Asian indigenous psychology and personality assessment

2.7 Asian indigenous psychology and personality assessment

Western political influence, Western and English-language literature and research dominance and a Cultural Revolution may have resulted in an interesting, yet slow development in terms of indigenous psychology for China. However the movement is now in full-swing and new assessments of the local personality characteristics have been documented over recent times.

Ho (1998) defined indigenous psychology as “the study of human behaviour and mental processes within a cultural context” (p.94). The efforts of indigenous psychologists may address a number of Sue’s (1983) concerns regarding the strong dominance of the etic (culturally indifferent) approach in psychology at the expense of the emic (culturally-specific) approach.

A major criticism of the FFM, and Western psychology in general, by indigenous researchers has been the tendency for the model to search for universals within a Western cultural context. Triandis and Suh (2002) caution researchers who argue for universality of the FFM on the basis that most of the studies in this realm have not included emic traits. Neither have they studied cultures which are extremely different from the West. Most notably Cheung et al. (1996) suggested that the absence of valid personality measures for use with Chinese samples is not simply an issue of the failure to adequately translate and re-standardise Western personality tests. Rather they argue that culture specific differences in personality exist between Western and Chinese populations that may render Western personality tests inadequate for use with Chinese samples. To this end they purport to have demonstrated that Costa and McCrae’s Five Factor Model of personality cannot be as clearly replicated on Chinese samples as on Western samples (Cheung, Leung, Zhang, Sun, Gan, Song, & Xie, 2001). Specifically, they argue that additional personality factors, which assess culture-related personality dimensions, have to be added to the Five Factor Model for it to adequately describe and measure Chinese personality. As acknowledged by Costa and McCrae (1992a), there may still remain hidden traits that are relevant and specific to each local culture (such as the “Miscellaneous” factor observed by Narayanan et al., 1995), even if the FFM is considered universal. Similarly, they also suggested that although personality in a given culture may reduce down to five major factors, the meaning and importance of each factor in any given culture may be different from that of another culture. For example, evidence suggests that the Openness factor of the FFM does not appear to be loaded upon in the same way in China as it does in the West (Cheung et al., 2004), and its scale reliability is typically reported to be less than other scales in Chinese studies using the NEO-FFI (e.g., Zhang and Bond, 1998, report an alpha of a=.59 for this scale). As Piedmont, Bain, McCrae and Costa (2002) explain, individual differences in Openness to Experience may be of little consequence in a culture such as that in China, where traditionally, citizens have been rewarded for maintaining the status quo, rather than thinking up and exploring alternatives to it.

The indigenous movement in Asia has seen the development of a number of measures of personality assessment based on local experience, with developers using emic approaches (e.g., Panukat ng Pagkataong Pilipino: Carlota, 1985) , lexical approaches (e.g., Panukat ng Mga Katangian ng Personalidad: Church, Katigbak & Reyes, 1996), simple extension following translation of pre-existing Western tests (e.g., Five-Factor Personality Questionnaire: Tsuji et al., 1997) and combined emic-etic approaches (e.g., CPAI: Cheung et al., 1996). The combined approach utilises culturally-specific methods, techniques, lexicons, items and theories alongside those developed and trialled over many years in the West. Cheung, Cheung, Wada and Zhang (2003) remark that despite a relatively long history of indigenisation in psychology, few indigenous personality measures are available. With an understanding of indigenous personality, and with specific reference to Eastern cultures (India, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and China), it seems that it is the relational, interpersonal nature of human experience which is important and not measured within the dominant FFM. Cheung, Cheung, Wada and Zhang (2003) provide examples as to how this may operationalise in a number of cultures. In China for example, the concepts of harmony and face; in Japan, the concept of amae or sweet indulgence; in Korea, the concept of chong or affection and from Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, the ideal of selflessness (Cheung et al., 2003, p.280).