Psychlopedia -- Key theories -- Social theories -- Self construal
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The concept of self construal evolved from a comparison of Western and Eastern conceptualizations of the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In particular, Markus and Kitayama (1991) recognized that Western cultures tend to construe the self as separate from their social context and thus emphasize autonomy and independence-a representation called an independent self construal. Eastern cultures conventionally construe the self as a constituent of a broader social context; their concept of self entails characteristics and qualities of this social environment-called an interdependent self construal (see also Singelis, 1994; Trafimow, Triandis & Goto, 1991; van Baaren et al., 2003).
Self construal seems to vary across contexts (e.g., Stapel & Koomen, 2001) and individuals (e.g., Singelis, 1994). Self construal also affects cognitive performance, aesthetic preferences, social interactions, and many other facets of behavior. For example, after individuals reflect upon their family, or observe national icons, their preferences change. Specifically, they prefer alternatives that are adequate or moderate on all attributes, rather than excellent on a subset of qualities only.
Since this original conceptualization, two forms of interdependent self have been differentiated. The first is called a relational self construal, in which individuals primarily define themselves by their roles in interpersonal relationships (Brewer & Gardner, 1996; Cross & Morris, 2003). The second is called the collective self construal, which is more aligned to the original conceptualization of an interdependent self construal, in which individuals primarily define themselves as members of a broader, abstract collective (Brewer & Gardner, 1996). When this distinction between a relational and collective self construal is applied, researchers tend to refer to an independent self construal as the personal self construal (Brewer & Gardner, 1996).
When individuals adopt a relational self, their self concept tends to entail both their own characteristics as well as the attributes, qualities, and inclinations of their close friends or relatives (Gabriel, Renaud, & Tippin, 2007). Reflections about their friends tends to boost their confidence (Gabriel, Renaud, & Tippin, 2007).
The human self
Like Brewer and Gardner (1996), Harb and Smith (2008) also distinguished between multiple forms of an interdependent self construal. In their model, however, interdependent self construal did not only include the relational and collective conceptualizations but also entailed a humanity category. That is, according to Harb and Smith, individuals sometimes adopt a humanity self construal, in which they conceptualize themselves as part of the human race in general.
Moghaddam (2009) argued that societal policies or practices that instill this identification with humans might curb the prevalence of fundamentalism and even terrorism. Specifically, Moghaddam (2009) highlights that migration is dramatically more prevalent today than previous decades, centuries, and millennia. Thus, distinct cultures often interact with each other; one culture is often subsumed by another culture. Thus, cultures often feel threatened, called fractured globalization.
Apart from the increased threat, other trends have also emerged. Global economic units are forming, such as the EU, undermining the need to identify with local communities--a tension that can also promote conflict. Second, the expectations of even the most impoverished individuals are rising exponentially and, often, unrealistically. Third, changes at the macro level, such as government policy and technology, are often more rapid than is the capacity of individuals to shift their own perceptions and behaviors, also evoking stress. Fourth, global and virtual communities have proliferated, less dependent on traditional leadership. Finally, disparities in wealth have escalated.
The ensuing tensions often manifest as hostile movements, often culminating in terrorist acts. Moghaddam (2009) maintains that omniculturalism, emphasizing the shared features of humanity, can ameliorate these tensions. First, schools and other sources of discourse should emphasize universal human features, as derived scientifically (for examples, see Moghaddam, 1998). That is, students and citizens first attend to the similarities of all humans. They identify firstly with humanity. Next, after this stage is fulfilled, they celebrate the distinct identities of each group.
The self salience model
The self salience model, formulated and substantiated by Stapel and Van der Zee (2006), and emanating from the arguments proposed by Brewer and Gardner (1996), explains the effect of self construal on the motivations and behaviors of individuals. According to this model, self construal governs the core goals and values of individuals, which in turn impinges on their perceptions of themselves.
For example, when individuals adopt a personal self construal, their self concept depends on the extent to which they experience a sense of agency--the sense they are competent, powerful, independent, and unique (Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006). Their self esteem is more likely to escalate if they are informed they are unique and independent rather than obliging and cooperative, as verified by Hannover, Birkner, and Pohlmann (2006). To maintain this self concept, these individuals tend to perceive themselves as more dominant than individuals to whom they are interacting (Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006), and thus overrate their competence and trivialize their limitations.
In contrast, when individuals adopt a relational self construal, their self concept primarily depends on the stability, trust, and utility of their personal relationships. To promote this perception, they strive to perceive themselves as complimentary to the needs and preferences of their relatives or friends Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006). They will, for instance, perceive themselves as asserrtive when they interact with a subservient person or vice versa, because such complimentary demeanors tends to facilitate trust and admiration (e.g., Tiedens & Fragale, 2003).
Finally, when individuals adopt a collective self construal, their self concept largely depends on their capacity to establish and maintain their connection to a broader social entity (Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006), called their social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Their self esteem is more likely to rise if they are informed they are obliging and cooperative, not independent and unique, as demonstrated by Hannover, Birkner, and Pohlmann (2006). Accordingly, they tend to inflate the extent to which they feel they mirror the norms and inclinations of other individuals in their social environment (Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006).
An important caveat, however, needs to be recognized. Many of the studies that were undertaken by Diederik Stapel are now under investigation, because this researcher was shown to fabricate at least some of his results.
Self construal and fit
Agrawal and Maheswaran (2005) argued extended the concept of regulatory fit, promulgated by Higgins (2000), to the domain of self construal. In particular, individuals experience a sense of fit or congruence when cues in the environment align with their motivational orientations. Specifically, in the context of self construal, when an independent self construal prevails, this sense of fit emerges when the environment presents opportunities for individuals to seek independence. In contrast, when an interdependent self construal prevails, this sense of fit emerges when the environment presents opportunities for individuals to maintain close relationships. This sense of fit increases the value that individuals assign to the corresponding cues or messages.
