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Socialización y Familia - Departamento de Psicología. U.N. Prof.

Eduardo Aguirre Dávila

PUNISHMENT, NAIL-BITING, AND NIGHTMARES: A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY 1

By Robert J. Englehart and David B. Hale

Robert J. Englehart is a visiting assistant professor at Washburn University of Topeka; David B. Hale is a
graduate student at Nova University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The authors gratefully acknowledge the
assistance of Larry Gates, Averi Englehart, Asako Matsushita, Youngja Pyun, and Yoshiraitsu Higa in the
collection of data and Larry Gates for comments on a draft of this article. Requests for reprints should be sent
to Robert J. Englehart, Psychology Department, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas 66621.

One needs to spend only a very short time in a foreign country to observe differences in behaviors from one's
own country. Various child-rearing practices, for example, including the use or nonuse of physical punishment
(at least in public) to control children's behaviors, are often apparent. Physical punishment in the West has
long been a tool for controlling undesirable behavior in children, even though it is well established that
rewards can be more effective in changing behaviors. In addition, physical punishment is seen as a method
that can lower the child's self-esteem and produce avoidance behaviors to the punisher (Bee, 1985). In
contrast to Western practice, physical punishment is rarely ever used in Japan to control children's behaviors
(Watgatsuma & Lanham, 1983).

Fingernail-biting can also be readily observed and differences in the frequency of this behavior noted
between cultures. This behavior has been studied in both East and West and has been characterized
variously as an anxiety/nervous/neurotic symptom (Abe & Masui, 1981; Klatte & Deardorff, 1981;
Miltenberger & Fuqua, 1985; Pathak & Mishra, 1985), as a form of self-mutilation (Laxenaire, Millet, &
Westphal, 1984; Weinlander & Lee, 1976) analogous to hair-pulling, which may be due to impaired mother-
child relationships (Oguchi & Miura, 1977), and as a sign of hostility turned inward (Ellerbroek, 1978).

Dream content, of course, is not readily observable, but personal conversations with Japanese and Koreans
and the primary author have revealed potential cultural differences. And, if dreams reveal the content of the
unconscious, as psychoanalytic theory would have us believe, then nightmares could be seen as ominous
signs of psychological distress and may, as suggested by Abe, Ohta, Amatomi, and Oda (1982), have a
genetic component.

Regardless of the origins of these behaviors, both nightmares and fingernail-biting can be considered
undesirable and may quite possibly be symptomatic of underlying psychological problems, including anxiety.
And it is not unlikely that the use of physical punishment at least contributes to anxiety in children. According
to Zern's (1983) cross-cultural research into child-rearing and cultural complexity, child-rearing practices can
be divided into two major classifications: "Group Oriented" and "Individual Oriented," for typical East and
West orientations. Zern found (a) "Group Orientation" generally positively and "Individual Orientation"
generally negatively related to cultural complexity and (b) nonanxiety components of these child-rearing
orientations had strong relationships with complexity, prompting him to conclude" ... pressure the child (to
conform) but do not arouse anxiety," (p. 18). This conclusion typifies child-rearing practices observed in
Korea and Japan and runs counter to those of the United States.

While cross-cultural research abounds regarding East-West differences, none to date has investigated the
relative frequencies with which these behaviors occur. Through the use of a very simple questionnaire, the
relative frequencies of physical punishment, fingernail-biting, and nightmares in three groups--Korean,
Japanese, and U.S. students--are assessed to test the assumption of higher rates of occurrence in the U.S.
sample of these three dimensions.

METHOD
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Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, Jul90, Vol. 18 Issue 3, p126, 6p

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Socialización y Familia - Departamento de Psicología. U.N. Prof. Eduardo Aguirre Dávila

Participants
A total of 440 students from the following seven locations in the United States, Korea, and Japan participated
in the research: University of Southern Mississippi, University of Maryland, Overseas Division, and
Edgewater High School, Orlando, Florida (United States, where N = 137); Keimyung University, Taegu (urban
campus) and Keimyung University, Taegu (rural campus) (Korea, where N = 155); and University of Ryukyu,
Okinawa, and Kanagawa High School, Kanagawa (Japan, where N = 148).

