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A cross-cultural study of silence in marital conflict.

Silence is an important and understudied communication behavior. The ability to use silence appropriately and to adequately interpret the silence of others is indispensable for successful communication (Jaworski, 1993). When used skillfully skill·ful  
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill.
, silence can protect interactants' faces, help control conflict, and maintain relational harmony. People learn to use silence, as well as other appropriate conflict strategies and tactics, through socialization socialization /so·cial·iza·tion/ (so?shal-i-za´shun) the process by which society integrates the individual and the individual learns to behave in socially acceptable ways.

 in a particular culture. The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of culture on the use of silence in marital conflict.

Culture and the Use of Silence in Communication

Western and Eastern cultures differ in their use, evaluation, and interpretation of silence in communication. In Western culture, such as in the mainstream United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. , talk is viewed positively and is generally rewarded (Kim, 1999). As Pearce and Cronen (1980) argued, Westerners since the Ancient Greeks This an alphabetical list of ancient Greeks. These include ethnic Greeks and Greek language speakers from Greece and the Mediterranean world up to about 200 AD.

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 have tended to rely on talk and rhetoric as a tool for the discovery and expression of truth. In addition, there seems to be an aversion a·ver·sion
1. A fixed, intense dislike; repugnance, as of crowds.

2. A feeling of extreme repugnance accompanied by avoidance or rejection.
 to silence in that people find it awkward and embarrassing (Giles et al., 1992). "Silence tends to be interpreted variously as lack of interest, an unwillingness to communicate, a sign of hostility, rejection, interpersonal incompatibility The inability of a Husband and Wife to cohabit in a marital relationship.

incompatibility n. the state of a marriage in which the spouses no longer have the mutual desire to live together and/or stay married, and is thus a ground for divorce
, anxiety or shyness, or a lack of verbal skills" (Giles et al., 1992, p. 219). In Western culture, the development of an interpersonal relationship This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.

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 is heavily dependent on the amount of communication in which interactants are willing to engage; hence, the more a person is willing to talk and to be nonverbally Adv. 1. nonverbally - without words; "they communicated nonverbally"
 expressive, the more likely that person will develop positive interpersonal relationships (Kim, 1999). Studies indicate that most Americans believe that talking is an important and enjoyable activity (e.g., Giles et al., 1992). Americans are not alone in their avoidance of silence. Jewish (Tannen, 1985), Italian (Sander, 1985), and Arab (Samovar & Porter, 2001) cultures stress social interaction among friends and family, and there is often very little silence in conversations among members of these cultures. Caucasian Americans tend to use talk for affiliative purposes, for entertainment, and to fill silence which they find stressful (Giles et al., 1992). In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, silence can be caricatured as negatively regarded for Westerners (Newman, 1982).

In contrast, Eastern cultures do not place as high a premium on the amount and frequency of talk as does the mainstream U.S. culture (Kim, 1999). Eastern tradition appears to value the preservation of the harmony of the social group above the expression of individuals' inner thoughts and negative feelings (Barnlund, 1989). In Eastern cultures that emphasize ingroup interdependence and harmony, arguing is perceived as an unpleasant activity of dubious value that leads to anger and unreasonable behaviors; thus these negative beliefs about arguing may significantly dampen motivation to argue and heighten height·en  
v. height·ened, height·en·ing, height·ens
1. To raise or increase the quantity or degree of; intensify.

2. To make high or higher; raise.

 verbal communication avoidance (Kim, 1999). In addition, Easterners believe that meanings can be sensed but not phrased and a talkative person is often considered a "show-off" or insincere in·sin·cere  
Not sincere; hypocritical.

insin·cerely adv.
 (Kim, 1999). Eastern cultures encourage caution in speech so that talk in general comes to be regarded as less important (Bond, 1993). Chinese proverbs Proverbs, book of the Bible. It is a collection of sayings, many of them moral maxims, in no special order. The teaching is of a practical nature; it does not dwell on the salvation-historical traditions of Israel, but is individual and universal based on the  warn: "disasters result from the mouth" and "more words, more mistakes."

