Independent and interdependent self-construals have been shown to predict wellbeing in individualistic and collectivistic countries, respectively. An alignment of fit between individuals' self-construal and their cultural environment also has positive effects on wellbeing. In the context of international students studying in Australia, incongruence between self-construal of students from collectivistic backgrounds and the individualistic norms of Australia may result in poor wellbeing for these students.
Research Questions / Hypotheses
1) Students from collectivistic backgrounds have higher levels of INT, whereas those from individualistic backgrounds will have higher levels of IND. 2) High IND is expected to predict better wellbeing in both groups. In contrast, high INT will be negatively associated with wellbeing in both groups, with the collectivistic group presenting a greater deficit as they are experiencing a major transition in cultural environment.
146 REP participants completed the study.
Subjective ratings of psychological health, quality of life, physical health, as well as the WHO-5 wellbeing index were used as measures of wellbeing. Four items from Singelis' (1994) Self-Construal Scale were used to measure collective self-construal and relational self-construal as sub-domains of interdependent self-construal, and individualism as a sub-domain of independent self-construal. Participants were categorised as being from an individualistic or collectivistic background based on their country of birth.
Independent-samples t-tests showed no significant differences between the individualist and collectivistic group on all three self-construal measures, showing no support for the first hypothesis. A multiple linear regression with age and gender as controls and the three self-construal measures as independent variables showed that they did not significantly predict all of the wellbeing indicators. No significant interactions between self-construal and culture were also found.
The present findings suggest that international students from collectivistic backgrounds may not be different from students from individualistic backgrounds, suggesting that international students may not be representative samples of their collectivistic cultures. They could be more affluent and more exposed to individualistic practices, thus having higher levels of independent self-construal. Other factors that were not explored in the present study but which may explain the findings are level of acculturation of international students (e.g. number of years spent in Australia) and cultural differences within the collectivistic group. The second hypothesis was also not supported, indicating that self-construal does not directly predict wellbeing. This relationship may be completely mediated by other cognitive and social factors like self-esteem and relationship harmony, which should be further explored in future study. The study's limitations include poor measurement reliability and use of country of birth as a proxy of cultural background.