Sunday, January 1, 2023

Introduction to a Culturally Sensitive Measure of Well-Being: Combining Life Satisfaction and Interdependent Happiness Across 49 Different Cultures

Introduction to a Culturally Sensitive Measure of Well-Being: Combining Life Satisfaction and Interdependent Happiness Across 49 Different Cultures. Kuba Krys et al. Journal of Happiness Studies, Dec 26 2022.

Abstract: How can one conclude that well-being is higher in country A than country B, when well-being is being measured according to the way people in country A think about well-being? We address this issue by proposing a new culturally sensitive method to comparing societal levels of well-being. We support our reasoning with data on life satisfaction and interdependent happiness focusing on individual and family, collected mostly from students, across forty-nine countries. We demonstrate that the relative idealization of the two types of well-being varies across cultural contexts and are associated with culturally different models of selfhood. Furthermore, we show that rankings of societal well-being based on life satisfaction tend to underestimate the contribution from interdependent happiness. We introduce a new culturally sensitive method for calculating societal well-being, and examine its construct validity by testing for associations with the experience of emotions and with individualism-collectivism. This new culturally sensitive approach represents a slight, yet important improvement in measuring well-being.


We developed a new approach to measure levels of well-being across diverse cultural contexts. We designed a new culturally sensitive approach to measuring well-being along two dimensions based on mounting empirical evidence that cultures vary in the way well-being and/or happiness is valued and construed. Cultures vary in relative focus on the individual versus the family (Delle Fave et al., 2016; Krys et al., 2019b2022a), and in construing well-being using an individual-focused life satisfaction framework versus an interdependent conceptual framework (Hitokoto & Uchida, 2015; Krys et al., 2020). Accordingly, our new, culturally sensitive approach adjusts individual-level well-being scores according to the particular type of well-being that tends to be valued within a respondent’s indigenous culture. This new approach represents an incremental improvement to the array of methods available to researchers seeking to measure, describe, and compare levels of well-being across the world.

It is important to note that, empirically, the CS approach is not substantially different from the vast array of other well established quantitative measures of well-being. Indeed, our new CS measure of well-being is explicitly comprised of several thoroughly tested and well validated measures of well-being. Each of the measures used to calculate CS Well-being, as well as many others, has been shown to be highly reliable and valid across many different cultural contexts. We acknowledge that the current status quo of empirical research on well-being is highly valid, credible, and valuable. Empirically, the advent of the CS approach represents a slight, yet important, improvement in the fidelity of well-being measurement.

The CS approach represents a substantial improvement with respect to other measures when considered conceptually. The vast majority of existing evidence for differences in country-level well-being was derived based on the use of identical measures across diverse cultural contexts (Cheng et al., 2016; Diener et al., 1995; Hofstede, 2001; Jasielska et al., 2018; Kuppens et al., 2008; Steel et al., 2018). Well-being research is a subfield within psychological science that is in need of tools that are more applicable across diverse cultural contexts. Many large scale studies show that an overwhelming majority of empirical psychological research is based on WEIRD samples (Adams et al., 2017; cf. Lee et al., 2021). For example, an analysis of the top journals across six sub-disciplines of psychology found that 68% of participants were American and that 96% of participants were from Western industrialized nations (Arnett, 2008). The development of the CS approach to measure well-being is a marked, incremental step towards conceptualizing psychological phenomena less ethnocentrically.

The CS approach involves the use of several different previously established and well-validated measures. Although all the measures used in our study have been shown to be valid and reliable across several different cultural contexts, there also exists evidence that different well-being measures (including the IH) do not perform in the same way across different cultural contexts. Recently Gardiner et al. (2020) found that well-being measures tend to perform better when they are used within the culture in which they were developed. This finding further supports the importance and potential utility of using culturally sensitive measures of well-being for large-scale cross-cultural research.

We found that individual LS, as measured by the SWLS, is positively associated with country-level values of individualism. This finding is consistent with prior reports that LS tends to covary with societal levels of individualism (Cheng et al., 2016; Diener et al., 1995; Hofstede, 2001; Kuppens et al., 2008; Steel et al., 2018). Conversely, we did not observe that CS well-being was associated with societal levels of individualism. We did however find that across both types of well-being measures, country level values of de-contextualized versus contextualized self, were positively associated with happiness. De-contextualized versus contextualized self represents how much a person thinks about their identity within the context of others (e.g., Someone could understand who you are without needing to know which social groups you belong to vs If someone wants to understand who you are, they would need to know which social groups you belong to). Prior research demonstrates that contextualism is an important facet of cultural collectivism (Owe et al., 2013). Our current findings suggest the de-contextualism may also confer some societal characteristics linked to well-being measured in several different ways.

