East Asian Face Maintenance 1
The Role of Self-Criticism in Self-Improvement and Face Maintenance among Japanese
Takeshi Hamamura Steven J. Heine
University of British Columbia
A recent survey found that among all the papers ever published in the Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 92% of them had a first author who was affiliated with a
North American institution, and only 1% had first authors affiliated with a non-Western institution (Quiñones-Vidal, Lopez-García, Peñarañda-Ortega, & Tortosa-Gil, 2004). This fact severely limits what we can conclude about social psychological research and human nature. Whether the psychological processes that have been investigated are specific to North Americans or are true of humans more generally is thus a question to which the social psychological database remains largely mute. To go about answering this question, it is necessary for researchers to seriously consider the ways in which they can differentiate those aspects of our psychology that are tethered to particular cultural practices from those that are common to people from all cultures (Norenzayan & Heine, in press).
In recent years there have been an increasing number of studies conducted outside of Western cultural contexts, especially in Japan and other East Asian cultures. These studies have revealed the extent to which a number of fundamental psychological phenomena emerge in dramatically different forms across cultures. A good example of this is the research program of Nisbett and colleagues on cultural influences on cognition (e.g., Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001; Peng & Nisbett, 1999). This line of research has demonstrated that some basic cognitive processes, such as perception, attention, memory, and reasoning are culturally influenced; Easterners tend to engage in more holistic ways of perceiving and attending to objects, whereas Westerners tend to engage in more analytical processes. Furthermore, East
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Asians have been shown to engage in more dialectical reasoning strategies than Westerners, in which contradictions are accepted, and the world is perceived to exist in flux (e.g., Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001; Peng & Nisbett, 1999). These pioneering efforts have demonstrated how a number of fundamental psychological processes do not emerge reflexively, regardless of context, but are importantly shaped by engagement in the particular scripts, practices, and situations that each culture provides.
This chapter explores the ways in which the notion of a “good self” is constructed differently across cultures. Toward this objective, we review cross-cultural studies on self-enhancement and suggest the limitation of self-enhancement as a psychological construct in describing East Asians’ striving for becoming a “good self.” Then, the chapter discusses East Asian way of being a “good self” namely through self-criticism in the context of “face
Universality of Self-Enhancement?
The idea that North Americans and East Asians might differ in how they see themselves has been introduced repeatedly by anthropologists (e.g., Bachnik, 1992; Lebra, 1976). This observation is particularly relevant for social psychology, as the topics of how people see and evaluate themselves are central to the discipline. The observation that one’s understanding and evaluation of the self might differ across culture is provocative, and a number of studies have been conducted in recent years to explore this question. As a result, we now have better insights into how East Asians see and evaluate themselves and how these are similar and different from the ways that North Americans do.
One focus of research on how the self is shaped by cultural processes has been to explore whether Westerners and East Asians are similar in their motivations to view themselves
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positively, that is, to self-enhance. Many studies have explored this question over the past decade, using a variety of different measures. We have recently investigated this literature by conducting a meta-analysis of all the studies that have compared Westerners and East Asians in terms of their self-enhancement motivations (Heine & Hamamura, 2005). We briefly summarize the main findings here.
The meta-analysis consisted of a total of 89 independent comparisons involving over 28,000 participants and 31 different methods of assessing self-enhancing motivations. First, we explored the question of whether East Asians and Westerners self-enhanced to a similar degree. For 30 of the 31 methods in the meta-analysis (the exception being measures of self-esteem using the Implicit Associations Measure (Kitayama & Uchida, 2003; Kobayashi & Greenwald, 2003), Westerners self-enhanced significantly more than East Asians. The average effects of these cultural comparisons were large, d = .84 (.95 CI = .67, .95), and consistently found.
