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Social norms, social self-efficacy and perceived social status in the expression of social anxiety : a cross-national comparison Hsu, Lorena

Abstract

Previous research has consistently shown that Asian-heritage individuals report higher levels of social anxiety compared to their European-heritage counterparts. The goal of this study was to examine whether culturally-influenced social standards, social self-efficacy, and perceived social status account for elevated reports of social anxiety in East Asian-heritage (EAH) individuals. Drawing from cognitive and evolutionary models of social anxiety, two competing hypotheses that encompassed these social contextual variables were tested to explain ethnic differences in social anxiety: the Asian socialization hypothesis proposed that higher self-reported social anxiety in EAH individuals are related to their greater exposure to East Asian cultural values, while the cultural discrepancy hypothesis posited that Asian-Western differences in social anxiety are associated with the bicultural experience of cultural and/or ethnic discrepancy with mainstream Western culture. In a cross-national sample of East Asian- and European-heritage students living in Canada (Ns = 280 and 103, respectively) and East Asian students living in Korea and China (N = 309), participants completed self-report questionnaires that measured social anxiety, depression, and social contextual factors (i.e., cultural norms, social self-efficacy, and perceived social status). Measures of acculturation and self-construal were also included to confirm that the groups differed on cultural values. Planned contrast analyses demonstrated relatively strong support for the cultural discrepancy hypothesis, in which bicultural East Asian groups (i.e., 1st- and 2nd-generation EAH individuals) reported greater social anxiety and depression, as well as lower initiation social self-efficacy and perceived social status compared to members of unicultural groups (i.e., European-heritage and overseas East Asian groups). However, social self-efficacy and perceived social status did not appear to mediate the elevated social anxiety levels in bicultural East Asians. Findings showed limited support for the Asian socialization hypothesis. Overall, the results suggest that higher reports of social anxiety in bicultural East Asians may be associated with the experience of cultural and ethnic discrepancy with Western mainstream culture, and conceptualized as a part of the experience of acculturative and/or bicultural stress. Findings from this study suggest that the role of cultural discrepancy in elevated social anxiety warrants further investigation using longitudinal or experimental designs.

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