We also found that both methods of measuring well-being tended to be associated with the experience of positive and negative emotions (r = -0.215). This finding supports the construct validity of CS Well-being and contributes to a growing body of research demonstrating the link between emotional experience and life satisfaction (Kang et al., 2003; Kuppens et al., 2008). Across our sample, we also found that the association between CS Well-being and positive emotions (r = 0.455) were stronger than between well-being and negative emotions (r = −0.215). This finding is consistent with that of a previous study showing that the experience of positive emotions is more strongly related to life satisfaction than the absence of negative emotions (Kuppens et al., 2008). Emotional experience seems to play an important role in determining many different forms well-being, that include happiness and LS.

This study and the CS approach are limited in several important ways. We focused on only two different types of well-being originating from WEIRD and Confucian cultural contexts: LS and IH. There exist other forms of well-being and/or happiness that are applicable to people of other cultures. For example, spirituality is strongly associated with well-being in Africa and Latin America (Selman et al., 2013), and dispositional simpatico (emphasis on expressive displays of personal charm, graciousness, and hospitality) is an important part of well-being and happiness within many Latin-American cultures (Sanchez-Burks et al., 2000). This study is also limited in terms of the way participants responded to each scale. More specifically, being asked about one’s individual life-satisfaction may indirectly affect the way one responds to items related to interdependent happiness of one’s family. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether our instructions to think about ideal levels of well-being (Diener et al., 2000) activated the ideal self or the ought self (Higgins, 1987); future studies may need to employ more direct instruction. In addition, this study is limited in the way culture was operationalized. In our analyses, we equated culture with country. However there exists considerable heterogeneity of cultural values within countries, which we did not consider here. These issues need further empirical research to uncover their potential effects.

Furthermore, we conceptualized well-being more in terms of feeling good than functioning well or one’s sense of meaning. One’s sense of meaning is often construed as an important factor related to happiness and well-being in many different parts of the world (Costin & Vignoles, 2020; Oishi & Diener, 2014). The fact that these other aspects of well-being and/or happiness were not included in the current study is an important limitation. We anticipate that future research will consider how these other forms of well-being and/or happiness can be incorporated into global and cross-cultural studies on well-being. Furthermore, future research is needed based on more representative samples. Our study was based primarily on student samples and serves as one step towards developing more culturally sensitive indices of well-being. Lastly, this study was also limited in that measures individualism-collectivism were obtained from country-level databases and not measured directly in this study. By adding data from different databases, assessed on national level, an additional level of ambiguity was created. We anticipate that this study will stimulate further empirical research on culturally sensitive methods of measuring many different psychological constructs.

The above limitations and future directions are of “technical” nature. However, it is also important to highlight other broad and conceptual issues. For example, as of the beginning of 2000s, most people and most nations tend to report being happy or very happy (e.g., Oishi et al., 2007). Despite this fact, policy-makers and scientists are striving to develop ways to enhance happiness. We affirm that happiness of many people and many nations can be enhanced, but in our understanding, well-being is not completely interchangeable with happiness. What other-than-happiness constructs people across cultures recognize as key components to their good life, and what are their ideal levels, is currently an important but open empirical question.

The results of this study have practical implications. This tool holds potential to examine the way several other culture-level variables, such as cultural tightness-looseness (Gelfand et al., 2011) or relational mobility (Thomson et al., 2018), may correspond to variation in well-being. Furthermore, our findings illustrate the importance of considering how much a particular construct is valued within a context, and that this approach could be applied to other psychological phenomenon. For example, cultures vary in terms of what types of social policies are valued and prioritized (Krys et al., 2022b). Thus, by incorporating what types of societal goals a culture or country tends to have, policy makers may be better positioned to measure how proximate or distal actual realization of culture-specific goals are.

People around the world want to be happy. Therefore, more and more governing bodies employ well-being as a compass for guiding their societies (Durand, 2018). To escape post-colonial traps in well-being indicators research and in policy-making, researchers and international governing bodies may need to acknowledge that happiness across cultures has various facets. Doing so will promote “buy-in” from many non-WEIRD societies. Large-scale cross-cultural research on well-being will be improved by considering more culturally sensitive measures of well-being. We hope this study serves as one small step forward inspiring this research focus.

