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Oerter, Rolf; Oerter, Rosemarie; Agostiani, Hendriati; Kim, Hye-On and Wibowo, Sutji (1996): The Concept of Human Nature in East Asia: Etic and Emic Characteristics. In: Culture & Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 1: pp. 9-51 [PDF, 4MB]

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Adopting a constructivist approach, individual constructions of the concept of human nature were investigated by using an 'adulthood interview' and culturally adapted dilemma stories. Subjects were young adults with higher education, including university students and individuals already in work from the US, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. The central hypothesis that subjects from different cultures conceptualize similar structures of understanding human nature at different levels of complexity was clearly confirmed. A second complementary hypothesis assumed that subjects from eastern cultures emphasize a more collective and interdependent identity compared with US subjects. Content analysis revealed that all subjects from eastern cultures elaborated characteristics of interdependency that were viewed as crucial for human nature, while US subjects emphasized aspects of individuality and independence. However, without exception, eastern subjects also simultaneously stressed autonomous identity. Conflict resolutions resulting from contradictions between independent and interdependent identity are described by examples from Indonesia (parent-child conflict) and Japan (self-other conflict). Finally, a combination of universal structural levels and of a culturally shaped conception of identity is suggested, assuming that the interdependent self, more pronounced in eastern cultures, and independent identities, more elaborated in western cultures, are conceived at different structural levels of increasing complexity that show universal characteristics.

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