Is Self-Enhancement a Universal Phenomenon?

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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...
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