Culture and the development of views of agency: Perspectives From storybooks, parents, and children

Namrata Goyal, Matthew Wice, Alyson Aladro, Malin Kallberg-Shroff, Joan G. Miller

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The present three-study investigation examined cultural influences on the internalization of social expectations. Testing the claim of self-determination theory that lesser internalization of social expectations is linked to socialization practices that portray social expectations as in conflict with autonomy, in Study 1 we undertook a content analysis of the views of social expectations portrayed in American and Indian storybooks. Results indicated that only American and not Indian storybooks more frequently portrayed characters as displaying negative emotions when behaviors were socially expected as compared with spontaneous. In Study 2 (n = 120), we undertook a vignette-based experiment, which showed that American parents viewed social expectations as incompatible with agency whereas Indian parents viewed them as compatible with agency. In Study 3 (n = 224), we undertook a related vignette based experiment among 7- and 10-year-old children in the United States and India. Results indicated that younger children shared a view of social expectations as compatible with agency, with qualitative developmental change occurring among American children who come to view social expectations as in conflict with autonomy with age, and quantitative developmental change occurring among Indian children who deepen their earlier understandings of social expectations with age. Our results point to the presence of early relational outlooks that young children use in assimilating cultural variable messages communicated in socialization practices. Challenging simple "fax" models of cultural learning, our results indicate that children do not passively absorb cultural messages but actively interpret them in integrating them with their emerging sense of self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1096-1110
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Agency
  • Autonomy
  • Culture
  • Development
  • Duty


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