For example, after exposure to personal pronouns, which putatively confers an independent self construal, individuals were more convinced by messages that emphasize their potential independence and agency (Agrawal & Maheswaran, 2005), such as "You'll be informed and organized than everyone else". In contrast, after exposure to collective pronouns, which putatively confers an interdependent self construal, individuals were more persuaded by messages that emphasize the formation and stability of relationships (Agrawal & Maheswaran, 2005), such as "You'll be able to keep in touch with your friends and family".
Consequences of self construal
Self construal has been demonstrated to influence the cognitions, emotions, motivation, and behaviors of individuals (e.g., Kuhnen & Oyserman, 2002; Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000). Some research, for example, has revealed that an interdependent self construal facilitates performance on tasks in which individuals need to recognize the interrelationships between diverse objects (see Kuhnen, Hannover & Schubert, 2001; Kuhnen & Oyserman, 2002; van Baaren, Horgan, Chartrand & Dijkmans, 2004). In other words, self construal impinges upon the processing style of individuals.
Cognitive style also differs significantly between European Americans and Asian Americans--a difference that could potentially be ascribed to self-construal. Specifically, European Americans are better than Asian Americans on analytical tasks in which they need to focus their attention on key targets and disregard the surroundings (for a review, see Savani & Markus, 2012). Indeed, European Americans are especially inclined to direct their eyes towards these targets, whereas Asian Americans often direct their eyes to surrounding features (e.g., Chua, Boland, & Nisbett, 2005). Furthermore, European Americans can track the movement of several objects at the same time, because they are not distracted by other features.
In contrast, Asian Americans are better than European Americans on holistic tasks, in which individuals need to integrate or bind focal targets with information in the background. They will, therefore, notice subtle differences in the environment (for a review, see Savani & Markus, 2012).
Rice, Clayton, Trafimow, Keller, and Hughes (2009) also showed that individuals who adopt a collective self-construal can utilize patterns more effectively than individuals who adopt a personal self-construal. In this study, participants completed a visual search task in which they needed to uncover an O, embedded within a set of Qs. If the O and Qs were arranged in a matrix, and therefore the Qs could be clustered together, a collective self-construal enhanced performance. In contrast, if the Qs were distributed sporadically across the screen, a collective self-construal did not enhance performance.
Goncalo and Staw (2006) showed that individualism may foster creativity. Bechtoldt, Choi, and Nijstad (2012), however, demonstrated the association between individualism and creativity is more complex. In particular, two complexities need to be differentiated.
First, self-construal needs to be distinguished from values (cf., Brewer & Chen, 2007). That is, individuals may adopt a personal self-construal, and therefore perceive themselves as unique and distinct, but nevertheless value the success of their groups or collectives. Likewise, individuals may adopt a collective self-construal, and therefore perceive themselves as similar to members of their group, but actually value personal success.
Indeed, according to Bechtoldt, Choi, and Nijstad (2012), a personal self-construal, coupled with collective values, should enhance the originality of ideas. The personal self-construal may prime solutions that diverge from conventions. The tendency to value the success of a group, called a collectivist value, might inspire individuals to share their solutions and to enhance the collective rather than merely depend on other people to uncover suggestions.
Furthermore, the effects of individualism and collectivism depended on the measure of creativity. In particular, although a personal self-construal coupled with collective values enhanced originality, only collective values increased the number of suggestions. Self-construal did not moderate this effect. Presumably, fluency primarily depends on effort, and collective values might foster this effort.
Self construal not only affects performance on specific activities, but also influences aesthetic preferences. When individuals adopt an interdependent, rather than independent, self construal, they become more likely to prefer rounded rather than angular shapes (Zhang, Feick, & Price, 2006). Conceivably, the rounded shapes represent harmony rather than conflict, aligning with the core values and goals of individuals in an interdependent state.
Furthermore, because an interdependent self construal evokes the need to maintain harmony, individuals in this state become less inclined to challenge social norms. Hence, their suggestions are more likely to align with prevailing conventions, which tends to limit their creativity (Goncalo & Staw, 2006).
If individuals espouse an interdependent or collective self construal, they are more likely to prefer products or activities that guarantee safety rather than achievement or enhancement (Hamilton & Biehal, 2005). They might purchase padlocks instead of tickets to a trip to Antarctica Conversely, when individuals experience an independent or personal self construal, they are more likely to prefer products or activities that guarantee enhancement rather than safety (Hamilton & Biehal, 2005). That is, when a collective self construal is primed, individuals feel the need to fulfill their duties; their focus is to minimize problems rather than maximize gains, and hence they become more cautious and conservative. When a personal self construal is primed, individuals tend to focus more on potential gains rather than possible losses or problems. They become less cautious and are more prepared to choose risky options.
Some practical implications emerge from this finding. If managers need to encourage individuals to engage in safe behavior, or purchase products that enhance safety, they should highlight connections with family or friends. They could express statements such as "Would your family prefer this option?"
An interdependent self construal also reduces the likelihood that individuals will fulfill personal goals, such as "to lose weight" or "to watch less TV" (Downie, Koestner, Horberg, & Haga, 2006). In particular, when individuals adopt an interdependent self construal, they often strive to pursue goals that were instilled by other members of their collective and, hence, do not necessarily align to their own core personal values. As a consequence, they feel less engaged and absorbed when they pursue these goals. In addition, because they attempt to accommodate the expectations of many individuals, their goals often contradict each other. They feel these goals do not coalesce. Finally, because they attempt to fulfill the needs of individuals in their immediate environment, they are often distracted, and thus do not attempt to predict and accommodate these obstacles in advance (Downie, Koestner, Horberg, & Haga, 2006).
