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In the Land of the Free, Interdependent Action Undermines Motivation

A study in Psychological Science examined the effect certain communication strategies have on pressing social issues. The study found that public campaigns that call upon people to think and act interdependently (as opposed to independently) may be counterproductive for many Americans. The experiments demonstrated that a person’s way of thinking and motivation to act are deeply tied to the cultural frameworks that shape their social worlds, findings that have important implications for those working to promote social and behavioral change.

Today’s most pressing social challenges require people to recognize their shared fate and work together—to think and act interdependently. In the three studies reported here, we found that appeals for increased interdependence may undermine the very motivation they seek to inspire. We examined the hypothesis that invoking interdependent action undermines motivation for chronically independent European Americans but not for bicultural Asian Americans who are both chronically independent and chronically interdependent. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that priming interdependent rather than independent action undermined European Americans’ motivation to perform challenging mental and physical tasks. Study 3 showed that framing an appeal for environmental sustainability in terms of interdependent rather than independent action led to decreased motivation and resource allocation among European Americans. Motivation was not undermined for Asian Americans, which reveals how behavior is divergently shaped, in the land of the free, by foundational sociocultural schemas of independence and interdependence. This research has the novel implication that it may be necessary to invoke independent behaviors in order to successfully motivate interdependence.

Citation as follows:
Hamedani, M.G., Markus, H.R., Fu, A.S. In the Land of the Free, Interdependent Action Undermines Motivation. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI:10.1177/0956797612452864

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