Acculturative Effects on the Self-Concept Steven J. Heine and Darrin R. Lehman
University of British Columbia
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Move the Body, Change the Self:
Acculturative Effects on the Self-Concept
The ever-growing body of research on acculturation is in agreement on at least one issue: moving to a new culture involves psychological adjustment. This adjustment often occurs over a wide variety of domains including acquiring a new language, learning new interpersonal and social behaviors, becoming accustomed to new values, adapting to a new diet, and becoming a member of a minority group (e.g., Berry & Kim, 1988; Church, 1982; Dornic, 1985; Feldman, Mont-Reynaud, & Rosenthal, 1992; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; LaFromboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993; Pasquali, 1985; Schwarzer, Bowler, & Rauch, 1985). More pertinent to self-researchers, however, is research on the adjustment of the self-concept in the acculturation process.
Methodological Approaches for the Study of Culture and Psychology
Cultural psychology maintains that culture and self are mutually constituted (e.g., Shweder, 1990; Markus, Mullally, & Kitayama, 1997). That is, individuals seize meanings and resources from their culture in the construction of their selves, and likewise, the collective sharing of meaning and resources among individuals shapes the cultural environment. Despite the straightforwardness of this theoretical simplicity of this view, empirical evidence for the cultural foundation of the self-concept is not immediately obvious, nor is its assessment a straightforwardsimple task. For example, it is extraordinarily difficult for a cultural insider to observe the cultural foundation of the self-concept without another culture with which to make comparisons. Culture is largely invisible to members of aitsit, asbecause what is peculiarunique to the culture cannot be distinguished from what people understand to be human nature (Heine, Lehman, Peng, & Greenholtz, 2001).
There have been two keyprimary methodological approaches to studying cultural influences on the self-concept. A typical approach utilized by cultural psychologists is to explore a single culture outside of their own, thus providing researchers with a more objective vantage point. The culture under study is contrasted with that of the researcher’s own either implicitly, by focusing on those cultural aspects that appear novel, or explicitly with empirical cross-cultural data. Any differences that are identified between the two cultures serve to illuminate the role of culture by inviting a cultural psychological explanation to account for them (Greenfield, 1997; Miller, 1999). AsBecause cultural psychologists are interested in the exploration of cultural artifacts in the self-concept, it is incumbent upon them to have a detailed knowledge of the culture under study. This approach assumes that only through a rich understanding of the culture will a rich understanding of the self-concept be achieved. Thus, a common strategy for cultural psychologists is to focus their research on a single culture, perhaps living there, learning the language, reading much about the culture, and collaborating with members of that culture (Greenfield, 1997).
However, the cultural psychological approach is not without its limitations. Any differences that are identified between two cultures on a particular psychological process might tell us something about how one culture appears relative to the other, but it does not tell us much about that culture relative to the rest of the world. Frequently it seems that much of cultural psychology is conducted from the perspective of North Americans (at least those north of the Mason-Dixon line). Any cultural differences that are found in comparison to North Americans are typically interpreted as telling us something about how culture has shaped the “other” group. However, the peculiar cultural phenomenon in need of explanation may instead be the North American case (e.g., Lipset, 1996). That is, in many respects the more unusual finding, for example, is not that much of the world is collectivistic but that Westerners are individualistic (Geertz, 1974; Markus & Kitayama, 1991); not that Southerners participate in a “culture of honor” but that Northerners lack concern with honor (Nisbett & Cohen, 1996; Vandello & Cohen, this volume); not that Indians focus on beneficence obligations but that Americans focus on justice obligations (Miller & Bersoff, 1992); not that Japanese are self-critical but that Canadians and Americans are self-enhancing (Heine, Lehman, Kitayama, & Markus, 1999), or not that East Asians reason holistically but that Americans reason analytically (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, in press). Binary comparisons render explanations relative to the comparison culture (usually North Americans), however if our goal is to investigate human nature, absolute assessments of cultural phenomena (or at least assessments relative to the world as a whole) would seem to be of greater utility.
Likewise, if a psychological process under study is compared across cultures that are hypothesized to differ in terms of a dimension such as individualism/collectivism and a cultural difference is found, we cannot say with confidence whether individualism fosters the psychological process, or whether collectivism inhibits the process, or both. Moreover, cultures are of course far too complex to be reduced meaningfully to any single dimension. Any cultural differences that are identified may be due to other dimensions of culture on which the two groups differ that are concealed by a reliance on two-culture comparisons.