The value of silence in Japan derives from the conceptualization con·cep·tu·al·ize  
v. con·cep·tu·al·ized, con·cep·tu·al·iz·ing, con·cep·tu·al·iz·es
To form a concept or concepts of, and especially to interpret in a conceptual way:
 of the self as split into two parts: the inner and the outward (Lebra, 1987). The inner self is associated with truthfulness and is located symbolically in the heart and belly while the outward self is associated with the face, mouth and spoken words, and with deception, disguise, falsity, etc. (Lebra, 1987). Silence expresses inner truth (Lebra, 1987). The Japanese "haragei" (wordless communication), the Korean term "noon-chi" (Kim et al., 1998), and Chinese term "mo-chi" (tacit understanding) capture the essence of Easterners' positive feelings toward communication without words. Communication avoidance in Eastern culture is perceived as an individual's sensitivity to social context and a heightened awareness of others' evaluations (Sharkey & Singelis, 1995). The sensitivity to the social context may be viewed as a positive characteristic that contributes to the individual's ability to adapt to and fit into a social system (Sharkey & Singelis, 1995). Rather than viewing silence as an unwillingness to communicate, a sign of hostility, or a lack of verbal skills, Easterners see silence as evidence of an individual's self-control and desire to maintain relational harmony. For example, Chinese emphasize self-restraint and self-discipline to avoid aggressive behaviors, hoping to save each other's face and maintain harmony between two parties in the conflict, and silence is a way to achieve the goal (Chen, 2002). As Lebra (1987) argues, for Japanese, communicative competence Communicative competence is a linguistic term which refers to a learner's L2 ability. It not only refers to a learner's ability to apply and use grammatical rules, but also to form correct utterances, and know how to use these utterances appropriately.  means the ability to send and receive subtle, unstated messages. The differences in valuation of silence and talk affect the way people handle their conflicts.

Marital Conflict in Individualistic and Collectivistic col·lec·tiv·ism  
The principles or system of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by the people collectively, usually under the supervision of a government.

Although in Western individualist in·di·vid·u·al·ist  
1. One that asserts individuality by independence of thought and action.

2. An advocate of individualism.

 cultures intimate conflict is an overt phenomenon, in many non-Western cultures the experience of intimate conflict can be very subtle and elusive (Ting-Tooney, 1994). Strongly influenced by Chinese culture, Eastern collectivists value harmony in their personal relationships. Chinese believe that negative emotions make a person vulnerable to serious physical or mental illnesses. The goal is to maintain emotional balance in order to protect internal homeostasis homeostasis

Any self-regulating process by which a biological or mechanical system maintains stability while adjusting to changing conditions. Systems in dynamic equilibrium reach a balance in which internal change continuously compensates for external change in a feedback
. Social interchanges must be carefully monitored and managed in order to guard one's internal condition (Bond, 1993). Therefore, Chinese pay considerable attention to maintaining a state of interpersonal harmony in their social networks (Bond, 1993). Hostile behavior, in particular, is avoided (Ho, 1986). Confrontational judgments of attribution at·tri·bu·tion  
1. The act of attributing, especially the act of establishing a particular person as the creator of a work of art.

 are moderated in public settings (Bond et al., 1985). Indirect styles of conflict management are preferred (Chen, 2002) and interpersonal problems are presented in a less threatening manner (Cheung, 1986). In general, Chinese believe that a moderate emotional demeanor The outward physical behavior and appearance of a person.

Demeanor is not merely what someone says but the manner in which it is said. Factors that contribute to an individual's demeanor include tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and carriage.
 promotes harmony by giving others space to express themselves more easily (Bond, 1993).

The effect of culture on the use of silence in marital conflict can best be understood by examining how cultures are different or similar. A cultural variability perspective depicts how cultures differ in regard to basic characteristics or values (Ting-Toomey, 1994). While there are many dimensions on which cultures differ, the one that has received considerably more attention than others from cross-cultural communication Cross-cultural communication (also frequently referred to as intercultural communication) is a field of study that looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds endeavour to communicate.  researchers around the world is Triandis' (1988) individualism-collectivism.

Relationships in individualistic cultures value autonomy, differentiation, and the unique qualities of the people in the relationship whereas collateral-based relationships value role obligations and in-group interdependence, kinship bonds, and extended family bonds (Ting-Toomey, 1999). The dimension of individualism-collectivism provides a conceptual grid for describing how self-concepts vary across cultures. Additionally, it clarifies how the various "I" identity or "we" identity orientations influence everyday communication behaviors across cultures (Ting-Toomey, 1999). Overall, intimate partners in individualistic cultures have to spend enormous time and energy dealing with personal privacy and autonomy issues on one hand, and relatedness and connection on the other, whereas intimate partners in the collectivistic cultures have to learn to work out their relational commitment to their loved ones or spouses on one hand, and deal effectively with their family and social/personal network issues on the other (Ting-Toomey, 1994). Since collectivists have to be more concerned about the connection with others than individualists are, they focus on relational harmony when dealing with intimate conflict (Ting-Toomey, 1994). Consequently, collectivists are more attentive to how the conflict is expressed than individualists (Ting-Toomey, 1994).

As Ting-Toomey (1985) contended, members of individualistic cultures are more likely to perceive conflict as instrumental rather than expressive in nature, and members of collectivistic cultures are more likely to perceive conflict as expressive rather than instrumental in nature. Members of individualistic cultures often separate the issue on which they have conflicts from the people with whom they have conflicts, whereas members of collectivistic cultures, in contrast, generally do not make this distinction (Sherif she·rif also sha·rif  
1. A descendant of the prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima.