Several arguments imply that an interdependent or collective self construal might curb impulsive purchases, and this problem could partly explain the excessive private debt in the United States (Vohs & Faber, 2007). First, as Ybarra and Tramifow (1998) showed, individuals who adopt an interdependent self construal are more likely to engage in behavior that aligns with social norms--that is, the characteristic inclinations and preferences of their group. In contrast, individuals who adopt an independent self construal are more likely to engage in behavior that aligns with their attitudes (Ybarra & Tramifow, 1998) or with their emotional preferences (Markus & Kitiyama, 1991).
These findings, taken together, imply that individuals with an interdependent self construal will often inhibit their personal attitudes or emotional impulses to fulfill the expectations of their social environment. In contrast, the behavior of individuals with an independent self construal are primarily governed by their preferences and emotions; impulses should be more likely to dictate the purchases of these individuals.
Similarly, as Chen, Ng, and Rao (2005) reveal, North American individuals tend to be less patient than East Asian individuals. That is, North Americans, who typically adopt an independent self construal, can delay gratification as readily as East Asians, who typically adopt an interdependent self construal. The capacity to curb impulse purchases does, presumably, demand the delay of gratification.
Consistent with these arguments, Zhang and Shrum (2009) demonstrated that an independent self construal was associated with alcohol consumption--a proxy measure of impulse purchases. The first study, for example, was showed that beer consumption is negatively associated with the level of collectivism in the corresponding nation, which represents an independent self construal.
In the second study, self construal was manipulated. Participants completed a short essay, within five minutes. To prime an independent self construal, participants wrote about the thoughts evoked by the sentence "Remember, enjoying your life is what it is really all about". To prime an interdependent self construal, participants wrote about the thoughts evoked by the sentence "Remember, enjoying relationships with your family and friends is what it is really all about".
Participants, subsequently, were more likely to express positive attitudes towards beer consumption after an independent, rather than interdependent, self construal was primed. Interestingly, this effect of self construal was most pronounced if individuals had also imagined interacting with friends. Arguably, the tendency to curb impulses in individuals who adopt an interdependent self construal is amplified in social contexts.
A third study demonstrated that interdependent individuals do indeed need to mobilize self control to curb this impulse. When this capacity to control inclinations and impulses was diminished--that is, when individuals had earlier been instructed to suppress thoughts about white bears--this pattern of data was no longer observed.
In addition, an interdependent self construal has been demonstrated to enhance the incidence of cooperative, supportive, altruistic, and compliant behavior (e.g., Van Baaren, et al., 2004; see also Holland, Roeder, Van Baaren, Brandt, & Hannover, 2004). For example, when individuals experience an interdependent self construal, they feel the need to comply with social norms and, hence, become less inclined to engage in behaviors that could evoke embarrassment, such as purchases of unusual shirts (Mandel, 2003).
These findings imply that individuals who adopt an interdependent self construal are more conservative--disinclined to engage in risky, rebellious behavior. Nevertheless, an interdependent self construal does elevate the likelihood that individuals will engage in financial risks (Mandel, 2003), perhaps because they feel they will receive some form of support if they fail.
Apart from compliance, self construal affects the need to maintain cohesion. For example, when individuals adopt an interdependent self construal, they become more inclined to sit closely to another person (Holland, Roeder, Van Baaren, Brandt, & Hannover, 2004). Accordingly, when individuals adopt an interdependent self construal, they engage in behaviors that could facilitate cohesion.
Because of this need to maintain cohesion, an interdependent self construal deters individuals from engaging in conflicts (Zhang, Feick & Price, 2006). That is, when individuals adopt an interdependent self construal, they strive to resolve conflicts, behaving more obligingly than assertively.
Reactions to social support
After individuals reflect upon one of their friends, their confidence sometimes rises but can also decline. Specifically, whether or not their confidence rises will depend on their self construal, as Gabriel, Renaud, and Tippin (2007) discovered.
If individuals adopt a relational self construal--defining themselves by their close friends or family--their confidence rises after they reflect upon these networks. In this state, individuals strive to form and maintain strong relationships. If indeed they have fulfilled this objective, they experience positive mood states, and these states elicit confidence. Even images of a supportive friend, therefore, are sufficient to boost confidence.
If individuals adopt a personal self construal instead, conceptualizing themselves as independent and detached, they strive to feel powerful , autonomous, and unique. Images of a supportive friend, therefore, indicate they have not fulfilled this goal, which activates negative mood states and dents their confidence.
Gabriel, Renaud, and Tippin (2007) uncovered some results that align with with this proposition. In this study, for some participants, a relational construal was evoked. That is, these participants read an anecdote about a person who sacrificed their own success to help some relatives. For other participants, a personal construal was evoked. These participants read an anecdote about a person who did not sacrifice their own success to help some relatives. If a relational construal was evoked, participants felt more confident about themselves after they described one of their friends for several minutes. If a personal construal was evoked, participants felt less confident after this exercise.
Motivation in settings that demand coordination and interdependence
Compared to people from Asian nations, people from European nations tend to value independence more; they like to be distinct rather than embedded in a group. Consequently, people from European nations tend to become less motivated when encouraged to coordinate, collaborate, and accommodate each other, as discovered by Hamedani, Markus, and Fu (2013).
For example, in one study, participants completed the sentence unscrambling task, in which they needed to rearrange sets of five words to construct sentences that comprise four words. Embedded within these sentences were words that either epitomized independence, such as autonomous, free, separate, influence, and control, or epitomized interdependence or cooperation, such as coordinate, accommodate, adjust, connect, or flexible. Next, participants were instructed to solve a series of very challenging, almost impossible, anagrams. If exposed to words that epitomize interdependence, European Americans did not persist as long on this task. In contrast, the persistence of Asian Americans did not depend on which words they read.
The second study replicated these results, but with different measures. In this study, to prime independence or interdependence, participants were asked to simulate a job applicant and demonstrate either self-reliance or flexibility. If asked to demonstrate flexibility, the capacity of European Americans to squeeze a hand grip over an extended period diminished. A final pair of studies replicated these results by framing a course as an opportunity to develop either expertise or teamwork skills--the latter diminishing motivation in European Americans.