Most people uncritically swallowed the fake diagnosis of their true selves by a supposedly transformative, but bogus new brain-reading machine

Emulating future neurotechnology using magic. Jay A. Olson et al. Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 107, January 2023, 103450.

Abstract: Recent developments in neuroscience and artificial intelligence have allowed machines to decode mental processes with growing accuracy. Neuroethicists have speculated that perfecting these technologies may result in reactions ranging from an invasion of privacy to an increase in self-understanding. Yet, evaluating these predictions is difficult given that people are poor at forecasting their reactions. To address this, we developed a paradigm using elements of performance magic to emulate future neurotechnologies. We led 59 participants to believe that a (sham) neurotechnological machine could infer their preferences, detect their errors, and reveal their deep-seated attitudes. The machine gave participants randomly assigned positive or negative feedback about their brain’s supposed attitudes towards charity. Around 80% of participants in both groups provided rationalisations for this feedback, which shifted their attitudes in the manipulated direction but did not influence donation behaviour. Our paradigm reveals how people may respond to prospective neurotechnologies, which may inform neuroethical frameworks.


Novelist Arthur C. Clarke (2013) famously asserted that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. But the reverse can also be true: magic tricks can be made indistinguishable from advanced technology. When paired with real scientific equipment, magic techniques can create compelling illusions that allow people to experience prospective technologies first-hand. Here, we demonstrate that a magic-based paradigm may be particularly useful to emulate neurotechnologies and potentially inform neuroethical frameworks.

Broadly defined, neurotechnology involves invasive or non-invasive methods to monitor or modulate brain activity (Goering et al., 2021). Recent developments in neural decoding and artificial intelligence have made it possible, in a limited fashion, to infer various aspects of human thought (Ritchie et al., 2019). The pairing of neural imaging with machine learning has allowed researchers to decode participants’ brain activity in order to infer what they are seeing, imagining, or even dreaming (Horikawa et al., 2013, Horikawa and Kamitani, 2017). For example, one study identified the neural correlates of viewing various face stimuli; EEG data from a single participant could be used to determine which of over one hundred faces was being presented (Nemrodov et al., 2018). Other studies have used fMRI brain activity patterns to infer basic personality traits after exposing people to threatening stimuli (Fernandes et al., 2017). Similar decoding methods have also been used to determine what verbal utterances participants were thinking about in real time (Moses et al., 2019).

Other recent developments have enabled researchers to decode information that participants are not even aware of themselves. One fMRI study decoded the semantic category of words (e.g., animal or non-animal) presented below the level of awareness (Sheikh et al., 2019). Researchers have used the same method to infer which of two images participants would choose several seconds before the participants themselves were aware of making this decision (Koenig-Robert and Pearson, 2019).

Although these findings are impressive, brain reading remains in its infancy. The information decoded from brain activity is often relatively rudimentary and requires cooperation from participants. Brain reading is further limited by the cost and technical expertise required to design and operate the imaging machines. Nevertheless, given that brain reading has the potential to become a powerful and commonplace technology in the future (Yuste et al., 2017), it is important to avoid the delay fallacy wherein discussions of the implications of emerging technologies lag behind the technological frontier (Mecacci and Haselager, 2017, van de Poel and Royakkers, 2011).

Ethicists have accordingly started to speculate about the potential ramifications of various neurotechnologies. Future developments in neural decoding may carry implications across several domains including personal responsibility, autonomy, and identity (Goering et al., 2021, Ryberg, 2017). For example, brain reading could be used to predict the risk of recidivism (Ienca and Andorno, 2017) or to influence attributions of criminal responsibility by inferring one’s mental state at the time of the crime (Meynen, 2020). Regarding autonomy, employers could use future brain reading to screen out undesirable characteristics in their employees. Brain reading also has the potential to undermine personal identity by changing how we think about ourselves. Some people may see feedback from neurotechnology as a more objective and accurate representation of personality traits, biases, or beliefs than those accessible through introspection (cf. Berent and Platt, 2021). In this way, technology may trump our subjective experiences in the understanding of who we are.

Although neurotechnology could potentially boost self-understanding, many people find the prospect of brain reading intrusive (Richmond, 2012); it violates the long-standing expectation that one’s thoughts are private (Moore, 2016). The implications of this potential loss of privacy, however, remain unclear. Thomas Nagel (1998, p. 4) argues that such privacy is fundamental to a properly functioning society: “the boundary between what we reveal and what we do not, and some control over that boundary, are among the most important attributes of our humanity.” Conversely, aside from nefarious uses such as government control, Lippert-Rasmussen (2016) argues that access to others’ thoughts could offer an additional source of information to foster intimacy and authenticity. In his view, “the gaze of others would become much less oppressive if everyone’s inner lives were transparent to everyone else” (p. 230). The speculated consequences of future neurotechnology thus show considerable range.