2. The chief magistrate of Mecca in Ottoman times.

3. A Moroccan prince or ruler.
, 2003). Ting-Toomey (1994) believes that members of individualistic cultures take a short-term view of managing conflicts, while members of collectivistic cultures take a long-term view of managing conflicts. Members of individualistic cultures are concerned with the immediate conflict situations; once the conflicts are managed, they can move on to other issues in their relationships with those whom they have conflicts with (Sherif, 2003). Members of collectivistic cultures, in contrast, focus on long-term relationships with others (Sherif, 2003). Perhaps the immediate conflict is important, but the critical issue for collectivists is whether they can depend on others over the long term (Sherif, 2003).

Independent and Interdependent Self-Construals

Some scholars have suggested that cultural-level individualism and collectivism collectivism

Any of several types of social organization that ascribe central importance to the groups to which individuals belong (e.g., state, nation, ethnic group, or social class). It may be contrasted with individualism.
 are limited predictors of individual behaviors because they do not reveal what aspects of culture influences an individual's communication (e.g., Gudykunst et al., 1996; Kim et al., 1996). Because individualism and collectivism exist in all cultures, broad cultural-level individualism-collectivism dimensions alone cannot be used to predict an individual's behavior (Gudykunst et al., 1996). The individual-level factors that mediate MEDIATE, POWERS. Those incident to primary powers, given by a principal to his agent. For example, the general authority given to collect, receive and pay debts due by or to the principal is a primary power.  the influence of cultural individualism-collectivism on individual behavior also must be considered (Gudykunst et al., 1996). The influence of individualism-collectivism on individuals' behavior is mediated through values and the way individuals conceive themselves (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

Markus and Kitayama (1991) suggest two types of self-construals, interdependent and independent, and argue for the systematic influence of these differing self-concepts on cognition cognition

Act or process of knowing. Cognition includes every mental process that may be described as an experience of knowing (including perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, and reasoning), as distinguished from an experience of feeling or of willing.
, emotion, and motivation. These two images of self were originally conceptualized as reflecting the emphasis on connectedness and relations often found in non-Western cultures (interdependent) and the separatedness and uniqueness of the individual stressed in the West (independent). The independent self-construal views self as an entity that comprises a unique, bounded configuration of internal attributes (e.g., preferences, traits, abilities, motives, values, and rights) and behaves primarily as consequence of these internal attributes (Markus and Kitayama, 1991). By contrast, in the interdependent construal con·strue  
v. con·strued, con·stru·ing, con·strues
1. To adduce or explain the meaning of; interpret: construed my smile as assent. See Synonyms at explain.
, the self is not viewed as an independent entity separate from the collective (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Everyone has both independent and interdependent self-construals, but they tend to use one to guide their behaviors more than the other (Gudykunst & Lee, 2002). People might be primed to use particular self-construals in certain situations (Kuehnen, Hannover and Schubert (2001).

This study examines the relationship between self-construals and the use of silence in marital conflict. We examine how independent and interdependent self-construals affect the use of silence to protect self and other's face, to maintain relational harmony, and to control the partner's behavior.

Rationale and Hypotheses

Silence and Face

Face refers to a claimed sense of favorable fa·vor·a·ble  
1. Advantageous; helpful: favorable winds.

2. Encouraging; propitious: a favorable diagnosis.

 social self-worth that a person wants others to have of her or him; it is a vulnerable identity-based resource because it can be enhanced or threatened in any uncertain social situation, such as conflict management (Ting-Toomey & Kurogi, 1998). Ting-Toomey and Kurogi (1998) argue that because face influences conflict behavior, both parties have to consider protecting self-interest and honoring or attacking the other person's goal. A person's face can be threatened by losing an argument, losing one's temper, getting caught in a lie, or breaking a promise (Cupach & Canary, 1997). The person can also threaten the conflict partner's face through making direct personal criticisms, making him or her look stupid, insulting or ridiculing him or her, or blaming the other for causing a problem (Cupach & Canary, 1997). When face-threats escalate es·ca·late  
v. es·ca·lat·ed, es·ca·lat·ing, es·ca·lates
To increase, enlarge, or intensify: escalated the hostilities in the Persian Gulf.

 in intensity and severity, intimate partners become defensive and close-minded and are more likely to engage in hurtful hurt·ful  
Causing injury or suffering; damaging.

hurtful·ly adv.

 put-down or exiting the conflict scene all together (Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2001). Remaining silent in a conflict is a way to avoid threatening the conflict partner's face.

Cloven clo·ven  
A past participle of cleave1.

