March 7, 2009

Culture and the Self

This week’s readings on the self were pretty interesting. They were about the “cultural self.” Essentially, the readings discussed the different self-construals that can be found cross-culturally. As one might imagine, people within more individualistic societies are more likely to have independent self-construals, characterized by a focus on autonomy, uniqueness and internal attributes and emotions. Those from more collectivistic nations are more likely to have interdependent construals of the self. The interdependent self-construal is characterized by belongingness, self-in-relation to other representations, and a connection of the self to specific social contexts. Of course, this does not mean that people can’t vary within a society according to how independent/interdependent they are.

Markus and Kitayama’s review paper on the independent versus the interdependent self-construal was particularly thought provoking for me. I had a strong desire to connect their ideas to those from our past readings. If you really think about the interdependent self-construal, it fits in well with the Social Cognitive Interface (SCI) framework of Rob Kurzban, and especially with Leary’s sociometer theory. (I know, I know . . . . I seem to refer to these two theories a lot. What can I say?) Firstly, having an interdependent self-construal means that you define yourself in relation to your group members and the social context. You are constantly aware of and focus on the needs and desires of others within your in-group. And your basis for self-esteem is “the ability to adjust, and restrain the self, and maintain harmony with the social context.” This sounds remarkably similar to sociometer theory, in which it is theorized that self-esteem is a gauge for social acceptance. And according to the SCI, the self is a set of cognitive mechanisms that help us function socially, because belongingness was/still is very important for our survival. The interdependent self-construal seems to be the ultimate example of this, if the SCI perspective is valid. On the other hand, according to SCI theory, along with other past readings, the self makes up a story for you that may not be valid but will ultimately help you in the social world. I’m not sure if that’s happening here. To me, it seems that the SCI is not hiding itself (or it’s intentions) in those who have the interdependent self-construal. They are defining themselves in relation to their group members, and they know it. The SCI is telling a story. Whereas, for more individualist societies, belongingness is very important but it seems to be more of an underlying or unconscious value. This is where the SCI would work for us. I questioned: Do those with interdependent self-construals have more accurate self-knowledge?

And then I read Balcetis et al., whose research seems to support the notion that, yes people who are more interdependent also have more accurate self-knowledge. Yet, I do have questions about their dependent variables. It seems that the more collectivist a person was, the more likely he/she would accurately predict his/her future behavior. But each of those behaviors were pro-social in nature, and people who are more collectivistic may be more accurate in estimating pro-social behavior because it is very important to their self-concepts, thereby being more salient. I’d like to know if collectivists have more accurate self-knowledge in domains that are not related to sociality.

Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things, it seems most of the world (outside of Western Europe and America) are more collectivistic. As well, these people have more accurate self-knowledge. This leads me to the following question: Is the individualistic/independent self-construal a relatively recent phenomenon (whether evolutionarily or culturally)? And what is the benefit of having an independent self-construal if it contributes to our inaccuracy in self-knowledge? We talked in class about how we probably have modules or at least the general capacities for both independent and interdependent self-construal. And these modules are probably activated differentially depending on the social context. There are circumstances where an independent self-construal would be best and vice versa. I think viewing such cross-cultural differences from the SCI perspective would be interesting to explore further.

Citations for further reading:

Balcetis, E., Dunning, D., & Miller, R. L. (2008). Do collectivists know themselves better than individualists? Cross-cultural studies of the holier than thou phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1252-1267.

Markus, H., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.

Heine, S. J., Lehman, D. R., Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1999). Is there a universal need for positive self-regard? Psychological Review, 106, 766-794.

Sedikides, C., Gaertner, L., & Toguchi, Y. (2003). Pancultural self-enhancement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 60-79.

Heine, S.J. (2005). Where is the evidence for pancultural self-enhancement? A reply to Sedikides, Gaertner, and Toguchi (2003). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 531-538.

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