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Achievement Gaps
Literature Library


What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

    1. Asian Students

Internalizing Beliefs about the Value of Education

Kiyoshi Asakawa and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi consider how the theory of “internalization” may account for Asian-American students’ strong academic performance.

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.

It has long been assumed by the educational and scholarly communities that Asian students come from cultures that highly value education. This is the cultural explanation for why Asian-American students tend to perform so strongly in school: they are brought up in a value system that encourages or even demands academic dedication.

This cultural explanation in turn depends upon another assumption, one involving the psychological disposition of Asian-American adolescents. According to this assumption, Asian-American adolescents easily internalize the ostensible cultural values that place such an emphasis on educational performance. These values then motivate the young people to excel academically.

“Internalization” means taking an attitude, belief, or behavioral regulation acquired from the environment in which one is socialized and transforming that attitude, belief, or regulation into a personal value, goal, or principle of organization. In short, internalization is the developmental process through which external (social) regulations are gradually integrated into the realm of self-determination.

Kiyoshi Asakawa and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi consider three psychological factors that promote internalization:

  • autonomy
  • competence
  • relatedness

Theoretically, then, these factors would be crucial in Asian-American students’ internalization of educational values.


The authors define autonomy as "the self-initiation and self-regulation of one’s own actions" (Introduction section, ¶).When people perceive themselves to be autonomous, they feel free with respect to their own behavior. They feel as if they are in control of their behavior.

Asakawa has found in his past research that when it comes to academic activities, Asian-American parents provide their children with more freedom than Caucasian-American parents typically do. Also, Asian-American parents more actively structure their children’s lives to facilitate academic success. So, not only do Asian-American parents exercise autonomy in encouraging their children’s academic work, but they also foster autonomous academic interests among their children.


The authors understand competence to mean "understanding how to attain intended goals and being effective in activities related to those goals" (Introduction section, ¶ 3).A person whois competent is more likely to feel in control of his or her situation.

Asakawa’s research has shown that Asian-American adolescents feel more in control than Caucasian-Americans do when studying. This result suggests that Asian-American adolescents perceive themselves to be more competent when engaged in academic activities than do Caucasian-Americans.


The authors use the term "relatedness" to refer to the experience of feeling connected to others in one’s social environment. It involves the emotional and personal bonds that people form with each other. Past research has shown that if a child feels related to his or her significant others, he or she will be more likely to identify with and internalize their beliefs and values.

In relation to Asian-Americans, various studies have argued that Asian cultures typically stress "the fundamental connectedness of human beings to each other, emphasizing a harmonious interdependence between individuals," as Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi write (Introduction section, ¶ 6). Asian cultures reportedly view the self not as separated from its social context but as more connected and less differentiated from others. The term used to describe this is an “interdependent self.” It stands in contrast to American culture’s emphasis on independence and the cultivation of unique and individual personal attributes. Caucasian-Americans, according to this conception, have “independent selves.”

If Asian-American adolescents grow up in a cultural environment that inculcates an “interdependent self,” then they are more likely to seek connectedness to significant others such as their parents. Through this connectedness, adolescents would more easily internalize the strong educational values of their parents.

Although most of these ideas remain on the level of theory, elsewhere in their work Asakawa and Csikszentmihalyi examine empirical support for how such factors encourage Asian-American adolescents’ internalization of cultural values of education.

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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