Cross-cultural Comparison Of Maternal Beliefs About Competent Children’s Emotions And Behaviors

Open Access
Chen, Shengnan
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Thesis Supervisor
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Honors Advisor
  • cross-cultural comparison
  • emotion
  • behavior
  • child
  • maternal beliefs
  • socialization
This study examined an aspect of cultural socialization—mothers’ beliefs about the responses of competent children to emotion-eliciting situations. Specifically, the study investigated mothers’ beliefs about the emotions and actions of competent first-graders in different situational contexts: two commonly associated with anger, one with empathy, and one happiness, all of which occur in the participating nations. The investigation of maternal beliefs is a method of conducting variations in cultural expectations of children’s developmentally appropriate behavior (Joshi & Maclean, 1997). Understanding mothers’ beliefs may shed light on cultural variations in parenting practices and in children’s emotional behavior (Cole & Tan, 2006; Tromsdorff, Cole, & Heikamp, 2011). The study compared the responses of mothers from two Individualistic nations (U.S. and Germany) and two Collectivist nations (India and Nepal). In each nation, 100 mothers were interviewed about how a competent first-grader (one of each gender) whom they knew would feel and act in the following situations: having a toy snatched by another child, having a tower of blocks knocked down by another child, seeing another child fall down, and getting good marks in school. Based on a literature review, five hypotheses were tested: (a) more mothers from Individualistic countries (Germany and United States) would describe competent first-graders’ emotions in ways that focus on the children’s self-interests (e.g. angry a toy was snatched) whereas more mothers from Collectivist societies (India and Nepal) would describe competent first-graders emotions in ways that reflect a sense of self in relation to others (e.g. glad to share the toy); (b) more mothers from Individualistic countries would describe competent first-graders as acting to achieve their own self-interests (e.g. snatch the toy back) whereas more mothers from Collectivist countries would describe competent first-graders as acting to achieve the interests of themselves and others (e.g. share the toy); (c) more mothers from Individualistic countries would state that competent first-graders act autonomously, whereas more mothers from Collectivist countries would state that competent first-graders seek support; (d) across cultures, mothers will state that girls feel and act in ways that take into account others whereas boys feel and act in a more self-interested manner; and (e) gender differences will be greater in Collectivist than Individualistic countries. In general, mothers’ responses were found to be more similar than different across countries of two Cultural Orientations. However, significant differences emerged in some vignettes. The findings were consistent with predictions in Knocked Blocks (Gender difference), Fallen Child (Autonomous versus Support Seeking Actions; Gender difference) and Good Marks vignettes (Self- versus Other-focused Actions). Significant differences that contradicted the predictions were found in Snatched Toy (overall; Gender difference), Knocked Blocks (Autonomous versus Support Seeking Actions), and Good Marks vignettes (Gender difference). Furthermore, no significant interaction between Cultural Orientation and Gender emerged. The predominant similarity in maternal responses may indicate that cultural differences in emotion and behavior have not yet emerged at age 6-7. More nuanced differentiation is needed to find cultural effects.