Pretty much everybody thinks they’re better than average. But in some cultures, people are more self-aggrandizing than in others. Until now, national differences in “self-enhancement” have been chalked up to an East-West individualism-versus-collectivism divide. In the West, where people value independence, personal success, and uniqueness, psychologists have said, self-inflation is more rampant. In the East, where interdependence, harmony, and belonging are valued, modesty prevails.Now an analysis of data gathered from 1,625 people in 15 culturally diverse countries finds a stronger predictor of self-enhancement: economic inequality.
“We don’t know the precise mechanism, but it seems unlikely that it is primarily an East-West difference,” says University of Kent research associate Steve Loughnan. “It’s got to do with how your society distributes its resources.” The study — whose 19 collaborators represent 16 universities around the globe — will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The study’s participants, university students, were asked to rate themselves from 1 to 7 on various personality traits — how much of it they possessed compared with the average student; and how desirable the trait was. Four versions of the questionnaire listed different traits from among 80; the traits related to agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, open-mindedness, and emotionality. The analytic design adjusted for differing cultural values.
The researchers looked at the correlations between evidence of self-enhancement and the individualism or collectivism of a country, its “power distance” — the preference for an autocratic hierarchy versus relative equality of power — and its level of economic inequality.
What they found: Virtually everywhere, people rate themselves above average. But the more economically unequal the country, the greater was its participants’ self-enhancement.
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