Effects of Collectivistic and Individualistic Cultures on Imagination Inflation in Eastern and Western Cultures
This study sought to determine whether the participant’s cultural background might influence how confident the participant became that an event happened to them as a child after imagining that event. Participants’ confidence was calculated by multiplying their confidence ratings from 0-100% for events rated as “did not occur” by -1. This scalar confidence score therefore associates scores of -100 with high confidence ratings that the event did not occur. Moreover, scores of 0 correspond to a total lack of confidence in that the event has or has not happened (participant is guessing), and 100 corresponds to a total confidence that the event did happen.
Changes in Confidence of Event’s Occurrence
Two different measures of confidence were used to examine the extent of imagination inflation exhibited. One measure was based on the levels of confidence from the second session for the targeted events, and the other measure was based on the change in the overall confidence of the event’s occurrence from the first session to the second session for various events. A 2 x 2 x 2 mixed factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted on scaled confidence scores from the second session, with the participants’ cultural background (Western or Eastern) as a between-subjects variable, and the focus of the event (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and the imagery condition (being imagine vs. not being imagined) as within-subjects variables (see Tables 1 and 2). The main effect of the imagery condition on confidence scores was significant, F (1, 38) = 7.22, p = .01, with greater confidence levels for probed events (M = -16.14) than for not probed events (M = -38.46). Moreover, the main effect of the event type on the confidence scores was marginally significant, F (1, 38) = 3.10, p = .09, with greater confidence scores for individualistic events (M = -20.78) than for collectivistic events (M = -34.10). The main effect of cultural background on confidence scores was not significant, F (1, 38) = 0.05, p = .83, with no overall difference in confidence scores between participants coming from a Western cultural background (M = -26.26) and participants coming from an Eastern cultural background (M = -28.61).
However, there was a significant interaction between the participants’ cultural background and the focus of the event, F (1, 38) = 7.40, p = .01. When the focus of the event was individualistic, people from an Eastern cultural background were slightly more confident (M = -11.67, SE = 11.28) than people from a Western cultural background (M = -29.89, SE = 6.08). However, when the focus of the event was collectivistic, people from an Eastern cultural background (M = -45.56, SE = 12.27) were much less confident than the people from a Western cultural background (M = -22.63, SE = 6.61).
Means and Standard Errors for Main Effects of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Confidence Levels from The Second Session
Means and Standard Errors for Ethnicity x Type of Event Interaction of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Confidence Levels from The Second Session
A separate 2 x 2 x 2 mixed factorial ANOVA was conducted on changes in confidence from Session 1 to Session 2 by taking into consideration the difference between the scores form the second LEI and the scores form the first LEI, for the targeted events. A positive number represents an increase in confidence, whereas a negative number represents a decrease in confidence from the first to the second session that the event actually occurred in the participant’s childhood. A score of 0 corresponds to a lack of change in scores from the first to the second session. Participants’ cultural background (Western or Eastern) was a between-subjects variable, and the focus of the event (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and the imagery condition (being imagine vs. not being imagined) were within-subjects variables (see Tables 3 and 4).
The main effect of cultural background on change in confidence ratings was significant, F (1, 38) = 6.08, p = .02, with greater positive change in confidence ratings for participants coming from an Eastern cultural background (M =18.15) than for participants coming from a Western cultural background (M = 2.37). Moreover, the main effect of the imagery condition on change in confidence ratings was significant, F (1, 38) = 6.59, p < .05, with greater positive change in confidence ratings for probed events (M = 17.05) than for non-probed events (M = 3.46). Finally, the main effect of the event type on the change of confidence ratings was marginally significant, F (1, 38) = 2.99, p = .09, with greater positive change in confidence ratings for individualistic events (M = 15.68) than for collectivistic events (M = 4.84).
There was also a significant interaction between the participants’ cultural background and the focus of the event, F (1, 38) = 5.50, p < .05. When the focus of the event was individualistic, people from an Eastern cultural background showed a greater change in confidence ratings (M = 30.93, SE = 8.11) than people from a Western cultural background (M = 0.43, SE = 4.36). However, when the focus of the event was collectivistic, people from an Eastern cultural background (M = 5.37, SE = 7.66) did not differ in their change in confidence ratings much from the people from a Western cultural background (M = 4.30, SE = 4.13).
Means and Standard Errors for Main Effects of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Changes in Confidence Levels from The First to The Second Session
Means and Standard Errors for Ethnicity x Type of Event Interaction of 2x2x2 Mixed Factorial ANOVA Conducted on Change in Confidence Levels from The First to The Second Session
Correlational analyses were also run to assess whether the change in confidence ratings was related to the participants’ overall imagery abilities, as shown by their score on the VVIQ scale. A marginally significant positive correlation was found between the mean vividness of visual imagery and the change in confidence ratings for individualistic, probed events, r = .29, p = .07.
No significant correlation was found between the mean VVIQ and the change in confidence ratings for collectivistic, probed events, r = 0.00, p = 1.00. Also, no significant correlation was found between the mean VVIQ and the change in confidence ratings for individualistic, not probed events, r = 0.12, p = .45. Finally, no significant correlation was found between the mean VVI and the change in confidence ratings for collectivistic, not probed events, r = -0.12, p = .46.
