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Journal of Well-Being Assessment

, Volume 1, Issue 1–3, pp 49–56 | Cite as

Personal Growth Initiative and Life Satisfaction in Chinese and American Students: Some Evidence for Using Resources in the East and Being Planful in the West

  • Edward C. Chang
  • Hongfei Yang
  • Mingqi Li
  • Tianbi Duan
  • Yifan Dai
  • Jeff Z. Yang
  • Zihao Zhou
  • Xiaping Zheng
  • Lily E. Morris
  • Kaidi Wu
  • Olivia D. Chang
Brief Report

Abstract

This study examined for cultural variations in personal growth initiative as a predictor of life satisfaction between 176 Chinese and 168 American college students. Comparative analyses of the personal growth initiative dimensions indicated lower readiness for change and planfulness, but higher using resources in Chinese, than in Americans. Results of regression analyses indicated that using resources was a unique predictor for Chinese, whereas planfulness was a unique predictor for Americans. Overall, these findings provide support for the global value of personal growth initiative as a positive psychological construct while also highlighting important cultural differences between Easterners and Westerners.

Keywords

Cultural Differences Personal Growth Initiative Life Satisfaction 

According to Robitschek (1998), personal growth initiative is defined as the active and intentional process individuals engage in to facilitate self-change and development, as measured by the Personal Growth Initiative Scale or PGIS. More recently, Robitschek et al. (2012) developed the Personal Growth Initiative Scale-II (PGIS-II) to better capture different facets of personal growth initiative. Based on their revised model, personal growth initiative is predicated on four relatively distinct dimensions, namely, readiness for change, planfulness, using resources, and intentional behavior. Readiness for change involves one’s preparedness for making specific changes in oneself. Planfulness involves one’s ability to make effective plans to facilitate personal growth. Using resources involves one’s ability to capitalize on available resources to facilitate positive personal growth. Finally, intentional behavior involves the conscious pursuit of personal growth.

Consistent with current personal growth initiative theory, findings from studies using the PGIS-II have shown that it is indeed tapping into a multidimensional construct (Robitschek et al. 2012; Weigold et al. 2013; Yang and Chang 2014) and that scores on the PGIS-II scales are positively associated with positive psychological outcomes (e.g., positive affect; Robitschek et al. 2012; Weigold et al. 2013; Yang and Chang 2014) and negatively associated with negative psychological outcomes (e.g., depression & anxiety; Weigold et al. 2013; Yang and Chang 2014). Given the global importance of assessing for personal growth initiative, Yang and Chang (2014) recently examined the structure, reliability, and validity of the PGIS-II adapted for the Chinese, the Chinese Personal Growth Initiative Scale-II (CPGIS-II), in a sample of 927 Chinese students. Results of their study not only provided support for the expected four-dimensional structure of the CPGIS-II, but also provided important evidence for the utility of the CPGIS-II subscales as predictors of psychological adjustment (e.g., life satisfaction), above and beyond other predictors conceptually related to personal growth (e.g., resilience).

Thus, similar to findings obtained in studies using the PGIS-II involving other cultural groups (e.g., Americans; Robitschek et al. 2012), personal growth initiative appears to be an important explanatory construct associated with adjustment in Chinese adults. To date, however, no study has directly compared the value of personal growth initiative in predicting psychological adjustment across different cultural groups, for example, between Easterners and Westerners. Such an investigation would not only help to highlight potential points of cultural similarity in the positive function of personal growth initiative between different cultural groups, but it would also help to identify instances in which important cultural variations may exist. We specifically focus on life satisfaction given that it is a central and global hallmark of overall happiness or subjective well-being in diverse groups (Diener et al. 1999).

1 Purpose of the Present Study

The major objectives of the present study were to (a) examine if there are cultural variations in personal growth initiative between Chinese and American college students; and (b) examine for cultural variations in personal growth initiative as a predictor of life satisfaction in Chinese and American students.

Although the pursuit of self-change and development represents a motive found across diverse cultures, cultural differences were expected between Chinese and Americans. Western cultures, or the cultures of North America (the United States & Canada) and Europe, are considered to be individualistic given their emphasis on attending to the needs of the self over others (Heine 2001; Markus and Kitayama 1991). In contrast, Eastern cultures, or cultures found in many East Asian countries (China, Korea, & Japan), are considered collectivist. Hence, attending to significant others, maintaining harmonious interdependence with them, and fitting in are not only are valued, but are also often strongly expected among members living within these cultures. Thus, given the Western emphasis on the self, compared to the Eastern emphasis on the group, we expected Americans to report higher personal growth initiative than Chinese. Alternatively, as a positive individual differences variable (Robitschek 1998; Robitschek et al. 2012), we expected all four dimensions of personal growth initiative to emerge as significant and positive predictors of life satisfaction in both Chinese and Americans.