There were 183 men and 257 women ranging in age from 14 to 45, with a mean age of 21.4. Racial
composition of the U.S. sample was not a consideration, and no attempt was made to either include or
exclude ethnic participants. Schools were selected because of convenience, but the schools are not
dissimilar in size, academic standards, and socioeconomic status of students, relative to their respective
cultures.

Instrument
A simple questionnaire was used. It consisted of three statements for the participant to complete by using
either never, sometimes, or often. The statements were as follows: My parents used physical punishment to
control my behavior; I had nightmares that would wake me up; I have chewed my fingernails to where others
could notice. All locations except one had an English version of the questionnaire, which was administered to
English-speaking students. The exception was Keimyung University (rural campus), at which was
administered a Korean translation of the questionnaire. While the limitations of such an instrument are clear,
the primary concern, considering the fact that English was a second language for a large portion of the
samples and translation was necessary for another portion, was simplicity. Its straightforward, self-report
format was used to decrease the possibility of confusion through translation or misinterpretation. Socially
desirable responses in cross-cultural studies are always a potential source of contamination; however, those
who administered the questionnaires in Korea and Japan (all educated in the United States) generally agreed
that the three cultures involved had similar notions about the desirability of fingernail-biting and nightmares
but not about punishment.

Procedure
In all locations, either we or our colleagues were present to explain the procedure for completion of the
questionnaire, and in no case was the intent of the survey discussed prior to completion. The questionnaires
were distributed to students, completed, and collected in a classroom setting.

RESULTS

Punishment
Both Korean and Japanese participants reported frequencies of physical punishment lower than that of the
U.S. participants, with the probability that the results could have occurred by chance extremely low [X 2(4,N =
440) = 22.44, p = 000]. See Table 1. The results were primarily a function of greater-than-expected never
responses from Japanese participants; that is, that category (Japanese/never) contributed 28% to chi-square
results. See Table 2 on page 130.

Fingernail-Biting
Differences in reported fingernail-biting by country also produced a highly significant result [chi 2(4,N = 440) =
17.74, p = .001], with Korean participants reporting fewer often responses and U.S. participants reporting
more often responses relative to what could be expected by chance.

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Socialización y Familia - Departamento de Psicología. U.N. Prof. Eduardo Aguirre Dávila
In addition, when Korean and Japanese responses are combined (Asian group) and compared to U.S.
responses, chi-square again reached significance [chi 2(2,N = 440) = 10.12, p = .006], with Asian participants
reporting fewer often responses and U.S. participants reporting more often responses relative to expected
values.

Nightmares
Again, calculations revealed a highly significant difference in reported frequencies [X 2(4,N = 440) = 26.7, p = .
000], with Japanese participants contributing over 30% to chi-square through higher-than-expected never
responses.

Combining Korean and Japanese responses (Asian group) also produced significant results [X 2(2,N = 440) =
6.24, p = .044], with U.S. participants reporting greater-than-expected often responses, while Asian
participants reported just the opposite.

DISCUSSION
While frequencies of responses by country show no major differences in any of the three behavioral
categories, chi-square calculations indicate a highly significant departure from what could be expected by
chance in all three countries. These results are primarily due to the U.S. participants' generally higher
reporting rates through either greater-than-expected (by chance) often responses by U.S. participants or
greater-than-expected never or fewer-than-expected often responses by Asian participants, as seen in Table
2. The small frequency differences between the samples were unexpected considering the literature. Use of
punishment to control children's behaviors, for example, is a major difference between East and West
philosophies of child-rearing. The most likely explanation for the results (certainly for punishment and possibly
for nightmares and fingernail-biting) would be in the participant's own experience relative to cultural norms;
that is, in a society where punishment is rare, two incidences may be considered often. In a society where
those behaviors are common, however, one or two incidences may be considered sometimes or never.