Attitudes towards justice and equality
When individuals adopt an independent self construal, they seek justice and equality, presumably to fulfill their need to maintain harmony (Briley & Wyer, R. S Jr., 2002). In contrast, when individuals adopt an interdependent self construal, they do not seek equality, but embrace hierarchies.
Consistent with this proposition, research indicates that individuals are more sensitive to violations of procedural injustice when they adopt an interdependent rather than independent self construal (Brockner, De Cremer, van den Bos, & Chen, 2005). For example, when employees are prohibited from contributing to decisions, their work attitudes tend to decline, especially when they adopt an interdependent self construal (Brockner, De Cremer, van den Bos, & Chen, 2005).
Effects of justice and equality
Self construal also affects the impact of distributive justice on productivity. Specifically, as Goncalo and Kim (2010) argued, individuals who adopt an independent self construal often attempt to thrive, outperforming other people. If informed that productive individuals will be rewarded, called equity, they perceive such productivity as an opportunity to fulfill this motive. In contrast, individuals who adopt an interdependent self construal strive to maintain harmony with their social collective. They do not want to seem conspicuous. If informed that productive individuals will be rewarded, they feel they might be conspicuous if they work too productively.
Goncalo and Kim (2010) conducted research to substantiate these contentions. To manipulate self construal, participants circled the words "I" or "we" in an article. To prime equity, some participants were asked to consider the benefits of distributing more rewards to the most productive individuals. To prime equality instead, the other participants were asked to consider the benefits of distributing the rewards equally. Participants then performed a task in which they needed to uncover many possible solutions to a problem. They were asked to identify, in a team context, possible business ventures that could be initiated in an empty lot.
If participants adopted an independent self construal, equity enhanced the number of ideas that were generated relative to equality. In addition, equity instilled a competitive orientation. If participants adopted an interdependent self construal, however, equity curbed the number of ideas that were generated.
Just world bias and blaming victims
People like to believe the world is fair and just. To preserve this belief, they often blame victims. They assume that victims of crime or poverty must be responsible. As van Prooijen and van den Bos (2009) showed, this inclination to blame victims is especially pronounced after a collective, rather than individual, self-construal is evoked. Arguably, when a collective self-construal is primed, people are especially motivated to feel that other individuals are fair and just. They do not want to be excluded unfairly.
In particular, van Prooijen and van den Bos (2009) conducted three studies that substantiate this argument. In one study, to manipulate self-construal, participants read some text about a trip to the city. For some participants, the pronouns were collective, such as "we", evoking a collective self-construal. For other participants, the pronouns were personal instead, such as "I". Next, participants read about a woman who was sexually assaulted although, in one variant of this story, she recovered well because of the support she received. Finally, participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they feel the woman was responsible to some extent. If a collective self-construal had been evoked, people were more likely to blame the victim, especially is she had not been supported later.
Consistency in behavior across time
Self construal affects the degree to which people like to perceive themselves as consistent across time (see also self verification theory). When individuals adopt a personal self construal, they conceptualize themselves as a distinct entity, independent of their community. These individuals, therefore, like to feel their personality and behavior is consistent across different settings: If their personality or behavior varied across settings, they would realize they are governed by their immediate community, compromising their sense of independence.
In contrast, when individuals adopt a relational self construal, they define themselves by their relationships. For each relationship, they like to accommodate the other person. They are willing, therefore, to recognize their tendency to change their behavior with each person. Nevertheless, they like to perceive themselves as consistent across time within each of these relationships. Variations across time would compromise the stability of these relationships.
English and Chen (2011) uncovered some findings that confirm these arguments. European American individuals, who tend to adopt a personal self construal, preferred to perceive themselves as consistent across all settings. That is, consistency across settings was positively associated with feelings of authenticity. In contrast, East Asian individuals, who often adopt a relational self construal, preferred to perceive themselves as consistent across time in each relationship but inconsistent across relationships. Only consistency within relationships was positively associated with feelings of authenticity.
Correlates of self construal
Several studies have shown that an interdependent self construal seems to coincide with a prevention focus--an inclination to fulfill duties and minimize shortfalls rather than pursue aspirations and maximize gains (Higgins, 1997). Likewise, an independent self construal seems to coincide with a promotion focus--an inclination to pursue aspirations and maximize gains (Higgins, 1997; see Regulatory focus theory).
To illustrate, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, they prefer products that are adequate on all attributes, such as durability, versatility, and reliability, rather than excellent on some attributes and inferior otherwise. That is, they are more concerned with minimizing deficiencies that maximizing strengths (Zhang & Mittal, 2007). Likewise, when individuals adopt an interdependent self construal, perhaps after observing national icons for example, they are prefer alternatives that are adequate or moderate on all attributes (Briley & Wyer, R. S Jr., 2002; Zhang & Mittal, 2007).
Conceivably, an interdependent self construal might induce a prevention focus. That is, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, their principal concern is to satisfy, not breach, the norms and expectations of their social collective, to maintain harmony. Accordingly, their attention is directed towards potential violations of their duties and responsibilities, which represents a prevention focus (Higgins, 1997)
In contrast, an independent self construal is likely to foster a promotion focus. To maintain their sense of independence, these individuals will strive to dismiss, not embrace, their social duties or obligations and, thus, will seldom adopt a prevention focus (Fujita, Trope, Liberman, & Levin-Sagi, 2006; Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000).
Correlates with Eastern and Western cultures
Many of the differences between Eastern cultures, such as Japanese, and Western cultures, such as European Americans, can be ascribed to self construal. That is, relative to their Western counterparts, individuals in Eastern cultures are more likely to rate domains on which they had performed inadequately as important and diagnostic of their ability; they did not feel the motivation to trivialize these qualities to restore their perception of themselves (Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitiyama, 1999). This finding can be ascribed to the interdependent self construal that is more prominentin Eastern cultures (e.g., Kashima & Kashima, 2003; Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002; Triandis, 1995).
