| (Daily Pennsylvanian) (U-WIRE)
PHILADELPHIA -- Instilling high self- esteem in children has long
been an important goal of the American educational system.
Penn Psychology Professor Steven Heine, however, has found
evidence that the cultural importance of self-esteem varies between America and
Heine has been testing people from North America and Japan for
several years, trying to find out the role of cultural differences
on self- esteem. His findings indicate that the concept has much
less relevance in Japanese society than in the United States.
"There's more of a dialogue about the importance of
self-esteem here in the U.S. than you hear anywhere else in
the world," Heine said. "In Japan, self-esteem looks a lot
lower and no one seems concerned about this fact."
In the U.S., people with high self-esteem generally have
more satisfying relationships, are more productive and feel better
about themselves, Heine said. However, Japanese psychologists have
had difficulty finding the relationship between high
self-esteem and strong psychological health in the Japanese
population. Heine, who lived in Japan for several years and speaks
Japanese, said the contrast is a reflection of two different
"Here we put more emphasis on individualism than they do and
there they put more emphasis on collectivism than we do," Heine
said, noting that the differences between societies are relative and
that there is a significant overlap.
To test his theories, Heine has been conducting experiments at
Penn and in Kyoto, Japan, designed to measure the role of
self-esteem on the behavior of Japanese and American
Subjects are placed in a room and asked to complete logic tests
that are designated as either easy or hard.
After the student completes the task -- either correctly or
incorrectly -- the conductor of the experiment leaves the room and
gives the students two more tasks, telling them that they can work
on these tasks if they want to.
Of the two new tasks, one is similar to the task the student
already performed. The experimenter then watches to see which task
the subject chooses.
Heine found that when Japanese students failed the first task,
they spent much more time working on the new task to which it was
similar. If the Japanese students succeeded at the first task, then
they tried the different task to make sure they could do that job as
In contrast, American students who failed the first task often
moved to the different task, not wanting to do something at which
they were not adept. If they succeeded at the first task then they
would generally continue with a similar task, knowing that they
"In the U.S. case, people are sensitive to their strengths and
focus on what's good about themselves," Heine explained regarding
the results of his study. "In the Japanese case people are sensitive
to weaknesses and areas where they feel they are not good enough."
According to Heine, American psychologists dominate the field of
social psychology, leading other countries to "import U.S.
precepts." The results of Heine's experiment may prove that these
American psychology theories are not valid outside our borders,
meaning that the field of social psychology would have to become
much more culture-specific.
"You can't use standard Western measures of central health
[outside of Western individualist societies] because they have
implicit in them all of our cultural assumptions," Heine said.
This knowledge may also help to smooth relations between the two
countries by increasing understanding of social behavior.
For instance, Heine recalled being quite surprised and a little
annoyed when he won a Japanese speech contest during his stay in the
country and the presenter pointed out every speaking error that the
winners made instead of giving praise and congratulations.
He realized later, however, that in Japan the teachers don't
encourage good work by trying to raise the self-esteem of the
students with praise. Instead, they call attention to weaknesses to
encourage the student to learn from them.
Nate Schiff, Penn Prof: Self-esteem may vary by
culture. , University Wire, 02-23-1999.