Examining a multitude of cultures at once, the prototypical strategy of cross-cultural psychology (e.g., Diener & Diener, 1995; Hofstede, 1980; Schwartz & Bilsky, 1990) is an approach that mitigates some of these difficulties. Large-scale multi-national comparisons allow us to see how each culture compares not just to a single cultural target, but to the larger matrix of other cultures in the study. This approach strives to map out the world in terms of a number of cultural dimensions. However, this method also has its shortcomings. First, as no individual is particularly knowledgeable about all cultures under study, cross-cultural psychologists face the problem of having limited knowledge about their objects of study. This approach does not allow one to explore how culture shapes the psychological process, as the researchers will notdo notdon’t have access to information regarding the makeup of those cultures beyond their psychometric measures. Moreover, as there are serious validity concerns with cross-cultural comparisons of many kinds of psychometric measures (e.g., Heine et al., in press; Heine et al., 2001; Peng, Nisbett, & Wong, 1997), accepting the data from large multinational comparisons at face value would seem to require a leap of faith. Both of the conventional approaches to studying culture and psychology thus have their strengths and weaknesses.
A third possible approach for investigating the role of culture on the self is to examine the acculturating individual. In many cases of migration, individuals’ culturally-constructed selves are at odds with the cultural meaning system of the new culture to which they have moved. The study of acculturation makes it possible to identify changes in the self-concept that individuals experience when encountering a new culture. Investigations of the acculturating individual allow researchers to assess the effects of a measured degree of exposure to a particular cultural environment on individuals’ self-concepts. This approach has been rarely employed in the past (e.g., Cross, 1992; Minoura, 1992), but it can provide us with a perspective on cultural influences different from those provided from cultural or cross-cultural psychological approaches. We utilized this approach in the studies described below.
Culture and Human Nature
Cultural psychology recognizes that the development of the individual is bound up within the process of socialization, that is, the process of the individual orienting him or herself within a system of meaning (Shweder et al., 1998). Humans have the longest period of socialization of any species, which reflects our great dependency on acquiring cultural sources of meaning. Geertz (1973) argues that humans are born into an “information gap,” that is, there is a pronounced discrepancy between the amount of instinctual information that is hard-wired into us at birth and the amount of information that we need to survive. Survival depends on the individual’s ability to successfully learn the language, technology, and customs of his or her surrounding cultural environment. Thus, humans must come into the world prepared to attend to and seize cultural meanings from around them. In fact, humans are unique in their tendencies to imitate and mimic novel behaviors of social models (Boyd & Silk, 1997; Tomasello, 2001). Humans appear to be biologically programmed to seize, make use of, and depend on cultural meanings.
Indeed, culture itself may have played an integral role in the evolution of our meaning-seizing capacities. Geertz (1973) maintains that the evolution of culture did not follow human evolution, as has traditionally been assumed, but that the two evolved simultaneously. Our abilities to make use of cultural information, such as our ability to learn technologies to procure food, to communicate our needs to our caretakers, to make ourselves attractive to potential mates, and to marshal political support for our causes were likely selected throughout our evolution. That is, the development of culture did not begin after we passed some magical threshold to modern Homo Sapiens, but was a selective force itself in the evolution of our capacities to make use of cultural meanings. In this way, culture was “ingredient” to our evolution, not just a product of it (Geertz, 1973, p. 47). Importantly, it was not the ability to make use of specific forms of cultural information that was selected throughout our out our evolution, but general forms of it. For example, the ability to master antelope-hunting in the African savanna would only be an evolutionary cost as soon as our ancestors expanded into new environments which contained no antelopes. Rather, the ability to seize meaning from whatever cultural environment that we were born into would maximize our likelihood of survival. Our common evolutionary heritage has provided us with a universal mind, although it emerges in one of manifold mentalities through our participation in particular cultural worlds (Shweder et al., 1998). As Geertz (1973) famously asserted, “we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one” (p. 45).
According to this view, our nature is ultimately that of a cultural being. It is difficult to conceive of a “cultureless” human, as the process of becoming human is contingent on the orientation of oneself within, and the seizing of meanings from, a particular cultural environment – any cultural environment. An individual that was somehow raised in isolation from a culture thus would lack some of the very characteristics that we often consider integral to “human nature.1” The process of normal human development can thus be seen to hinge on being socialized into a particular cultural meaning system. The question that this paper concerns itself with is what happens to individuals who are socialized into more than one cultural meaning system?