Split; divided.


a past participle of cleave1


split or divided
 and Roloff's (1994) study of the individualistic culture in the United States indicates that individuals may leave a conflict unexpressed to protect their own self-images. For members of collectivistic cultures, however, avoidance is used to maintain mutual-face interests and relational network interests (Ting-Toomey, 1988). For example, Chen, Ryan and Chen's (2000) cross-cultural study has found that Chinese scored significantly higher on indirect avoidance style than Americans. In his discussion of Chinese conflict management, Chen (2002) also contends that "when Chinese are challenged, they may keep silent without rejoining or discussing a point even if they feel they are right, hoping to save each other's face and keep a harmonious relationship between the two parties" (p. 8). Cole (1989) has found that Japanese perceive they have lost face when they are not able to maintain ingroup harmony, such as when they shame or disgrace DISGRACE. Ignominy, shame, dishonor. No witness is required to disgrace himself. 13 How. St. Tr. 17, 334; 16 How. St. Tr. 161. Vide Crimination; To Degrade.  a friend or coworker co·work·er or co-work·er  
One who works with another; a fellow worker.
. North Americans, in contrast, perceive they have lost face when they personally fail, such as when they lose an argument.

Collectivists tend to use other-oriented face-saving strategies such as avoiding and obliging to maintain relational harmony, and individualists tend to use direct face-saving strategies such as integrating and then dominating (Oetzel, 1998; Ting-Toomey et al., 1991). Oetzel and associates (2003) have also found that independent self-construal is positively associated with self-face and dominating facework. Interdependent self-construal is positively associated with other--and mutual-face, and integrating and avoiding facework behaviors. Based on the conceptualization and findings, the following hypotheses are developed.

H1. Individuals' interdependent self-construal scores will correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence in marital conflict to protect other's self-image.

H2. Individuals' independent self-construal scores will correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence in marital conflict to protect their own self-image.

Silence and Harmony

The concept of harmony taught by Confucius 2,500 years ago influences Eastern cultures (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan) to value conflict avoidance in order to sustain smooth interpersonal relationships (Leung et al., 2002). Harmony is the cardinal value of Chinese culture; maintaining a harmonious relationship is the ultimate goal of human communication so that conflict is considered as a problem of communication (Chen, 2002). Therefore, "the ability to reach a harmonious state of human relationship becomes the main criterion for evaluating whether an individual is competent in the process of Chinese communication" (Chen, 2002).

Similarly, the value of harmony is prevalent in Korean culture. Cho and Park (1998), for example, have found that group harmony is the most important managerial value in Korean firms. The Korean word "kibun" means good personal mood and a general satisfactory state of affairs; while maintaining harmony requires not hurting others' "kibun," particularly that of personally related people (Cho & Park, 1998). In Japan, social harmony is also emphasized (Ohbuchi, 1998). Ohbuchi (1998) contends that there are several popular Japanese phrases that express overt conflicts in a negative light: for example, "koto koto (kō`tō), a Japanese string instrument related in structure to the zither. It consists of an elongated rectangular wooden body, strung lengthwise with 7 to 13 silk strings.  wo aradateru," to intensify a social conflict and "koto wo kamaeru," to make a conflict overt. These popular phrases imply that the Japanese strongly value social harmony and social order (Ohbuchi, 1998).

The pursuit of family harmony is a more manifest goal in Eastern collectivist col·lec·tiv·ism  
The principles or system of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by the people collectively, usually under the supervision of a government.
 cultures, where the interdependent self-contruals predominate, than in Western individualist ones, where the independent self-construal predominates. Individuals from cultures where an indirect communication style is emphasized tend to be more silent and avoid saying "no" in conflict situations in order to maintain relational harmony (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988; Huang, 2002). As Saunders's (1985) study concluded, silence is particularly important in a society where estrangement in family relationships is considered a great tragedy. Silence strategies are considerably more important in family-oriented collectivist cultures where the interdependent self-construals predominate. Hence, the following hypothesis is developed:

H3. Individuals' interdependent self-construal scores will correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence in marital conflict to promote harmony.

Silence and Control

Sometimes, silence may be regarded as a sign of someone's power or control over others (Jaworski, 1993). As Tannen (1985) suggests, silence in itself is not necessarily a sign of powerlessness, just as volubility in itself is not necessarily a sign of domination. For example, Sattel's (1983) analysis reports that men use silence to exercise power over women and peers. "Silence and inexpression are the ways men learn to consolidate power, to make the effort appear as effortless ef·fort·less  
Calling for, requiring, or showing little or no effort. See Synonyms at easy.

effort·less·ly adv.
, to guard against showing the real limits on one's potential and power by making it all seem easy; even among males, one maintains control over a situation by revealing only strategic proportions of oneself" (Sattel, 1983, p.122). The use of silence, inexpressiveness in·ex·pres·sive  
1. Lacking expression; blank: an inexpressive stare.

2. Devoid of emotion or style; flat or dull: an inexpressive violin performance.
, is related to men's position of dominance; it works as a method for achieving control both in male-female and in male-male interaction (Sattel, 1983). Defrancisco's (1991) study of couples' daily interactions confirmed Sattel's (1983) assumptions that men tended to silence women in marital relations. Clearly silence can be a strategy to control partners in intimate conflicts.

