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Original Article

Information and Communication Technology and Cultural Change This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

How ICT Changes Self-Construal and Values Nina Hansen, Tom Postmes, Nikita van der Vinne, and Wendy van Thiel University of Groningen, The Netherlands Abstract. This paper studies whether and how information and communication technology (ICT) changes self-construal and cultural values in a developing country. Ethiopian children were given laptops in the context of an ICT for development scheme. We compared children who used laptops (n = 69) with a control group without laptops (n = 76) and a second control group of children whose laptop had broken down (n = 24). Results confirmed that after 1 year of laptop usage, the children’s self-concept had become more independent and children endorsed individualist values more strongly. Interestingly, the impact of laptop usage on cultural values was mediated by self-construal (moderated mediation). Importantly, modernization did not “crowd out” traditional culture: ICT usage was not associated with a reduction in traditional expressions (interdependent self-construal, collectivist values). Theoretical and practical implications are discussed. Keywords: culture, cultural change, self-construal, cultural values, technology

Cultures continuously change, to some extent, in the dynamic interaction between individuals and their environment. But at some historical junctures, cultural changes occur that are both profound and long-lasting, to the point of changing the very societal structure and human psychology itself. Such dramatic cultural change would appear particularly likely when environmental factors change how humans interact with each other, for example, as a result of modernization (e.g., Fisher, 1992; Hiltz & Turoff, 1993; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). Although research documents that various aspects of modernization may change cultural values and self-concept (e.g., Inglehart & Baker, 2000), there is still a considerable lack of consensus regarding (1) the causal relationship among the variables in this process and (2) the specific role of information and communication technology (ICT) usage as an instigator of cultural change. This paper studies how the usage of Western ICT changes the self-construal and cultural values of children in a traditional developing country.

Cultural Change Studies of contemporary cultural change are often concerned with industrialization and globalization. Modernization is a form of cultural change in which the activities of a more traditional culture are aligned with the activities, Social Psychology 2012; Vol. 43(4):222–231 DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000123

institutions, and tools of industrialized countries (Inkeles & Smith, 1974). Among the many consequences of modernization are dramatic shifts in values (Inglehart & Baker, 2000; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). But it may be too simplistic to assume that modernization equates with the wholesale adoption of Western value systems. A longitudinal study including 65 countries from the World Values Survey found evidence that strong cultural change on certain beliefs and norms may co-exist with simultaneous persistence of distinctively traditional beliefs and norms (Inglehart & Baker, 2000). This research indicates that, although certain beliefs and norms may undergo marked change, the culture may simultaneously continue to reflect that society’s heritage. Specifically, although across countries “modern” beliefs and norms of rationality, tolerance, trust, and participation emerged, these modern beliefs coexisted with persisting “traditional” beliefs and norms. It appears that deep-seated historical shaping of a society leaves a cultural heritage that has an enduring impact incorporating subsequent cultural changes. Thus, to use secularization as an example: Even when increasingly few people actually attend church services, religious norms and values may still persist in a society. One important aspect of modernization is the adoption of various forms of new technology. Indeed, according to historical and sociological analyses, technology is a particularly powerful driver of cultural change (e.g., Fisher, 1992; Hiltz & Turoff, 1993; Katz & Rice, 2002; White, © 2012 Hogrefe Publishing

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N. Hansen et al.: ITC and Cultural Change

1962; Zuboff, 1988). Several scholars have commented on the cultural changes that resulted from the introduction of communication technologies such as the telephone (Fisher, 1992) and ICTs (Hiltz & Turoff, 1993; Katz & Rice, 2002; Zuboff, 1988). Across all these studies, the introduction of technologies tends to change interactions between people and to stimulate social change – it is this change to the fabric of society which appears to exert a pervasive influence on cultural values. But evidence for this process in developing countries is scant. Recently, Hansen and Postmes (2012) found that technology usage in traditional societies (i.e., laptop usage among children in different cultural regions in a developing country) led to the stronger endorsement of modern values and to changing attitudes toward gender equality. The present research is closely related to this research project. Although a large body of research has documented the effects of cultural change, we know preciously little about the psychological processes involved. Thus, the present research addresses how technology usage instigates cultural change in a traditional developing country. In line with earlier research (Hansen & Postmes, 2012; Inglehart & Baker, 2000), we expected that technology would foster the adoption of more modern values, though traditional values would still stay important.

