Culture and Health Psychology: Insights from a Socio-Cultural Perspective

In individualistic cultures, such as the United Kingdom or the United States, the dominant model of the self is an independent self characterized by self-defining attributes which serve to fulfil personal autonomy and self-expression (Hofstede, 1980; Kim & Sherman, 2007; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002; Triandis, 1995). People are seen as agentic and thus responsible for their own decisions and actions. Moreover, in cultures shaped by individualism, individuals favour not missing chances over not making mistakes, focusing on the positive outcomes they hope to approach rather than the negative outcomes they hope to avoid (e.g., Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000). Relationships are seen as freely chosen and relatively easy to enter and exit (Adams, 2005).

By contrast, in collectivistic cultures, such as many East Asian cultures, the dominant model is an interdependent self embedded within the social context and defined by social relations and memberships in groups (e.g., Markus & Kitayama, 1991;Triandis, 1995). People are seen as relational or communal and their decisions and actions are seen as heavily influenced by social, mutual obligations and the fulfilment of in-group expectations (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Oyserman et al., 2002; Triandis, 1995). In such cultures, individuals tend to be motivated to fit in with their group and maintain social harmony; they focus on their responsibilities and obligations while trying to avoid behaviours that might cause social disruptions or disappoint significant others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). They favour not making mistakes over not missing chances, focusing on the negative outcomes they hope to avoid rather than the positive outcomes they hope to achieve (Elliot, Chirkov, Kim & Sheldon, 2001; Lee et al. , 2000; Lockwood, Marshall, & Sadler, 2005). Relationships are seen as less voluntary and are relatively more difficult to leave (Adams, 2005).

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