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

To examine the effect of matching message content to culturally shaped aspects of the self, Uskul and Oyserman (in press) have employed a culturally informed social cognition framework (see Oyserman & Lee, 2008) which suggests that what comes to mind at a given moment depends on the available cues in one’s environment, and momentary cues can increase salience of culturally shaped orientations in ways of information processing. Specifically, they tested the effectiveness of culturally matched health messages after making salient the dominant cultural orientation. Matching health messages to salient cultural orientation increased persuasiveness; further, culturally relevant messages were more persuasive if they come after being reminded of one’s dominant cultural orientation. Individualist European Americans primed to focus on individualism were more persuaded by health messages associating health behavior with negative physical consequences for the self, whereas collectivistic Asian Americans primed to focus on collectivism were more persuaded by health messages associating health behavior with negative social consequences. Thus, message effectiveness can be increased by reminding potential recipients of their dominant cultural orientation.

Culture and social support. How people cope with health problems differs across cultural groups (e.g., Culver, Arena, Wimberly, Antoni, & Carver, 2004; Gurung, Taylor, Kemeny, & Meyers, 2004). Cultural differences, particularly in the use of social support, have been shown in studies comparing individuals of Asian, European-American, and Asian American backgrounds (for a review, see Kim, Sherman, & Taylor, 2008). Studies using various methods and samples from different groups with Asian heritage (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese) have consistently found that Asians and Asian Americans seek less social support than European Americans (Kim, Sherman, Ko, & Taylor, 2006; Taylor, Sherman, Kim, Jarcho, Takagi, & Dunagan, 2004).

The underlying reasons for cultural differences in social support seeking center on the notion that Asian Americans are more concerned about the negative consequences that seeking support may have for their relationships. They are more concerned that support seeking will cause them to lose face, to disrupt group harmony, and to be criticized by others; these relationship concerns seem to discourage them from seeking emotional and instrumental social support from their social networks. Other potential factors such as the availability of unsolicited support and concerns regarding losing one’s independence are found not to be related to their use of social support to cope with stressors (Kim et al., 2006; Taylor et al., 2004).

article author(s)