Culture and Self: How Self-Esteem is Based on the Fulfillment of Dominant Cultural Values 

Does one’s culture influence self-regard?

This article by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) suggests that it actually informs it.

How?

Everyone bases their success or level of achievement on the dominant values of their culture.

Even if a person’s personal values differ from the norm, their self-esteem is often based on fulfilling cultural values.

Let’s see why.

The Survey

Fulfilling one’s personal values has long been viewed in psychology as the greatest influence on self-esteem.

But that may not be the case.

A global study, conducted by social psychologist, Maja Becker, at the CLLE (Laboratoire Cognition, Langue, Langages, Ergonomie) department of the Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail, surveyed 5,000 teenagers and young adults from 19 different countries.

200 young people from countries in Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East took part.

Questions in the survey covered personal and cultural values and to what degree they impacted the students’ self-esteem.

Key Factors of Cultural Influence

What the survey found was that four key factors drove self-esteem in all cultures:

  • Earning social status
  • Fulfilling one’s duty
  • Controlling one’s life
  • Benefitting others

The study also found that the students’ own personal values had little to do with their level of self-esteem.

Rather, self-esteem is measured against our ability to fulfill dominant cultural values.

Fulfillment of Values = Self-Esteem

Each culture places different degrees of importance on these four factors.

For instance, those from Middle Eastern, African, or Asian cultures that value tradition and conformity might place more importance on doing one’s duty and benefitting others.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating this fulfillment of duties.

And those from Western cultures whose values lie in individualism and freedom might place more importance on controlling one’s life.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating such control.

Even if one doesn’t personally subscribe to their own culture’s values, they are still influenced by them on a deeply personal level.

Subtly, societal expectations can make or break an individual’s psyche and self-worth.

Next week, we’ll discuss how a culture’s time perspective might also influence self-esteem.

The Locus of Control: Do You Believe in Fate?

Late to work?

Missed a deadline?

Passed over for a promotion?

Believe it or not, how you view the circumstances surrounding these outcomes has everything to do with culture.

Are your choices, actions, and performance responsible for the results? Or do fate or environmental factors come into play?

Your locus of control will tell us everything we need to know.

Locus of Control

Developed by psychologist Julian B. Rotter in 1954, the locus of control is the degree to which a person believes they’re in control of their life. Rotter developed four dimensions of fundamental self-evaluation in his personality study, the other three dimensions of which include neuroticism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem.

Setting those three aside for now, the locus (Latin for “place”) is either internal or external.

One with an internal locus of control tends toward feeling in control of the events in his life; one with an external locus tends toward ascribing his life’s path to destiny, fate, or chance.

A person with an external locus believes environmental factors determine the outcome, and nothing he does can change that.

Internal vs. External

“You can walk around softly everywhere by putting on a pair of shoes, or you can demand that the whole Earth become covered by soft leather.”

This Indian proverb illustrates perfectly the locus of control.

Those with an internal locus put on a pair of shoes to make their walk comfortable; those with an external locus believe the environment must change in order to make them more comfortable.

Internal Locus

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” – William Ernest Henley

It may come as no surprise that optimism and ambition are characteristic of those with an internal locus of control.

Being that individuals with an internal locus believe they affect change in their own lives, they have a sense of purpose, because they determine the outcome.

This gives those with an internal locus a sense of responsibility for their successes/failures, happiness/unhappiness, etc.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is their battle cry. The internal locus believes it can alter its course. In that sense, those with an internal locus hold themselves and others accountable for their actions and the outcomes these actions produce.

External Locus

On the other hand, the battle cry for those with an external locus might be, “Life is what happens to you.”

The external locus drives realistic and fatalistic views of life events.

Life is predestined, written in the stars, for individuals with an external locus, resulting in a sense of limitation when it comes to personal control over one’s future.

This acceptance of limitation suggests that any outcome is at least partly based on one’s own good fortune or luck.

We’ll talk about how all of this comes to a head cross-culturally, both socially and in the workplace, next week.