East Asians, like the Chinese and Japanese, may look like little yellow humble persons, self-effacing and with low self-esteem compared to the Americans, but a new research showed that this is just a cover.
Psychologists employing new methods compared pools of university students from the three countries, made of over 500 persons, discovering that automatic self-esteem was strongly positive among students from all the three nations mentioned above.
The consistency of the data across cultures shows that high implicit self-esteem could be culturally universal.
The approach made use of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) developed by University of Washington co-author psychologist Anthony Greenwald, which in different versions has been widely used to research automatic attitudes like racial bias and gender and age stereotypes.
Self-esteem reflects the way people see themselves as possessors of positive traits.
These self-descriptions, explicitly named self-esteem, are actually answers to statements like "I feel that I have a number of good qualities."
The test tracks how rapidly a person can give the same response to words that are pleasant and words that refer to one's self. The cultural diversity of the computer test was ensured by the locations of the student samples: the University of Tokyo, Osaka University and Shinshu University in Japan; East China Normal University and Northwest Normal University in China and the UW and Harvard University.
Even if East Asians are regarded by both others and themselves to be modest and self-effacing, the data came with another image: subjects from all three countries had highly positive implicit self-esteem, but the Japanese students displayed especially higher self-esteem than the Chinese and American ones.
"Ordinary East Asians are aware that they hold strongly positive self-views. But the prevalent modesty norm prevents them from expressing it publicly," said lead-author Susumu Yamaguchi of Tokyo University.
"The IAT successfully unraveled East Asians' unexpressed self-esteem in our study."
The researchers link these cross-cultural similarities to cross-cultural similarities in child-rearing.
"It may be that parents in all societies, especially mothers, adore their children and put them on a pedestal so that children worldwide absorb a highly positive self-concept. In Japan the culture explicitly tells you that you are not better than others.
But this culturally approved explicit self-concept doesn't remove the base of adoration created by parents and other relatives since childhood. In China, where there is pressure for having smaller families, children are perhaps more precious than they were years ago." said Greenwald.