2 Method

2.1 Participants

Participants were 176 (84 males & 92 females) Chinese college students attending a public university in China (Southeast) and 168 (44 males & 124 females) European American college students attending a public university in the US (Midwest). All participants were enrolled in a psychology course and received extra credit for participation. For Chinese, ages ranged from 18 to 25 years of age, with a mean age of 20.9 (SD = .94) years. For Americans, ages ranged from 18 to 26 years of age, with a mean age of 19.8 (SD = 1.3) years. Given our focus on cultural variations, responses provided by other self-identified ethnoracial groups (e.g, “Asian American”, “Hispanic/Latino”) were not included in the present study.

2.2 Measures

Personal Growth Initiative

Personal growth initiative was measured by the Personal Growth Initiative Scale-II (Robitschek et al. 2012). The PGIS-II is a 16-item multidimensional measure composed of four subscales, namely, Readiness for Change (e.g., “I know when it’s time to change specific things about myself”), Planfulness (e.g., “When I try to change myself, I make a realistic plan for my personal growth”), Using Resources (e.g., “I ask for help when I try to change myself”), and Intentional Behavior (e.g., “I actively work to improve myself”). Respondents are asked to rate the extent of their agreement to these items across a 6-point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 (disagree strongly) to 5 (agree strongly). Support for the psychometric properties of the PGIS-II can be found in Robitschek et al. (2012). For Chinese, an adapted version of the PGIS-II (Yang and Chang 2014) was used. Internal reliability estimates based on Cronbach alpha for the PGIS-II subscales ranged from .77 (Using Resources) to .86 (Planfulness) in Chinese students, and from .82 (Readiness for Change) to .85 (Intentional Behavior) in European American students. Higher scores on the PGIS-II subscales indicate greater personal initiative on that subscale.

Life Satisfaction

Life satisfaction was measured by the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS; Diener et al. 1985). The SWLS is a 5-item measure of global life satisfaction (e.g., “I am satisfied with my life”), or a person’s satisfaction with life as a whole, rather than any specific domain. Respondents are asked to rate the extent of their agreement to these items across a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Support for the psychometric properties of the SWLS can be found in Diener et al. (1985). For Chinese, an adapted Chinese version of the SWLS (Chen and Yang 2003) was used. Internal reliability estimate based on Cronbach alpha for the SWLS was .85 in Chinese students and .88 in European American students. Higher scores on the SWLS indicate greater life satisfaction.

2.3 Procedure

Approval for the study was obtained from the Institutional Review Board of the respective universities prior to data collection. All participants were given the present set of measures in random order. Measures were in both English and Chinese, and participants completed them in their native language. Participants were not made aware of the purpose of the study until after they had completed all measures.

3 Results

3.1 Between-Cultures Differences on Personal Growth Initiative in Chinese and Americans

We first sought to determine if there were any meaningful cultural differences to be examined. Results of conducting a MANOVA between Chinese and Americans on the present set of measures indicated significant cultural differences, F(5, 337) = 22.75, p < .001, Wilk’s Lambda = .75, partial η2 = .25. Accordingly, we next conducted a series of one-way ANOVAs examining for between-cultures differences on personal growth initiative and life satisfaction (see Table 1). As the table shows, Chinese, compared to Americans, reported lower scores on 3 out of the 4 personal growth initiative dimensions (viz., readiness for change, planfulness, & intentional behavior). However, Chinese scored significantly lower, compared to Americans, only on readiness for change and planfulness. In contrast, Chinese scored significantly higher, compared to Americans, on using resources. Also, compared to Americans, Chinese scored significantly lower on life satisfaction. To gain a better appreciation of the magnitude of these between-cultures differences, effects sizes using partial η2 were computed. To examine for small, medium, or large group differences, we used the following convention for small (partial η2 = .01), medium (partial η2 = .06), and large effects (partial η2 = .12). As the table shows, the significant differences found between Chinese and Americans ranged from small (readiness for change, planfulness, & intentional behavior) to medium (using resources & life satisfaction).
Table 1

Group differences between Chinese and American students in personal growth initiative and life satisfaction

Cultural group

Measure

Chinese

American

  
 

