Saturday, January 28, 2012
SPSP 2012: How does culture change over time?
Posted by Michael Kraus
Changes in the Definition of Happiness Over Time
Shigehiro Oishi considered how happiness has changed over time. Oishi suggests that older dictionary definitions of happiness included concepts of luck and good fortune. But, when he surveyed dictionaries from 24 nations he found, somewhat surprisingly, that 19 of those countries still had these terms in their definition, and the USA was not among them. Oishi reasoned that definitions of happiness have transformed in the USA over the years to include more agentic conceptions of control, choice, and achievement (e.g., self-help books suggesting how to live a happy life). In America it seems, luck has a lot less to do with happiness than it used to.
Narcissism in China
Virginia Kwan (coincidentally, my first ever research assistant position was with Virginia) discussed how culture has changed in China over the last several decades. Virginia reasoned that four factors have caused a shift in Chinese culture toward increased narcissism: (1) the one child policy, where single children become the center of attention in their families, (2) increased wealth, which promotes self-interested action, (3) urbanization, which admittedly, I can't remember how it influences narcissism, and (4) a cultural shift toward increased individualistic ideas. Kwan found some correlational support for each of these four influences on increased narcissism among the Chinese.
Jean Twenge spoke about generational shifts in USA cultural values. In particular, Twenge found evidence for generational shifts in culture such that people have become less focused on communal goals (charity, environmental conservation), and more focused on extrinsic goals (money, fame, career advancement). The innovative part of this research: the survey evidence was collected from people belonging to three different generations (baby boomers, generation X, and generation me) in two samples where participants were the exact same age (either in high school or college). This controls for changes in personality as people age! That's some awesome research!
Have you seen cultural changes over time? What did they look like?
Cai, H., Kwan, V., & Sedikides, C. (2011). A Sociocultural Approach to Narcissism: The Case of Modern China European Journal of Personality DOI: 10.1002/per.852