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Cross-cultural Studies of Autonomy and Self-determination of Human Behavior

The chief researcher of the International Laboratory of Socio-Cultural Research, Associate professor of Department of Psychology in Saskatchevan University PhD Valery Chirkov presented his work on 31st May within the Laboratory research seminar. The presentation “Cross-cultural Studies of Autonomy and Self-determination of Human Behavior” was devoted to the results of the research project “Parent and Teacher Autonomy support in Russian and US adolescents”.

There were two opposite positions about autonomy to check in the research: cultural relativism and cultural universalism. Cultural relativism posits that each culture creates its own set of values, rules and practices and can be judged and evaluated only by its own internal standards. The person is a product of a particular culture and the more the person replicates in his/her psychological constitution the demands and conditions of a society the more optimal is his/her functioning and the healthier he/she is. Cultural universalism suggests that there is a universal human nature with regard to needs, cognitive abilities, emotions and other psychological attributes.  Psychological autonomy and ability toward self-determination are examples of these universal abilities. The person interacts with the cultural surrounding pre-equipped with inherited cognitive and motivational mechanisms, actively accepting or rejecting these influences.  Thus, there are socio-cultural conditions that support or thwart the development of human nature.

Two research hypothesis were formulated: 1) If the cultural relativism paradigm is correct, then in Russia we can expect a lower level of perceived autonomy support than in the U.S. Autonomy support will have  neutral or negative relations with self-determination and well-being in Russia and positive relations in the U.S. 2) If the self-determination theory’s proposition is correct, then despite the fact that the level of perceived autonomy support in Russia may be lower than in the U.S. the impact of autonomy support will be the same in both countries: the higher the perceived autonomy support, the better well being and the higher self-determination

The total sample consisted of 236 high school students: 120 students (43 boys and 77 girls) from Russia and 116 students (49 boys and 67 girls) from the U.S. They were delivered with the Perceived Parents’/Teachers’ Autonomy Support questionnaires with 12-item scales (8 Autonomy Supportive items (“My parents help me to choose my own directions”) and 4 Controlling items (“My parents try to tell me how to run my life”)). Psychological well-being was measured by Self-esteem; Depressions (R); Self-realization and Life satisfaction.

V. Chirkov used the method of structural equation modeling and built “Theoretical Model for Perceived Autonomy Support Predicts Academic Motivation in American and Russian Samples”. The perceived autonomy support constructs for both parents and teachers were comparable across cultures. Russian students see their social context as less autonomy supportive than Americans see it.  Parents’ and Teachers’ Autonomy Support scores are lower in Russia. Thereby universal nature of autonomy was proved by the results: autonomy supportive relationships promote self-determined motivation, and psychological well-being in both cultures.

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Olga Pavlenko
Trainee Researcher