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Autonomy and Relatedness Revisited: Cultural Manifestations of Universal Human Needs


concerning this article should be addressed to Heidi Keller, Department of Culture and Development, Institute of Psychology, University of Osnabrück, Artilleriestr. 34, 49076 Osnabrück, Germany; e-mail:


Abstract— Autonomy and relatedness are considered basic human needs that manifest differently in different cultural environments in response to contextual demands. This article conceptualizes 3 types of cultural environments—prototypical Western, urban, middle-class families; prototypical rural, subsistence-based farming families; and a hybrid milieu of urban middle-class families from non-Western environments—and proposes that autonomy and relatedness have different meanings in each type. In contexts in which individuals have a high degree of formal education (Western and non-Western middle-class families), there is an emphasis on inner states and mental representations. Western middle-class families focus on separate individuals; non-Western middle-class families focus on the family as a social unit. In contexts in which individuals have a low degree of formal education, there is a primary emphasis on social responsibilities. Different socialization strategies support adaptive frameworks in each of the 3 types of contexts: individual psychological autonomy in Western middle-class families, communal psychological autonomy in non-Western middle-class families, and action autonomy in subsistence-based farming families. All conceptions of autonomy and relatedness can be considered as universal competencies, yet they are differently emphasized in different cultural milieus due to differing contextual demands.