Americans are selfish: Study

Americans are selfish and get motivated by self-serving acts while Asian-Americans are moved by appeals to interdependence, according to a new study.

The study by Stanford psychologists finds that Americans are not driven by appeals to think and act interdependently, and in fact, those messages may decrease motivation.
"American culture stresses independence, and the desire for independence fuels behaviour," says MarYam Hamedani, one of the study's authors.

"People often like the idea of working together and certainly care about social issues. But our findings show that thinking about and caring about others doesn't always translate into effective action," Hamedani said.

The study, "In the Land of the Free, Interdependent Action Undermines Motivation," was published this month in the journal Psychological Science. Stanford psychology Professor Hazel Rose Markus and graduate student Alyssa Fu are co-authors.

More and more, Americans are exposed to messages urging them to be interdependent, the researchers noted.

President Barack Obama noted in his second inaugural address, "The American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone."

Interested in how independently minded Americans might respond to these types of messages, the researchers conducted three experiments to test their motivation.

In the first experiment, participants, all Stanford students, were given difficult word puzzles to solve. In the second, they were given a physical challenge to see how long they would persist at it.

During both tasks, participants were primed to think either about independence or about interdependence.

After the initial priming, the researchers found that white American participants were less motivated to persist at these challenging tasks when ideas of interdependence were brought to mind.

In the third experiment, designed to test these motivational effects in relation to a pressing social issue, students were asked to give their opinions about a class on promoting environmental sustainability after viewing a website about the course.

The researchers also found that, across the three studies, the motivation of Asian-American students did not vary when interdependence or independence were invoked.

The authors noted that bicultural Asian-American students are exposed to both mainstream American culture, which stresses independence, and East Asian culture, which stresses the value and importance of interdependence.

As a result, appeals to think and act interdependently or independently were equally motivating. The experiments show that motivation to act is deeply tied to cultural context, said Hamedani.

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