Examining Individualism, Collectivism, and Self-Differentiation in African American College Women. (Research)

Article excerpt

This study examined aspects of individualism, collectivism, and self-differentiation in 123 African American women attending a predominantly White university. Specifically, the study explored the relationship between Triandis's (1995) model of horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism, and four self-differentiation constructs (i.e., emotional reactivity, I-position, emotional cut-off, and fusion with others) proposed by Skowron and Friedlander (1998). Results revealed that aspects of individualism and collectivism were differentially related to self-differentiation in African American college women. Implications of the findings are discussed.


Mental health counselors work to promote optimal psychological health across the lifespan (e.g., Pistole & Roberts, 2002). In this capacity, counselors work together with their clients to anticipate and successfully negotiate the ordinary developmental challenges of psychological maturation. The college years represent a crucial time of transition to early adulthood. For many students, these years include a move away from their families, increased autonomy, and the press to develop their identities in the adult world. It would seem that Bowen's (1978; Kerr & Bowen, 1988) family systems model might be of particular help to mental health counselors in conceptualizing some of the psychological issues faced by young adults during these years. Bowen seeks to illuminate the dynamics by which an individual attempts to define a distinct nonreactive identity that can be at the same time separate from, yet intimately related to, one's family of origin and significant others. The two foundational emphases in Bowen's paradigm of mental health are: (a) differentiation of self (the task of defining an internally derived sense of self vis-a-vis one's family) and (b) lessening of chronic anxiety (decreased reactivity and increased thoughtfulness in one's responses to significant others). However, only a very few studies to date (e.g., Tuason & Friedlander, 2000) have investigated how Bowen's model may or may not apply to the experiences of people of color.

Recently, researchers (Allen, 1992; Hershberger & D'Augelli, 1992; Kenny & Perez, 1996) have called attention to racial-cultural differences in college student adjustment. For instance, Allen noted that Black students in a predominantly White university face challenges that confront White students in general, in addition to unique challenges due to their racial group membership (e.g., establishment of their own social and cultural support networks to cope with institutional racism). In a sample of African American, Asian American, and Latino American college students, Kenny and Perez found that secure attachments to members of immediate or extended family were positively correlated with mental health. These researchers suggested that such findings might well be expected in students whose cultural values stress the importance of collectivism, family, and interdependence. They call for further studies to explicate the relationship between family attachment and psychological well-being for students belonging to specific racial/ethnic groups. Although Bowen's construct of differentiation of self was initially formulated from the experiences of White families, this study examines how cultural issues may be manifested via differences in self-differentiation scores for African American college women. White family patterns in the United States are believed largely to reflect White cultural values of individualism and independence (e.g., Markus & Kitayama, 1991). If this is the case, might the emphasis on an internally derived (individual) self and the primacy accorded thought processes over feeling processes in Bowen's paradigm simply be reflections of White cultural values? In contrast, African American families are primarily thought to embody cultural values of collectivism and interdependence (e. …


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