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Honesty/cultural psychology: the cultural specificity of children’s reasoning about lying and truth telling, with a focus on differences between Western and East Asian cultures has been in focus of recent research. This contrast is of particular interest in light of arguments by cultural theorists that there are important qualitative differences between Western and East Asian cultures, with individualism versus collectivism being the most widely studied dimension (see Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002(1) for a meta-analysis).
Individualism involves a focus on individual rights and interests, with personal identity being based upon individual accomplishments.
Collectivism focuses on the interests of a collective, with personal identity being based upon harmony within the group and participation in community-oriented activities. These differences point to different goals for interpersonal communication, with Western cultures placing greater emphasis on freedom of choice, self-esteem, and well-being, and East Asian cultures placing greater emphasis on collective goals and group cohesiveness.
These differences call into question whether a model such as Kohlberg’s (>Morality/Kohlberg, >Honesty/Kohlberg) can be generalized across cultures, and raise the possibility of substantial cross-cultural differences in beliefs about what it means to be moral. Although lying in politeness situations tends to be evaluated similarly by children in East Asia and in the West (Xu, Bao, Fu, Taiwar, & Lee, 2010)(2), there are cross-cultural differences in how the lies are justified.
In Western cultures, the focus is on the recipient’s emotional wellbeing, whereas in East Asian cultures the focus is on the social implications for the recipient (i.e., his or her “face” or public persona; Bond & Hwang, 1986)(3), which is consistent with evidence that individuals in East Asian cultures tend to place a high value on the ability to adapt one’s behavior across a range of social situations (Gao, 1998(4); Heine, 2001(5); Markus & Kitayama, 1991)(6).
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Heyman, Itakura, and Lee (2011)(7) found that Japanese children aged 7 to 11 judged the truthful acknowledgment of a good deed more negatively when it was made to an audience of classmates rather than in private. In contrast, there were no such effects of setting within a comparison group of children from the US.
1. Oyserman, D., Coon, H., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism:
Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 3—73.
2. Xu, F., Bao, X., Fu, G., Taiwar, V, & Lee, K. (2010). Lying and truth-telling in children: From concept to action. Child Development, 81, 581—596.
3. Bond, M. H., & Hwang, K. K. (1986). The social psychology of Chinese people. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), The psychology of the Chinese people (pp. 213—266). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
4. Gao, G. (1998). “Don’t take my word for it.” — understanding Chinese speaking practices. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22, 163—186.
5. Heine, S. J. (2001). Self as cultural product: An examination of East Asian and North American selves. Journal of Personality, 69, 881—906.
6. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224—253.
7. Heyman, G. D., Itakura, S., & Lee, K. (201 1). Japanese and American chi1drens reasoning about accepting credit for prosocial behavior. Social Development, 20, 171—184.
Gail D. Heyman and Kang Lee, “Moral Development. Revisiting Kohlberg’s Stages“, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012