Social Desirability, Collectivism/Individualism and Stigma Towards Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in Japanese and American College Students

Saturday, May 14, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
F. Someki1, M. Torii2 and K. Gillespie-Lynch3, (1)College of Staten Island, Staten Island, NY, (2)Kobe University, Kobe, Japan, (3)City University of New York, College of Staten Island, Staten Island, NY

    Stigma associated with ASD is apparent around the world  (e.g., Dachez et al., 2015; Jones & Harwood, 2009; Bie & Tang, 2015). Recent cross-cultural research revealed that stigma towards ASD is higher in Japan and Lebanon than it is in the U.S. (Obeid et al., 2015; Someki et al., 2015). In Lebanon, where autism services and research are scarce, higher stigma co-occurs with reduced knowledge relative to the U.S. (Obeid et al., 2015). However, stigma is also heightened in Japan, which has a relatively long history of autism research (Volkmar et al., 2007). Therefore, knowledge differences are unlikely to be the only factor underlying cross-cultural differences in stigma.

    Both Lebanon and Japan are more collectivistic than the U.S. (Matsumoto et al., 2008). Collectivism is more common in relatively homogeneous cultures like Japan while individualism occurs more in heterogeneous cultures like the U.S. (Triandis, 1993; Hofstede, 1980). Individualistic societies may be more tolerant of differences (Triandis, 1993), which might lessen stigma towards ASD. Social desirability may also influence self-reports of stigma. Individuals who value social desirability are guided by the desire for social approval, which is more important in collectivistic societies. Being female and greater ASD knowledge were significantly associated with reduced stigma towards ASD in the U.S. but not Lebanon (Obeid et al., 2015). In the current study, we examine if ASD knowledge, individualism-collectivism, social desirability and gender underlie heightened stigma in Japan relative to the US.


1) Compare stigma associated with and knowledge about ASD among Japanese and American college students; and 2) Examine if gender, ASD knowledge, social desirability and collectivism-individualism underlie cross-cultural differences in stigma.


A total of 391 American college students (234 women, 157 men) and 165 Japanese students (41 women, 124 men) completed an online survey consisting of a demographic questionnaire, Social Distance Scale (assessing stigma; Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2015), Adapted Autism Awareness Scale (assessing knowledge; Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2015), Social Desirability Scale (Reynolds, 1982) and Vertical-Horizontal Individualism-Collectivism scale (Triandis & Gelfand, 1998).


American students reported less stigma towards ASD, F(1,549) = 104.43, p < .001, than Japanese students. However, there was no difference across countries in overall ASD knowledge, F(1,549) = .005, p = .94. 

A regression analysis revealed that being Japanese (β= - .31; p<.001), being male (β= - .01; p=.045), less ASD Knowledge (β= - .33; p<.001), less social desirability (β= .10; p=.008), and higher individualism relative to collectivism (β= .15; p<.001) were associated with greater stigma towards ASD.


Despite comparable overall ASD knowledge, Japanese college students exhibited greater stigma towards ASD than American students. Cultural and individual factors contributed to stigma but did not account for cross-cultural differences in stigma. Therefore, cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. that were not assessed in the current study (such as possible effects of people with ASD on productivity) likely contribute to stigma towards ASD.