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Cross-Cultural Comparison of Personal Narratives Between English-speaking Indian and US Children & Adults

Thu, March 21, 4:00 to 5:15pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Evaluations (e.g., “I got hurt because I tripped”) are an important aspect of narratives which inform the listener about the significance of events (Labov, 1972). Cross-cultural research has suggested that collectivistic cultures use fewer evaluations than individualistic cultures; however, most of this research confounds language and culture (McCabe & Chang, 2013). For example, Mandarin Chinese-speaking children produced fewer evaluations compared to American English-speaking children; however, some types of evaluations relied on stress patterns, which is inappropriate in a tonal language like Mandarin. Within evaluations, previous research has found that collectivistic cultures use fewer mental state language evaluations (e.g., want, thought) than individualistic cultures but these results have also confounded language and culture, and different subcategories have often been combined (Wang & Leichtman, 2000). To address these cross-linguistic and cross-cultural confounds, we investigated narrative development in two different cultures, US and India. India represents a collectivistic culture compared to the US but they share a similar language (Hofstede, 1980).

Ten children participated in two age group (5-year-olds, 9-year-olds) and cultures (US, India). Children from each culture were matched on age and PPVT (5-year-olds(MIN=118.70, SD=17.86; MUS=116.50, SD=24.38), nine-year-olds(MIN =146.50, SD=20.02; MUS =164.50, SD=13.54). Adults also participated (MIN=18.20 years, SD=0.63; MUS=19.00 years, SD=0.82). Personal narratives were collected using prompts about topics such as spilling, injury, visit to a doctor, etc. The narratives were coded at the utterance level. The present study counted evaluations in the three longest narratives. Evaluations including repetition, negation, causality, evaluative words were analyzed. Moreover, we separated mental state language into three categories, individual (IMS), other (OMS), and group (GMS), hypothesizing that some components (e.g., group mental state language) would be more frequently used in a more collectivistic culture than an individualistic culture (Table 1 provides codes and examples). Proportions (out of total number of utterances) were computed for each code and averaged across the three longest narratives within a group.

Cross-cultural comparisons revealed that Indian 9-year-olds used IMS marginally significantly more than US 9-year-olds (MIN=0.166, SD=0.109; MUS=0.096, SD=0.042; [t(18)=1.89, p=.08]). Indian 9-year-olds also tended to use more total evaluations than US 9-year-olds ((MIN=0.375, SD=0.136; MUS=0.280, SD=0.093); (t(18)=1.83, p=.08)). Specifically, Indian 9-year olds used causality in 5.8% of utterances (SD=0.046) compared to 2% in US 9-year olds (SD=0.028; see Figure 1). There was a significant age group effect for GMS (F(2, 27)=3.67, p=0.03), i.e., Indian adults used GMS in 1.8% of utterances (SD=0.005) whereas Indian 5-year-olds used none. No other significant developmental differences were found in the Indian or US participants.

Overall, we found that more evaluations were used in a collectivistic culture than previously found. Specifically, Indian 9-year olds primarily relied on causality to evaluate their narratives, which could signify that Indian children learn to include more reasoning in their narration to describe their experiences. Indian children also used more frequent individual mental state language than previous studies reported. These findings also show developmental effects in group-oriented mental state language in Indian participants, which could indicate an increasing attunement to India’s cultural focus on an interdependent self (Hofstede,1980).

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