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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

    1. Asian Students

Can Social Connectedness Explain Asian-Americans’ Academic Success?

Kiyoshi Asakawa and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi consider how the social orientation of Asian-American students promotes the internalization of cultural values favoring educational achievement.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Asakawa, K., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Feelings of connectedness and internalization of values in Asian American adolescents.Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29,121-145. Retrieved January 23, 2002 from Proquest database.

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Building on the theory of the internalization of cultural values, Kiyoshi Asakawa and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi focus on how a sense of social connectedness may encourage Asian-American adolescents’ strong academic performance. They studied how Asian-American and Caucasian-American students experienced a variety of activities associated with academics and socialization.

Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi predicted that if Asian-American adolescents had internalized the cultural values of hard work and high expectations for achievement, the importance they attached to activities associated with future goals would be higher. Additionally, internalization should foster a sense of happiness, enjoyment, and self-esteem in activities associated with hard work and future goals. Finally, Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi examined whether Asian-Americans exhibited a relatively stronger tendency than other U.S. ethnic groups to seek connectedness to others, which would support the idea of the interdependent self that more easily internalizes the values of those to whom they feel most connected.

Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi broke their analysis down into three areas: how Asian-American students associated happiness and importance with certain activities, what their attitudes were toward performing activities alone or with others, and specifically what their attitudes were toward studying alone or with others. What did they find?

The Importance of Activities and Associated Levels of Happiness

  • In comparison with Caucasian-Americans, Asian-American adolescents’ level of happiness was likely to be higher if they were involved in an activity they perceived as important to their future goals. Likewise, Asian-Americans’ sense of enjoyment, self-esteem, and activeness also increased when engaged in such activities.
  • Asian-Americans also exhibited a stronger tendency to perceive activities that were highly important for their future goals as highly important to them at the moment as well. This is probably an indicator that Asian-American adolescents had a stronger inner sense of achievement than their Caucasian-American counterparts.

These findings are both consistent with previous theory that holds that people with high levels of internalized regulations engage in activities relevant to those regulations more willingly and have a more positive experience therein. The findings suggest that Asian-American adolescents are indeed more motivated by internalized values in regard to the worth and enjoyment of certain activities than are Caucasian-Americans.

Activities Alone or Not Alone

  • In a variety of activities including hobbies, socializing, work, and watching TV, Asian-American adolescents’ level of happiness improved when they were performing such activities with others rather than alone. While Caucasian-Americans’ happiness level also improved, Asian-Americans’ level increased more dramatically.
  • When they were alone, Asian-American adolescents tended to be more self-conscious than normal. With others, Asian-Americans were less self-conscious, that is, more comfortable. Caucasian-Americans, in contrast, were less self-conscious when alone.

These findings support the idea that Asian-American adolescents are more socially oriented than their Caucasian-American counterparts. The findings about self-consciousness, in particular, suggest that Asian-Americans find affirmation or approval in a group setting in a way that Caucasian-Americans are less likely to.

Studying Alone or Not Alone

Since the actual nature of the activity (whether work, watching TV, or doing a hobby) may have been responsible for the observed differences in Asian-Americans’ and Caucasian-Americans’ responses, Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi examined one specific, relevant activity, namely, studying.

  • When studying with others, both Asian-Americans and Caucasian-Americans were happier and felt better about themselves than when studying alone. However, the increase in Asian-Americans’ levels of happiness was more significant than that for Caucasian-Americans.

In regard to this finding, then, Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi say that when studying, the physical presence of others helped raise Asian-American adolescents’ levels of happiness and self-esteem (feeling good about themselves) more than those of Caucasian-American adolescents.


Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi’s results do not provide direct causal answers about whether the internalization of educational values is responsible for Asian-Americans’ strong academic performance. Rather, their study constitutes evidence that the factors that would promote such internalization (here, specifically the “relatedness” or more social orientation of Asian-Americans) are indeed present. More research is necessary to confirm whether internalization really does account for the effects theorized for it.

Nonetheless, Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi have suggested a strong social orientation toward academic and other activities among Asian-American adolescents, an orientation that lends support to theories about how cultural values favoring education encourage Asian-American students’ strong academic performance.

Research Design: With a total of 34 Asian-American and 392 Caucasian-American adolescents in the sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades, the authors conducted Experience Sampling Method (ESM) tests to determine these adolescents’ subjective experiences of activities such as studying, socializing, work, and watching TV. Correlation coefficients were calculated to determine how being alone and not being alone affected the subjects’ experience of these activities. Interviews with the Asian-American subjects supplemented the statistical research. The study was partially supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.


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