M

SD

M

SD

F(342)

partial η2

Personal growth initiative

 Readiness for change

3.22

.77

3.45

.66

9.20**

.032

 Planfulness

3.24

.78

3.43

.77

5.01*

.011

 Using resources

2.48

.59

2.05

.81

32.46***

.084

 Intentional behavior

3.46

.69

3.58

.86

2.19

.008

Life satisfaction

4.39

1.11

5.03

1.03

30.42***

.078

For Chinese, n = 176. For Americans, n = 168

*p < .05

**p < .01

***p ≤ .001

3.2 Personal Growth Initiative as a Predictor of Life Satisfaction in Chinese and Americans

Results of computing correlations among the present study measures for Chinese and Americans are presented in Table 2. To determine if personal growth initiative predicts life satisfaction in Chinese and Americans, we conducted a hierarchical regression analysis predicting life satisfaction for each group. Given differences in the composition of the two samples on age and sex, we controlled for demographic variations for each analysis by including them in Step 1. Next, scores on all four of the PGIS-II subscales were entered as a set in Step 2. To examine whether personal growth initiative accounted for a small, medium, or large amount of the variance in life satisfaction, we used the following convention for small (f2 = .02), medium (f2 = .15), and large effects (f2 = .35).
Table 2

Correlations between all study measures for Chinese students (n = 176) and American students (n = 168)

Measures

Cultural group

Readiness for change

Planfulness

Using resources

Intentional behavior

Personal growth initiative

 Planfulness

Chinese

.82***

  

Americans

.61***

  

 Using resources

Chinese

.50***

.51***

 

Americans

.27***

.45***

 

 Intentional behavior

Chinese

.58***

.64***

.57***

Americans

.42***

.47***

.46***

 Life satisfaction

Chinese

.31***

.31***

.36***

.28***

Americans

.26***

.36***

.26***

.27***

***p ≤ .001

Results for predicting life satisfaction in Chinese and Americans are presented in Table 3. As the table shows, for Chinese, the set of demographic variables was not found to account for any significant amount of variance, F(2, 173) = 1.26, n.s. However, when personal growth initiative dimensions were entered in Step 2, they were found to account for a medium to large (f2 = .18) 15% of unique variance in life satisfaction, F(4, 169) = 7.49, p < .001. Within the predictor set, using resources (β = .25, p < .01) was found to be the only significant unique predictor. For Americans, the set of demographic variables was not found to account for any significant amount of variance, F(2, 165) = .54, n.s. However, when personal growth initiative dimensions were entered in Step 2, they were found to account for a medium (f2 = .20) 17% of unique variance in life satisfaction, F(4, 161) = 8.57, p < .001. Within the predictor set, planfulness (β = .23, p < .001) was found to be the only significant unique predictor.
Table 3

Hierarchical regression analyses showing amount of variance in life satisfaction accounted for by personal growth initiative in Chinese and American students

Cultural group

β

R 2

ΔR2

F

Chinese

 Step 1: Demographics

 

.01

1.26

  Age

.06

   

  Gender

−.11

   

 Step 2: Personal growth initiative

 

.16

.15

7.49***

 Readiness for change

.08

   

 Planfulness

.11

   

 Using resources

.25**

   

 Intentional behavior

.02

   

European American

 Step 1: Demographics

 

.01

0.59

  Age

−.07

   

  Gender

.08

   

 Step 2: Personal growth initiative

 

.18

.17

8.32***

  Readiness for change

.07

   

  Planfulness

.23*

   

  Using resources

.16

   

  Intentional behavior

.12

   

For Chinese, n = 176. For Americans, n = 168

*p < .05

**p < .01

***p < .001

4 Discussion

One goal of the present study was to examine cultural variations in personal growth initiative between Chinese and Americans. Another goal of the present study was to examine personal growth initiative as a predictor of life satisfaction in Chinese and Americans.

