Chapter Thirteen: Culture, Self, and Identity
Self concept: cognitive representations of ones own self, that is, the ideas or images that one has about oneself and
how and why one behaves
-we create self as psychological construct to help understand ourselves and our world better
-descriptive labels like “sociable” people apply to themselves imply that:
1. we have this attribute within us, just as we possess other attributes such as abilities, attitudes, perceived
rights, or interests,
2. our past actions, feelings, or thoughts have lose connections with this attribute
3. our future plans, actions, feelings or thoughts will be controlled or guided by this attribute and can be
predicted more or less accurately by it
-concept of self rooted in contextualized beliefs about actions, thoughts, feelings, motives and plans
Where Does the Self Concept Originate?
Cultural practices: refer to discrete, observable, objective, and behavioral aspects of human activities in which
people engage related to culture
-parent-child sleeping arrangements are an example of a cultural practice
-management of emotional expression is different in varying cultures
-refers to the doing of culture
cultural worldviews: belief systems about one’s culture. Cognitive generalizations about how ones culture is or
should be, regardless of whether those generalized things are true or not.
-humans are unique in that we have the cognitive ability to know that:
1. the self exists and is an intentional agent
2. that other selves exist and they are also intentional agents
3. that others make judgments about oneself as an intentional agent
-also have long-term memory, hypothetical thinking about future
-uniquely use symbols and verbal language create narratives of our lives and cultures
-concept of self is critical to worldview because how one sees oneself in relation to the rest of the world is an
integral part of ones culture
-self concept aids in addressing needs for affiliation and uniqueness, explains importance of understanding values as
guiding principles within a specific culture
-self concept development deeply rooted in culture
The Independent vs. Interdependent Self-Construal Theory
-given that self concept is rooted in culture, and cultural worldviews differ across cultures, then concept of self must
also differ across cultures.
-differences in self concept emerge because different cultures ruled by different systems of rules of living and exist
in different social and economic environments, and natural habitats.
Markus & Kitayama (1991): used these ideas to describe two fundamentally different senses of self, contrasting
western or individualistic construal of self as an independent, separate entity vs. a composite construal of self more
common in non-western, collectivity cultures, in which the individual is viewed as inherently connected or
interdependent with others and inseparable from a social context.
-argued that in the US, standing out and asserting yourself is a virture “squeaky wheel gets the grease”
-strong belief in separateness of individuals 2
-socialized to be unique, express ourselves, realize and actualize inner self, promote personal goals
-when these are successfully carried out, self esteem rises
independent construal of self: individuals focus on personal, internal attributes – individual ability, intelligence,
personality traits, goals, or preferences – expressing them in public and verifying and confirming them in private
through social comparison
-in contrast to independent construal of self, authors suggested that among many nonwestern , collectivist cultures
neither assume not value overt separateness
-primary task is to fit in and maintain the interdependence among individuals
-socialized to adjust themselves to an attendant relationship or a group to which they belong, to read one other’s
minds, to be sympathetic, to occupy and play their assigned roles, and to engage in appropriate actions
-self esteem of individuals in these cultures will be different, depends mainly on whether they can fit in and be part
of a relevant ongoing relationship
-individuals focus on their interdependent status with other people and strive to meet or even create duties,
obligations, and social responsibilities.
Interdependent construal of self: self is unbounded, flexible, and contingent on service. Most salient aspects of
self defined by relationships, inseparable from certain social contexts
-the nail that sticks up shall get pounded
-authors used this self construal framework to explain many cross cultural differences in psychological processes,
especially between US and Asian countries
-argued that with independent construal of self, ones internal attributes such as abilities or personality traits are the
most salient self-relevant information
-internal attributes not most salient for interdependent construal of self, instead based more in social relationships or
specific contexts (“me” in school)
-study done: participants asked to write down as many of their characteristics as possible. Found that individuals
with independent construal of self generate more abstract traits (I am sociable) than do those with an interdependent
construal of self (I am usually sociable when I am with my friends) self in particular social relationship or context
An Empirical Assessment of the Independent vs. Interdependent Self Construal Theory
-theory starts with idea that Asian cultures are collectivistic, and American culture is individualistic
-when scoring is done using instruments to measure individualistic/collectivistic traits, researchers often do not find
that Americans are more individualistic and Asians more collectivistic.
-one study reported that 70% of Japanese were individualistic
-another by Oyserman and colleagues was a meta analysis comparing data from 83 studies on these two dimensions.
Comparing North Americans (Americans and Canadians) to other people from other countries and ethic groups
within the U.S.
-results showed that European Americans were in general more individualistic and less collectivistic than Chinese,
Taiwanese, Indians, and Asian Americans
-however, European Americans were not more individualistic than African Americans or Latinos, and not less
collectivistic than Japanese or Koreans
-given popularity of Self Construal theory, instruments to test the two self construal’s were developed
-found no cultural difference in independent self construal between American and Japanese students, but Americans
were found to be more interdependent than the Japanese
-contradictory to the theory! Opposite findings than what was expected
Li (2003): used ethnographic, qualitative, and quantitative methodologies to explore differences between Anglo-
Canadians and mainland Chinese in their self-construal’s and self-other boundaries, also reported findings 3
contradictory to what theory predicts.
-concluded that evidence for predicted cultural differences is weak, inconsistent, or non-existent
-interestingly, some neuroscience research suggests that cultural differences in self construal may be real
-fMRI studies have shown that the self is represented in specific brain area (ventral medial prefrontal cortex) for
European Americans while significant others (ex. Mother) is represented elsewhere. Yet they also found that for
Asians, self and mother are represented in the same brain region!
-found that priming with western cues primes neural differentiation, wile priming with Chinese cues decreases
-another issue: consider the degree to which previous findings showing country differences are associated with the
research methodology used to test for those differences.
-find that Asians have a hard time explaining themselves without specifying a relevant context. So, Asians should
be comfortable specifying aspects of themselves once a context has been specified
-Cousins (1989): 20 statements test to ask American and Japanese respondents to write down who they were in
various social contexts.
-instruction supposedly helped respondents picture a concrete social situation, including who was there and doing
-data revealed that Asians actually generated more abstract internal attributes (I am hardworking, trustworthy) than
did the Americans
-Americans tended to qualify their statements (I am more or