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Cultural Differences in the Hedonic Rewards of Recalling Kindness: Priming Cultural Identity with Language


Recent theory suggests that members of interdependent (collectivist) cultures prioritize in-group happiness, whereas members of independent (individualist) cultures prioritize personal happiness (Uchida et al. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5(3), 223-239 Uchida et al., 2004). Thus, the well-being of friends and family may contribute more to the emotional experience of individuals with collectivist rather than individualist identities. We tested this hypothesis by asking participants to recall a kind act they had done to benefit either close others (e.g., family members) or distant others (e.g., strangers). Study 1 primed collectivist and individualist cultural identities by asking bicultural undergraduates (N = 357) from Hong Kong to recall kindnesses towards close versus distant others in both English and Chinese, while Study 2 compared university students in the USA (n = 106) and Hong Kong (n = 93). In Study 1, after being primed with the Chinese language (but not after being primed with English), participants reported significantly improved affect valence after recalling kind acts towards friends and family than after recalling kind acts towards strangers. Extending this result, in Study 2, respondents from Hong Kong (but not the USA) who recalled kind acts towards friends and family showed higher positive affect than those who recalled kind acts towards strangers. These findings suggest that people with collectivist cultural identities may have relatively more positive and less negative emotional experiences when they focus on prosocial interactions with close rather than weak ties.

Supplementary information

The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s42761-020-00029-3.

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