (2021). Embrainment and Enculturation: Culture, brain, and self. In Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience and Global Mental Health Joan Y. Chiao, Shu-Chen Li, Robert Turner, Su Yeon Lee-Tauler, and Beverly A. Pringle (pp 75-96). Oxford Handbooks Online.

Nwoye, A. (2017). An Africentric theory of human personhood. Psychology in Society, 54, 42-66.