al., 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Markus, Mullally, & Kitayama, 1997). They have proposed a collective constructionist theory of the self, in which psychological tendencies that have to do with the self are constructed collectively in society. For example, these researchers suggest that the tendency towards self-enhancement is common to the United States, while the tendency towards self-criticism is common in Japan. They then argue that these different tendencies enable individuals to function in and adapt to their cultural contexts.
This line of inquiry research has examined the tendency toward self-enhancement in the United States and self-criticism in Japan. In placing the origins of these tendencies in independence and collectivism, respectively, these researchers have proposed that self-enhancement is adaptive in a culture that socializes its members to focus on individual development. In contrast, self-criticism is adaptive in a culture that emphasizes the importance of belonging to a social group and maintaining positive relationships. In other words, self-criticism would not be seen as potentially harmful to self-esteem. In the Japanese cultural context, it would serve to provide feedback for self-improvement, which ultimately reinforces the sense of belonging to the group.
To test this notion, the authors designed experimental situations relevant to self-evaluation. They asked Japanese and American college students to generate situations that they believed would both enhance and decrease their self-esteem (jison-shin, or self-respect, in Japanese). A total of 400 scenarios were generated, and the students were asked to indicate whether each one could affect their self-esteem, negatively or positively, and to what extent, on a four-point scale. Results supported the collective constructivist theory of self, in that strong evidence was found for self-enhancement tendencies in the United States and self-critical tendencies in Japan. Specifically, American students reported that their self-esteem would increase more in success situations than it would decrease in failure situations, suggesting that social situations are interpreted in favor of self-enhancement. In contrast, the Japanese students identified more failure than success situations as being important to their self-esteem, and as having an influence on their self-esteem, indicating a bias toward self-criticism.
The researchers argue that, for Japanese students, self-criticism is part and parcel of a cultural context in which interdependence fosters the importance of self-improvement as a way to fit into one’s important social units (i.e., family, classroom, workplace). This is captured in the word hansei, which means reflection. In Japanese culture, it is considered very important to reflect on one’s behavior in order to improve it. Seen in this light, positive self-esteem may not be as important to Japanese individuals, whose engagement in self-criticism is an adaptive means to maintain-