Beliefs about personhood are understood to be a defining feature of individualism-collectivism (I-C), but they have been insufficiently explored, given the emphasis of research on values and self-construals. We propose the construct of contextualism, referring to beliefs about the importance of context in understanding people, as a facet of cultural collectivism. A brief measure was developed and refined across 19 nations (Study 1: N = 5,241), showing good psychometric properties for cross-cultural use and correlating well at the nation level with other supposed facets and indicators of I-C. In Study 2 (N = 7,623), nation-level contextualism predicted ingroup favoritism, corruption and differential trust of ingroup and outgroup members, while controlling for other facets of I-C, across 34 nations. We conclude that contextualism is an important part of cultural collectivism. This highlights the importance of beliefs alongside values and self-representations, and contributes to a wider understanding of cultural processes.