Qualitative Characteristics of Imagery
Ratings of overall vividness and amount of detail generated during the imagery task were examined to determine whether participants were indeed able to create mental images of past events and whether cultural differences existed. No significant difference in vividness and amount of detail were seen between people coming from a Western cultural background (M = 4.24, SD = 0.94) and people coming from an Eastern cultural background (M = 4.48, SD = 0.92), t (38) = -0.66, p = .51. Ratings of 4 corresponded to “somewhat vivid and detailed,” while ratings of 7 corresponded to “extremely vivid and detailed.” Hence, overall, people did create relatively vivid and detailed images.
We also examined overall imagery abilities based on the standardized VVIQ scale. The mean VVIQ score was not significantly different for people coming from a Western cultural background (M = 3.86, SD = 0.46) than for people coming from an Eastern cultural background (M = 3.90, SD = 0.65), t (38) = -0.20, p = .84. Average ratings correspond to “moderately clear and vivid” to “clear and reasonably vivid” images.
The INDCOL Scale was used to assess the degree of collectivism/individualism exhibited by each participant. The scoring was done by giving one point to each answer that was collectivistic in nature (see Appendix D for information on items that were reverse coded). Thus, the higher the score, the more collectivistic the person is. Unexpectedly, the degree of collectivism exhibited was significantly higher for people coming from a Western cultural background (M = 23.68, SD = 3.72) than for people coming from and Eastern cultural background (M = 19.67, SD = 2.74), t (38) = 3.00, p = .01.
This study sought to determine whether the participant’s cultural background might influence the magnitude of the change in confidence levels for the dimension of collectivism/individualism that is emphasized by that cultural background. That is, the two significant main effects of the imagery condition on confidence levels from the second session and on the change of confidence ratings from the first to the second session demonstrate the imagination inflation effect.
Overall, people had higher confidence that the events happened from the probed events, compared to the not probed events. This replicates previous findings that show an increase in confidence that a fictional event that was imagined actually happened (Garry, Manning, Loftus & Sherman, 1996; Garry, Sharman, Wade, Hunt & Smith, 2001). Imagining the event makes it more accessible and more vivid in your mind. The fact that the event is situated in a period of time when you were 10 years old and thus the source of the memory is less accessible than the details of the event aids to the appearance of this phenomenon.
Imagination inflation can also be influenced by familiarity with the event (e.g., if the participant has ever seen anyone else doing the action or involved in the event he or she has to imagine) and the plausibility of the event (e.g., how likely is the participant to have seen an animal give birth if he or she has grown up in a metropolis) (Garry et al., 1996).
The two marginally significant main effects of the event type on the confidence levels from the second session and on the change in confidence ratings from the first to the second session illustrates that the type of event had somewhat of an effect but not in the direction predicted, as the interaction between the participants’ cultural background and the focus of the event will show. Previous studies reflect similar results (Pezdek, Finger & Hodge, 1997), such that Catholics tended to show recall for the Catholic false event presented to them at a previous session, whereas Jews tended to show memories for the Jewish false event.
These results suggest that false memories can be created for more plausible, culturally relevant events. Thus, collectivistic and individualistic events had different effects on the participants, such that participants were more confident that the individualistic events happened in their childhood than the collectivistic events. This may be due to the fact that many of the individualistic events were more straightforward and probably more relevant than the more general collectivistic events.
The main question that this study set to answer was if a person’s cultural background does have an effect on imagination inflation. The contradictory results on the main effect of the participants’ cultural background on the confidence levels from the second session and the change in confidence ratings from the first to the second session, such that the former was not significant and the latter was significant, is probably due to the small sample of people from an Eastern cultural background.
Nonetheless, it was expected that an interaction will be seen, so that participants would show an increase in confidence ratings for the collectivistic events when the participants who rated them were from an Eastern background. Conversely, participants coming from a Western cultural background were expected to show an increase in confidence ratings for individualistic events. This interaction would indicate that the phenomenon of imagination inflation was influenced by the cultural background of the participants, and specifically by the collectivism/individualism dimension.
This could be due to the fact that a culture-specific way of encoding autobiographical information is learned since childhood (Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Wang et al., 2000). Thus, because the cultural dimension is so pervasive, it was to be expected that participants would show a tendency to be more confident that an event really happened after imagining it, provided that the event corresponds with the individual’s background. Of course, multiple processes can be involved, aside from the processes already considered by the socio-cultural developmental theory (Nelson & Fivush, 2004), but influenced by the latter, such as the vividness, plausibility of event and amount of detail, all which can be related back to the source monitoring framework. This shows that not only cultural processes are at work, but cognitive ones, as well.
The interaction was, indeed, significant, but it showed the opposite trend from the one expected, such that when the focus of the event was individualistic, people coming from an Eastern cultural background were slightly more confident when considering their confidence levels form the second session and showed a greater change in confidence ratings form the first to the second session. However, when the event was collectivistic, the people coming from an Eastern cultural background were less confident when considering their confidence levels from the second session and did not differ in the change of confidence ratings from the first to the second session.