The Relationship Between Culture and Self Culture is a collective phenomenon. It provides a common frame of reference for a human group to make sense of reality. Material and symbolic concepts such as world, environment, social systems, social structures, practices, policies, meanings, norms, and values give form and direction to behavior. Culture is not a stable set of beliefs or values that reside inside in individuals. Instead, it is located in society, in patterns of practices, ideas, institutions, products, and artifacts (Adams & Markus, 2004; Markus & Kitayama, 2010). The social context and sociocultural system in which people live shapes individual psychological processes. Specifically, the self-concept and the sociocultural content (i.e., beliefs, practices, institutions, and artifacts) are in a reciprocal relationship to each other wherein they continually constitute each other (Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett, 1998; Markus & Kitayama, 2010). Thus, as cultural content changes, the self-concepts and psychological functions that mediate that culture also undergo changes (Markus & Kitayama, 2010). Markus and Kitayama (1991) proposed that the self is not just one of many psychological variables influenced by culture; rather, it is one of the central mediators for the impact of culture on subjective experience in the domains of cognition, emotion, and motivation. Thus, culture and self-concept are dynamically inter© 2012 Hogrefe Publishing

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related (Kashima, 2000; Kitayama, Duffy, & Uchida, 2007). Although many researchers have studied and discussed this dynamic (e.g., Fiske et al., 1998; Kashima, 2000; Kitayama et al., 2007; Markus & Kitayama, 2010), we know very little about how the self-concept changes within a culture.

Individualism and Collectivism To date, a large body of research has focused on understanding cultural differences in how individuals construe the relation between identity and society (e.g., Gardner, Gabriel, & Lee, 1999; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989; see Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002, for a review). One aspect of this phenomenon is that cultures inform the self-concept, an insight conceptualized through the lens of individualism versus collectivism of societies (Triandis, 1989) and the independence and interdependence of self-construals (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Cultural differences in individualism and collectivism have been related to different psychological processes even at the basic level of cognition, emotion, and motivation (Kemmelmeier et al., 2003; Kühnen & Oyserman, 2002; Oishi, Schimmack, Diener, & Suh, 1998; Oyserman et al., 2002). Indeed, a meta-analytic integration of cross- and multinational literatures confirmed that countries systematically differ in their individualism and collectivism (Oyserman et al., 2002), which furthermore provides a systematic overview of how these cultural differences are associated with various aspects of cognition, emotion, and motivation. But beyond the description of systematic cross-cultural variations, this research does not yet allow us to draw clear conclusions about the underlying processes by which cultural values and subjective experience are related to each other. To be able to understand the role that self-construal plays as potential mediator between culture and subjective experience, researchers have started to use priming techniques. This research suggests that thinking about the self versus others should alone result in judgmental patterns that mirror those from individualist versus collectivist cultures (see also Hannover & Kühnen, 2004). More recently, Oyserman and Lee (2008) conducted a meta-analysis to gain more insight into the causal mechanisms by which individualism and collectivism operate within a society. They focused on experimental priming research of individualism and collectivism in different countries to investigate the interplay of situational (i.e., priming) and chronic levels of these two constructs. Gardner and colleagues (1999), for example, primed independence and interdependence and showed that, after having been primed for the independent self, participants endorsed individualist values more strongly than collectivist ones, while the opposite was true for participants who had been primed for interdependence. More interestingly, they tested the mediating role of selfSocial Psychology 2012; Vol. 43(4):222–231

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construal (see Markus & Kitayama, 1991) and showed that the effect of priming on value orientation was mediated by the activated self-knowledge. Thus, a large body of research has focused on investigating cross-national differences and on how individualism and collectivism operate within a society. This literature broadly confirms the predicted cultural variations in individualist and collectivist values as well as the assumption that self-construal would mediate these effects (see Markus & Kitayama, 1991). But, surprisingly, we know little about how endorsements of individualism and collectivism might change over time within a society. To examine this issue more closely, the present research links the impact of technology usage as a specific aspect of modernization with endorsements of individualism and collectivism. This should inform our understanding not just of change in cultural values, but also may corroborate our understanding of the psychological processes involved in cultural change.