The reason that men are more controlling than women is because women are raised in the United Stated and Asia as more interdependent and men more independent. Cross and Madson (1997) conclude that many gender differences in cognition, motivation, emotion, and social behavior In biology, psychology and sociology social behavior is behavior directed towards, or taking place between, members of the same species. Behavior such as predation which involves members of different species is not social.  may be explained in terms of men's and women's different self-construals; in general, men in the United States are thought to construct and maintain an independent self-construal, whereas women are thought to construct and maintain an interdependent self-construal.

Individuals high in independent self-construals prefer to use a dominating strategy to deal with conflict while those high in interdependent self-construals prefer to use an obliging strategy (Oetzel, 1998a). The dominating strategy reflects competitive and power-oriented thoughts (Rahim, 1983). Thus, the following hypothesis is offered:

H4. Individuals' independent self-construal scores will correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence in marital conflicts as a control move.



A Likert-type, self-report scale was developed to measure the uses of silence in marital conflict. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 Canary et al., (1995), self-reports provide information pertinent to various levels of experience, ranging from the general and abstract to the specific and concrete that help assess an individual's global conflict style or predisposition predisposition /pre·dis·po·si·tion/ (-dis-po-zish´un) a latent susceptibility to disease that may be activated under certain conditions.

 across contexts and relationship targets. There are a number of benefits in using self-report measures in this study. First, self-reports offer the most direct estimate of how people experience interpersonal conflicts (Canary et al., 1995). Although self-reports do not provide an objective measure of actual behavior in conflict episodes, they do reflect a meaningful appraisal of how people interpret actions (Canary et al., 1995; Roberts, 2000). Conflict episodes are embedded Inserted into. See embedded system.  within the larger relational culture; a system of rules, roles, norms, rituals, expectations, and interpretive in·ter·pre·tive   also in·ter·pre·ta·tive
Relating to or marked by interpretation; explanatory.

in·terpre·tive·ly adv.
 filters (Metts, Sprecher, & Cupach, 1991). Self-report is "an ideal vehicle for gaining access to relational cultures and the meanings ascribed to the events occurring within those subjective worlds" (Metts, Sprecher, & Cupach, 1991, p. 170). Furthermore, self-reports can maximize the ecological validity
For the ecological validity of a cue in perception, see ecological validity (perception).
Ecological validity is a form of validity in an experiment.
 of data (Canary, 1995). As Canary indicated:
   Conflict in close relationships often occurs
   privately and unpredictably. Self-report can depict
   behaviors that occur naturally in the context of
   everyday mundane interaction, behaviors to which
   the researcher is not privy otherwise. Indeed, the
   most intense and belligerent conflicts are not
   observed directly by researchers, nor can they be
   induced without incurring ethical problems. Thus,
   self-reports offer inside information about real
   activities, compensating for the sometimes
   contrived or artificial flavor attendant on the
   situations that researchers can directly observe

The questionnaire first asked respondents to list topics of conflicts or disagreements that they had experienced with their spouses and then identify the one topic that was most important or meaningful. Subjects then reported how likely they were to act or respond to that topic by marking a five-interval Likert scale Likert scale A subjective scoring system that allows a person being surveyed to quantify likes and preferences on a 5-point scale, with 1 being the least important, relevant, interesting, most ho-hum, or other, and 5 being most excellent, yeehah important, etc  that followed statements composed to reflect each of the four uses of silence (e.g., "I would remain silent to show my dominance"). A pilot study was conducted to assess the reliability of the silence scales. Participants consisted of 42 college students and staff from a middle-sized technical college who had been married. Coefficient alphas ranged from .72 to .83 for the 4 silence scales, after deleting scale items that had low item-total correlations. Additional items were composed, resulting in a 23-item questionnaire.

Gudykunst et al's (1996) Self-Construal Scale was used to measure the strength of a respondent's interdependent and independent self-construals. The SCS scale consisted of twenty-eight items in a 7-point Likert-type format (1=strongly disagree, 7= strongly agree), 14 items for each self-construal. The scales measured what people believe about the relationship between the self and others and, especially, the degree to which they see themselves as separate from others or as connected with others. The scale had been shown to discriminate validity and to be reliable with coefficient Alpha ranging from .73 to .85 across four cultures, the United States, Japan, Korea and Australia (Gudykunst et al, 1996).

An additional questionnaire solicited demographic information: age, gender, ethnic background, educational attainment Educational attainment is a term commonly used by statisticans to refer to the highest degree of education an individual has completed.[1]

The US Census Bureau Glossary defines educational attainment as "the highest level of education completed in terms of the
, years married, and number of children. All questionnaires were translated into Chinese.