Second, we considered the question of whether people from each culture showed evidence for self-enhancement. Not surprisingly, given the attention that the topic of self-enhancement has received in the West, the evidence for self-enhancement among Westerners was strong: average d = .86 (.95 CI = .66, 1.07). In contrast, the evidence for self-enhancement among people of Asian descent living in the West was considerably weaker, d = .33 (.95 CI = -.05, .72). More
strikingly, the evidence for self-enhancement among East Asians living in Asia was overall lacking: average d = -.02 (.95 CI = –.20, .17). Self-enhancing motivations, although routinely
observed among Western samples, are difficult to identify among East Asian samples.
However, there were several comparisons in which East Asians showed evidence of self-enhancement, albeit weaker than that of Westerners (e.g., Brown & Kobayashi, 2002; Heine & Lehman, 1995; Sedikides, Gaertner, & Toguchi, 2003). Further analysis has revealed that these
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instances are limited to two methods, both of which ask participants to compare themselves to the average other, namely the “better than average effect” (BAE) and the “one’s future is better than average effect” (FBAE). In fact, studies involving these two methods showed clear evidence for East Asian self-enhancement (d = .25 and .29 for the BAE and the FBAE,
respectively) whereas the weighed average effect size for all the other methods in the meta-analysis was negative, d = -.22, providing evidence for self-criticism. Interestingly, the self-enhancement effects from these two methods were also larger for Westerners (average d =
1.31, .98 for the BAE and FBAE, respectively) than those from the other methods (average d
= .66). Hence, this analysis shows that the self-enhancement effects reported from BAE and FBAE methods are inconsistent with the effects reported from studies utilizing many other methods. Why might this be the case?
We have suggested that the reason for this inconsistency is because the effect sizes reported from the BAE and FBAE are conflated with a cognitive bias that has little to do with self-enhancement (Heine & Hamamura, 2005). Klar and Giladi (1997) have suggested that in making a comparative judgment between a singular target (e.g., the self or a randomly chosen other) and a generalized target (e.g., average others), people fail to adequately consider the qualities of the generalized target, and their comparison come to reflect their evaluation of the singular target in absolute terms. For example, when students are asked to compare a randomly chosen student from their university to most other students of the same university, they come to see even a randomly chosen student more positively than most other students. Viewing a random other as better than average is a finding parallel to what is seen in the BAE, yet it could not be driven by self-enhancing motivations as the self is not being assessed.
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This cognitive bias of failing to consider the qualities of generalized target is applicable to the comparisons involving the self as well, as the self is another example of a singular target. Thus, what this line of research suggests is that self-enhancement effects reported from the BAE
1and FBAE methods are actually consisting of two components: people’s motivation to view
themselves positively (self-enhancement) and their cognitive bias stemming from comparing a singular target with a generalized target.
Following this rationale, we conducted studies to revisit effect sizes reported from the BAE and FBAE methods in the light of this cognitive bias, what Klar and Giladi (1997) referred to as the “everybody is better than their groups’ average effect” (EBTA) (Heine & Hamamura, 2005). In two studies, we asked participants to (a) compare themselves with average others from their university, and (b) compare themselves with a fictitious other from their university, and participants’ two types of evaluations were contrasted in an attempt to assess the self-
enhancement effect while circumventing the effect driven by the cognitive bias. The findings revealed that both European-Canadians and Japanese evaluated themselves more positively than they did average others (weighted average effect sizes of 1.35 and .53 for European-Canadians and Japanese, respectively), which is consistent with the pattern that has emerged from previous studies (e.g., Brown & Kobayashi, 2002). On the other hand, when people’s evaluations of their selves were compared with their evaluations of a random other, a contrast that circumvents the EBTA effect, the magnitude of the bias was much smaller. European-Canadians still showed evidence for self-enhancement (d = .94), in that they viewed themselves more positively than
1 FBAE is prone to EBTA because in estimating the relative likelihood of future life events, people tend to focus just on their own perceived likelihood and ignore the likelihood of the average other (Klar, Medding, & Sarel., 1996). Furthermore, FBAE tends to be larger for less likely future life events. That is, when people estimate the relative likelihood of dying from a plane crash or car accident, what they do is to focus on the likelihood of themselves involved in a plane crash and car accident in their absolute terms and ignore the base rates. As a result, their estimate becomes more strongly biased for events with lower base rates (plane crash) than those with higher base rates (car accident). For this reason, studies find larger FBAE for negative future life events, as the negative events tend to be less common compared to positive events (Price, Pentecost, & Voth, 2002).
