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A time to speak and a time to keep quiet part 3: The mental ties to self-expression

Posted on 08-17-2015 Posted in Mental Health, Therapy - 0 Comments


In East Asian cultures, the self-discipline of silence and the importance of thought are valued above a torrent of speech. In those cultures, certain speech is more likely to result in negative consequences than in the U.S. due to implied social rules. Heejung Kim, associate professor at the department of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara studied the differences between American and East Asian cultures and what influences thinking and drives beliefs. The differences in cultural practices influence not only how, but also whether people express their feelings and thoughts and extend to psychological and physical outcomes. Kim concentrated her study on two areas, the influence of speech on thought and the use and effects of seeking social support.

The effect of words on performance

In the study, Asian American and European American subjects were instructed to solve a number of problems and randomly assigned to be silent or to verbalize their thoughts during the problem solving. The result showed that verbalizing the thought process impaired cognitive performance among Asian Americans but not amongst European Americans. The effect of verbalizing thought depended upon cultural beliefs.

Research shows that Westerners tend to use more analytical modes of thinking while Easterners employ a more holistic approach. Analytical thinking is more easily verbalized than holistic thinking which is characterized by circularity and the expectation of change. An experiment was carried out to deliberately suppress internal articulation in which participants were asked to repeatedly recite the alphabet aloud. Doing so interfered with the performance of European Americans but not Asian Americans, again reinforcing the idea that European Americans are more prone to verbal thinking.

To investigate biological stress, Kim repeated the above procedure and participants provided saliva samples for cortisol analysis. According to the data, cortisol appeared in higher rates as a result of biological stress and was higher in the Asian American participants.

Kim pointed out that most U.S. institutions are based on Western cultural assumptions and high stress levels may result from unfamiliarity with these practices.

Support seeking

When a person feels stress they commonly seek support from another person. This is less common among Asians and Asian Americans. Subjects were asked to complete questionnaires regarding recent stress and how they had coped, these included social, academic and health stressors. A consistent pattern emerged, individual coping strategies were alike for both cultures but for social coping strategies there were marked cultural differences.

Asians and Asian Americans were markedly less likely than European Americans to draw on social support for dealing with stress due to personal concerns arising from making their problems public. This demographic reported they would “lose face,” disrupt the harmony of the group and be criticized by others for seeking help. All of those concerns prevented them from seeking social support.

The research showed the importance of a culture’s shared meanings and practices. Depending upon the particular culture, self-expression has different psychological, physical and social impact.

Written by Sovereign Health writer, Veronica McNamara

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