The Impact of Technology Usage in a Traditional Developing Country We conducted our field experiment in Ethiopia – a society typically seen as collectivistic (Becker et al., 2012; Donald, 1965; Owe et al., 2012). The country belongs to one of the least-developed countries in the world (UN-OHRLLS, 2011). Indeed, according to fairly recent statistics from around 2008, only 0.7% of the population owns a PC and only 0.4% has access to the Internet, compared to 80.5% and 73.5% of the US population at the same time, respectively (World Bank, 2009). With respect to cultural values in Ethiopia, children’s obedience and subservience are prioritized, and emphasis is placed upon the authority of elders and teachers (e.g., Donald, 1965). In Ethiopia, it is not customary for children to act or think independently, let alone have valuable possessions of their own. So when, in 2008, aid agencies in collaboration with the Ethiopian government decided to hand out around 6,000 laptops to children in several rural and urban schools, it was presumed that cultural change would occur. Against this background, we propose that three underlying processes are likely to instigate cultural changes. First, the operation of a modern laptop requires a set of complicated actions children would have to master completely independently of their elders. In so doing, children are exposed to a totally new learning experience (e.g., writing, doing mathematics, or drawing pictures, consuming various kinds of information such as images, books, and articles). Indeed, one field experiment showed that even after 6 months of laptop usage, Ethiopian children who had been given a laptop significantly improved their abstract reasoning skills compared to a control group (Hansen et al., 2012). It is conceivable that these cognitive skills are associated with educational success in the long run. These reSocial Psychology 2012; Vol. 43(4):222–231

sults suggest that the mastery of the machine itself provides children with an entirely novel experience of independent thinking which might be associated with an increased sense of agency. These changes in thinking should challenge existing cultural worldviews. Second, a related point is that the effects of computing technology can also be caused by its social usage. There is some evidence that in Western society computing technologies may change social relations as well as self-perceptions. For example, research in American households showed that, when technologies began to be used for communication purposes, they not only changed interaction patterns (e.g., through email), but were also associated with increased levels of personal well-being among frequent users (Kraut et al., 2002). Thus, it is possible that the social usage of ICT (e.g., when different children play with one laptop, or when children show what they can do with it to their parents) may also lead to changes in self-perceptions. Especially in a highly collectivistic culture, where others are the main point of reference for one’s construal of a sense of self, the social usage of a laptop could thus impact on how children see themselves – which in turn could affect their cultural values. Third, even a cheap and basic laptop of the kind given to children is an immensely valuable object by local standards. To give such an object to children, who occupy a fairly low position in the local hierarchy, constitutes a potential upheaval of social relations. Thus, the children’s ownership of such a valuable item could already strongly affect their relationships with parents, teachers, and friends. For many of these children, this would have been the first time in their life that they owned something valuable. Ownership of this object distinguishes them from others, changes the social structure, and thereby makes them more independent. However, we should note that, when computers were first introduced in American households, they were also perceived as valuable objects but did not produce any positive effects in the short run (Kraut et al., 1998), at least not until they began to be used for social purposes (Kraut et al., 2002). Thus, for at least three reasons the introduction of laptops among children in Ethiopia may lead to considerable cultural change. This provides a unique opportunity to investigate how self-construal and cultural value change is instigated by technology in an environment in which there was virtually none previously. Using a laptop in this more collectivistic society should impact how students see themselves (i.e., stronger independent self-construal) and how they see the world (i.e., stronger endorsement of individualist values). Mere ownership could also be responsible for these changes. To test our predictions, we compared students who actively use a laptop with two control groups, namely: students who had received a laptop that had broken down (i.e., mere ownership) and students who did not receive a laptop at all. We assume that the ownership of a broken laptop should not be sufficient to produce substantial cultural change because (1) the effects of laptops are © 2012 Hogrefe Publishing

