Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien nav lang search
Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Happily Different? On Happiness and Norm Deviation in Japan

 February 2014 - December 1969

The old saying that the protruding nail gets hammered down is still often used to characterize Japanese society as collectivist with little tolerance for deviance. Allegedly, those who do not “fit in” are treated less favorably in Japan than elsewhere, unless they disguise their views and align their behavior.

From the perspective of the individual concerned, both options (facing social rejection or forced compliance) are actually associated with negative psychological outcomes. Therefore, it can be hypothesized that, if non-conformity is indeed more severely sanctioned in Japan, it should lead to relatively greater personal discomfort than in other countries.

However, recent studies have raised doubts about the alleged collectivist and conformist nature of Japanese society as a whole. In particular, it seems likely that, as in other countries, tensions between personal views, behavior and societal norms only become a critical factor during the transition to full community membership in early/middle adulthood. Consequently, it seems likely that even in Japan “protruding nails” are actually tolerated until a certain age, only to be confronted with a comparatively stricter regime of readjustment tasks (and associated negative consequences) later on.

Grounded in both Cross-cultural Psychology and Sociology, this project is designed to address the existing lack of empirical data with two research questions:

  1. How does individual deviation from the country-specific norm for personality traits and personal values relate to self-reported life satisfaction, happiness, stress and psychosomatic health in Japan, Germany and the US?
  2. Can we find any empirical evidence for an increase in normative pressure during early to middle adulthood that is disproportionally larger in Japan than in the other two countries?

It is hoped that by way of pursuing these two questions the project will contribute to our understanding of both the relation between personality traits and happiness, as well as to a reassessment of collectivism vs. individualism in present-day Japan.


Tobias Söldner Tobias Söldner (until February 2019)
Personality and Cross-Cultural Psychology