Testing a Dialectical Model of Meaning in Life in Four Cultures
Ching, Charles Matthew
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It has been well established that subjective well-being and meaning in life are important to individuals' overall psychological functioning. One important but unanswered question is whether meaning in life and well-being are manifested, and related to each other, in similar ways across cultures. This study examined how culture might influence individuals' experience of meaning in life and subjective well-being. Specifically, Steger, Kawabata, et al.'s (2008) dialectical model of meaning in life was tested in a cross-cultural context using two cultural dimensions used by cultural psychologists to characterize cultural differences (i.e., individualism-collectivism and dialecticism). Participants in the United States (n = 153), Australia (n = 122), China (n = 223), and Japan (n = 191) completed measures that included: a demographic questionnaire; the Dialectical Self Scale (DSS; Spencer-Rodgers, Srivastava, et al., 2010); items from self-construal scales (Kashima & Hardie, 2000; Singelis, 1994; Yamaguchi, 1994); the Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ; Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006); Scales of Psychological Well-being (PWB; Ryff, 1989); a need-satisfaction instrument; and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule--Expanded Form (PANAS-X) (Watson & Clark, 1994).Structural equations modeling and hierarchical multiple regression were used to test the study hypotheses. As hypothesized, cultural differences were found in meaning in life and well-being, and their relationship. The cultural mean differences found between the United States, Australia, and Japan were consistent with expectations and were fully or partially accounted for by cultural differences in dialecticism. The presence of meaning in life was positively related to positive affect and pleasure-stimulation need satisfaction, and negatively related to negative affect, in all four cultures. There was less definitive evidence of cultural differences in how search for meaning relates to presence of meaning and hedonic well-being. Other results--in particular the hypothesized three-way interaction between culture, presence of meaning, and search meaning in the prediction of hedonic well-being--were less supportive of Steger et al.'s dialectical model, and some findings were best supported for cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Japan only. Overall, the study demonstrates that individuals in different cultures are both similar and different in their experiences of meaning in life and well-being. Theoretical and applied implications, limitations of the study, and future directions for research were discussed. The study demonstrated the importance of integrating cultural and individual differences when developing models of well-being and designing interventions targeting the presence of meaning in life and/or the search for meaning in life.