Some other differences can also be ascribed to self construal. In Eastern cultures, individuals are more inclined to praise conformity and derogate unique characteristics--characteristics that could challenge the collective (Kim & Markus, 1999). In these cultures, individuals are also more inclined to predict better fortune for other people than for themselves--a pattern that differs from the inclinations of many Western citizens (Chang, Asakawa, & Sanna, 2001). Furthermore, in Eastern cultures, individuals are especially averse to being conspicuous in their group (Kwan, Bond, Boucher, Maslach, & Gan, 2002).
In addition, in Eastern cultures, individuals tend to focus more on contextual factors rather than individual traits--consistent with their sensitivity to events and constraints in their social environment. They are less likely than are their Western counterparts to ascribe behaviors to the enduring traits of individuals (Morris & Peng, 1994). Indeed, Chinese newspapers are more likely than American newspapers to focus on situational factors, rather than individual traits, when presenting an account of crimes.
Nevertheless, some of the prevailing differences between Eastern and Western cultures do not relate directly to self construal. For example, relative to Westerners, Easterners can reconcile or maintain arguments that are logically inconsistent or incompatible. Similarly, they may be less likely to experience a sense of dissonance or tension when their attitudes and behavior do not align (see Heine & Lehman, 1997).
Individuals who have been exposed to both Western and Eastern cultures can shift between these frames. That is, they seem to shift from Eastern to Western inclinations, often automatically, in response to relevant primes or environments (Wan, Chiu, Peng, & Tam, 2007; Wong & Hong, 2005). In a study conducted by Hong, Chiu, and Kung (1997), for example, participants exposed to both cultural environments received either American icons, such as the American flag, or Chinese icons, like the Chinese dragon. If exposed to American--rather than Chinese--icons, individuals were more inclined to assume a lone fish, swimming ahead of a school, was leading the other fish and not being chased.
Indeed, Alter and Kwan in 2009, showed that East Asian locations such as Chinatown or East Asian icons such as the yin-yang symbol were more likely to demonstrate inclinations that typify this culture even in European Americans. For example, Eastern and Western cultures tend to adopt different expectations and assumptions about change and progress. In Eastern cultures, individuals often assume that processes, such as the weather, oscillate continuously between extremes (see Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001). In Western cultures, individuals tend to perceive change as linear and progressive. For example, from this perspective, individuals can improve on some abstract dimension indefinitely, to seek self actualization.
When individuals in this study were exposed to an Asian rather than American supermarket, they were more likely to assume that stocks that had recently increased in price will begin to decrease. That is, European Americans adopted the assumption that processes oscillate between extremes rather than change in the same direction continually. After exposure to the yin-yang symbol, which participants recognize represents balance, they were more likely to assume that stocks that had appreciated recently will begin to decline. They were also more likely to assume that rainy weather will be followed by sunshine. A Chinese dragon, which does not explicitly correspond to balance, did not generate these assumptions.
Manipulations and determinants of self construal
Self construal seems to vary across individuals (e.g., Singelis, 1994) and cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Nevertheless, self construal can also be manipulated or shaped by the context or environment. For example, anecdotes about family (Trafimow, Triandis, & Goto, 1991), national icons (Briley & Wyer, Jr., 2002), reflections about relationships (Stapel & Koomen, 2001), and collective pronouns (Stapel & Koomen, 2001) have all been shown to prime an interdependent rather than independent self construal (for more information, see Manipulations of self construal).
As Johnson and Lord (2010) demonstrated, when individuals perceive a context is just, they are more likely to experience a collective rather than personal self construal. In particular, according to the fairness heuristic theory, promulgated by Lind (2001), individuals often need to decide whether a person or group is cooperative or competitive. They need to establish whether this person or group is trustworthy.
To reach this decision, individuals often consider whether this person or group is fair. That is, sometimes individuals receive information this person or group is just. Consequently, they assume they can trust this person or group. They feel this person or group is part of their own identity. They feel a sense of connection, instilling a collective self construal (Johnson & Lord, 2010; for a related explanation, see the group engagement model; Tyler & Blader, 2003).
To substantiate this argument, in a study conducted by Johnson and Lord (2010), participants completed a battery of tests. These tests, supposedly, were developed to assess whether emergency medical technicians should be promoted. They were informed they received scores of 2 and 5 out of 10 for two tests. Some participants were exposed to injustice: Experimenters pretended that had misplaced the results of the second test and, hence, the participant would be awarded only 2 points, compromising distributive justice and accuracy. Furthermore, participants were not granted opportunities to express their concerns, impeding voice. Finally, the experimenter showed disinterest and improprieties, failing to justify the decision. Other participants were exposed to justice.
Next, participants completed an implicit test of self construal. They received a series of word fragments, like UNI---. If participants completed the fragment with words that coincide with cooperation and connection, like UNITED, they were assumed to experience a collective self construal. If participants completed the fragment of words that coincide with independence, like UNIQUE, they were assumed to experience a personal self construal. Furthermore, they also undertook a test that established whether their attention is oriented towards global patterns instead of specific details.
Finally, the extent to which participants behaved cooperatively rather than deceptively was also assessed. The experimenter, for example, dropped some pencils, supposedly by accident. Whether the participant picked up the pencils was a measure of cooperation. In addition, the participants were granted an opportunity to pilfer some of the pencils later, as a measure of theft.
Compared to the other participants, individuals who were exposed to a just experimenter were more likely to demonstrate a collective self construal. They were also more likely to behave cooperatively and less inclined to steal the pencils (Johnson & Lord, 2010). An explicit measure of self construal generated similar results but did not predict helping.
