UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

A sense of obligation : culture and the subjective experience of meeting expectations Buchtel, Emma E.


How do we feel about our obligations? And are there cultural differences in our sense of obligation? In this dissertation, I examine the question of the degree to which we believe we “own” our obligations to help others—if, while being motivated by a sense of duty, we also feel motivated by our own desires and sense of choice. In contrast to Confucian “virtue ethics,” which promote feeling unity between one’s desires and social obligations, the autonomy-seeking philosophies of the post-enlightenment West may have inadvertently encouraged a disassociation of duties from self-endorsement. In four studies, I examine cultural differences in the degree to which we feel congruency between our sense of obligation to help others and our sense of agency about helping. Comparing participants from East Asian and Western European cultural backgrounds, I find that a) East Asians are more likely than Westerners to feel a sense of congruency between agentic and obligated motivations to help others; b) these cultural differences are partially mediated by positive attitudes towards hierarchy and filial values; and c) East Asians are more likely to have positive emotional associations with both obligated and agentic motivations to help others. The studies suggest that East Asians, in comparison to Westerners, are more likely to feel that their obligations are self endorsed and involve a positive emotional experience. Implications for theories of motivation, in particular Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), are discussed.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International