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A popular framework for looking at how families function is on the axis’ of cohesion and flexibility. Cohesion is the measure of emotional closeness. Flexibility is the amount of change that happens in leadership, roles and rules. Both cohesion and flexibility are continuums. The extremes of cohesion are enmeshed and disengaged, whereas the extremes of flexibility are rigid and chaotic. A healthy family typically manages to strike a balance between all extremes. Communication is the grease that allows natural movement. For instance, a family may typically be structured-connected (generally stable roles, emotionally involved) and become enmeshed-connected (generally stable roles, but with little differentiation between individuals or emotionally intrusive) when they experience stress. In contrast, another family may be chaotic-cohesive (little stability in roles, emotionally involved) but become flexible-cohesive (some variation in roles, emotionally involved) when stressed.

A similar framework could be used to look at cultures. How stable are roles within the culture? To what degree is interpersonal or emotional involvement tolerated? The prevailing American culture could be probably easily be described as flexible-disengaged (role change is fairly tolerated, highly individualistic even in familial sub-systems). In contrast, from my understanding of traditional Chinese culture, it could be described as rigid-connected (roles are extremely stable, emotions are shared but not extensively). According to recent research, according this model, positive mood may be the grease that allows individuals to explore cultural paradigms other than their own.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia manipulated participants emotions and then had them take a series of questions exploring their self concept and cultural beliefs. Participants who were smiling or listening to soothing music were more willing to “explore values different than their own.” In contrast, participants who were frowning or listening to music in minor chords more consistently picked values that were their own.

[Researchers] surmise that positive feelings may send a signal that it’s safe to broaden one’s view of the world — and to explore novel notions of one’s self. The researchers go on to indicate that negative feelings may do the opposite: They may send a signal that it’s time to circle the wagons and stick with the “tried and true.” They conclude that the findings also suggest that the “self” may not be as robust and static as we like to believe and that the self may be dynamic, constructed again and again from one’s situation, heritage and mood.

Association for Psychological Science (2009, April 14). How We Feel Linked To Both Our Culture And How We Behave. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/04/090414153538.htm

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