Economic inequality behind national differences in ‘self-enhancement’

Economic inequality is responsible for national differences in how people think about the self and how happy they are, a new research has found.

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 that economic inequality is a stronger predictor of self-enhancement.

“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”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.

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.

Researchers found that virtually everywhere, people rate themselves above average. But the more economically unequal the country, the greater was its participants” self-enhancement.

That”s what happens in “highly polarized economies, where wealth at the top is gross and deprivation at the bottom is stark,” Loughnan said.

But he says, the effect can be evinced experimentally even in egalitarian, self-effacing cultures, like Japan.

On the other hand, where resources are equally distributed, self-deprecation and blending in are more valued, he added.

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The study will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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