A Sensitive Period for Acquiring a Cultural Meaning System
To the extent that humans evolved as cultural beings, we should see evidence for our brains being preprogrammed to learn a cultural meaning system. One such source of evidence would be an indication that there is a sensitive period for being enculturated. Typically, behavioral skills do not worsen with age; rather they increase. In contrast, some developmental domains have a sensitive period in which the ability to learn reaches a peak (typically early in life) and quickly drops off. The existence of a sensitive period suggests that the acquisition of skills occurs by virtue of a set of innate constraints that are present during the sensitive period but weaken with maturation (Newport, 1991). Computer modeling has revealed that to the extent that the degree of mastery of certain skills confers a survival advantage throughout the individual’s lifespan, a sensitive acquisition period should be evident (Hurford, 1991).
There is considerable evidence that there is a sensitive period for the acquisition of language (e.g., Hurford, 1991; Lenneberg, 1967; Newport, 1991; but see Singleton, 1989 for a contrary view). Early in life (before puberty), humans have a superior capacity for acquiring and mastering languages (both first and second languages, although adults may initially outstrip children when they begin to learn a second language; Johnson & Newport, 1989), but this capacity declines with maturation (Lenneberg, 1967; Newport, 1991). That we learn a language in a particular stage of development, and do not simply acquire one at any point in our lives, is evidence that our capacity for learning language is, as Chomsky put it, “highly useful and very valuable for the perpetuation of the species and so on, a capacity that has obvious selectional value” (1982, pp. 18-19). We have a biological predisposition to learn a language in this sensitive period.
Learning a language is a necessary aspect of being socialized in a particular culture. Edward Sapir stated “Language is a great force of socialization, probably the greatest that exists” (Mandelbaum, 1951, p. 15). In this respect, we should expect that language acquisition parallels cultural acquisition, and to the extent that our ability to seize cultural meanings was a selective force, a sensitive period for cultural learning should also be evident.
The measurement of the acquisition of culture, however, is much less straightforward than the measurement of the acquisition of language. Cultures do not have as tangible and measurable a grammar, accent, morphology, or vocabulary. Despite these methodological challenges, Minoura (1992) launched a large-scale investigation of a sensitive period for learning culture. She developed an elaborate coding system which assessed the cultural acquisition of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional domains of culture. Minoura interviewed Japanese-born children who had moved to the US at various different ages. Her results suggest that people appear to be internalizing cultural meaning systems from birth, however, after 9 years of age some permanence in the retention of learned cultural meanings emerges. That is, those participants who moved to the US before the age of 9 reported becoming largely “Americanized,” and felt relatively distant from their Japanese heritage. Those who moved to the US between the ages of 9 and 15 still retained some Japanese cultural sensibilities but also felt reasonably comfortable with American ways. Those who moved to the US after the age of 15, however, were never able to fully embrace American culture, particularly with respect to their emotional experience. They continued to see the world through Japanese cultural lenses. Just as older second language learners often maintain an indelible accent from their mother tongue, older second culture learners often preserve an echo of the emotional repertoire of their mother culture.
The developmental sequence of culture-learning identified by Minoura nicely coincides with that found in second language acquisition (Johnson & Newport, 1989). Moreover, the variable that correlated most strongly with American cultural mastery in Minoura’s study was English language ability. Cultural meaning system acquisition and language acquisition may be inextricably intertwined as they both involve efforts to extract meaning from the social environment. Thus far, Minoura’s study is the only one to provide empirical data regarding a sensitive period for the acquisition of culture, and although any single study is limited in the extent of its explanatory power, the parallels of her findings with those from studies of language acquisition are compelling.
Living in Two Cultural Worlds
Most cross-cultural studies have contrasted people from two or more distinct cultures, but some of this research has also included samples of biculturals that are intermediate to the two cultures under study. For example, Asian-Americans comprise a group that have exposure to both mainstream European-American culture and their family’s traditional Asian culture. It follows that such individuals should evince ways of thinking intermediate to that of European-American and Asian samples. In general, studies that have investigated these three cultural groups, on a wide variety of measures relevant to the self, have found evidence consistent with this pattern (e.g., Heine et al., in press; Heine & Lehman, 1997a; 1999; Iyengar, Lepper, & Ross, 1999; Kitayama, Markus, Matsumoto, & Norasakkunkit, 1997; Norenzayan, Choi, & Nisbett, in press). These results are consistent with the notion that Asian-Americans come to embrace a view of self in between that of European-Americans and Asians.
