How Asian-American 'tiger mothers' motivate their children

May 16, 2014

An article titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," published in The Wall Street Journal in 2011, has continued to provoke a cultural debate among parents after self-proclaimed 'tiger mother' Amy Chua asserted that Asian American parenting methods produce more successful children. Researchers at Stanford University delved deeper into Chua's 'tiger mother' approach, and their research sheds light on key fundamental differences in parenting methods between Asian Americans and European Americans.

To reveal the cultural differences in parenting, the researchers compare how Asian American and European American high school students describe their relationship with their mothers, and how pressure by their mothers influences their relationship. They also examine whether mothers help to motivate their children during a challenging academic task. The study is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB).

Lead researcher Alyssa Fu explains that their study focuses on maternal relationships because in Asian American families "mothers tend to be more directly involved in their children's academic achievement." According to Fu, "Asian American parents encourage their children to see themselves as part of an enduring relationship with them." In other words, Asian American children are encouraged to be interdependent.

European American children, on the other hand, are encouraged to be independent. Parents encourage their children to see themselves as separate individuals from them and to explore their unique thoughts and experiences. This key difference between Asian American and European American parenting models has a direct effect on the ability of mothers to motivate their child in an academic setting.

Fu and Markus designed four studies to investigate these differences. In the first study, students answered open ended questions about their mothers. Asian American children were more likely to mention their mother's relationship with them (e.g. she pushes me to succeed), while European American children were more likely to describe their mothers as a separate person from them; they focused on her attributes and her appearance (e.g., she has blue eyes and likes to read). Both groups of children were likely to describe their mothers positively, and as a source of support.

In the second study, students were asked to rate how connected they felt with their mothers, and how much they experienced pressure from their mothers. As predicted, Asian American students experience greater interdependence with their mothers. They also experience greater pressure by their mothers, but did not report feeling any less supported by their mothers because of that pressure. That is, Asian American children can still feel supported by their mothers regardless of increased pressure placed on them.

European American children report that they experience pressure from their mothers as negative, and the more pressure they feel the less they feel supported by their mothers. European American children are also more likely to feel their mothers don't understand them. As a reaction to that perceived pressure, European American children are then more likely to assert their independence. In the third and fourth studies, students were presented with a challenging academic task designed to induce a failure experience. When thinking about their mothers, Asian American children were more motivated to complete the task after experiencing failure than European American children. European American children were more motivated when prompted to think about themselves.

Notably, Asian American children were not only motivated by thinking about their mothers, but they can also be motivated when they remember a time when their mothers put pressure on them--when she nagged them. Specifically, when Asian Americans were reminded of their mother's interdependence with them, they were more motivated by her pressure than if they were not reminded of her interdependence with them. In other words, when Asian Americans feel connected with their mothers, they are able to use her pressure to be more motivated.

Together the four studies underscore fundamental differences in parenting methods across cultures. 'Tiger mothers' are motivating for Asian American children because interdependence allows their children to draw on their connectedness with their mother to maintain their motivation on a difficult task. European American children, on the other hand, see themselves as independent from their mothers, and are not motivated by their mother's pressure. In European American contexts, overcoming failure is a personal project not a group project.

These results have implications beyond the home as well, and may extend to dynamics between students and teachers. "For example, just as Asian Americans are tuned into their mothers' expectations, they are also tuned into hierarchy, and pay more attention to the authority of a teacher than European American students," Fu explained.

Chua's original article sparked a culture clash about 'tiger mothers.' This study illustrates that both sides in the debate deserve points. European American mothers are correct in their assumption that too much maternal involvement can quash motivation, because they instill in their children a strong feeling of independence. In contrast Asian American 'tiger mothers' who are able to leverage the interdependence they have with their children are equally right that their material pressure is beneficial, in fact, essential for their child's motivation.
-end-
Please email press@spsp.org if you would like a copy of the original study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Fu, A. S., & Markus, H. R. (2014). My Mother and Me: Why Tiger Mothers Motivate Asian Americans But Not European Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(6), 739-749. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167214524992

Lead Researcher: Alyssa Fu, Stanford University, fua@stanford.edu

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at facebook.com/SPSP

Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Related Parenting Articles from Brightsurf:

Perfectionists may be more prone to helicopter parenting, study finds
The negative effects of over-parenting on children are well documented, but less is known about why certain people become helicopter parents.

The effects of smartphone use on parenting
Parents may worry that spending time on their smartphones has a negative impact on their relationships with their children.

Extended parenting helps young birds grow smarter
The current study analyzes social and life-history data from several thousand songbirds, including 127 corvids, the family that includes jays, crows, ravens, and magpies.

Education the key to equal parenting rights for same-sex couples
Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting.

Parenting elective lets physicians spend more time with their babies
A novel, four-week parenting rotation designed for pediatric residents has dramatically increased the amount of time resident parents can spend at home with their babies, according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Parenting stress may affect mother's and child's ability to tune in to each other
A study led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has revealed the effects of the stress of parenting in the brains of both mothers and their children.

Evolution from water to land led to better parenting
The evolution of aquatic creatures to start living on land made them into more attentive parents, says new research on frogs led by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

Keep calm and don't carry on when parenting teens
In a new study, University of Rochester psychologists find that mothers and fathers who are less capable of dampening down their anger are more likely to resort to harsh discipline aimed at their teens, and that fathers in particular were not as good at considering alternative explanations for their teens' behavior.

Most parents say hands-on, intensive parenting is best
Most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, regardless of education, income or race.

One in 4 parents not prepared for 'parenting hangovers' this holiday season
A quarter of parents of young children who drink alcohol on special occasions do not think about limiting how much they drink or whether they'll be able to take care of their child the next day, according to a new national poll.

Read More: Parenting News and Parenting Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.