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more strongly driven by their (social) usage than by their mere ownership; and (2) the fact that it is broken may undermine the perceived value of the laptop. We predicted that children who have been using their laptop for a year develop a more independent self-construal compared to a control group of children without a laptop, and that children who cannot use their laptop anymore should not differ from the control group (Hypothesis 1). In line with research on cultural values (Hansen & Postmes, 2012; Inglehart & Baker, 2000), we do not expect any differences in the endorsement of an interdependent self-construal as a function of condition. Similarly to our reasoning for self-construal, we predicted that children who had used the laptop for a year would endorse individualist values more strongly compared to the control group of children with no laptop; children with broken laptops should not differ from the control group (Hypothesis 2). We do not expect any differences in the endorsement of collectivist values as a function of condition.

The Underlying Process of Cultural Value Change In addition to describing patterns of change, we were interested in the mediating process: Is the self indeed a central mediator of the impact of culture on subjective experience? We thus tested the suggestion that self-construals serve as interpretative frames for understanding the world (e.g., Kitayama et al., 2007; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). We extend previous research in two ways: (1) we focus on within-culture change in a field experiment over time, and (2) we focus on cultural change driven by technology usage. We expected that only children who can use their laptop should endorse an independent self-construal, and that only under this condition would independent self-construal lead to a stronger endorsement of individualist values. However, the endorsement of an independent self-construal should not mediate the relationship between the other two conditions and individualist values (moderated mediation Hypothesis 3).

The Current Research The present research examined the impact of modern ICT, introduced in a traditional, collectivistic Ethiopian environment almost entirely bereft of such technology, on cultural values and self-construal 1 year after laptop deployment. 1

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To date, African countries are woefully underrepresented in cultural research (e.g., Oyserman & Lee, 2008). We reasoned that this context would serve as an ideal test case for addressing the following questions: (1) Does technology usage affect self-construal and cultural values, and (2) do shifts toward a stronger endorsement of an independent self-construal mediate the effect of technology usage on individualist values.

Method Participants and Design A total of 169 Ethiopian children participated in the study (99 girls, 70 boys; age M = 13.99 years, range: 12–16 years). All of them attend the same school in a small city in northern Ethiopia. This school was selected by the government to receive laptops from the One Laptop per Child Initiative – an American-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide laptops to children in the developing world to increase their educational prospects.1 People in Western countries could buy one laptop for themselves and donate one for the developing world which in this case was given to the Ethiopian government. Laptops were deployed in half of the classes in this school a year before the assessment; the other half did not receive any laptops. We selected all students in grades 7 and 8 for our study. A year after deployment 69 students could still use their laptop, 24 students had received a laptop but their laptop had broken down, and 76 students did not receive a laptop. Thus, we could compare children who could use their laptop with children whose laptop was broken and thus could not use it anymore, and with a control group of children without a laptop.

Procedure All instructions and questionnaires were translated into Tigrinya by native speakers using a backtranslation procedure, and pretested for their suitability for this sample. One bilingual indigenous assistant administered the questionnaires in class. Students were asked to indicate whether owned a laptop, and if so whether it was still working. If this was not the case they were asked to indicate why the laptop was not working any more.

“One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) is an American-based nonprofit organization that is a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. OLPC has designed a low-cost laptop for students with the goal to improve their learning outcomes and educational prospects. OLPC has attracted an estimated initial investment of at least US $255 million (excluding costs of deployment, power, and maintenance) to provide laptops for children in developing countries. Among the biggest recipients are countries such as Peru (550,000), Uruguay (420,000 laptops), and Rwanda (120,000). Ethiopia was the first African country to receive 5,900 laptops from the OLPC initiative in 2008. At the time of the study, laptops were not connected to the Internet. All programs are described on the OLPC website (available at http://www. laptop.org/en/laptop/software/activities.shtml, accessed on July 24, 2012).

