Category: Cultural Diversity / Vulnerable Populations
Perceptions of control have long been thought to influence coping. Primary control strategies involve altering the environment so it aligns with personal desires, while secondary control involves altering the self so it aligns with environmental forces (Rothbaum, Weisz, & Snyder, 1982). Primary control strategies such as compensatory primary control, which includes seeking help from others after encountering obstacles, have been associated with reduced depression (Wrosch, Schulz, & Heckhausen, 2002). However, the usage and benefits of primary control strategies may not be universal. East Asians may be more likely to utilize secondary control, while Westerners may be more likely to utilize primary control (Tweed, 2004; Weisz, Rothbaum, & Blackburn, 1984). East Asians may also seek less explicit social support due to fear of disrupting relational harmony and perceptions of limited utility (Kim, Sherman, Ko, & Taylor, 2006). Thus, our study examined whether Japanese adults utilize less primary compensatory control than Americans, and whether the beneficial relationship between compensatory control strategies and depression is weaker for Japanese adults.
We analyzed data from the Midlife in U.S. National Study of Health and Well-being and the corresponding Midlife in Japan Study. Our sample of 1021 subjects included 640 American and 381 Japanese adults. Primary Compensatory control was measured with items from the Optimization of Primary and Secondary Control Scales and new items constructed in the context of the study (Heckhausen, Schulz, & Wrosch, 1998). Depression was assessed using the Center for Epidemiological Students Depression Inventory (Radloff, 1977).
The results showed that Japanese adults used less primary compensatory control (M = 2.30, SD = .60) than Americans (M = 2.39, SD = .60), although the effect size (d = .14, 95% CI [.01, 27]) was small. Greater compensatory primary control was associated with lower levels of depression for Americans (r = -.20, 95% CI [-.28, -.12], p < .001) but greater levels of depression for Japanese adults (r = .13, 95% CI [.02, .22], p = .02). Linear regression analysis revealed a significant interaction between primary control and nationality predicting depression (β = .47, d =1.09, 95% CI [.95, 1.22], = .04), so that greater compensatory primary control predicted lower depression for Americans (b = -3.03, p < .001), but was not predictive of depression for Japanese adults (b = .91, p = .11).
Overall, cultural influences on primary compensatory control were slight, yet the variation in associated levels of depression for American and Japanese adults may have broader implications regarding differences in how coping strategies relate to mental health between East Asian and Western cultures.