|The Effects of Culture on Self-Implicated Processes:
A Comparison of Canadians and Japanese
Steven J. Heine and Darrin, R. Lehman
University of British Columbia
Jennifer D. Campbell
University of British Columbia
Ritsumeikan Social Sciences Review, 1992, 28, (3), 29-38.
Canadian and Japanese samples were examined with respect to a number of constructs that implicate the self. Markus and Kitayama (1991) have argued that Eastern cultures emphasize the interdependence of the self, whereas Western cultures emphasize the independence and autonomy of the self. We sought to demonstrate the contextualist nature of the interdependent construal of self. We anticipated that Japanese respondents, as compared with Canadians, would: (a) have a less clearly defined self-concept, (b) not show as strong a relation between self-concept clarity and self-esteem and (c) be more likely to report that their behavior is influenced by others and by societal norms. The results supported the above predictions and contribute to recent conceptual advances on culture and the self.
The Effects of Culture on Self-Implicated Processes:
A Comparison of Canadians and Japanese
Recently there has been a reemergence of interest in culture and psychology. For example, Markus and Kitayama (1991) provided a focus for interpreting a great deal of prior cross-cultural research. They argued that a key dimension on which cultures differ is whether the self is construed as a n independent autonomous entity, or as an interdependent, collective entity.
A person with an independent construal of self would be more likely to organize his or her behavior with reference to his or her own thoughts and feelings. The "independent self" is best conceived of as a bounded entity that is relatively distinct from the environment. A person with an interdependent construal of self would be more likely to organize his or her behavior with reference to the thoughts and feelings of significant others. The "interdependent self" emphasizes the interrelatedness of the individual to others and to the environment and hence remains inextricably bound to the situation.
Markus and Kitayama argue that since the self is central to many psychological processes the culture's dominant construal of self will shape any phenomena that implicate the self. Therefore, cultures of an independent construal of self will tend to exhibit motivations, cognitions, and emotions that are consistent with affirming the independence and autonomy of the self. In contrast, cultures of an interdependent construal of self will show evidence of psychological processes that affirm the interrelatedness and belongingness of the self.
The independent construal of self is best exemplified by North American and West European cultures. The present study selected Canada to be the representative culture of the independent construal of self. The interdependent construal of self, on the other hand, is most typical of Asian, African, Latin-American, South European cultures. Japan was selected to be the culture representative of the interdependent construal of self.
The present investigation sought to examine the differences between samples from these two cultures on two distinct self-implicated psychological phenomena:
1. Self-Concept Clarity -- a construct that reflects the extent to which a person's self-beliefs are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable. People with high self-concept clarity believe that there is little conflict between different aspects of their selves, and that their behavior exhibits little change from situation to situation. This study also examined the relations between self-concept clarity and self-esteem.
2. Need to Normalize -- that is, the tendency for one to seek external standards or societal norm, instead of relying on internal standards, to guide one's behavior. A person with a high need to normalize would tend to look to others or the environment for the appropriate, or standard, way of behaving. In contrast, a person with a low need to normalize would tend to focus less on norms and instead regulate their behavior by their own personal preferences or judgments.
The Japanese sample consisted of 80 students from Ritsumeikan University visiting the University of British Columbia on an eight-month exchange program. Approximately 98% of all those contacted agreed to participate in the study. The Canadian sample, which was drawn from the subject pool of introductory psychology students at the University of British Columbia, was considerably more heterogeneous, and for purposes of our analyses we included only those respondents who were at least third generation Canadians, or second generation Canadians of European ancestry, thus 110 respondents.
A questionnaire consisting of Likert scales, rating tasks, and percentage estimates, was administered to the two samples of students in classroom and small group settings. Each sample received a version of the questionnaire in their native tongue. The original English questionnaire was translated into Japanese by the third author, and then back-translated into English by an independent translator, in an attempt to ensure that the two versions were functionally equivalent.
Predictions and Results
Self-concept clarity is a measure of the extent to which a person feels that he or she has a clear, consistent, and unchanging understanding of their self. As the nature of the interdependent construal of self is highly context specific, the self s considered to vary greatly from situation to situation, for example, as a function of the others that are present or the role that one occupies within the group. The independent self, on the other hand, is more likely to remain distinct from the environment, and therefore would be more resistant to situational fluctuations. We reasoned that the differences regarding the situational dependence between these two construals of self would be manifested in scores on a self-concept clarity measure, and we expected Japanese respondents to exhibit lower levels of self-concept clarity (or higher self-concept confusion) than Canadian respondents. We employed Campbell, Trapnell, Katz, and Lavallee's (1992) measure of self-concept confusion and indeed found a highly significant difference between the two samples (see Figure 1). The Japanese mean (34.5) was significantly higher than the Canadian mean (27.8), F(1, 188) = 38.5,p <.001, representing greater self-concept confusion for the Japanese sample.
Insert Figure 1 about here
In prior research with Canadian samples, Campbell et al. (1992) have shown a strong and consistent relation (approximate r = -.65) between the Self-Concept Confusion scale and self-esteem. We predicted that this relation would be attenuated for the Japanese sample. We hypothesized that for Canadians, where an unambiguous, autonomous and consistent sense of self is valued, a low sense of self-concept clarity would be distressing, and thus associated with lower self-esteem. Meeting the Canadian cultural imperative of individuality would appear to require a clear sense of the self that constitutes the individual, and makes him or her distinct from the environment.