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Measures

Self-Construals

Children were asked to indicate their agreement with a series of statements by circling one of 5 “smileys” with emotional expressions ranging from a very unhappy face with down turned mouth to a “smiley” with strongly upturned mouth. The faces were accompanied by anchors: – very unimportant ( = 1) – unimportant ( = 2) – OK ( = 3) – important ( = 4) – most important ( = 5)

In all analyses, gender did not have an impact and was thus excluded from further analyses. Furthermore, all variables were z-standardized to be able to more easily compare the results across variables. Hypothesis 1 predicted that children will not differ in their interdependent construal as a function of condition. However, children who were using their laptop should show higher endorsement of an independent self-construal compared to the control group; children who cannot use their laptop anymore should not differ from the control group. A repeated measures ANOVA with self-construal type (interdependent vs. independent selfconstrual) as a within-participants factor and with condition (control vs. broken laptop vs. laptop) as between-participants factor revealed a significant interaction, F(2, 161) = 4.09, p = .02, ηp² = .02 (see Figure 1). As expected, children did not differ in their interdependent self-construal, F(2, 161) = .28, ns. But importantly, children did differ in their independent self-construal, F(2, 161) = 6.47, p = .002, ηp² = .07. Posthoc analyses (Sidak) revealed that children who were using their laptop saw themselves as more independent (M = .29, SD = 0.90) than children who did not have a laptop (M = –.29, SD = 0.98), p < .001. Differences between the laptop condition and children whose laptops were broken (M = .08, SD = 1.11) and between the two control conditions were not significant (ps ≥ .36). Thus, children who could not use their laptop anymore did not significantly differ from the other conditions. However, descriptively they showed a higher endorsement of an independent self-construal compared to the control condition but lower than the laptop condition.

This scale has previously been used when studying children’s moral development (e.g., Smetana, 1981) and social norms (e.g., Rutland, Cameron, Milne, & McGeorge, 2005). The interdependent self-construal was measured with one item “It is important for me what others think of me.” Independent self-construal was measured with one item asking “It is important for me to be unique, different than others.” Cultural values were measured with an adopted version of the Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ; Schwartz & Bardi, 2001). This is an alternative to the Schwartz Value Questionnaire (SVS; Schwartz, 1992) which was developed to measure the basic values in samples of children from age 11. The children were asked to indicate how important each value was to them. Collectivist values were assessed with 9 items capturing value subsets of tradition, universalism, benevolence, and conformity (e.g., to do what I am told, to help the people around me, to do things in traditional ways; α = .68).2 Individualist values were assessed with 7 items capturing value subsets of achievement, self-direction, and power (e.g., thinking up new ideas and being creative, to make my own decisions about what I can and I cannot do, to become a leader; α = .56).

Results Laptop Functioning In total, 93 students had received a laptop. However, 24 students indicated that they could not use their laptop anymore. In 11 cases the battery was empty, in one case the laptop was deactivated, one laptop was totally broken, and eight indicated that specific parts were broken (e.g., charger, sound, screen, camera). This information provides an overview of the daily challenges of such a laptop program for students in a remote area: power shortages interfering with the ability to recharge the laptops at school, a lack of technical support, and no available spare parts for the laptops. 2

Figure 1. Endorsement of interdependent and independent self-construal as a function of condition among Ethiopian students.

Cultural Values Hypothesis 2 predicted that children do not differ in their endorsement of collectivist values as a function of condition. However, children who used their laptop should

Low reliabilities among values were obtained in other research as well due to differences in the breadth of the value constructs and in the range of contexts in which values may be pursued (Bardi & Schwartz, 2003; Feather, 2004; Schwartz, 1992).