However, it is not necessarily the case that the self-concept of acculturating groups is the product of some kind of blending of the two self-concepts from their host and home cultures. Another possibility is that acculturating individuals have access to two cultural meaning systems, and they oscillate between the two of them (e.g., Anderson, 1999; DuBois, 1903/1989; LaFromboise et al., 1993). The intermediate results obtained in past research with Asian-Americans might thus reflect that at the time of the studies some Asian-Americans were operating in “European-American mode,” whereas others were operating in “Asian mode.” Indeed, a number of researchers have argued that culture is akin to a meta-schema, and that we can have potential access to multiple meta-schemas at once (Hong, Morris, Chiu, & Benet-Martinez, 2000; Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000; Trafimow, Triandis, & Goto, 1991). Research consistently reveals that those cultural schemas that are currently activated guide thoughts and behavior. For example, when primed with thoughts associated with interdependence, individuals from various cultural backgrounds are more likely to make situational attributions (Hong et al., in press 2000), opt for risky investment decisions (Mandel, 2000),; adopt a prevention focus (Lee et al., 2000), or place more emphasis on attending to social norms (Ybarra & Trafimow, 1998). In this regard, moving to a new cultural context involves the socialization of a new cultural meaning system that exists parallel to the system of the individual’s original culture. The notion that there is a sensitive period for cultural acquisition suggests that the chronic accessibility of a cultural metaschema is more likely if it is acquired before puberty.
Acculturation of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is the most researched construct related to the self-concept; over 18,000 studies investigating it have been published over the past 35 years (this is a rate of over one publication per day!). Since many of these studies were conducted across cultures we have an empirical base with which to evaluate cultural influences on self-esteem. To the extent that we can identify a clear pattern of cultural differences on self-esteem, we can explore acculturative changes of self-esteem when individuals from one culture migrate to a culture that sustains different levels of self-esteem.
Much research suggests that values associated with individualism and independence are associated with higher self-esteem (e.g., Heine, in press-a). A cultural orientation that views individuals as the basic social unit will also tend to encourage people to believe in their own integrity qua individuals. In North America, for example, where individualism is prized, the culture urges individuals to view themselves as independently functioning agents (e.g., Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swindler, & Tipton, 1985; Sampson, 1977). People who embrace an independent view of self tend to have a sense of identity that is anchored in its internal attributes, and is viewed as the source of action and the center of control (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Maintaining this autonomous sense of agency and identity is fostered by identifying and affirming these inner attributes (Heine, in press-a). A habitual positive self-view confirms for the individual that they possess the requisite characteristics to fulfill cultural tasks associated with independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy (Heine et al., 1999).
iIt follows then that the more autonomous and self-sufficient individuals perceive themselves, the more positively they should feel. Evidence for these relations are found in correlational studies of self-esteem and independent views of self: Regardless of the culture within which the study is conducted, people who have a more independent view of self also report higher self-esteem (correlations range from .33 to .52 within cultures; Heine et al., 1999; Singelis, Bond, Lai, & Sharkey, 1999; comparable correlations have been identified between independence and self-enhancement; Heine & Renshaw, in press). There is thus a considerable degree of overlap between the concepts of independence and positive self-views.
A Confucian framework of interdependence, which is at the core of the self in many East Asian cultures, including Japan (e.g., Heine, in press-b; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Su et al., 1999), provides an alternative conception of self. This view of self brings with it cultural goals that conflict with desires to be self-sufficient and autonomous. Individuals are connected to each other via relationships and with respect to the roles that are inherent in those relationships. These various relationships constitute a coherent hierarchy within which the individual has a place defined by a clear set of obligations and duties towards other members of their groups. Inadequate performance of the duties associated with one’s roles indicates that the individual is not doing his or her part in contributing to the group’s success and is thus not fulfilling important cultural obligations associated with interdependence. Individuals’ commitment to in-group members renders them obligated to live up to the standards associated with their roles – standards that are importantly not determined by the individuals themselves but consensually by others in the hierarchy, and to a certain extent by society as a whole (Heine et al., in press; Kitayama et al., 1997). Individuals thus must be sensitive to ways that they might fall short of these standards, thereby failing to live up to the obligations that they have, and communicating to others that one is not doing their part towards the group’s success. They must be vigilant to any shortcomings indicating where they need to make greater efforts to better fulfill their roles. This orientation, in contrast to self-enhancement, is termed self-criticism (Heine et al., 1999).
