Early in the fall of 1982, I arrived in Ann Arbor from Japan as a new social psychology graduate student, and met Hazel Markus. She was on the University of Michigan faculty back then. Over the next five years, we frequently discussed cultural differences between her country (the United States) and mine (Japan). This conversation eventually culminated in a Psychological Review paper. We argued that many aspects of the East–West cultural variations in thinking and feeling, as well as in behavior, could be linked to cultural construals of the self as either independent (dominant in the United States) or interdependent (dominant in Japan). We reviewed a wide range of available evidence. Fortunately for us, the notion of independent and interdependent self-construal gained traction, not only on our home turf of social and cultural psychology, but also in a wide range of other fields, including cognitive psychology, marketing, organizational behavior, education, and, more recently, neuroscience and genetics.
In this essay, I would like to reflect on this development. In particular, I would like to highlight two lines of work I have done. The goal is to shed new light on future directions of the study of the human mind as biologically prepared and, yet, culturally completed.
What Was New?
At the highest level of abstraction, our proposal was analogous to some existing ideas in sociology, anthropology, and cross-cultural psychology. All these ideas, ours included, pertained to the ways in which social structures or cultural meaning systems are organized. Like all others, we also spent a lot of pages to delineate how collectively shared ideas and institutions could be patterned by the cultural models of independence and interdependence.
However, we went a step further by proposing that the cultural patterns and social structures are related to basic psychological processes. This means that the sociocultural is inherently intertwined with the psychological, including the nature of agency. The proposal to delineate this interdependence, or mutual constitution, between culture and the self, in some empirically tractable fashion was new back then. It still is current today.