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Table 1. Summary of intercorrelations for scores on all variables among Ethiopian children across conditions (N = 169)

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Figure 2. Endorsement of collectivist and individualist values as a function of condition among Ethiopian students.

show higher endorsement of individualist values compared to the control group; children who cannot use their laptop anymore should not differ from the control group. A repeated measures ANOVA with value type (collectivist vs. individualist) as a within-participants factor and with condition (control vs. broken laptop vs. laptop) as between-participants factor revealed no significant interaction, F(2, 166) = .70, ns (see Figure 2). As expected, children did not differ in their endorsement of collectivist values, F(2, 166) = 1.21, ns. However, as predicted children did differ in their endorsement of individualist values, F(2, 166) = 3.70, p = .03, ηp² = .03. Posthoc analyses (Sidak) revealed that children who used their laptops endorsed individualist values most strongly (M = .22, SD = 1.02) compared to children who did not have a laptop (M = –.22, SD = 0.96), p < .05, but not compared with children whose laptops were broken (M = .05, SD = 0.92) and between the other two conditions (ps > .56). As expected, children who could not use their laptop anymore did not significantly differ from the other conditions. Similarly, they showed higher endorsement of individualist values compared to the control condition but lower than the laptop condition – but only a descriptive level: The differences were not statistically significant.

Independent Self-Construal as a Mediator in the Relationship Between Condition and Individualist Values Hypothesis 3 tested the meditational influence of an independent self-construal on the relationship between condition and individualist values (moderated mediation). More precisely, we expected that the endorsement of an independent self-construal would only serve as a mediator for children who were using their laptop. We tested our hypothesis with a moderated mediation model employing Preacher, Rucker, and Hayes’s (2007) procedure to extrapolate estimates of direct and conditional indirect effects. Descriptive statistics and all bivariate correlations for our variables (z-standardized) are presented in Table 1. To directly test our third hypothesis, we analyzed a mod© 2012 Hogrefe Publishing

Variable

1

1. Interdependent self-construal



2

2. Independent self-construal

.19*



3. Collectivist values

.31***

.13

3

4



4. Individualist values .32*** .17* .52*** – Note. For all scales, higher scores are indicative of more extreme responding in the direction of the construct assessed. *p < .05, ***p < .001.

erated mediation analyses by comparing the control condition against the laptop condition. The condition significantly predicted endorsement of an independent self-construal (b = .58, t = 3.66, p < .0004), revealing higher endorsement of an independent self-construal in the laptop compared to the control condition (see Figure 3 and Table 2). Next, the interaction term of condition × independent self-construal in the prediction of individualist values was assessed, indicating that the interaction predicted individualist values over and above the main effects of condition and independent self-construal independently (b = .37, t = 2.12, p = .03). The conditional indirect effects of the control versus the laptop condition of the moderator were tested next. As expected, only in the laptop condition was the relationship between condition and individualist values mediated by the endorsement of an independent self-construal (z = 2.00, p = .04). In the control condition there was no evidence of mediation (z = –.37, p = .71). We also tested the same analyses by comparing the control versus the broken laptop and the broken laptop versus laptop condition showing no significant condition × independent self-construal interaction (both zs < 1.06, ps > .29). Furthermore, we also tested all other possible analyses with interdependent self-construal as mediator and collectivist values as dependent variable revealing no significant results. Thus, these analyses further support the hypothesis that it is only the active laptop users who develop a more independent self-construal, and that this increases the endorsement of individualist values.

Figure 3. Unstandardized coefficients for independent selfconstrual as a mediator in the relationship between control vs. laptop condition and individualist values. Note. The direct effect (controlling for independent self-construal) coefficient is located parenthetically in the figure. +p < .07, ***p < .001. Social Psychology 2012; Vol. 43(4):222–231

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Table 2. Conditional indirect effect of control vs. laptop condition in relation to individualist values through independent self-construal Mediator variable model (DV = independent self-construal) Predictor

B

SE

t

p

Constant

–.87

.25

–3.52

.0006

.58

.16

3.66

.0004

Independent self-construal

Dependent variable model (DV = individualist values) B

SE

t

p

Constant

–.49

.26

–1.85

.07

Independent self-construal

–.41

.26

–1.57

.12

.31

.17

1.81

.07

.37

.17

2.12

.03

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Condition Condition × Independent self-construal

