One of the most striking properties that any visitor to Thailand immediately notices is the relatively small difference in body-build among the male and female population. An ethnologist friend of mine recently joked that the slim and small Asian biology makes many Western visitors look like Frankenstein by comparison.
Possibly lower levels of androgens and genetic make-up in combination with Buddhist customs, advocating kindness and empathy, create a cycle where nature and nurture mutually reinforce stable cultural expressions (Glassman & Hadad, 2008, p.338). For Thailand this cycle creates a highly feminine culture where typical male attributes such as aggression, dominance, forcefulness and independence (Glassman & Hadad, p.352) are frowned upon as a social taboo for men and women alike.
From infancy to teenage-years Thai children sleep with their mothers, a typical trait
of emotional attachment in socio-centered cultures (Greenfield et. al, 2003, p.470).
Mothers also play a more central role in general parenting than fathers (Tulananda &
Roopnarine, 2001). Close emotional bonds, not independence are behaviorally
reinforced. The preparation of food plays a large role in Thai culture and this task is
customary left to girls and women. The rite of passage to adulthood for teenage boys
is the ordination as a monk. Thai boys live as Buddhist novices (buaht) for at least a
full rainy season before they are considered adult. Practices such as meditation, alms collection and helping out in the temple condition self-constraint and humbleness.
Buddhist nuns are however still not recognized to play an official role in monastic life
and they are not given the same rights as men, revealing an underlying gender-bias.
From primary school to university the wearing of uniforms is mandatory which
behaviorally reinforces the horizontal-egalitarian character of the cultural
environment. Young boys and girls in Thailand seldom mix until their teenage years
when behavior changes. Gender-stereotypical behavior dominates life for most young
Thais: boys tend to play sports and girls prefer to hang out in groups after school. Gender-stereotype behavior remains conform for the great majority of Thais throughout adulthood.
Although Thailand features a highly feminine culture biologically – the high rate of transgender population for example begs explanation (Winter, 2006) – gender-role differentiation and subsequent conditioning within this context plays a decisive role in Thai society. Since this history of reinforcements appears on cultural level one could even talk of a ‘cultural personality’ from a behaviorist point of view, since it fosters specific traits across individuals, but is limited to members of a culture.
A cognitive approach is compatible with a behaviorist view since all quoted instances
of reinforcement and conditioning are simultaneously expressions of social learning
outcomes: Girls learn cooking from their mothers but the same activity also reinforces
their gender-role in doing so. Mothers are very close to their children because this is
how they have learned behavior from their own mothers across generations, another
trait of socio-centered cultures. The practiced closeness subsequently conditions
children in sociability and agreeableness. The fact that Thai families facilitate sibling
caregiving serves as an additional reinforcement factor (Greenfield et. al, 2003,
Cognitively the Buddhist belief-system which is passed on by the parents supports morality and more prudent decision-making in the younger generation (Apichat et. al, 2010). On the other hand sex education is considered taboo in Thai families, creating a generation gap and communicative breakdowns of its own (Sridawruang & Crozier, 2010) counter-productively to traditional wisdom. Marriage, as the final step into adult life, depends traditionally on the social consent between both families and is increasingly following a romantically privileged Western ideal symbolizing upward mobility (Esara, 2012).
In closing it can be concluded that a biological ‘base setting’, combined with
behavioral practices and social learning processes creates a stable cultural
environment in Thai culture. The cognitive-behavioral approach is favored as it can
draw on the richness of verifiable evidence as described. The inclusion of gender-role
behavior complements the picture. A psychodynamic approach would be hard to
establish by comparison (e.g., the complete absence of an Oedipal conflict) and a
humanistic approach could only draw on conceptual similarities, e.g., congruent cognitive schemata to Buddhism, which cannot be further validated by inferences of observable data.
Aphichat, C., Brenda A., M., Hilary F., B., Orratai, R., Pamela K., C., Michael J., R., & Warunee, C. (2010). Spirituality within the family and the prevention of health risk behavior among adolescents in Bangkok, Thailand. Social Science & Medicine, 71(Part Special Issue: Joining-up thinking: Loss in childbearing from interdisciplinary perspectives), 1855-1863. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.08.020
Esara, P. (2012). Moral Scrutiny, Marriage Inequality: Cohabitation in Bangkok, Thailand. Asia Pacific Journal Of Anthropology, 13(3), 211-227. doi:10.1080/14442213.2012.680486
Glassman, W., Hadad, M. (2008). Approaches to psychology. (5 ed.). Madienhead, Berkshire: McGraw Hill.
Greenfield, P. M., Keller, H., Fuligni, A., & Maynard, A. (2003). Cultural pathways through universal development. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 461–490.
Sridawruang, C., Pfeil, M., & Crozier, K. (2010). Why Thai parents do not discuss sex with their children: a qualitative study. Nursing & Health Sciences, 12(4), 437-443. doi:10.1111/j.1442- 2018.2010.00556.x
Tulananda, O., & Roopnarine, J. L. (2001). Mothers’ and fathers’ interactions with preschoolers in the home in northern Thailand: Relationships to teachers’ assessments of children’s social skills. Journal Of Family Psychology, 15(4), 676-687. doi:10.1037/0893-3220.127.116.116
Winter, S. (2006). Thai Transgenders in Focus: Demographics, Transitions and Identities. International Journal Of Transgenderism, 9(1), 15-27. doi:10.1300/J485v09n0103