Participants were volunteers known by one of seven assistants who helped collect the data or referred to the assistants by others. The assistants explained the general purpose of the study, described the nature and length of the questionnaire to be completed, and asked for volunteers. Subjects were asked to sign the consent form and to return the questionnaire in a sealed envelop en·vel·op  
tr.v. en·vel·oped, en·vel·op·ing, en·vel·ops
1. To enclose or encase completely with or as if with a covering: "Accompanying the darkness, a stillness envelops the city" 
 in three days. One hundred forty-six respondents participated in this study including 78 Asians (51 Taiwanese and 27 Chinese-Americans) and 68 Americans (62 Americans, 4 European-Americans and 2 African-Americans). Fifty were male and ninety-six were female. Their average age was 40.8. Both the English and Chinese versions of questionnaires were given to subjects in the United States and Taiwan.

Data Analysis

Multiple regression was used to analyze the data. The independent and interdependent self-construal variables were entered simultaneously in order to test the hypotheses. Ethnicity was entered next in order to assess whether there were cultural effects that were not accounted for by self-construals.


Preliminary Analysis

Scale Reliabilities

Reliability analyses for the dependent variables revealed coefficient alphas ranging from .67 to .85 and that none of these could be substantially improved by the deletion deletion /de·le·tion/ (de-le´shun) in genetics, loss of genetic material from a chromosome.

Loss, as from mutation, of one or more nucleotides from a chromosome.
 of items. Some were lower than desired, but were still within acceptable limits (DeVellis, 1991). Reliability analyses for the independent variables revealed coefficient alphas of .78 for interdependent and .86 for independent self-construal.

Ethnic Group Differences

The Chinese and American participants differed significantly on the independent (t=-4.23; df=144; p<.001) and interdependent (t=3.16; df=144; p<.002) self-construal scales. As expected, Americans exhibited significantly higher independent self-construal scores (X =79.19) and lower interdependent self-construal scores (X=72.62) than Chinese (X=71.59 and X=78.21, respectively).

Scale Correlations

In order to see the bivariate bi·var·i·ate  
Mathematics Having two variables: bivariate binomial distribution.

Adj. 1.
 relationships among all the variables, a correlation matrix Noun 1. correlation matrix - a matrix giving the correlations between all pairs of data sets
statistics - a branch of applied mathematics concerned with the collection and interpretation of quantitative data and the use of probability theory to estimate population
 was computed and is reproduced in Table 1.

Regression Analyses

Others' Self-image

Independent and interdependent self-construals were entered into the regression equation Regression equation

An equation that describes the average relationship between a dependent variable and a set of explanatory variables.
 and resulted in a significant effect [F(2,143) =4.26, p<.02; [R.sup.2]=.06]. Examination of the beta coefficients indicated that interdependent self-construal (Beta=-.23; t=-2.83; p<.01) proved significant. The higher the individuals' score of interdependent self-construal, the more likely they used silence to protect their spouses' self-image in marital conflict. The ethnicity variable was entered into the regression equation's third steps but was not significant. Hypothesis 1was supported.

One's Own Self-image

Independent and interdependent self-construals were entered into the regression equation and resulted in a significant effect [F(2,143)=-4.72, p<.02 [R.sup.2] =.06]. Examination of the beta coefficients indicated that interdependent self-construal (Beta=-.24; t=-2.99; p<.01) proved significant; the higher the interdependent self-construal score, the less likely the use of silence to protect own self-image in marital conflict. The ethnicity variable was entered into the regression equation's second step and resulted in a significant effect [F(1,142) change =12.27, p<.002]. Examination of the beta coefficients indicated that ethnicity (Beta=.31; t=3.50; p<.005) proved significant. Americans are more likely to use silence to protect their own self-image in marital conflict than Asians. Thus, hypothesis 2 was not supported. Moreover, the results indicated that use of silence to protect own self-image was related to both the interdependent self-construal and ethnicity.


Independent and interdependent self-construals and ethnicity were entered into the regression but yielded no significant effects. Hypothesis 3 was not supported.


Independent and interdependent self-construal variables were entered into the regression equation but were not significant. Entering the ethnicity variable into the regression equation resulted in a significant effect [F(1,142) change=15.96, p<.001, [R.sup.2] =.11]. Examination of the beta coefficient indicated that ethnicity (Beta=.36; t=4.0; p<.001) proved significant. Americans are more likely to use silence to control marital conflict than Asians. However, hypothesis 4 was not supported.


The present data support hypothesis one in which individuals' interdependent self-construal scores correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence to protect spouses' self-image in marital conflict. Individuals with interdependent self-construals are more likely to report using silence to keep from embarrassing or hurting their partner in an argument. This coincides closely with prior research and theory. For example, when communicating with others, high interdependents are known to value other-face and mutual-face concerns (Ting-Toomey & Kurogi, 1998). Moreover, ethnicity does not explain any of the variance in this dependent variable. Apparently there are not broad, culture-level differences in the use of silence to protect other's face but that individual differences are related to the interdependent self-construal.