Conditional indirect effect of moderator (DV = individualist values) Condition

Independent effect

SE

Control

–.03

.07

–.37

.71

Laptop

.19

.09

2.00

.04

Discussion We studied cultural change that was caused by ICT usage of children in a developing country with a traditional, collectivistic culture. We found clear evidence that technology initiated changes in self-construal (interdependent vs. independent) and cultural values (collectivist vs. individualist). Furthermore, we demonstrated that self-construal statistically mediated the effect of technology on cultural values. Children who used a laptop developed a more independent self-construal and endorsed individualist values more strongly compared to children without a laptop. Children whose laptop had broken down lay somewhere in between. Together, these findings suggest that using technologies leads to considerable cultural change and that it is not the mere ownership of technology which produces these effects, but the actual usage of ICTs. Also interesting to note is that the introduction of laptops was not accompanied by a reduction in more traditional cultural expressions; interdependent self-construal and collectivist values persisted at the same level.

Social Usage Our results clearly indicate that only actual usage of the laptops instigated changes in self-construal and cultural values. Students whose laptop was broken did not show these effects. Their laptops did not function anymore because they could not recharge them or specific parts broke down. They could therefore not use any applications, nor could they share their laptop and activities with their peers. Thus, the control group whose laptop had broken down 3

z

p

had, on average, used the laptop only for a limited time. This is reflected in the means of this group’s independent self-construal and the individualist values: Descriptively, these levels are higher than those in the control condition (but lower than students who could use their laptop for the whole period). This finding leads us to suggest that mere ownership of the laptop may not by itself be the cause of the observed changes: The findings suggest that it was the actual usage of the laptop and its applications which was responsible for the observed cultural change. Although it is therefore likely that computer usage promotes cultural changes in self-construal and individualist values, it is not clear what aspect of computer usage was responsible. Children who used their laptop had the ability to use a range of applications, which included some games, writing tools, drawing tools, a Wikipedia-style encyclopedia in which they could search for information, and some other activities besides. But research on computer usage and its social effects in the United States, conducted in the mid-1990s when this technology was a new phenomenon in households there, suggests that these mechanical computing activities by themselves (which are all individual activities) are unlikely to produce lasting social change. Rather it is the use of computer technology as a social medium, for activities that include communication and interaction with others, which is responsible for strong social effects (Kraut et al., 2002). Although the laptops in our study had only limited communication potential (due to the absence of adequate LAN technology and the absence of Internet access), the usage data of our study nevertheless clearly illustrated that in this sample, too, there was a distinctively social aspect of the use of this new technology. Specifically, the students regularly shared their laptop with their friends and were encouraged by their parents to do so3. Thus, it is possible that the social use of new technol-

Students regularly played together with their friends on the laptop (M = 3.30; SD = 0.94) and were strongly encouraged by their parents to

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ogies (and the changing pattern of relationships this fostered) plays a role in explaining the effects we found.

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Theoretical Implications Our research adds to a broader literature examining the cognitive consequences (e.g., Gauvain & Munroe, 2009) and changes in cultural values (e.g., Inglehart & Welzel, 2005) driven by modernization. We suggest that technology usage is one key aspect of the modernization process, because it changes people’s sense of agency. This is corroborated by the results: Laptop usage changes how children see themselves (i.e., stronger independent self-construal) and the world (i.e., stronger endorsement of individualist values) within a traditional, collectivistic developing country. Second, several researchers have suggested that selfconstruals serve as interpretative frames for understanding the world (e.g., Kitayama et al., 2007; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). To date, only priming research has investigated the mediating role of self-construals on psychological processes such as cultural values (e.g., Gardner et al., 1999). Recently, Oyserman and Lee (2008) questioned whether it is the self-concept specifically that drives these effects or whether perhaps some other procedural knowledge is driving priming effects. The current field experiment complements this experimental research by focusing on changes in both self-construals (i.e., interdependent and independent) within one culture by comparing the impact of ICT usage and two control conditions (mere laptop ownership and a no laptop group). Our findings are consistent with the prediction that self-concept change mediates cultural value change. Third, our research moves beyond a static model of culture by investigating changes in an interdependent and independent self-construal that occur over relatively short timespans due to laptop usage and mere ownership. The fact that small to moderate effects were obtained is, given the short timespan, the field setting, and the relative unfamiliarity of the participants with the questionnaire methodology, very encouraging. This suggests that culture is not static but dynamic – a finding that in line with the culture as situated cognition perspective (Oyserman, Sorensen, Reber, & Chen, 2009).