This reasoning suggests that interdependence is not associated with enhanced positive self-views, and may even be linked with more self-critical views. Correlational studies conducted with a variety of measures of interdependence and positive self-views reveal that, regardless of the culture in which the study was conducted, individuals higher in interdependence do not have higher self-esteem or show evidence of greater self-enhancement (rs range from -.01 to -.44 within cultures; Heine et al., 1999; Heine & Renshaw, in press; Kiuchi, 1996; Singelis et al., 1999; Yamaguchi, 1994). Interdependence is orthogonal, or even antagonistic, to positive self-views, within North American and East Asian cultures.
This difference in the relations between independence and interdependence and self-esteem within cultures, suggests that there should be corresponding differences in self-esteem between cultures that differ in terms of their independence and interdependence. Much evidence from a variety of disciplines has suggested that values associated with independence are most closely associated with North Americans (Bellah et al., 1985; Lipset, 1996; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Sampson, 1977; Triandis, 1989) whereas those associated with interdependence are more strongly embraced by East Asians, particularly cus on JJapanese (Bachnik & Quinn, 1994; Hamaguchi, 1985; Lebra, 1976; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989; but note the lack of supportive psychometric evidence on trait measures for this cultural difference; Matsumoto, 1999; Takano & Osaka, 1999, and explanations for this lack of support; Heine et al., 2001; Peng et al., 1997). Thus, evidence of high self-esteem should be less evident in East Asian cultures such as Japan than it is in North America.
Evidence of Cultural Differences in Self-Esteem between Japanese and North Americans
Empirical research on positive self-views can be roughly divided into three categories: possessing, enhancing, and maintaining positive self-views. A review of the evidence in each domain among North American and Japanese samples reveals pronounced cultural differences.
Possessing a positive self-view. In a review of the Western self-esteem literature, Baumeister, Tice and Hutton (1989) observed that, without exception, the mean and/or median self-esteem scores were higher than the conceptual midpoints of the scales, regardless of the measures used. Thus, the distributions of self-esteem scores are heavily skewed such that the vast majority of North Americans report having high self-esteem. The characteristic self-evaluation for those living in a culture characterized by independence and individualism, namely North America, is unambiguously positive. North Americans who do not tend to endorse items about their value as an individual (i.e., who score below the theoretical midpoint on self-esteem inventories) are relatively rare (less than 7% of one large European-Canadian sample; Heine et al., 1999).
Such positive views of self are not as common among Japanese. Kashiwagi (1986) suggests that a “negative evaluation of the self, or strong awareness of weaker aspects of self, is sometimes pointed to as one of the general characteristics of self-concept among the Japanese” (p. 180). This self-critical orientation is reflected in their self-esteem scores. Japanese consistently have exhibited lower self-esteem scores than North Americans (e.g., Bond & Cheung, 1983; Yeh, 1995; similar cultural differences have also been noted for subjective well-being, Diener & Diener, 1995), and in contrast to the heavily skewed distributions found in North American studies of self-esteem, Japanese’ mean self-esteem scores are roughly normally distributed around the theoretical midpoint of the scale (Heine et al., 1999).
Self-critical views among Japanese are also evident in measures of actual-ideal self-discrepancies. These discrepancies indicate feelings of dissatisfaction with one’s current self, a proxy for self-criticism. Japanese exhibited larger actual-ideal and actual-ought self discrepancies than North Americans (Heine & Lehman, 1999; Meijer, Heine, & Yamagami, 1999), and importantly, these self-critical views appear to be associated with fewer negative consequences, such as depression, for Japanese compared with North Americans (Heine & Lehman, 1999).
Enhancing the Positivity of One’s Self-View. The importance of a positive self-view in North American culture is further documented in research on self-enhancing biases. Reviews of this literature (e.g., Greenwald, 1980; Miller & Ross, 1975; Taylor & Brown, 1988) indicate that North American’s self-perceptions tend to be systematically biased toward an overly positive view of the self.
There is much less evidence for self-enhancement among Japanese than North Americans. Cross-cultural studies reveal that the better-than-average effect (Heine & Lehman, 1997a; Heine & Renshaw, in press; Markus & Kitayama, 1991), unrealistic optimism (Heine & Lehman, 1995), and self-serving attributional biases (e.g., Kitayama, Takagi, & Matsumoto, 1995) are less pronounced among Japanese compared with North Americans. Everyday situations in Japan are seen more in terms of opportunities for self-criticism, in contrast to the clear self-enhancing opportunities perceived by North Americans (Kitayama et al., 1997). The literature indicates that self-enhancement is not as strong a motivation among Japanese.
