This study explored whether the Japanese group enhancement cultural frame might influence the effect of negative descriptions on psychological health for the Japanese. Specifically, it was presumed that the group enhancement cultural frame might make negative self-descriptions a valued experience and therefore would not be related to depression scores for the Japanese. In contrast, it was presumed that the association between negative self-descriptions and depression for Americans was because of the self-enhancement cultural frame, which values positive self-conceptions, thereby making negative self-descriptions a psychological threat. We explored this theoretical argument by comparing the relationships between negative core self-descriptions and BDI scores for American and Japanese women.
The unexpected finding that the Americans had more self-descriptors than the Japanese but that the Japanese had more core self-descriptions than the Americans is theoretically interesting. It is unknown whether Japanese use the same estimation when asked to evaluate whether a self-descriptor describes them or is important to who they are. Therefore, we cannot be certain that the SDT measures the same cognitive property. However, the Japanese coauthors of this study believe that the translation of the instructions was valid and would produce similar results across cultures. Although not the focus of this study, we suspect that American culture (and the Western cultural frame in general) encourages the delineation and verbal articulation of the personality, labeling various aspects of the self. It is possible that the larger number of self-descriptors reflects this cultural training. However, Western culture also encourages the person to abstract the “self” from the “situation,” recognizing how the “self” exists across different situations. Said another way, the American self is culturally trained to be stable or “the same” regardless of the situation. The greater number of schematic self-descriptors for the Japanese may reflect a different cultural priority from that in America.
In Japanese culture, on the other hand, the self depends, in part, on the social context. Of course, the Japanese person has stable core selves, but the way of being “oneself” may depend on the relationship one has with those in the immediate social milieu. In that sense, perhaps the Japanese person has more core selves than the American person, and the self that is called on depends on the context (Kondo, 1990
; Markus, Mullally, & Kitayama, 1997
). Japanese selves may be context dependent, but core selves are predictable guides to behavior in the specific contexts. Perhaps a flaw in Western psychology has been to consider only those selves that transcend a given situation as “stable” or core selves. When we understand that the stable self is a predictable pattern of self-identification and behavior in a variety of contexts, we can recognize that the context dependent selves that are often seen in people from group enhancement cultural frames are also stable selves.
The American women in this study had more positive self-descriptors and more positive core self-descriptions than the Japanese. This finding is consistent with the self-enhancing cultural frame hypothesis, suggesting that positive self-description may be more valued in American culture than in Japanese culture. The finding that the Japanese and the American women in this study had similar numbers of negative self-descriptions and core self-descriptions is equally interesting. Although the self-enhancement cultural frame fosters positive self-appraisal, these data suggest that the opposite trend cannot be presumed. The group enhancement cultural frame does not necessarily foster negative or critical self-appraisal. Kitayama et al. (2000)
has suggested that the group enhancement cultural frame fosters self-criticism as a method of fitting into the group. However, we found that both groups of women were equally negative or critical about themselves. Perhaps, American women also have a gendered social mandate to enhance the group (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002
; Oyserman, Kemmelmeier, & Coon, 2002
The American data revealed the expected relationship between the number of negative core self-descriptions and BDI scores. The Japanese did not show this relationship. This trend is consistent with the self-enhancement cultural frame, such that the presence of negative self-appraisal is a psychological threat for the Americans. However, this trend may not be so in the group-enhancement cultural frame shared by the Japanese.
Negative core self-descriptions explained only a small amount of variance of the BDI scores for Americans and did not relate to BDI at all for the Japanese. It is likely that important dimensions of the self were not captured by the simple dichotomy of negative and positive valence. For example, in the self-discrepancy model (Higgins, Klein & Strauman, 1987
; Marsh, 1999
; Moretti & Higgins, 1990
), there is the notion of desired cultural characteristics or ideals against which the self is measured. Recent additions to this model have asserted that the perceived closeness of the actual self to feared selves (Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier, 1999
; Cheung, 1997
; Ogilvie, 1987
) might be a variable that is important in understanding psychological distress and mental illness.
These findings have implications for research that uses cultural theories about the cultural construction of the self to test the cross-cultural applicability of Western derived theories about mental health and mental illness. Despite the limitations of a small sample size and limited generalizability, this study suggests that the state of nursing science is sufficiently developed that we can begin to critically evaluate our theories, and test them in diverse populations. This kind of critique is necessary to provide culturally relevant psychiatric assessment and practice.