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Independent or

culture? Is
everybody not
one? both?
Sooin Lee
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
As multiculturalism became an important of their cultures, depending on the
issue in psychology, there have been many immediate context within which they are
efforts to understand cultural differences. embedded. Moreover, the meaning of
One of these efforts is categorizing each word, “independent” or
cultures so that psychologists can better “interdependent,” varies from culture to
interact with people from various culture while some cultures do not have a
cultures. Cultures are often categorized direct translation or understanding, not to
as independent vs. interdependent or mention that the same behavior can be
similarly individualistic vs. collectivistic interpreted variously. More
because this categorization presumably problematically, words are value-ridden.
helps to understand someone from A negative connotation easily follows
another culture and predict his or her when someone from an independent
behaviors accordingly. However, culture judges another culture as
conceptualizing cultures can get in the interdependent, or vice versa.
way of understanding people in several Nonetheless, who determines which
ways. First, it ignores a concrete world in culture is independent or interdependent?
which each individual exists. As a human, who is not interdependent
Categorizing cultures readily reduces or independent? Both are ontological
people to abstract ideas, separating them givens, which make all of us, including
from their own subjective experience. In psychologists, be part of the human
addition, people are interchangeably community.
independent or interdependent regardless
Multiculturalism has become an important issue in
Psychologists assume they can better interact with people
from various cultures if they can categorize them.
Cultures are often categorized as independent vs.
interdependent although this it empirically invalid.
Further, conceptualizing cultures can get in the way of
understanding individuals.
By Markus And Kitayama
Independence Interdependence

“Separateness, internal “Connectedness, social

attributes, and context, and
uniqueness of relationships”

(as cited in Singelis, 1994)

Problem 1:
Lack of Concretness
By categorizing cultures, we attempt to reduce
individuals to simplified ideas and ignore concrete
situatedness (Frie & Coburn 2011; Buxton, 2005; Miller,
Categories do not explain the complexity of each
individual’s unique lived experience (Frie, 2011).
Using abstract ideas is an attempt to predict and control
behaviors of others for fear of uncertainty (Nielsen,
2006; Singelis, 1994 ).

t m e i s i n d e p e ndent!!
NOT everything
Problem 2: We are cham
Ignoring Context

Human beings are constantly affecting and being

affected by the world which they are embedded in. (Frie,
2011; Nielson, 2006).
Anyone can be “independent” or “interdependent,”
primed by their immediate situation (Oyserman,
Sorensen & Reber, 2009) or mood (Ashton-James,
Maddux, Galinsky, & Chartrand, 2009).
Regardless of their cultures, the participants perceived given
object as related after completing sentences that contained
plural pronouns (we, us, and ourselves) (Oyserman et al.,
What are you talk
Problem 3:
ing about?!

Words without Meaning

Words are socio-culturally constructed and lose their
original meaning in translation (Peña, 2007).
The meaning of “independent” or “independent,”
defined in the Western psychology, can be interpreted
differently in another culture.
“For example, the American male concept of dependence is
very close semantically to the Japanese male concepts of
gullibility, unluckiness, and humiliation (Smith & Nomi,
Some cultures do not have words or concepts for either
word (Miller, 2002).
Problem 4:
Values in All
Western psychology has regarded independence as a sign
of psychological health and has disregarded “non-
independent qualities” as less healthy (Buxton, 2005;
Frie, 2011).
However, valuing independency is following the socio-
cultural norms, which in and of itself is NOT an
independent behavior (Frie, 2001; Kagitçibasi, 2005;
McAuliffe, Jetten, Hornsey & Hogg, 2003).

Who is the judg
We are Both
According to Stolorow, each of us takes ownership of our
unique lived experience (as cited in Coburn, 2011).
However, we are unique individuals only in relation to
others (Orange, 2011).
Independency and interdependency coexist in everybody
(Kagitçibasi, 2005; Santamaria, de la Mata, Hansen, &
Ruiz, 2010).
By acknowledging this common humanity:
We can connect with individuals from other
cultures as fellow human beings.
We can be released from the pressure that we
should be able to understand all their behaviors
based on their cultural category.
We can confront with our fear of the unknown in
them because we already know our commonalities
with them.
Future Directions
The importance of understanding cultural differences
remains in psychology.
Human behaviors in each culture should be studied:
Within the context, history and value system of
the culture
In the ways in which its own people, not
outsiders, describe them
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