Importantly, these consequences may not remain merely speculative. Given the widespread and complex implications of future brain reading technologies, ethicists have proposed forward-thinking policies such as the adoption of “neurorights” to protect citizens (Baselga-Garriga et al., 2022, Yuste et al., 2017). These efforts to safeguard people from the uses and misuses of brain reading depend, in part, on our ability to anticipate people’s future reactions. More caution is needed, for example, if people see brain reading as an invasion of privacy versus a novel way to promote authenticity.

However, simply asking people about how they would react to future neurotechnologies may be insufficient. People often overestimate their responses to future events (Dillard et al., 2020, Gilbert et al., 1998) and have difficulty explaining their attitudes reliably (Hall et al., 2012). One study found that when people read vignettes of neurotechnology predicting and influencing behaviour, they interpret the situations based on their current metaphysical assumptions, even if these assumptions would be contradicted by the information in the vignettes (Rose et al., 2015). Reasoning hypothetically about a future machine may have limited validity compared to the concrete experience of having a machine control one’s mind. Instead, “Wizard of Oz” prototyping could offer a potential solution (Kelley, 1984). Here, a simulation is created of a future product by fabricating an apparently working prototype, which is then tested in real-world scenarios to generate more accurate responses from users.

We developed a Wizard of Oz-style paradigm to emulate prospective neurotechnologies based on elements of performance magic. Indeed, many of the abilities enabled by future neurotechnologies can be mimicked using magic tricks. Most relevant is the branch of performance magic known as mentalism, which involves mimicking abilities such as mind reading, thought insertion, and prediction. A brain scanner decoding a participant’s thoughts resembles a magician reading the mind of a spectator, and a device that inserts thoughts to affect behaviour resembles magicians influencing the audience’s decisions without their awareness (Olson et al., 2015). In this way, magic could create the compelling illusion of future neurotechnological developments before they are available.

We have previously demonstrated the believability of combining magic with neurotechnology by convincing university students that a brain scanner could both read and influence their thoughts (Olson et al., 2016). In a condition designed to simulate mind reading, participants chose an arbitrary two-digit number while inside a sham MRI scanner. The machine ostensibly decoded their brain activity while they focused on the number. A simple magic trick allowed the experimenter to demonstrate that the machine’s decoded number matched the one that the participant had previously chosen. The same magic trick was then used to simulate thought insertion. In this mind-influencing condition, participants were again instructed to think of a number. Instead of being told that the machine would decode their brain activity, they were told that the machine would manipulate their brain through “electromagnetic fluctuations”. The magic trick made it appear as if the machine had randomly chosen a number and then influenced participants to choose it. In this condition, participants felt less control over their decisions and reported a range of experiences, including hearing an ominous voice controlling their choices.

By combining neuroscientific-looking props with magic, we were thus able to convince educated participants to both believe in and directly experience a “future” machine that could accurately read and influence their decisions. However, given the relatively inconsequential target of the brain reading — arbitrary number choices — it is difficult to assess how participants would react to having the machine decode thoughts that are more meaningful or private, including those relevant to neuroethics.

Here, we extend our method to create a future context in which brain reading is powerful enough to decode information central to the self, such as political attitudes. We focused on attitudes towards charity because people often believe that such moral values characterise one’s “true self” (Strohminger et al., 2017). According to the lay understanding, this true self is a more private and accurate version of the self that is indicative of one’s core identity (Schlegel et al., 2011). We aimed to manipulate this core aspect of the self in order to assess reactions to more personal and ethically relevant domains. To do so, we emulated a neurotechnological machine that could identify people’s attitudes towards charity better than their own introspection. First, we aimed to explore how participants would react to a potential invasion of mental privacy by having a machine seemingly infer their consumer preferences and political attitudes. Second, we explored the crucial issue of people’s trust in neurotechnology by simulating a scenario in which the machine could give personal feedback that is inconsistent with what participants report. Finally, we investigated how people might adapt their own beliefs based on this discrepant feedback. How might people react to this dissonance between their own subjective feelings and the machine’s seemingly objective assessment? Could such brain reading supersede one’s own judgement? We present a novel method to begin answering these questions.