Throughout history, some communities have attempted to explore new frontiers, often to uncover more resources. As voluntary-settlement hypothesis assumes (e.g., Kitayama, Conway, Pietromonaco, Park, & Plaut, 2010; Kitayama, Ishii, Imada, Takemura, & Ramaswamy, 2006), these communities develop norms, customs, and qualities that facilitate these endeavors. For example, to discover these frontiers, they must cherish and demonstrate openness to experience. Likewise, because these communities often need to traverse foreign lands, often teeming with hostile collectives, they need to be assertive and aggressive rather than submissive and acquiescent.
These frontier communities, therefore, demonstrate the qualities that epitomize an independent, personal construal: openness to risk and change as well as assertive instead of acquiescent inclinations. Accordingly, decades or even centuries later, cultures that evolved from frontier communities tend to demonstrate elevated levels of independence.
Many studies support these assumptions. That is, some features of communities are more likely to enable the discovery of frontiers. Interestingly, many of these features, such as low population density (Uskul, Kitayama, & Nisbett, 2008) or few social institutions (Kitayama, Conway, Pietromonaco, Park, & Plaut, 2010), do indeed tend to correlate with an independent self construal.
Varnum and Kitayama (2011) also showed that cultures that evolved from frontier communities prefer risk and originality, epitomizing an independent self construal. For example, in one study, they compared the names of babies in Western regions and Eastern regions of the United States. Western regions were more recently settled than Eastern regions and, thus, should be more likely to epitomize the qualities of an independent self construal. Consistent with this possibility, parents in Western regions were not as likely to choose one of the 10 most popular baby names for their children. Subsequent studies showed that other regions that settled more recently, such as Canada and Australia, were also not as likely to choose popular baby names as regions that settled earlier, such as Europe.
This proposition can also explain variations in collectivist tendencies across Western nations. Frontier settlement was more pronounced in North America than in Western Europe. Consistent with this principle, as Kitayama, Park, Sevincer, Karasawa, and Uskul (2009) showed, individuals in North America show more hallmarks of independence than do individuals in Britain and Germany. In particular, relative to these Western Europeans, North Americans are more likely to focus their attention on specific details instead of overall patterns, as gauged by the framed line task. They are also more likely to report emotions associated with independence, such as pride or anger, instead of emotions associated with social engagement, like shame or warmth. Furthermore, their happiness is correlated more to personal achievement instead of group harmony. Finally, they tend to inflate their importance: When they depict their social circle, they portray themselves as especially large.
Prevalence of pathogens
A collective self construal as well as the conformity to norms could partly emanate from historical differences in the prevalence of pathogens and diseases, as validated by Murray, Trudeau, and Schaller (2011). That is, in counties with a greater incidence of pathogens, conformity and collectivism seems to be more common.
Specifically, Murray, Trudeau, and Schaller (2011) developed an index that gauges the prevalence of pathogens. In particular, they examined data, recorded in the early 1900s, about the prevalence of various pathogens that cause disease, such as leprosy, malaria, typhus, filaria, dengue, leishmania, schistosoma, trypanosoma, and tuberculosis, in most countries. In addition, they derived data from another survey to measure the degree to which people in each nation tend to value obedience. In this survey, people were asked to indicate which of 10 qualities, such as obedience, independence, determination, imagination, faith, or tolerance, are especially important. In nations in which pathogens were prevalent, residents were particularly likely to value obedience.
Other measures of conformity uncovered a similar pattern of results. If pathogens were prevalent, response to personality inventories, as represented by the five factor model, were especially homogenous. That is, residents in these nations tended to demonstrate a similar personality, representing limited individuality.
Furthermore, when pathogens were prevalent, individuals tend to show conformity in the Asch paradigm. That is, their responses to questions, such as "Which of these two lines are longer", conforms to the answers that other people express. In addition, in these nations, fewer people were left handed. Some of these relationships persisted even after GDP per capita, population density, arable land, agricultural labor force, and life expectancy were controlled (Murray, Trudeau, & Schaller, 2011).
Similarly, Fincher, Thornhill, Murray, and Schaller (2008) showed that prevalence of pathogens was related to a more specific measure of collectivism (see also Chiao & Blizinsky, 2010). Nevertheless, as Murray, Trudeau, and Schaller (2011) showed, prevalence of pathogens is associated with conformity even after controlling collectivism.
Conceivably, when pathogens are prevalent, conformity and caution may be more adaptive. Deviation from norms could increase the likelihood of infections. If practices that have evolved to reduce infection are abandoned, disease is more prevalent. Conformity is more likely to be promulgated. Furthermore, genes that promote conformity might be more likely to be selected in regions that are teeming with disease. Indeed, the 5-HTTLPR polymorphic region of the SLC6A4 serotonin transporter gene seems to correlate with both prevalence of pathogens and collectivism (Chiao & Blizinsky, 2010).
Prevalence of individualistic and collectivist cultures over time: Modernization
According to modernization theory, communities are becoming increasingly individualistic over time. Specifically, the modern world, as a consequence of technology and other advances, enables individuals to explore a diversity of opportunities. They can, for example, interact with a wider variety of people beyond kin. Consequently, individuals can exercise more autonomy, choice, and independence; they value achievement and personal efficacy (e.g., Yang, 1988), manifesting as individualism rather than collectivism.
Cultural heritage theory, however, maintains the world is not inherently become more individualistic or modern. Instead, the values and practices of cultures primarily depends on their heritage. The Western world, for example, exhibited the hallmarks of modernization, such as an emphasis on personal achievement, before the period of modernization (e.g., Huntington, 1996).
A cross-temporal meta-analysis of surveys in Japan and the US, conducted by Hamamura (2012), showed that some indices of individualism have increased across time, whereas other indices of individualism have decreased across time, depicting a more complex dynamic that modernization theory would predict. Consistent with modernization theory, in both nations, the size of households has decreased, urban populations have escalated, and rates of divorce have increased as well. In the US, the value attached to childhood obedience has abated, and fewer adults value contributions to society. In Japan, tradition has become less important over time and independence is valued more in the socialization of children.
