Seeking Changes: Economic Development in Contemporary China
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We might further investigate the problematic aspects of a shift toward individualism, or toward a society with massive amounts of internal migration and socioeconomic dislocation—but we might also consider the rapidity of the change itself as problematic, and not necessarily or not merely the direction of the change.
We might prefer an explanation that focuses on how depression, or psychosocial distress more generally, is presented. Changes in emotion norms may have prompted changes in which experiences are most salient, leading to shifts in symptom experience and expression. Changes in societal attitudes toward the mentally ill may have prompted changes in the stigmatization of depression, leading to shifts in which symptoms people are willing to discuss Ryder and Chentsova-Dutton, Finally, rapid sociocultural change may have brought shifts in the training of mental health professionals, alterations in diagnostic practice, or improvements in research methods, all under the ever-increasing influence of mainstream Western psychiatry.
At present, we do not have an empirical database that would allow us to disentangle these possibilities. What we do know is that a serious attempt to tackle this challenge will require a more nuanced understanding of rapid sociocultural change combined with sophisticated research methods designed to address change in a multilevel way. We conclude with some thoughts on how this might be done. Sociocultural transformation in China has been accompanied by increased individualism and depression.
Can we then conclude that profound changes in the social realm have caused elevated levels of individualism and depression? In keeping with the idea of mutual constitution, we expect that changes at the culture-level exert effects at the mind-level, and vice versa Ryder et al. While we acknowledge that our model points us to a complex picture in which causality is bidirectional, we believe in this case that a compelling causal narrative can be told about how a deliberate change of course in terms of economic structure and social organization has had psychological consequences.
The data to definitively establish this narrative, however, have not yet been produced.
In order to strengthen the thesis that rising individualism and depression in China are consequences of rapid modernization, the following two questions must be confronted. First, to what extent can these psychological consequences be attributed to sociocultural change rather than generational differences?
Second, how unique are these consequences to China? The idea that young people tend to hold cultural values and beliefs different from their parents or grandparents is not new. Indeed, one could argue that the observed value differences in the studies reviewed here are due to age differences and not sociocultural changes.
Figure 1. Twin Pyramids of Stability in Contemporary China
Social psychologists have addressed similar problems. For example, to study changes in individualism, self-esteem, and narcissistic personality traits in American youth over the last several decades, Twenge proposed a cross-temporal meta-analytic method that examines psychological constructs of interest in similar-age samples collected at different points in time.
Thus, instead of cross-sectional studies that offer a glimpse of individualistic values in different age groups, the cross-temporal method holds age and study design constant across time points and allows researchers to attribute observed value changes to sociocultural changes over time. Using this method, Twenge and Foster and Twenge found increasing self-reports of individualistic values, self-esteem, narcissism, and depression in same-age cohorts in the US between and the s.
To our knowledge, with the exception of one life satisfaction study using WVS data across time Steele and Lynch, , the cross-temporal method has not been applied to investigate rising individualism in China. Therefore, we encourage researchers interested in the psychological consequences of rapid sociocultural change to either explore existing large survey data collected across time points or to start collecting crucial information about cultural values and mental health status in a systematic and consistent manner.
Only then will we will be able to draw conclusions about rising individualism and depression with greater clarity and confidence. Once we establish an association between sociocultural change and rising individualism and depression, we are confronted with a second question: to what extent are these psychological consequences unique to China? Recall that studies from the US and Japan, for example, have also shown links between sociocultural change and rising individualism Twenge and Foster, ; Hamamura, To demonstrate the effects of rapid sociocultural change, researchers might consider comparing two or more cultural groups on variables of interest over time.
This method could be applied to studies of rapid modernization.
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For example, one could compare changes in individualism and depression in China with other developing countries at varying rates of development across time points. The findings would allow us to examine differing trajectories of individualism and depression over time. More importantly, these results could help to generate hypothesis about the relation between rising individualistic values and depression.
Several scholars have pointed out the link between modern living and increasing depression e. Twenge , meanwhile, reported greater depressive symptoms and psychological distress in same-aged cohorts from the s compared to those from the s. Future studies should seek to unpack the mechanisms underlying the links between rapid modernization and depression in China by examining, for example, changes in the meaning of emotional expressiveness, externally vs.ablabteaagetlau.cf
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Finally, we encourage researchers to look beyond economic development as the sole indicator of cultural change. For example, recent research on residential mobility has shown that people who have moved more times tend to emphasize the personal, individual self over the social, collective self Oishi, Residential mobility may be one link between widespread sociocultural transformation in China and increased individualism, especially given the large rural-to-urban migration over the past few decades. Intriguingly, increased residential mobility is also associated with decreased well-being Oishi et al.
It was a shift toward integrating China and the Chinese people into the global flow of ideas.
We certainly believe this claim to be true for psychologists interested in the mutual constitution of culture, mind, and brain. Cultural psychologists have long argued that context is essential to understanding psychological processes, and have amassed a considerable amount of data documenting the degree to which culture shapes not only social behavior, but cognitive, emotional, and even neural processes Markus and Hamedani, ; Kitayama and Uskul, Indeed, much of this work has been conducted with Chinese samples.
Studies conducted in rapidly changing societies highlight the extent to which psychological processes are shaped by the cultural-historical moment Ryder et al.
As with cultural psychology research more generally, documented shifts in psychological processes over relatively short periods of time challenge easy assumptions of psychological universality. At the same time, they provide an exciting opportunity for psychologists to study how culture shapes, and is shaped by, mind and brain. From that point of view, it is no wonder that Chairman Mao, and a contemporary Chinese factory worker, would hold radically different psychological perspectives on core values: after a mere 70 years, they inhabited radically different cultural worlds.
Both authors conceptualized the manuscript, JS wrote the first complete draft, AR contributed additional writing, both authors edited the manuscript and approved the final version. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. The authors gratefully acknowledge the insightful comments provided by Xiaoping Ren on an earlier version of this manuscript.
National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Front Psychol v. Front Psychol. Published online Apr 5. Andrew G. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Reviewed by: Michael E. Ryder, ac. This article was submitted to Cultural Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Received Jul 8; Accepted Mar The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.
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No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Mainland China has undergone profound changes dating back to the nineteenth century, including a contemporary period of rapid modernization that began in the s. Keywords: Chinese modernization, rapid sociocultural change, individualism, depression, urban and rural. Modernization and the Rise of Individualism in China Social scientists have long regarded value change as central to modernization, and have paid considerable attention to the association between societal modernization and the adoption of individualistic values e.
Modernization and Westernization The common view of modernization refers to the process of becoming modern, involving the transformation of a traditional or less economically developed society to a modern, industrialized society Armer and Katsillis, Models of Modernization and Individualism Several theories across the social sciences have addressed the impact of rapid sociocultural change on values and personality characteristics e.
Modernization, Well-Being, and Depression When measured at the level of the person, values associated with individualism tend to be positively associated with well-being and healthy psychological adjustment. Concluding Thoughts Sociocultural transformation in China has been accompanied by increased individualism and depression. Author Contributions Both authors conceptualized the manuscript, JS wrote the first complete draft, AR contributed additional writing, both authors edited the manuscript and approved the final version.
Conflict of Interest Statement The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Acknowledgments The authors gratefully acknowledge the insightful comments provided by Xiaoping Ren on an earlier version of this manuscript. References Armer J. Monetary reward versus the national ideological agenda: career choice among Chinese university students.