A new social psychology study confirms that self-esteem varies across cultures but, unlike earlier perceptions, it doesn’t exactly result from rising up to expectations dictated by the surrounding culture – at least not directly – but instead from a delicate play between the individuals’ intrinsic personal values and how these values are rated within their respective societies or cultures.
In other words, the personal values that an individual hold in highest regard during self-evaluation and which contribute strongly to positive self-esteem are usually the ones most consistent with his or her surrounding culture.
“Within any given cultural context, individuals evaluate themselves in culturally appropriate ways,” reads the study. They derive “feelings of self-esteem particularly from those identity aspects that fulfill values prioritized by others in their cultural surroundings.”
The research authors, including Said Aldhafri from Sultan Qaboos University in Oman and Charles Harb of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, are the first to try and systematically test the previously uncontested (but otherwise intellectually appealing) hypothesis that positive self-regard results from living up to values internalized from one’s surrounding culture. The study was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The researchers polled over 4,800 adolescents across 20 cultural samples, comparing four bases of self-evaluation: controlling one’s life, doing one’s duty, achieving an elevated social status or benefiting others.
Different models of analysis were used during the study including one that posited the effects of living in a particular cultural environment, another that posited the effects of personally holding particular value priorities, and one that gauged the value of the four main bases of self-evaluation across cultures.
The study shows that people evaluate themselves differently in different parts of the worlds, but how they rate and prioritize the bases for self-evaluation is culturally biased.
Self-enhancing hierarchal societies that value personal achievement and social status result in positive self-regard being influenced by that. In countries or cultures where openness values were more prevalent, for instance, self-esteem is derived from controlling one’s life, while in countries where conservation values are more prevalent, people’s self-regard is enhanced when they feel they’re “doing their duty.”