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they viewed the random other. In contrast, Japanese showed evidence for self-criticism (average d = -.27), in that they evaluated themselves more negatively than they evaluated a random other. In sum, these studies show that the methods of BAE and FBAE are conflated with the EBTA effect and when this is circumvented methodologically, East Asians no longer show evidence for self-enhancing motivations. Combined with our meta-analysis, these studies seem to indicate that self-enhancement motivations are largely absent among East Asians.
Self-Criticism and Face
If East Asians are not motivated to self-enhance, how are they trying to view themselves? Heine and his colleagues (e.g., Heine, 2001; 2005; Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999) have articulated how self-criticism plays a key role for East Asians’ striving to becoming a
“good self.” Rather than restate these arguments here, in this section we will take a slightly different approach by focusing on the constructive role of self-criticism in the context of East Asians’ concern for face.
Face is a key concept for understanding social interactions among East Asians. It can be defined as:
the respectability and/or deference which a person can claim for himself from others by
virtue of the relative position he occupies in his social network and the degree to which
he is judged to have functioned adequately in that position as well as acceptably in his
general conduct… (p. 883, Ho, 1976).
What we suggest here is that although self-esteem and face are universally familiar (they are existential universals; Norenzayan & Heine, in press), face is prioritized among East Asians
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and self-esteem is prioritized among Westerners. We suggest that East Asians utilize a number of psychological processes to gain and maintain face, just as Westerners make use of various psychological processes in order to have and maintain their self-esteem. But before launching a discussion of the psychological processes related to face, we further clarify the concept of face.
Face can be understood as a “communal property” that is loaned from societies to individuals who happened to occupy particular positions in the social network (Mao, 1994). As a communal property, face differs from personal attributes such as reputation in an important way. For example, a CEO’s reputation is determined by her personal achievements and past
behaviors as an individual, but a CEO’s face is determined solely by her position in the organizational hierarchy. For this reason, two CEOs of similar size corporations might have different reputations, but they would have the face of equal size (Kim & Nam, 1998).
Face comes with a position that one occupies in society, and as each person occupies a number of social roles, each person possesses a number of different faces. For example, someone might have face as a mother, a wife, a neighbor, in addition to her face as a CEO. These faces are not equal in size or prestige. That is, one’s face as a CEO is probably larger or more prestigious than one’s face as a neighbor, because a CEO occupies a much higher position in the social network and has influence on the lives of a greater number of people.
The maintenance of face hinges on others’ evaluation of it. One’s face is safely protected so long as the occupant is seen as adequately performing what is required of their position. If one fails to live up to the minimal standards associated with their role, one’s face is lost. In other words, one is successful in maintaining face only to the extent that his or her performance as an occupant of face is favorably evaluated. Hence, the fate of one’s face hinges on others’
evaluations, and individuals do not have much control over it, aside from making efforts to
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ensure that they’re meeting the minimal standards associated with their role. This is a key point regarding face and the role of self-criticism, upon which we elaborate in following sections.
Furthermore, the more prestigious the face, the more difficult it will be to successfully maintain it. For instance, one’s face as a CEO and neighbor differs in their prestige because duties and obligations of a CEO are much more impactful throughout one’s social networks than the duties and obligations of a neighbor. The broader the social network within which one’s face is implicated, however, means that there is a greater chance that some will judge the individual to be failing to live up to their role expectations. Roles with more prestigious face mean that a greater number of people have a say in evaluating the occupant of the face. For example, on a typical day as a CEO, one might participate in meetings with subordinates, board members, and bankers, all of whom have at least some say in the evaluation of her performance as an occupant of a CEO’s face. When the evaluations are bad enough, her face is in jeopardy. In describing the processes of face loss, Ho (1976) uses the analogy of overloading a ship. A ship does not sink immediately with overloading, not until the load meets a critical point; however, once the load passes the threshold, the ship sinks. Analogically, one’s face is lost only after evaluations
of his or her transgress the minimal standards associated with their role.
