Beyond East and West Differences

The work by Markus and Kitayama (1991) has had a major effect on social, personality and developmental psychology and raised awareness for cultural considerations in psychology. Despite the positive impact, there has been limited empirical support for independent and interdependent self-construals (Matsumoto, 1999) with some studies reporting contradictory findings. Recent research conducted by 71 researchers, across 33 countries and encompassing 55 cultural groups challenged the dichotomous view first proposed by Markus and Kitayama. The researchers conducted a series of studies (Vignoles…. 2016) that examined a single dimension of Independent/Interdependent, Western cultures as wholly independent, the relationship between individualist and collectivist cultures and Independent/Interdependent self-construals, as well as the role of religious heritage and socioeconomic development of cultures. Using data from over 7,000 adults, the authors identified seven dimensions that encompass both independent and interdependent self-construals:

  • Difference
  • Connection
  • Self-Direction
  • Self-Reliance
  • Consistency
  • Self-Expression
  • Self-Interest

At the level of the individual these seven dimensions represent the different ways that we see ourselves and our relationships with other people. The dimensions can also represent cultural norms about self that are reinforced and maintained by cultural practices and social structures.

When the researchers tested the 7-dimension model, their results contradicted many long-held beliefs about independent, individualistic, interdependent and collectivist cultures. First, Western cultures scored above average on five of the dimensions but were below average on the dimensions self-reliance and consistency. Thus, the common view that Western cultures are wholly independent was not supported.

Latin American cultures had scores very similar to Western cultures on the difference and self-expression dimensions but scored higher on consistency and self-interest which also challenged the common view of Latin America as wholly interdependent. The economically poorest samples in the study scored highest on self-interest and were negatively associated with individualism, whereas Western cultures scored high on commitment to others which challenges the view that rich Western cultures are selfish.

Religious heritage was also an important variable in the study. Muslim and Catholic samples had very distinct dimension profiles that showed high scores for consistency. This may be related to the tenets of both faiths that salvation is related to behaviors so behaving consistently – across different situations and settings would be important.

The results of Vignoles and colleagues demonstrated that self, whether measured at the individual level or cultural level, is not binary. Independence and interdependence is a complex interaction of heritage, socioeconomic development, settlement patterns, and ecological contexts. By moving away from a dichotomous view of self, psychologists have an opportunity to expand our understanding of self and its relationship to culture.


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Culture and Psychology Copyright © 2020 by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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