Yet, this meta-analysis also uncovered trends that diverge from modernization theory and conflict with the notion that individualism is rising. Despite increases in divorce rates and decreases in household size, other indices, especially survey questions, show the perceived importance of family and friends has not diminished over time. Indeed, in the US, respect and love towards parents has increased. Arguably, the role of family has changed: family relationships are not perceived as obligatory but are more voluntary in nature.
Furthermore, in Japan, many other features of collectivism have remained steady rather than declined as a consequence of modernization. These features include an emphasis on social harmony and group orientation. Levels of trust over time also show an interesting relationship: a decline in the US but not in Japan. Given that many of the features of modernization are similar in both nations, such as pressure for time and money, this disparity between US and Japan must be ascribed to some other characteristic. One possibility is that perhaps the US has become more diverse, and trust tends to be lower towards divergent communities.
Taken together, these findings indicate that perhaps a cultural heritage may shape the effects of modernization on society. For example, cultural heritage affects the strategies that are used to teach children--such as self-directed learning versus hard work--and hence the effect of technology in education may not affect all communities in the same way. These differences in cultural heritage can be ascribed to a variety of dynamics. For example, limited food availability might increase the need to depend on agriculture instead of hunting, demanding more collaboration than independent activity.
An excessive focus rather than balance
Some evidence indicates that an excessive orientation to one self-construal can then prime another self-construal. If individuals immerse themselves only in private activities, fulfilling only their personal self-construal, a relational or collective self-construal will tend to be activated and vice versa. That is, according to Kumashiro, Rusbult, and Finkel (2008), the motivations of individuals are shaped by a system that seeks balance between personal and relational motives. If personal motives are fulfilled, relational motives are amplified, and vice versa.
Kumashiro, Rusbult, and Finkel (2008) conducted a series of studies to illustrate this need for balance, called the personal-relational equilibrium model. In the first study, for example, participants completed a questionnaire. They next received false information about the implications of this questionnaire. Some people were told their responses indicate that, in the future, they will concentrate almost exclusively on their personal needs. Other people were informed they will concentrate almost exclusively on their romantic relationships.
Next, they completed a series of measures that gauge their motivations. They were, for example, asked to indicate the extent to which they would sacrifice their needs to enhance their relationship. They were also asked to specify the degree to which they feel motivated to pursue their personal interests, even if these activities could harm their relationship.
If participants were informed they will concentrate almost exclusively on their personal needs in the future, they were motivated to sacrifice their personal interests to enhance their relationship now. That is, their relationship needs were primed. If participants were informed they will concentrate almost exclusively on their romantic relationships in the future, they were motivated to pursue their personal goals now. These findings are consistent with an equilibrium model in which the excessive pursuit of one need, such as relationships, will tend to prime another need, such as personal goals.
Measures of self construal
Self construal scale
Singelis (1994) developed and validated two scales to assess independent and interdependent self construal, called the self construal scale. Twelve items represent interdependent self construal, such as "Even when I strongly disagree with group members, I avoid an argument". These argues relate to the extent to which individuals maintain harmony as well as value groups and relationships--and thus seems to entail both collective and relational facets. Twelve items represent independent self construal, including "I enjoy being unique and different from others in many respects". Cronbach's alpha for these two subscales approximate .74 for interdependence and .70 for independence, as shown by Singelis (1994).
Nevertheless, the factor structure of the self construal scale has been challenged. Confirmatory factor analysis, applied to responses collected in South Korea, Japan, and the United States, showed the two factor solution was inadequate in each of these samples (Levine, Bresnahan, Park, Lapinski, Lee, and Lee, 2003). Nevertheless, a two factor solution is superior to a one factor solution (Hardin, Leong, & Bhagwat, 2004).
Indeed, Grace and Cramer (2003) administered this scale to Canadian psychology students, pertaining to a diversity of cultural backgrounds. Three factors were generated. These factors seemed to correspond to independence, interdependence, as well as power distance--or respect towards authority. Hardin, Leong, and Bhagwat (2004) uncovered six factors, applying both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. These factors were designated as autonomy, individualism, behavioral consistency, and primacy of the self as well as group interdependence and relational interdependence. Nevertheless, the internal consistency of these six subscales was low, between .43 and .64.
Furthermore, the results of this self construal scale do not correlate highly with responses to the Twenty Statements Test (Bresnahan, Levine, Shearman, Lee, Park, & Kiyomiya, 2005). To complete the Twenty Statements Test, developed by Kuhn and McPartland (1954), participants transcribe 20 answers to the question "Who am I?", and these responses are subjected to a content analysis to uncover themes that relate to independence and interdependence. Arguably, the low correlation between these measures does not necessarily challenge the validity of these approaches. Conceivably, according to Kim and Raja (2003), the self report scale assesses stable traits whereas the Twenty Statements Test evaluates momentary orientations.
Four facets of self construal
Harb and Smith (2008) developed a measure that distinguishes four facets of self construal: personal, relational, collective, and humanity. The scale comprises stems such as "I think of myself as connected to ----", "I control my behavior to accommodate the interests of ----, "I am affected by events that concern ----", "I am aware of the needs, desires, and goals of ----" and "I feel I have a strong relationship with ----". The last word or phrase of each statement depends on which self construal the item assesses. To assess personal self construal, for example, the word that follows "I feel I have a strong relationship with ----" is "myself". Reliability and validity of this scale seems to be encouraging (Harb & Smith, 2008).
Five facets of collectivism
One measure of collectivism, developed and validated by Jackson, Colquitt, Wesson, and Zapata-Phelan (2006), differentiates five facets. For each item, participants are asked to reflect upon a team or group to which they have or currently belong. Next, they indicate the degree to which they agree or disagree with 15 statements.
