Historical Social Research

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Rainer K. SilbereisenPsychological Challenges of Unification – Selected Results and Thoughts on Korea [Abstract]

A number of early warning signs for the break-down of a political system like North Korea are presented, inspired by recent research in psychological science. Taking post-unification Germany as an exemplary case, the times soon after the turnabout and the mid 2000s are considered in light of our own research. The focus is on the new challenges people were confronted with, which resources helped them to cope with strain and stress, and what all this meant for well-being. Concerning the 1990s, key drivers of behavior and its change were the changed institutions that resulted in rather quick adaptation to the new rules. Nevertheless, personal resources such as self-efficacy, gained under the old system, made a difference. In the 2000s, it was the uncertainties about life planning, rooted in the unification aftermath and effects of globalization and economic jeopardy, which shaped behavior. When confronted with challenges, people typically responded by active engagement, and if supported by internal control beliefs this helped to protect well-being in spite of the difficult situation. Under especially dire circumstances, however, disengagement was positive because it spares resources for alternative action. For the situation on the Korean Peninsula the German research results made plausible that policy interventions can use many entry points in the system of coping with social change, from opportunities to personal skills, to ease the challenges of living in a new country. Further, it demonstrates that a unification scenario inspired by the German model would require acculturation in both parts of the country, not only in the North. And finally, one has to consider lasting deficiencies in crucial agency factors due to growing up in an environment characterized by scarcity of adequate living conditions for large segments of the population.

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