The second hypothesis predicted that individuals' independent self-construal scores would correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence to protect their own self-image in marital conflict, but it was not supported by the data. Perhaps independents do not perceive remaining silent in marital conflict as an effective self-face enhancement strategy. As Roloff and Cloven (1990) argue, silently withholding grievances and irritation in conflict is a form of powerlessness. Remaining silent may be viewed by individuals with high independent self-construals as a loss of face. A second explanation could be that the sample size was not large enough to detect the relationship between these variables. However, a power analysis indicated that the probability of detecting a truly significant, medium-sized effect exceeded .98 (calculation followed procedure suggested by Cohen cohen
 or kohen

(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male.
, 1988).

The use of silence to protect own self-image was related to the interdependent self-construal variable and to ethnicity. Individuals with high interdependent self-construals were less likely to use silence to protect their own self-image. This finding parallels the effects of the interdependent self-construal on the use of silence to protect others' self-image. The data also indicated that Americans were more often to use silence to protect their own self-image in marital conflict than Asians. Schwartz's research on cultural values (1992) suggests American culture focuses on pursuing self-interest and autonomy, and encourages competing and dominating styles of communication; whereas East Asian culture focuses on pursuing collective interest and encourages indirect and non-confrontational, harmonious, style of communication. The finding is consistent with core value of American culture. The finding is also consistent with previous findings that Americans tend to use self-orient face-saving strategy in conflict management, whereas Asians tend to use other-oriented face-saving in conflict management (e.g., Oetzel, 1998a; Ting-Toomey et al., 1991).

The results also failed to support hypothesis three which predicted that individuals' interdependent self-construal scores would correlate positively with the likelihood of using silence as a harmonizing move in marital conflict. Apparently this use of silence relates to neither the cultural-level nor individual level variables. Maintaining harmony in marital conflict might be considered as equally important for both Americans and Asians. Uleman et al., (2000) found that the desire to maintain harmony to show relational closeness had a high association with only voluntary groups, such as friends, but had a low association with involuntary in-groups, such as family and relatives for both American and Asian subjects. Uleman et al., (2000) concluded: if harmony with friends is lost, they are no longer friends. Family members, on the other hand, are always family members; and harmony with them may be lower than with relatives because family members are most intimately involved in daily living.

Hypothesis four predicted using silence as a control move in marital conflicts was related to individuals' independent self-construal scores. Data failed to support this hypothesis but revealed ethnic differences. Americans were more likely than Chinese to report using silence to control marital conflict. This again suggests that self-construals are unable to predict the use of silence in marital conflict, but general cultural values may be. As previously suggested, American culture encourages people to pursue self-interest, to value autonomy, and to prefer competing and dominating styles of communication; whereas East Asian culture encourages people to pursue collective interest, and to prefer indirect and non-confrontational harmonious styles of communication (Schwartz, 1992). This finding is also consistent with a number of previous findings that Americans prefer a dominating style of conflict management (e.g., Oetzel, 1998a; Chiu & Kosinski, 1994; Knutson, Hwang, & Deng, 2000).

Several additional issues raised by these findings warrant attention. First, these findings provide only a little clarification of the controversy concerning the use of self-construal scales. Recently, some scholars (e.g., Levine et al, 2003; Matsumoto, 1999) have argued against the validity of the self-construal scales, contending that the construct is multidimensional. Cross et al. (2000) suggested there are, at least, two types of interdependent self-construals, group-oriented and relationship-oriented interdependence. The interdependent self-construal scale used in the study is more group-oriented; 10 out of 14 items in the scale are group-based items. However, relational interdependent self-construal would be more appropriate for the cross-cultural study of marital conflict. Since group memberships are less important to U.S. adults than to people in East Asia East Asia

A region of Asia coextensive with the Far East.

East Asian adj. & n.
, Americans may not score high in group-based interdependent self-construal, but may score high on the relational one. In short, the interdependent scale used in this study is focused on group-based interdependence and this may account for why the interdependent self-construal scale failed to predict the use of silence to maintain family harmony. However, we did find that the interdependent self-construal scale correlated with the use of silence to protect self and others' faces, suggesting that the scale is valid. Also, the scale differentiated between the Chinese and American participants as expected. Perhaps future research could clarify whether the distinction between group and relational interdependence is useful for understanding the use of silence in marital conflict. However, these results are less ambiguous in regard to the independent self-construal scale. This data supported none of the hypothesized relationships between the independent self-construal and the use of silence. Moreover, a factor analysis of the self-construal scale indicated that the independent items loaded on four different and uninterpretable factors. However, the scale did detect significant and expected differences between the two ethnic groups. Hence, these results suggest that more careful attention to the conceptualization and measurement of self-construals could be beneficial.

This study is limited by the sample and the use of self-report measures. The two cultures selected for the study are very different so that the results do provide a basis for tentative generalization gen·er·al·i·za·tion
1. The act or an instance of generalizing.

2. A principle, a statement, or an idea having general application.
. However, utilizing participants from only two cultures means that the generalizations must be recognized as tentative. A wider variety of populations with differing linguistic and social-cultural backgrounds should be investigated in the future study. Incorporating more cultures into the sample might have resulted in support for more hypotheses.

