What is it about?

Self-enhancement, the tendency to view the self positively is widespread and robust in Western cultural contexts. However, this tendency is much weaker and sometimes reversed among East Asians. While the idea that cultural variation in self-enhancement exists is longstanding, the underlying mechanisms for self-enhancement or the associated cultural variation are unknown. Here, we propose the self-referential processing hypothesis of self-enhancement. Specifically, we suggest that self-enhancement involves spontaneously linking a positive outcome to the self. Using an EEG marker of internal (vs. external) attention, upper alpha, we show that European Americans show greater internal attention when they imagine a success (vs. failure) occurring to the self. The comparable effect was not observed among Taiwanese. Further, we show that the cultural difference in internal attention in response to successes (vs. failures) predicts their self-reported levels of self-enhancement. These findings suggest that people who self-enhance spontaneously recruit internal attention during self-referential processing for favorable events that occur to them.

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Why is it important?

Self-enhancement is one of the most widely studied phenomenon in social psychology. Many theories have been proposed, including a primarily motivational or cognitive accounts. Here, we integrate these two accounts and suggest that self-enhancement spontaneously recruits self-referential processing in response to ones’ successes (vs. failures). We show evidence for this mechanism among European Americans. Consistent with prior work that East Asians do not self-enhance, we failed to find a comparable effect among Taiwanese. The cultural difference in self-referential processing explained why European Americans showed self-enhancement (perceived they were impacted more by a success than failure) and Taiwanese did not.

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This page is a summary of: Self-referential processing accounts for cultural variation in self-enhancement versus criticism: An electrocortical investigation., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, November 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/xge0001154.
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