The scope of the instrument, method of selection, and small differences in frequency among the groups for
the three behaviors certainly limit the ability to generalize findings. But it is not unreasonable to assume,
based on the literature, that nightmares and fingernail-biting are symptomatic of anxiety and that anxiety is
possibly a by-product of physical punishment in childhood. The results of this study, then, do not dispute
those notions and in fact support them. Implications, therefore, revolve around the philosophical aspects of
child-rearing in the West, namely, the use of punishment to control children's behavior.

TABLE 1. Percent of Responses by Country and Response Category


Legend for Chart:

A - Country Never (%)


B - Sometimes (%)
C - Often (%)

Punishment

A B C

Korea 15 71 14
Japan 31 45 24
United States 18 60 21

Fingernail-Biting

Korea 51 39 10

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Socialización y Familia - Departamento de Psicología. U.N. Prof. Eduardo Aguirre Dávila
Japan 58 25 17
United States 55 21 24

Nightmares

Korea 15 78 7
Japan 35 55 10
United States 19 65 16

TABLE 2. Percent of Contribution to Chi Square by Location and Response


Legend for Chart:

A - Behaviors
B - Location, Korea, Never
C - Location, Korea, Sometimes
D - Location, Korea, Often
E - Location, Japan, Never
F - Location, Japan, Sometimes
G - Location, Japan, Often
H - Location, United States, Never
I - Location, United States, Sometimes
J - Location, United States, Often

A B C D
E F G
H I J

Punishment -- 17+ 12-


28+ 21- --
-- -- --

Nail-biting -- 31+ 22-


-- -- --
-- 15- 24+

Nightmares 16- 12+ --


36+ -- --
-- -- 12+

Legend for Chart:

A - Behaviors
B - Asia, Never
C - Asia, Sometimes
D - Asia, Often
E - United States, Never
F - United States, Sometimes
G - United States, Often

A B C D
E F G

Nail-biting -- 12+ 19-


-- 27- 42+

Nightmares 6+ -- 24-

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Socialización y Familia - Departamento de Psicología. U.N. Prof. Eduardo Aguirre Dávila
14- -- 53+

Notes. Percent of contribution is shown for the four largest contributors. Plus (+) indicates the observed
frequency was greater than expected, Minus (-) indicates the observed frequency was less than expected.

REFERENCES

Abe, K., & Masui, T. (1981). Age-sex trends of phobic and anxiety symptoms in
adolescents. British Journal of Psychiatry, 138, 297-302.
Abe, K, Ohta, M., Amatomi, M., & Oda, N. (1982). Persistence and predictive-value of
behaviors of 3-year-olds: A follow-up study at 8 years. Acta paedopsychiat, 48, 185-
191.
Bee, H. (1985). The developing child (4th ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
Ellerbroek, W. C. (1978). Personal disarmament: Nail-biting as a behavior. Journal of the
American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine, 25(1), 7-11. (From
PsycLIT database)
Klatte, K. M., & Deardorff, P. A. (1981). Nail-biting and manifest anxiety of adults.
Psychological Reports, 48(1), 82.
Laxenaire, M, Millet, F., & Westphal, C. (1984). Self-mutilations: Frontiers and meanings.
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Miltenberger, R. G., & Fuqua, R. W. (1985). A comparison of contingent vs. non-contingent
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Oguchi, T., & Miura, S. (1977). Trichotillomania: Its psychopathological aspect.
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Pathak, M. P., & Mishra, L. S. (1985). A study of neurotic traits in mentally handicapped
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Watgatsuma, H., & Lanham, B. (1983). Childhood and child-rearing. In Kodansha
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Weinlander, M. M., & Lee, S. H. (1976). Suicidal age and childhood onychophagia among
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