Culture and Anxiety: A Cross-Cultural Study among College Students

Article excerpt

By measuring interaction among and between anxiety and the independent variables of country of origin, gender, and age, using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, 117 international students from Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea were assessed with regards to how they experience anxiety on a U.S. college campus. Results indicated a high correlation between state and trait anxiety. The results of an ANOVA indicated no significant differences between the state and trait level of anxiety among participants except among Korean Women. Given the results, implications for counseling, advising international students on 2-year and 4-year colleges are discussed.


Contemporary social thinkers view anxiety as a unique human emotion that can help, as well as hurt, individuals throughout their lives. Spielberger (1972) defined anxiety as an undesirable emotional state characterized by subjective feelings of stress, apprehension, and worry, and by arousal of the autonomie nervous system. Leary (1982) defined anxiety as a cognitive-affective response characterized by physiological arousal and apprehension regarding a potentially negative outcome that the individual perceives as impending. The concept "anxiety" is also used to refer to a very different construct, a complex psychobiological process. This process includes a sequence of cognitive affective, physiological and behavioral events that, according to Holtzman (1976), must be considered together to gain a better understanding of the meaning of anxiety. Spielberger (1972) believed that the concept of anxiety-asprocess suggests a theory of anxiety that includes stress, threat, and state and trait anxiety as basic constructs. He also states that, in order to clarify the meaning of the concept of anxiety-as-process, the traditional distinction between fear and anxiety must be examined. He contended that it is generally presumed that fear and anxiety reactions are similar.

Recent literature suggested that culture plays a significant role in how individuals experience and are affected by anxiety. There are a number of crosscultural studies that highlight these differences (Spielberger, 1966; Spielberger & Diaz-Guerrero, 1976; Sharma, Dang & Spielberger, 1986; Mumford, 1993). Cross-cultural studies provide an opportunity to discern whether findings in research in Western countries are universal. Good and Kleinman (1985) believed that the evidence and results of psychophysiological studies, psychological studies on emotion, and pharmacological research on cross-cultural settings make it clear that anxiety disorders are universal. Even though the phenomenology of these disorders, that constitute the social reality, may vary in quite significant ways from one culture to another, the foundation and essential structure are still the same.

Cross-cultural research on anxiety is most closely associated with the works of Cattell and Scheier (1961) and Spielberger (1966; 1972). These investigators attempted to characterize and to measure anxiety in terms of personality "Traits" and "States" (or responses to psychosocial Stressors; however, no one, including Cattell and Spielberger, has looked at cultural differences within the same environment.

Using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory in Cross-Cultural Settings

Any assessment of anxiety must be theoretically grounded with regards to what constitutes anxiety and how anxiety is identified. (Spielberger, 1966). The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAJ), one of the more widely used instruments for assessment of anxiety, features these qualities. Spielberger and his colleagues developed this self-report measure by building upon earlier instruments, refining the items to differentiate between enduring trait anxiety and transitory state anxiety. For Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, (1983), the cognitive-perceptual system was considered to be of primary importance in the assessment of anxiety. …