Structural and functional differences in support in close relationships between the East Asian and the Western cultural contexts
To whom do we turn for support in times of need, and what does the support from close others convey? The answers to these questions provided by social psychologists have largely been based on the Western ideals of being a person and relating to others; it has been taken for granted that the romantic partner is the person from whom people primarily seek support. Further, it has been assumed that support in close relationships should help individuals to function in a way that is culturally valued in Western societies; the function of the social support has been linked to facets of individuation from others, such as self-efficacy, exploration, and autonomy. In this study, I investigated how the structure and function of support in close relationships differ for individuals in East Asian cultures compared to those of Western cultures. First, I examined the question of to whom we choose to turn in times of need (i.e., support network structure). Because East Asians have higher family obligations and relational concerns, they are expected to be more likely to seek support from various relationships compared to Westerners who are expected to rely primarily on the romantic partner. The second aim of the current research was to investigate consequences of receiving effective support in close relationships (i.e., support function) across members of East Asian and Western cultures. As the meaning of social competence differs in two cultures, I expected support in Western cultures to facilitate individuation, and support in East Asian cultures to facilitate affiliation. In 3 studies, using survey, archival data, and daily diary method, I examined social support structure and function between individuals in East Asia (Japanese and Korean) and Western (US) cultural groups. Results indicated that Korean individuals were less attached to the romantic partner compared to Americans, but this cultural difference was not reflected in their support network. Responsive support from close others was linked to both individuation (i.e., personal agency) and affiliation (i.e., in-group agency) in the two cultural groups, but the relation between personal and in-group agency was stronger among East Asians than Western individuals.