We reasoned that the contextualist nature of the Japanese, or interdependent, construal of self would suggest that an inconsistent, or unstable, self-concept would not necessarily have the same negative connotations as it might for Canadians. The interdependent self-concept is expected to vary with the situation, hence one's self-esteem is not expected to be as directly linked to the clarity of the self-concept. The results supported this reasoning, as the correlation for the Japanese sample between the Self-Concept Confusion Measure and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, r (80) = -.37, was significantly smaller than for the Canadians, r (112) = -.69, z = 3.16, p <.001. However, both of the correlations are significantly different from zero, so it is not the case that self-concept clarity and self-esteem are unrelated for the Japanese sample, but merely that they are less so compared to the Canadian sample.
Need to Normalize
As the self-concept clarity results demonstrate, the Japanese contextual nature of the self suggests that, compared to Canadians, the Japanese do not have as unambiguous a notion of the self. Thus, they might not be expected to have as readily available a consistent set of internal standards to guide their behavior. We would expect, then, that the rules of conduct would be more situationally dependent for the Japanese than for the Canadians, and consequently, that the Japanese would be more likely to seek external cues that would suggest the proper behavior in a particular situational context.
In order to measure this dimension, we constructed a "Need to Normalize" scale. In an initial attempt to operationalize this construct, we selected 15 items from diverse content areas that we felt reflected one's tendency to seek external cues from one's environment, that is, societal norms or the proper ways to behave in given situations.
Some example items are:
- "Before attempting something new, it is important for me to find out the proper way to do it."
- "When I am uncertain how to act in a social situation, I look to the behavior of others for cues."
The scale had an overall alpha of .66, which did not change when the Canadian and Japanese samples were examined separately. The two cultures differed significantly on this measure, with the Japanese (M = 44.1) demonstrating a greater tendency than the Canadians (M = 41.2) to look for external cues to guide their behavior, F = 6.6, p < .02 (see Figure 2).
Insert Figure 2 about here
Our results provide further support for the arguments of Markus and Kitayama (1991), namely that different construals of self, as a function of culture, can result in differences in certain cognitive processes. Specifically, we demonstrated that those with an interdependent construal of self show a relatively attenuated degree of self-concept clarity, which, relative to those with an independent construal of self, is not as closely related to self-esteem. In addition, we found that the Japanese sample exhibited a greater tendency to seek situational cues to guide their behavior than did the Canadians.
Our results provide further support for the contextualist nature of the interdependent construal of self. The Japanese seem less likely to view their selves as unchanging and constant across different occasions and situations. As well, they appear more willing to seek cues that indicate appropriate behavior for a given situation, rather than relying on internalized scripts that might fail to consider the unique demands of each situation. The lower self-concept clarity scores, and the reduced correlations between clarity and self-esteem for the Japanese, suggest that relatively less importance is ascribed to maintaining a consistent and autonomous sense of self, compared with the Canadians.
In addition, our demonstration that the Japanese have a greater tendency to normalize, that is, to see external cues for their behavior, suggests that the Japanese are highly sensitive to, and vigilant about, situational demands. Perhaps, relative to Canadians, the Japanese direct their focus away from their selves and instead toward others and the environment. To the extent that the emphasis of focus is away from the individual, internal standards may not be as salient, or as readily available. This focus on others and the environment, instead of on the individual, is likely to be representative of an interdependent construal of self. Further research is necessary to gain a better understanding of the role that self-focus occupies within different measures.
A few caveats should be mentioned in interpreting the results of this study, not the least of which involves the issue of translation. Although great pains were taken to ensure that the original English meaning was faithfully rendered in Japanese, it became apparent to us that certain words have quite different implicate meanings between the two cultures. Also, it seems important to consider the possibility that self-presentational styles and experience completing questionnaires might account for some of the differences found. To rule out confounds such as these, in our future work we need to free ourselves of the inherent limitations of questionnaires and examine more objective measures, such as actual behavior.
The representativeness of our Japanese sample also deserves comment. The exchange students from Ritsumeikan University had all decided to visit Vancouver, and had been living there for half a year prior to our study. They were no doubt influenced by Canadian culture, and by the experience of becoming a minority in a foreign culture. In order to address this confound, we are now collecting similar data from Japanese students living in Japan.
The present study was exploratory in nature, and future research is required to better develop instruments and methods to gain a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. The current interest in culture and psychology will no doubt continue to reveal important culturally-determined motivations, cognitions, and emotions that underlie some of our most basic psychological processes.
Campbell, J. D. , Trapnell, P. D., Katz, I., & Lavallee, L. (1992). Personality and self-knowledge: Development of the self-concept confusion scale and examination of its personality correlates. Unpublished manuscript, University of British Columbia.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). "Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation." Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.
This research was supported by grant 410-90-1519 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Darrin R. Lehman. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Steven J. Heine or Darrin R. Lehman, Department of Psychology, 2136 West Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B. C., Canada V6T 1Z4, or Otohiko Okugawa, Faculty of Social Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, 56-1 Kitamachi, Tojiin Kita-ku, Kyoto, Japan 603-77.
Figure 1: Self-Concept Confusion
Figure 2: Need to Normalize