Maintaining a Positive Self-View. Further testimony to the importance of positive self-views in Western culture is found in the ever-growing body of research on self-evaluation maintenance. This literature documents the variety of compensatory self-protective responses that are elicited when people encounter threats to their self-esteem. Such strategies include: self-evaluation maintenance (e.g., Tesser, 1988), self-affirmation and dissonance reduction (e.g., Steele, 1988), compensatory self-enhancement (e.g., Baumeister & Jones, 1978), downward social comparison (e.g., Wills, 1981), motivated reasoning (e.g., Kunda, 1990), and self-handicapping (e.g., Tice, 1991). That such a wide variety of self-esteem maintenance tactics exists highlights the importance of maintaining a positive self-evaluation, at least within North American culture.
In contrast, few clear demonstrations of any of the aforementioned self-esteem maintenance strategies have been found with East Asian samples (e.g., Cross, Liao, & Josephs, 1992). A cross-cultural laboratory study with Canadians and Japanese failed to find evidence for dissonance reduction or self-affirmation among Japanese in contrast to the pronounced effects among Canadians (Heine & Lehman, 1997b). Japanese have been found to demonstrate a reverse compensatory self-enhancement effect, in which they respond to negative self-relevant feedback by decreasing their self-evaluations in other unrelated domains (Heine, Kitayama, & Lehman, in press). A recent cross-cultural exploration of motivated reasoning biases found that Americans were more inclined to believe ostensible scientific arguments that cell phone use leads to hearing loss if they didn’t use a cell phone regularly, whereas Japanese agreement was unaffected by their own cell phone use (Heine, 2001).
Other research provides striking evidence of self-critical tendencies among Japanese. For example, Japanese are more likely to attend to and recall negative than positive information, whereas Americans demonstrate the opposite tendency (Meijer et al., 1999). Canadians tend to be more easily convinced of their successes than their failures, whereas Japanese are quicker to conclude that they have failed than succeeded (Heine, Takata, & Lehman, 2000). Moreover, this vigilance for information indicating weaknesses appears to serve an important function for Japanese: it highlights where they need to direct efforts for self-improvement. A series of cross-cultural laboratory studies on intrinsic motivation revealed that Japanese persisted longer when they discovered a shortcoming in their performance, whereas North Americans persisted longer when they discovered a strength (Heine et al., in press). Self-criticism in Japan thus appears to serve a similar purpose to self-enhancement in North America: it enables people to perform at their best
Much convergent evidence thus indicates that tendencies to possess, enhance, and maintain positive self-views are less evident among Japanese than among North Americans. These differences are also evident for those aspects of their selves that Japanese view as most important to them (Heine et al., in press; Heine & Lehman, 1999; Heine & Renshaw, in press; but see Ito, 1999, for evidence of the opposite pattern among Japanese), and in studies conducted with hidden or behavioral measures (see Heine et al., 1999 for a review), and thus cannot be interpreted as solely due to cultural differences in self-presentation norms. Motivations to maintain a positive self-view, as it is typically operationalized in the literature, are less evident among Japanese compared with North Americans (although Japanese surely have other important self-relevant motivations, such as a desire to maintain face; Heine et al., 1999).
To the extent that habitual positive evaluations of the self (i.e., self-esteem) are fostered by cultural experiences that emphasize the independence and autonomy of the individual, time spent in a Western cultural environment should be associated with exposure to a dialogue that stresses the value of possessing positive self-views. That is, with exposure to the cultural values, scripts, practices, customs, institutions that are hypothesized to encourage self-enhancement (see Heine et al., 1999 for a review) it would seem thathat individuals would respond to these cultural meanings and become sensitive to detecting positive features within themselves. In short, exposure to Western culture should be associated with positive self-views.
The process of acculturation provides us with a unique window through which to investigate such effects of culture. When an individual moves to a new culture he or she will likely undergo some kind of “psychological acculturation” (Graves, 1967), learning how to interact within his or her new cultural environment. With increasing time spent in the host culture, it is likely that the host culture’s influence on the individual’s self-concept and ways of thinking will also increase. Experiences in a new cultural environment may thus lead individuals to adopt ways of viewing themselves that are normative within the host cultural environment. One way of investigating the relation between self-esteem and Western cultural values is to analyze acculturating individuals’ self-esteem scores at various points in the acculturation process.