This is the opposite of what was hypothesized, namely that participants coming from a Western background will show increased confidence levels for the individualistic events imagined than for the three collectivistic events. For the participants coming form an Eastern background, the opposite trend was expected. However, even these surprising results might actually find their answer in the culturally specific childhood memories encouraged in a specific society.
Previous research had shown the influence that culture has on autobiographical memory. Parents, and especially mothers, are the ones that in the first years of life provide the structure and content of discussion with the children (Han et al., 1998; Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang et al., 2000; Wang, 2004). Some mothers are more elaborate in their style, talk frequently, and give rich information with each question they put to their children, even when the latter do not answer, and consequently their children incorporate more information in their narratives about the past and overall recall more, whereas mothers with a less elaborate style pose more redundant questions and consequently their children talk less and incorporate little information in their narratives.
Eastern cultures use personal narratives to express moral and social standards, while Western cultures use them for the entertainment value, and focus more on the emotions of the protagonist(s) (Han et al., 1998; Mullen & Soonhyung, 1995; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang et al., 2000; Wang, 2004). This trend continues into adulthood, and is observable among people with bicultural identity (Devos, 2006; Hong et al., 2001; Nelson & Fivush, 2004; Wang, 2000, 2008).
This suggests that people coming from an Eastern cultural background tend to have few, more general memories, whereas people coming form a Western cultural background tend to have more clear, cohesive, highly specific memories. For this reason, it may be that the people from an Eastern cultural background are especially susceptible to highly specific and clear childhood memories, of which they do not have any recollections, but that they can easily incorporate in their more general memories. However, the people coming from a Western cultural background, because of their much clearer and specific memories, are not as susceptible to show imagination inflation on individualistic type of events.
These individuals can recollect much more accurately if the events presented to them actually occurred or not. On the other hand, if the event presented was a collectivistic one, there seems to be no difference between people coming from these two different cultural backgrounds, and when there is a difference, the people who actually show more confidence are the ones coming from a Western cultural background, compared to those coming from an Eastern cultural background. This phenomenon is probably due to the fact that people coming form an Eastern cultural background are not so susceptible to these types of events, since their childhood memories are more general, and since their main focus falls on the individualistic events, of which they probably are attracted and tend to pay more attention to.
Conversely, people coming from a Western cultural background might be more susceptible to show imagination inflation on such events, since their memories are highly specific and these general, collectivistic events might seem probable.
Finally, it should be noted that the ratings of overall vividness were moderately high, indicating that the participants were able to create real and vivid imagery. Another surprising result was rendered by the INDCOL scale. According to this scale, people from a Western cultural background were more collectivistic, when compared to people from an Eastern cultural background. This might have occurred because of the small number of people from an Eastern cultural background, but also because the scale was not really appropriate (e.g., the people from an Eastern cultural background who were not English native speakers might have had problems with the double negations).
Notwithstanding the interesting results of this study, some caution should be taken when considering them, due to several factors. One possibility would be that the methodology was flawed, such that the items should have been more specific, or that additional personality variables should have been controlled for before administering the LEIs. Another possibility is that the sample might have been insufficiently large or biased in the sense that individuals that are bicultural, for example, might adapt to both sets of target items, “switching” between their two cultural identities, as need be.
Many of the people coming from an Eastern cultural background had actually been born in an Asian country but had lived for many years in the United States. Also, this adaptation to both cultures is a documented phenomenon, since it is necessary for bicultural individuals to react in this way in society, according to which community they find themselves in (Devos, 2006; Hong et al., 2001). Previous research has shown that when Asian Americans were primed with their American self before recalling important autobiographical events, they were more likely to recall personal experiences in which they were the protagonists and emphasized their own perspective. Conversely, when Asian Americans were primed with their Asian self before recalling important autobiographical events, their recollections were more likely to focus on social interactions, and persons from in-groups (Wang, 2008). Accordingly, bicultural individuals might have adapted to the events they had to imagine, and ultimately showed an increase in confidence levels for both types of events.
Thus, future research should employ a larger overall sample, but also a specifically larger sample of people coming from an Eastern cultural background. Also, considering the adaptations that bicultural individuals can employ, it might also be important to use a more distinct sample, comparing, for example, American individuals with Chinese individuals (who did not live in a Western country). Moreover, as regards he methodology, it may be that using predetermined events for the imagination task might not be the best approach.
Thus, considering each participant’s answers on the first LEI, events that received lower confidence ratings can be chosen, and each set of events will be unique to each individual. The INDCOL scale might be another issue, because of its double negations. Therefore, a more culturally and linguistically sensitive scale might be needed in order to correctly assess the individualism/collectivism dimension of culture for each individual.
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Table 1. Targeted Individualistic Events
Table 2. Targeted Collectivistic Events
Table 3. Additional Events in LEI 1
Table 4. Additional Events in LEI 2
Social Orientation Inventory
Instructions: Please indicate what number most closely agrees with your opinion for each statement using the scale given below.
1. I would enjoy being elected to an influential political position.
2. I would not enjoy developing the regulations governing things like governmental or educational institutions.
3. I would not enjoy supervising other people.