Buying into culture: An exploration of the effects of cultural conformity on the island of Mauritius

Date of Completion

January 2008


This research examines the effects of cultural conformity on subjective well-being in Mauritius, with a specific focus on cultural prescriptions about success. Many studies show that cultural conformity has a positive effect on well-being, but few explore which factors, if any, mediate this effect and why. Most theorists suggest that cultural conformity boosts subjective well-being by generating more positive appraisals of the self and more positive interactions with others. However, this research examines the degree to which individuals' motivational investment in cultural prescriptions mediates the link between conformity and well-being. Based on a field study conducted in Mauritius (2005-2006), this dissertation argues that the positive effects of cultural conformity depend on (1) the degree to which cultural prescriptions are internalized by individuals, and (2) the content and practical consequences of cultural traits, beliefs, and prescriptions for personal and group well-being. Results indicate that cultural conformity may positively (or negatively) affect well-being regardless of internalization when cultural prescriptions have practical and not just symbolic import. This research shows that conformity positively affects well-being when cultural prescriptions are adaptive in particular social and ecological contexts, indicating that the content of cultural prescriptions is an important mediating factor. These issues are explored in the unique social and cultural context of Mauritius, where ethnic and class distinctions arising from the island's colonial history offer an opportunity to examine variation in cultural conformity, internalization, and well-being. The results suggest a need to consider the content rather than just the symbolic importance of cultural prescriptions in future studies of conformity, social learning, and subjective well-being. ^