The use of self-report measures of marital conflict also limits our findings. First, the emotional arousal arousal /arous·al/ (ah-rou´z'l)
1. a state of responsiveness to sensory stimulation or excitability.

2. the act or state of waking from or as if from sleep.

 associated with conflict can impair im·pair  
tr.v. im·paired, im·pair·ing, im·pairs
To cause to diminish, as in strength, value, or quality: an injury that impaired my hearing; a severe storm impairing communications.
 an individual's ability to remember events accurately and judge behavior fairly (Sillar, 1985 cited in Canary et al., 1995). This would be more likely to contaminate con·tam·i·nate
1. To make impure or unclean by contact or mixture.

2. To expose to or permeate with radioactivity.

con·tam·i·nant n.
 the validity of data in subjects reporting about their use of silence in marital conflict. Second, systematic perceptual bias could impair the validity of self-reports (Canary et al., 1995), such as, the fundamental attribution error In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or overattribution effect) is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while  (Sillar, 1985 cited in Canary et al., 1995). An individual might attribute his or her silence to protect the spouse's self-image or family harmony, rather than, in fact, hiding a lie from the spouse. Third, the potential for socially desirable responses in studies of intimate conflicts is invariably in·var·i·a·ble  
Not changing or subject to change; constant.

 presented (Canary et al., 1995). This is likely to be the case with the harmony and control scales, which asked respondents to indicate how likely they would silence their spouses to control marital conflict and ignore the family harmony.


The findings strongly support the distinction among the different functions of silence. Three of the four types of silence were affected by either the self-construal variables or ethnicity. Relatively little research has been reported on the use of silence in conflict, and even less on culturally diverse marriages. These results demonstrate that culture affects the use of silence in marital conflict. With increasing numbers of intercultural marriages (Ting-Toomey, 1994), marriage counselors and social workers may become increasingly active in helping couples to negotiate marital conflict caused by cultural differences. Cultural values influence how spouses manage their marital conflict. In some cultures, individuals may consider face-to-face discussion of their thoughts and feelings with their spouses is an appropriate and constructive way to manage marital conflict. In other cultures, individuals may have preferred a silent way to manage their differences. Interventions need to notice strategies individuals use in explicit as well as implicit and verbal as well as nonverbal non·ver·bal  
1. Being other than verbal; not involving words: nonverbal communication.

2. Involving little use of language: a nonverbal intelligence test.
 interchanges. Merely focusing on explicit verbal messages ignores signals significant for conflict resolution. This study found evidence that spouses use silence to control conflict and to protect one's own and other's self-image in marital conflict. This provides practical implications for clinical and empirical uses. Though this study suggests more questions, the findings can guide future researchers interested in examining this nonverbal dimension of conflict. Hopefully this study also helps individuals gain new insight to enhance their own options in approaching and managing conflict.


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Chuan-chuan Cheng, Tzu Chi University Tzu Chi University(Chinese: 慈濟大學), or TCU, is a private university in Hualien, Taiwan (Republic of China). It was founded by the Tzu Chi foundation. Tzu Chi University is famous for its Medical education in Taiwan.  

Charles Tardy tar·dy  
adj. tar·di·er, tar·di·est
1. Occurring, arriving, acting, or done after the scheduled, expected, or usual time; late.

2. Moving slowly; sluggish.
, University of Southern Mississippi

Correspondence to:

Dr. Chuan-chuan Cheng

Department of Communication Studies

Tzu Chi University

Hualien, Taiwan, ROC

Table 1. Pearson Scale Correlations

Variables               1         2         3         4

1. control
2. other              .32 **
3. self               .66 **    .35 **
4. harmony            .51 **    .66 **    .53 **
5. independent       -.01       .07       .06       .09
6. interdependent    -.09      -.21 **   -.23 **   -.13
7. age                .01      -.13      -.14      -.06
8. ethnicity          .31 **    .05       .34 **    .13
9. education          .14      -.04       .18 *     .06
10. marriage         -.04      -.12      -.13      -.06
11. gender           -.06       .17 *    -.04       .12
12. children         -.05      -.07      -.17 *    -.06

Variables               5         6         7         8

1. control
2. other
3. self
4. harmony
5. independent
6. interdependent     .16
7. age                .07      -.04
8. ethnicity          .34 **   -.26 **    .15
9. education         -.14      -.09      -.10      -.10
10. marriage          .05      -.03       .89 **    .17 *
11. gender            .06       .10      -.09      -.02
12. children         -.12       .02       .46 **   -.02

Variables               9        10        11

1. control
2. other
3. self
4. harmony
5. independent
6. interdependent
7. age
8. ethnicity
9. education
10. marriage         -.22 **
11. gender           -.47 **    .07
12. children         -.33 **    .54 **    .12

N = 146

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
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Date:Apr 1, 2009
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