Distress Communication in Cultural Context: Examination of Koreans and Americans
Previous research has documented that Asians tend to somatize negative experiences to a greater degree than Westerners. It is posited that somatization may be a more functional communication strategy in Korean than American context. We examined the ways in which Americans and Koreans communicate and respond to distress by analyzing use of and response to somatic words used in narratives. In Study 1, we found that Koreans used more somatic words to communicate distress than Americans. Among Koreans, but not Americans, use of somatic words predicted perceived disclosure quality and expectations of positive reactions (e.g., empathy) from others. In study 2, we found that when presented with distress narratives, Koreans (but not Americans) showed more sympathy in response to narratives using somatic words than narratives using emotional words. These findings suggest that cultural differences in use of somatization may reflect differential effectiveness of somatization in communicating distress across cultural contexts.
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