Culture-specific mechanisms of maintaining life satisfaction among the indigenous population of the Russian Arctic 

Istomin K.V. (Tomsk, Syktyvkar, Russian Federation)


             page 154–165


Our previous studies on the causal attributions of events occurring in the lives of Nenets teenagers from nomadic families have shown that, unlike non-indigenous teenagers of the same age from sedentary families, they do not exhibit self-serving attribution bias, i.e. the tendency to attribute more internal, stable and global causes to positive events as compared to negative ones. Since, in accordance with the Learned Helplessness Theory, self-serving bias is a protective psychological mechanism allowing people to maintain a sense of optimism under stress, it has been concluded that the lack of this mechanism in the Nenets makes them less resistant to stress, which results in an increased likelihood of stress-induced depressive states. This could explain the high level of suicides and alcohol consumption among them. However, an additional analysis of the empirical data has shown this conclusion to be premature. It has been found that the lack of the self-serving bias is mainly due to the extremely low stability and globality of causal attributions for both positive and negative events. It can be assumed that the reason for this lies in the holistic cognitive style of the Nenets. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that people with holistic cognitive styles tend to attribute causes of events to immediate situations and situational factors, rather than to general principles and sustainable attributes of the objects and people involved. Since such causal attributions have a low stability and globality, they are less likely to induce helplessness as a result of experiencing a sequence of negative events. Furthermore, even if a sense of helplessness arises, it does not automatically lead to hopelessness, that is to the individual's expectation of negative events and of the absence of positive events in the future. People who attribute the causes of events to concrete situations can maintain optimistic expectations even while believing that they personally cannot prevent negative events or make positive events happen, i.e. while experiencing helplessness. This in itself can provide individuals with protection from stress even if they lack the self-serving attributional bias. Thus, the Learned Helplessness Theory and the anti-stress psychological mechanism it postulates can be lacking cross-cultural validity: the self-serving attribution bias is not the only possible cultural mechanism against stress.

Key words: attribution style, cognitive style, self-serving attribution bias, Nenets, depression, alcoholism, suicide.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2019-45-2-154-165


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Submitted: 11.12.2018

Accepted: 01.04.2019

Article is published: 28.06.2019


K.V. Istomin

Tomsk State University, Lenin av., 36, Tomsk, 634050, Russian Federation

Institute of Language, Literature and History, Komi Science Center of Ural Division RAS, Kommunisticheskaya st., 26, Syktyvkar, 167986, Russian Federation