Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


University of Wollongong. Department of Psychology


Cross-cultural research has revealed mixed results when evaluating the relationship between individualism and well-being. For example, some researchers have reported higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction (Diener & Diener, 1995; Diener & Suh, 1999) and quality of life (Veenhoven, 1999) in individualistic compared with collectivistic cultures, yet others have reported higher rates of suicide (Eckersley, 1995), depression (Chen, 1996; Schwartz, 2000), and lower quality of life (Myers, 1999). This begs the question: is individualism associated with higher or lower levels of well-being? In light of potential confounds at the cross-cultural level of analysis, I proposed that the answer to this question may depend critically on the level of analysis employed. Specifically, I sought to evaluate the effects of higher levels of personal individualism (i.e., idiocentrism) for well-being within an individualistic culture and sub-cultural group. Expanding on past research, I evaluated these relationships specifically for kin and non-kin referent groups.

Three empirical studies (two cross-sectional and a one year longitudinal) were conducted to evaluate the primary hypothesis that higher levels of idiocentrism would be associated with lower levels of social and emotional functioning and that these relationships would be mediated by social support. Results largely supported the hypothesis. Studies one and two found that idiocentrism was associated with smaller and less satisfying social support networks, higher levels of depression, anxiety, stress, hopelessness, suicide ideation, and emotion inhibition, with lower life satisfaction and with less aggression control. Idiocentrism was also associated with less willingness to seek help for personal problems in study one and with less purpose in life and less environmental mastery in study two. Indeed, of all the variables assessed in these two studies, the only apparent positive outcome for people high in idiocentrism was that they tended to experience greater autonomy (a measure of psychological well-being). In addition, social support (multiple mediator model with social support amount and satisfaction combined) mediated most, though not all, significant correlations. That is, those scoring higher on idiocentrism tended to have lower levels of well-being largely because they had smaller and less satisfying social support networks.

Expanding on past research, results from the current studies also highlighted the importance of evaluating the relationship between idiocentrism and well-being in relation to referent group. For example, kin and non-kin idiocentrism demonstrated discriminant validity in terms of sources of social support. While both variables were related to less support from parents, kin idiocentrism was associated with less support from siblings though not friends whereas non-kin idiocentrism was associated with less support from friends though not siblings. Non kin idiocentrism also appeared to be more important for the affective states associated with day to day well-being such as depression and stress, whereas kin idiocentrism appeared to be more important for the more cognitive states such as hopelessness and suicide ideation. Further, results of the longitudinal study revealed that kin idiocentrism predicted changes in non-kin idiocentrism one year later and non-kin idiocentrism predicted changes in satisfaction with one’s social support one year later. That is, idiocentric attitudes and values towards the family predicted increased idiocentric attitudes and values towards friends, which in turn predicted decreased satisfaction with one’s social support, even after controlling for baseline measures. These results are important in that they provide evidence consistent with a causal link between attitudes and values toward family, friends, and consequently, social support, and thus point to the role of culture in relation to well-being.