Title: is self-enhancement a universal phenomenon?

Title: Is Self-Enhancement A Universal Phenomenon? Name: Choo Min Matric No.: A0073550L Tutorial Group: E1 Self-enhancement can be defined as the unrealistic, inaccurate over-projection of the self in a positive light. Is this a universal phenomenon? The universal view asserts that both westerners and easterners self-enhance tactically on personally important dimensions to attain positive self-regard (Sedikides, Gaertner & Toguchi, 2003), while the culture movement asserts that self-enhancement is a uniquely Western phenomenon, absent in Eastern cultures. In an influential paper by Sedikides et al. (2003), empirical evidence from 2 studies supported the universal view. They concluded that self-enhancement is a universal human motive since attribute importance mediated self-enhancement in people regardless of self-construal or cultural background. However, the paper was challenged by Heine (2005) who supported the cultural-self perspective with meta-analytic findings. This commentary aims to analyze the papers, and shed light to the issue: can we claim that self-enhancement is universal? Firstly, comparison dimensions should be empirically validated. Heine (2005) argued that pretesting with the students was not crucial and that researchers’ interpretations of the construct should suffice. However, it is crucial to pre-test comparison dimensions since researchers hold confirmation bias. Thereafter, the validation of a construct should not be based on researcher’s opinion alone (Sedikides, Gaertner & Vevea, 2005) but pre-tested with the population sample. To elaborate, when traits like hardworking and dependable were used to represent the collectivistic dimension in a study which did not validate comparison dimensions, ambiguous findings surfaced. As these traits (hardworking and dependable) can also be valued by an individualist, the distinction between collectivism and individualism would not be clearly differentiated so construct validity should be questioned. Subsequently, Sedikides et al. (2005) also pointed out that contradictory support was found in a past research by Heine because the comparison dimensions were not pre-tested. Therefore, the traits used might not accurately reflect independent/interdependent self-construal. To sum up, the validity of comparison dimensions are crucial and Sedikides et al. (2003) were right to empirically validate their comparison dimensions. Secondly, Sedikides et al. (2003) assumed that people are motivated to be good members of their culture so they would internalise their cultural values and strive to fulfil culturally sanctioned roles. Following this assumption, people not only personally value the dimensions that imply successful role fulfilment; they also evaluate themselves positively on these dimensions (Sedikides, 2003). However, people go through different socialisation processes and can hold different personally important values. Therefore, it is possible for one to endorse cultural values publicly but disagree with it privately. This is especially so in collectivistic cultures which emphasize group harmony. For instance, a collectivist might outwardly endorse the culture’s attributes in order to be socially accepted but not internalize it. As a result, the individualistic and collectivistic attributes only reflect cultural importance but may not necessarily reflect personal importance so Sedikides et al. should not be able to conclude that personal importance mediate self-enhancement. This is in line with Heine’s (2005) comments that certain attributes do not appear positive, for instance “ engage in open conflict with your group”. If self-enhancement is defined by positively distinguishing self from other typical group members, how could the attributes demonstrate self-enhancement if they are not positive (Heine, 2005)? For instance, a participant can claim that he/she is more likely than others to engage in open conflict with his/her group and thus, more culturally accepted. However, he/she might not experience self-enhancement if he/she does not personally endorse the attribute. Therefore, Sedikides et al. (2003) were essentially measuring the extent of individualism/collectivism and not necessarily self-enhancement. Following which in a recent study that distinguished personal trait importance and cultural trait importance, it was found that self-enhancement was more evident for personally important traits for both Chinese and American participants (Tam, Leung, Kim, Chiu, Lau & Au, 2012). Thirdly, Heine (2005) commented that the better-than-average paradigm utilized by Sedikides et al. (2003) is not a pure measure of self-enhancement because it entails a cognitive bias. Past research has found that people not only view themselves as better than average, they also view any randomly chosen person from a liked group as better than average (Heine, 2005). Moreover, when people compare themselves with their peers, they use their own skills as an anchor and insufficiently consider the skills of others, resulting in a tendency to see oneself above average (Kruger, 1999). This anchoring and adjustment heuristic is also prevalent in social judgment. Thus, the results are due to a cognitive bias that has nothing to do with self- enhancing motivations. Nonetheless, a recent study found strong evidences which say that the better than average effect (BTAE) entails self-promotion in social comparison (Tam et al., 2012). Individuals showed higher BTAE in the presence of a threat to their self-worth and the strength of BTAE is associated with higher self-esteem, better psychological adjustment and domains that are crucial to positive self-assessments (Tam et al., 2012). Therefore even if the anchoring and adjusting heuristic has an effect in the BTA paradigm, the paradigm still captures self-promoting social comparisons and thus, is still a valid measure of self-enhancement. However, one disadvantage of the BTA paradigm is that different participants can have different “ typical group ratings” and the comparison target would then be subjective. To obtain objective comparison target, researchers can compare self-ratings with peer ratings, however, only for interpersonal but not competence traits since peers do not have access to accurate ability information. Yet when the paradigm of comparing self-assessments to peer assessments was used, different results were found: Japanese were significantly more self-critical for the important and desirable traits (Heine, 2005). Future research should integrate the discrepancy from different paradigms. Fourthly, Heine (2005) concluded that Westerners significantly self-enhance more than Easterners and thus, self-enhancement is a phenomenon that is only unique to the West. However, this does not mean that easterners do not self-enhance. One reason why mixed evidences have been found as to whether Easterners self-enhance or not could be influenced by culture. Culture imposes rules in the form of societal pressure as to how Easterners and Westerners answer the questionnaire. For the collectivists, when self-enhancing on interdependent traits, they might not want to evaluate themselves because it is culturally important for Easterners to avoid asserting superiority over others (Tam et al., 2012). For example, if a collectivist was to answer that he/she is more humble as compared to others, it is not in line with the collectivistic value of “ humility” to claim that one is more humble than others. Moreover, societal pressures like face saving and impression management norms also influence Easterners’ reluctance in freely expressing themselves when answering questionnaires. Subsequently, the study found that among the Chinese, the strongest BTAE was seen on traits that are high on personal importance and low on cultural importance (Tam et al., 2012). The findings shed light on the effect that culture has on the self. Additionally, implicit tests of self-regard have found that both Easterners and Westerners self-enhance (Sedikides et al., 2003). Therefore, it is certain that Easterners also self-enhances. Lastly, even though both Easterners and Westerners self-enhance, more evidence is needed in order to claim universality of self-enhancement. By dichotomizing the world into individualistic or collectivistic cultures, this might not accurately reflect the true state of our world. To claim universality, researchers should obtain stronger empirical support from less known tribal cultures that do not fit the descriptions of individualistic or collectivistic cultures. Like Paul Ekman who went to Papua New Guinea to test if facial expressions are universal (Heine, 2005), researchers should approach a culture group that has never been tested before and using the equivalent construct, test if self-enhancement exists. References Heine, S. (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. Kruger, J. (1999). Lake Wobegon be gone! The “ below-average effect” and the egocentric nature of comparative ability judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 221-232. Sedikides, C., Gaertner, L., & Toguchi, Y. (2003). Pancultural self-enhancement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 60-79. Sedikides, C., Gaertner, L., & Vevea, J. L. (2005). Pancultural self-enhancement reloaded: A meta-analytic reply to Heine (2005). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 539-551. Tam, K.-P., Leung, A. K. Y., Kim, Y.-H., Chiu, C.-Y., Lau, I. Y.-M. & Au, A. K. C. (2012). The better-than-average effect in Hong Kong and the United States: The role of personal trait importance and cultural trait importance. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43, 915-930.