How does globalization influence behaviour?
Part I: The rise of Japanese individualism and its effects on happiness

Travis DixonIB Psychology HL Extensions, Social and Cultural Psychology

The rise of individualism in Japan is just one example of how globalization could be having an effect on human behaviour.

A simple way to understand how globalization has influenced human behaviour is to look at how some cultures values have changed over time. It is important to note that globalization is often referred to as Westernization, as the result is most frequently cultures adapting more Western values.  In the first post in this globalization series, we are going to look at how the rise in Western (i.e. individualistic) values in Japan as a result of globalization might be having an effect on their happiness. 

Globalization is the process by which cultures can influence one another and become more alike. It’s the spreading of cultural values through things like technology (e.g. internet, TV), trade and immigration.

McDonalds sponsoring a Sumo wrestling match – the perfect demonstration of Westernization in Japan. (Image credit: Gwydion M. Williams,wikicommons)

But the spread of ideas is often one directional, often coming from the West. Western cultures (e.g. European countries, North America, Australia, NZ etc.) are highly individualistic, so as globalization (i.e. Westernization) has occurred over the recent decades, other cultures have becoming increasingly individualistic as well. This Westernization primarily occurs through the influence of media (TV, films, the internet) and the effect of this change in values is an important topic to study.

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Let’s look at Japan as one example, as Japan has become increasingly Westernized with an increase in individualism. I have the benefit of living in Japan and when you walk around Tokyo, you are bombarded with advertisements for Western products like make-up, American movies and clothing brands. Even the models used to sell these products are often foreigners. Despite many traditions still remaining, it’s not hard to see the effects of Westernization in Japan. This is especially true of younger people.

Japanese people are so endeared with Paris and French culture that they experience unusually high cases of “Paris Syndrome” – a psychological disorder caused by someone being overwhelmed at their experiences of being in Paris.

The increase in individualism in Japan has been measured through a number of statistics (Hanamura, 2012). These statistics include:

  • Increased divorce rates,
  • Smaller families,
  • A decrease in three-generation households.

This photo of the Hosokawa family in 1957 depicts a rather traditional Japanese way of life, including the paper sliding doors, yukata (robes) and a large family. While these cultural elements remain, families in Japan are becoming smaller, divorce is increasing and it is less common to have grandparents and grandkids in the same house. (Image Credit: Yasuhiko Ita, Sendai, wikicommons).

Now we’ve established that Japan has become more individualistic, let’s look at how this might be affecting behaviour.

Individualistic cultures place emphasis on the “I” and encourage compe­tition. But competition can have negative effects by hurting interpersonal relationships. In order to counter the negative impact of competition, people in individualistic cultures learn the interpersonal skills needed to actively seek friendships and relationships. We are taught from a young age how to be competitive and develop friendships. One way this happens is through schools, where competition is encouraged but winners are taught to win with humility. So a kid who wins a competition might get the respect of his peers (or even envy), but is also taught to win with humility so friendships are not broken. This helps to reduce the negative effects of being an individual and competing with one another.

The material in this post could potentially be used in an essay on the effects of enculturation and/or cultural dimensions on human behaviour

However, when individualistic values are adopted by people in cultures that have not adopted the strategies to combat the effects of competition, it might have negative consequences. In countries like Japan that are increasing in individualism, the competitiveness and the desire to place emphasis on the individual could become part of a person’s values, but this might not come with the additional strategies to protect against the isolation that this might cause. In other words, they become competitive but don’t have the ability to establish strong friendships to protect against the dangers of being a competitor. Because humans have an innate desire to belong and to feel connected with one another, this change could have negative effects on subjective well-being (aka happiness) and general life satisfaction.

Key Study: Japanese Individualism and Subjective Well-being

(Ogihara and Uchida, 2014)

Aim:  To investigate how a change in values might be influencing the subjective well-being of young Japanese students.


  • Participants were 114 students from two universities – one in Kyoto, Japan and the other in Wisconsin, USA.
  • The researchers used questionnaires to measure:
    • Individualism,
    • How many close friends they had,
    • Subjective well-being (Happiness),
    • Life satisfaction,
    • Physical and psychological emotional states.
  • These factors were correlated with one another.


  • A negative correlation was found between individualism in Japanese students and their overall subjective well-being (higher individualism, less happiness and satisfaction).
  • The number of close friends a Japanese student had was a mediating variable – the inability to make friends is why the individualistic values led to being less happy and less content with life.
  • This correlation was not found in the American students.


  • The spread of Western values through globalization could have negative effects on people in collectivist cultures. This might be because they become more competitive and individualistic but lack the skills to establish strong friendships because they were not taught this from a young age.

The results (from the original article).

Critical Thinking Considerations

  • This study looks at one culture, Japan. Do you think we could expect the same effects in other collectivist cultures? Why or why not? (Note that Japan actually has an individualism score of around 50, so it’s somewhere in the middle).
  • The above example shows how globalization is also Westernization. But do you think the West is being influenced by other cultures? For instance, do you think it’s possible Japanese values (or others) could be affecting one or more Western countries?
  • The above study samples college students. Do you think we could expect the same results in older populations (or younger ones)? Why, or why not?
  • Are these strong or weak correlations? Does it matter?

This post has been written using material adapted from our IB Psychology Revision Guide.


Ogihara, Yuji, and Yukiko Uchida. “Does Individualism Bring Happiness? Negative Effects of Individualism on Interpersonal Relationships and Happiness.” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014).