Some of items reflect a facet called preferences, representing the degree to which individuals like to work in groups rather than alone (e.g., "I preferred to work in those groups rather than working alone"). The second facet is called reliance, indicating the extent to which individuals are willing to depend on other members of the group (e.g., "I was not bothered by the need to rely on group members"). The third facet, concern, reflect the degree to which participants want the group to thrive. The fourth facet is called norm acceptance and indicates the extent to which individuals adhere to the norms, customs, and standards of the group (e.g., "I followed the norms of those groups"). The final facet, goal priority, relates to whether individuals prioritize team goals over individuals goals (e.g., "Group goals were more important to me than my personal goals"). For each facet, Cronbach's alpha approached or exceeded .80.
The relationship between collectivism and team performance varies across these facets. For example, preference and concern--which relate more to motivations to form relationships--were positively associated with performance immediately after the formation of teams. Specifically, these facets increase the motivation of individuals to conceptualize themselves as a team, align themselves to a broader purpose, and understand the needs of other members, vital to the initial phases of team development. Reliance or dependence on team members was, however, negatively associated with performance during this phase. In particular, when reliance is low, individuals recognize the team cannot fulfill all their needs and thus more vigilantly institute practices that clarify the role of each member to ensure accountability as well as to contribute to their own role. Goal priority was positively associated with performance at the end of a project instead of towards the beginning (Dierdorff, Bell, & Belohlav, 2011). This emphasis on team goals is especially important once more shared practices have been established.
Hence, these facets are all pertinent to teamwork but activate distinct mechanisms. Preference and concern, for example, may facilitate a sense of affinity to the group, evoking a motivation to cooperate. In contrast, reliance and goal priority reflect task interdependence, evoking a need to cooperate. Finally, norm acceptance represents shared values and other similarities, enabling a sense of connection.
These facets, therefore, may not all be needed for each of the main phases of team development (Dierdorff, Bell, & Belohlav, 2011): team formation, task compilation, role compilation, and team compilation. The goal of team formation is to understand the purpose and nature of the team. The goal of task compilation is to identify the task competences of each member. The goal of role compilation is to understand the interdependencies across members. Finally, the goal of team compilation is to refine this network of roles to resolve recurrent situations.
To measure self construal implicitly, in a study conducted by Johnson and Lord (2010), participants received 25 word fragments, like UNI---. Participants were instructed to complete the fragments as rapidly as possible: If they could not identify an answer almost immediately, they were encouraged to proceed to the next fragment. This approach ensured their responses reflected the most accessible content. If participants completed the fragment with words that coincide with cooperation and connection, like UNITED, they were assumed to experience a collective self construal. If participants completed the fragment of words that coincide with independence, like UNIQUE, they were assumed to experience a personal self construal.
The validity of this procedure was confirmed. If participants demonstrated a collective self construal, completing words that relate to cooperation, they behaved more cooperatively later. For example, they helped the experimenter pick up objects that had been dropped (Johnson &ggg Lord, 2010).
Hackman, Ellis, Johnson, and Stanley (1999) validated another measure of self construal. In particular, Hackman, Ellis, Johnson, and Stanley (1999) subjected responses of an unpublished measure of self construal to a confirmatory factor analysis. This analysis confirmed that independence and interdependence represent two distinct factors. These measures, however, have not been utilized extensively, but preliminary reports are promising. For example, the 11 items that assess independent self construal have been shown to generate levels of internal consistency that exceed .85 in various samples.
Cross, Bacon, and Morris (2000) developed a scale that specifically gauges relational self construal. A sample item includes "If a person hurts someone close to me, I feel personally hurt as well". Cronbach's alpha ranges from .85 to .90 (Cross, Bacon, & Morris, 2000). The test-retest reliability over a two month interval approximated .73 (Cross, Bacon, & Morris, 2000).
The distinction between self-construal, values, and beliefs
Some researchers have assumed that individualism and collectivism are multidimensional. According to these researchers, if people adopt a personal self-construal--and, therefore, conceptualize themselves as unique and distinct--they also value personal success and believe that personal choices affect outcomes. That is self-construal, motivations, and beliefs are assumed to align. Likewise, if people adopt a collective self-construal--and, therefore, conceptualize themselves as similar and connected to members of their community--they also value group success and believe that group choices affect outcomes.
Brewer and Chen (2007) challenged this assumption, however. They argue that self-construal, values, and beliefs can be differentiated. Individuals may, for example, conceptualize themselves as unique and distinct, manifesting a personal self-construal, but value group success. Indeed, this personal self-construal coupled with collective values has been shown to enhance the originality of solutions (e.g., Bechtoldt, Choi, & Nijstad, 2012).
Explicit measures of self-construal
Explicit measures of self-construal seem to diverge from more implicit measures. To illustrate, as Kitayama, Park, Sevincer, Karasawa, and Uskul (2009) showed, North Americans are more likely than Germans and British participants to demonstrate the hallmarks of independence. For example, when they depict their social circle, they portray themselves as especially large. Their happiness is also correlated more to personal achievement than to group harmony. These findings are consistent with the notion that American civilization was characterized by pioneering and, therefore, independence.
Nevertheless, when participants completed the explicit scale that was developed by Singelis (1994), a different and unusual pattern of findings emerged. German participants seemed more independent than North American and British participants. In addition, the explicit measures were uncorrelated with the implicit indices of self-construal.
Arguably, explicit measures are not as informative to discussions about culture. To illustrate, according to Kitayama, Park, Sevincer, Karasawa, and Uskul (2009), in each culture, individuals need to fulfill specific goals or objectives, called cultural mandates. For example, in frontier settlements, people need to discover fertile land. In addition, they also need to undertake the tasks that fulfill these mandates, called cultural tasks, such as to detect water. Finally, to perform these tasks, they develop specific cognitive inclinations, such as focus on details and independence rather than patterns or communities. These cognitive inclinations underpin the self-construal of individuals--that is, an emphasis on independence or interdependence. None of these tasks, however, assume that people need to be cognizant of their self-construal. Consequently, explicit self-construal may evolve in parallel to implicit self-construal.
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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 18/10/2008
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