Losing face might not result in the direct and immediate loss of a position. But it will result, for example, in obligations not being reciprocated. Hence, a CEO who has lost face might not be able to make her subordinates respect their duties and obligations, which will certainly make her job as a CEO difficult. Some scholars have noted that the experience of face loss sometimes triggers intense negative consequences such as feelings of shame, anti-social behavior, and withdrawal from social activities, making the experiences of face loss an important topic in
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understanding the psychological well-being of East Asians (Kim & Nam, 1998; Zane & Yeh, 2002).
Cultural Practices of Face Maintenance
East Asian face maintenance is sustained by a number of cultural practices. In this section, we focus on three of these: socialization, communication, and social stability.
Research on East Asian socialization alludes to the idea that East Asian children are socialized with various cultural practices related to face maintenance from early on. For example, Japanese parents and teachers encourage children to identify with socially shared images of ideal person of the same gender and age group, essentially a “face” of good child
(Heine et al., 1999). This suggests that Japanese children are brought up to live up to the expectations associated with being a “good child.” Similar emphasis on “proper” codes of conduct during socialization is observed in China as well (Ho, 1986; Stover, 1974).
Another characteristic of East Asian socialization is to discourage deviations from what is regarded as appropriate. An example of this can be seen in school rules. Many Japanese school rules have strict regulations regarding school uniforms (e.g., the length of skirt can not be too short or long, shoelaces have to be white), hairstyles (e.g., no long hair for boys, no coloring), and how students should spend their after school hours (e.g., mandatory participation in club activities, no part time jobs). Sometimes the discouragement of deviation takes place even amongst students in the form of bullying, which in Japan is especially targeted towards those who are perceived to be different (Crystal, 1994). With these mechanisms of discouraging deviants, children are brought up to stick to what is considered as good and appropriate for them. This evidence suggest that East Asian children are familiarized and encouraged to participate in face related cultural practices from early on.
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Another place where East Asians’ prioritizing of face maintenance can be seen is in daily communication. Two aspects of East Asian communication that seem particularly relevant here are public modesty and debate. Public modesty is perhaps one of the more visible practices that make East Asian cultures appear different from Western cultures. Japanese language, for example, consists of very complex rules of modesty and respect for hierarchy that determine how people refer to themselves. For instance, a student would refer to himself differently depending on who he is interacting with (e.g., teacher vs. best friend). When used properly, modesty can display one’s deference to others (e.g., a student showing respect to a teacher), and also it serves
the purpose of concealing any qualities that could be perceived as inappropriate for the face that they occupy. For the similar reason, when individuals’ private needs and wants are in conflict with what is considered to be appropriate for their face, the rules of modesty prescribes individuals to restrain expressing those. In this way, the proper use of modesty works as a shield against the negative evaluation for one’s face performance (Hall & Noguchi, 1995).
Debate is another characteristic of East Asian communication that is relevant to face maintenance. Debate creates a forum in which individuals are to express, exchange, justify and critique opinions making use of formal logic, with the idea being that the best decisions will be made with this process. This is an important social practice of Western civilization, and as such, Western individuals learn to engage in debate type communication from early on. However, a number of cross-cultural researchers have noticed that debate, for example in business meetings or among politicians, is less frequent in East Asian societies (e.g., Becker, 1986; Feldman, 1997; Minami, 1953).
East Asian’s concern for face maintenance seems important in understanding why debate might be relatively absent there. Some scholars have suggested that debate is infrequent in East