4.1 Evidence of Normative Differences Between Easterners and Westerners on Personal Growth Initiative

Consistent with the cultural emphasis on self-enhancement in the West, compared to group-enhancement in the East (Markus and Kitayama 1991), Chinese students reported lower scores in the small to medium effect size range on 3 of the 4 personal growth initiative dimensions, namely, readiness for change, planfulness, and intentional behavior. However, only the difference for readiness for change and planfulness reached statistical significance. Interestingly, in contrast to expectations, using resources was found to be significantly greater in Chinese than in Americans. This unexpected finding may be explained for by the fact that although personal growth initiative is predicated on self-development processes (Robitschek 1998; Robitschek et al. 2012; cf. Chang & Chang and Yang 2016), items on the PGIS-II-UR subscale emphasize seeking interpersonal resources to facilitate growth and development (e.g., “I ask for help when I try to change myself”). Indeed, within Chinese families, it is common for family members to function collectively to facilitate or enable the success of other members within the family (Hu et al. 2007). This may be especially true in the role that parents are expected to fulfill for their children. Consistent with this view, Pan et al. (2013) found that Chinese parents’ collectivistic behaviors were linked to greater autonomous motivation in their children. However, beyond a consideration of cultural factors that may be due to motivational differences associated with individualistic versus collectivistic behaviors, other explanatory factors should also be considered in future studies. For example, differences might be partly due to differences in evaluative biases between Easterners versus Westerners (Kim et al. 2012). Overall, these comparative findings indicate important normative differences in personal growth initiative between Chinese and American adults.

4.2 Personal Growth Initiative as a Predictor of Life Satisfaction in Chinese and Americans

Another important goal of the present study was to examine for personal growth initiative as a predictor of positive psychological adjustment in Chinese and American students. Given that personal growth initiative was believed to represent a universally positive psychological construct (Robitschek et al. 2012; Yang and Chang 2014), we expected some or all of the dimensions of personal growth initiative to emerge as unique and positive predictors of life satisfaction. Our findings indicated two noteworthy patterns. First, for both Chinese and Americans, personal growth initiative (as a set) was found, independent of age and gender, to account for a comparable amount of unique variance across the two groups (15% & 17%, respectively). That said, it would be interesting in future studies to identify positive psychological outcomes that might be more robustly associated with personal growth initiative in Chinese, than in Americans. For example, one distinct dimension within Ryff’s (1989) multidimensional model of positive psychological well-being is positive relations with others (e.g., supporting others, positive behaviors with family/friends). Given the expected stronger collectivist motives of Chinese, compared to Americans, one might hypothesize that personal growth initiative would play a more powerful role in predicting positive relations with others in the former, than in the latter cultural group. Second, within the personal growth initiative set, the one unique predictor that emerged within each group was found to be different. For Chinese, using resources was found to be a significant positive predictor of life satisfaction. In contrast, for Americans, planfulness was found to be a significant positive predictor of life satisfaction. Thus, for Chinese who may tend to appraise personal goal pursuits with a collectivistic mindset (Markus and Kitayama 1991), using interpersonal resources (e.g., parental resources) appears to represent an important proximal mechanism by which Chinese students are able to achieve a sense of satisfaction in their life. For Americans who may tend to appraise personal goal pursuits with an individualistic mindset (Heine 2001), making purposeful plans appears to represent an important proximal mechanism by which American students are able to achieve a sense of satisfaction in their life.

Some limitations of the present study are worth noting. First, given that studies have found other important variables (e.g., optimism, self-esteem) to be significant predictors of positive psychological adjustment, it would be useful to determine the extent to which personal growth initiative may add to the prediction of adjustment above and beyond other robust predictors. Second, we examined for cultural differences in Easterners versus Westerners by studying Chinese and Americans. However, it would be important to determine if the present set of findings can be replicated in studying other East Asian groups (e.g., Japanese, Koreans). Third, although the present study focused on the prediction of positive psychological adjustment in Chinese and American students, the present design was cross-sectional. Thus, it would be useful in future studies to evaluate the extent to which personal growth initiative may actually predict changes in positive psychological adjustment across time between these cultural groups.

5 Concluding Comment

Overall, our findings not only point to the cross-cultural importance of personal growth initiative as a general positive psychological construct in Easterners and Westerners, but they also indicate a need to take a culturally nuanced view of the specific dimensions of personal growth initiative that might be most relevant in accounting for life satisfaction between Easterners and Westerners.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The first author would like to acknowledge Tae Myung-Sook and Chang Suk-Choon for their encouragement and support throughout this project. The third through eleventh co-authors contributed equally to the project. Their authorship order was determined randomly.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward C. Chang
    • 1
  • Hongfei Yang
    • 2
  • Mingqi Li
    • 3
  • Tianbi Duan
    • 4
  • Yifan Dai
    • 5
  • Jeff Z. Yang
    • 1
  • Zihao Zhou
    • 1
  • Xiaping Zheng
    • 6
  • Lily E. Morris
    • 1
  • Kaidi Wu
    • 1
  • Olivia D. Chang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Zhejiang UniversityZhejiangChina
  3. 3.Skidmore CollegeSaratoga SpringsUSA
  4. 4.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Wake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA
  6. 6.Beijing Jiaotong UniversityBeijingChina

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