Limitations and Future Research The field setting provided a unique opportunity for us to test our theoretical assumptions regarding cultural change in an applied context. However, field research also has its

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challenges. In the present research, we randomly selected children who were given a laptop and children who were not given a laptop in grade 6 and 7 of the same school. All students were taught by the same teachers. Measures were taken 1 year after laptop deployment. We argue that because of the similar context with one school the observed effects were due to the laptop deployment. We found evidence for changes 1 year after laptop deployment. Future research should investigate how the observed changes in self-construal and cultural values play out in the long term. To gain a better understanding of the changes, future research could follow students to investigate their future development. This study provides only the very first evidence for individual change, and we cannot assume that these effects would be long-lasting. Also, it would be important in future research to assess how these laptops affect not just the children, but also the broader community around them. Finally, we caution against making any strong inferences from the present findings to the merits or disadvantages of these kinds of investments in ICT for development. This is but the first evidence that such ICTs have cultural consequences. We need more research across a broader range of cultures and with multiple technologies before drawing strong policy implications. Moreover, whether the cultural changes observed are positive or negative cannot be determined on the basis of this research. Ultimately, that is a political judgment to make. Finally, we point out that any decisions to invest in ICT for development should always compare the effects of ICT with comparable investments in school books, more teachers, a better school infrastructure (a building, desks, chairs, blackboards), or interactive learning games.

Practical Implications In our study we were able to differentiate between effects of laptop usage and mere ownership because several laptops had broken down. A year after deployment, 22.32% of the laptops in our sample did not function anymore. This also shows how important it is to also consider the accompanying costs to be able to provide sufficient electricity and technical support to guarantee the success of this initiative. Recently, the African Union signed another Memorandum of Understanding in which it commits to providing even more laptops to primary school students throughout Africa (Ropospi, 2011). This major investment is made notwithstanding the fact that empirical evidence that these laptops have beneficial educational effects is very scarce (Penuel, 2006; Zucker & Light, 2009). Furthermore, we do not know any other study that tracks psychological and social effects of laptop programs for students in the develop-

do so (M = 4.51; SD = 0.78; on a 5-point scale ranging from never to very often). © 2012 Hogrefe Publishing

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ing world. Future research is required to investigate this issue further and to inform political decisions.

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Conclusions Together, these findings provide first systematic evidence that usage of Western ICTs can instigate cultural change in a traditional developing country. While more traditional cultural expressions stayed unchanged, use of the laptop led to stronger endorsements of an independent self-construal and individualist values. Moreover, shifts toward a stronger independent self-construal mediated the effect of laptop usage on value endorsement. The results suggest that laptops do change the recipients in developing countries in ways that are not necessarily the intended purpose of the organizations introducing this technology. Although these laptops do not change local cultures dramatically, and although they do not undermine the local culture as some may fear, there is nonetheless clear evidence that the use of technology is associated with psychological change: The usage of ICT fosters the development of an independent self-construal which is related to the adoption of a modern set of values.

Acknowledgments This study was financially supported by the Engineering Capacity Building Program, Ethiopia, and by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-062-230135). We especially thank Márton Kocsev, Helen Goitom, Mohamed Abduku, the on.e eCapacity Development team, and the students of the Mekelle Institute of Technology for helping with the study. We particularly thank the children and teachers in Ethiopia with whom we worked, who gave their time freely and patiently.

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Received July 8, 2011 Final revision received December 15, 2011 Accepted January 30, 2012

Nina Hansen Department of Social Psychology University of Groningen Grote Kruisstraat 2/1 9712 TS Groningen The Netherlands Tel. +31 50 3636229 Fax +31 50 3634581 E-mail [email protected]

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