C. Sedikides, L. Gaertner, and Y. Toguchi (2003) reported findings favoring the universality of self-enhancement. S. J. Heine (2005) challenged the authors’ research on evidential and logical grounds. In response, the authors carried out 2 meta-analytic investigations. The results backed the C. Sedikides et al. (2003) theory and findings. Both Westerners and Easterners self-enhanced tactically. Westerners self-enhanced on attributes relevant to the cultural ideal of individualism, whereas Easterners selfenhanced on attributes relevant to the cultural ideal of collectivism (in both cases, because of the personal importance of the ideal). Self-enhancement motivation is universal, although its manifestations are strategically sensitive to cultural context. The authors respond to other aspects of Heine’s critique by discussing why researchers should empirically validate the comparison dimension (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and defending why the better-than-average effect is a valid measure of self-enhancement.
In an influential article, Heine, Lehman, Markus, and Kitayama (1999) drew a provocative conclusion: “The empirical literature provides scant evidence for a need for positive self-regard among Japanese and indicates that a self-critical focus is more characteristic of Japanese,” “the need for self-regard must be culturally variant,” and “the need for self-regard . . . is not a universal, but rather is rooted in significant aspects of North American culture” (p. 766). Japanese do not have or wish to have high self-esteem (Heine, Kitayama, Lehman, et al., 2001) and, if anything, they self-criticize rather than self-enhance (Heine, Kitayama, & Lehman, 2001). These statements reflect what we (Sedikides, Gaertner, & Toguchi, 2003) labeled the cultural-self perspective: Selfenhancement is a uniquely Western phenomenon. We (Sedikides et al., 2003) cast doubt on the assertion that the need for self-regard and the motivation to self-enhance were the exclusive province of North American or Western culture. After all, this assertion ran in the face of established theories highlighting the universality of self-esteem (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004a, 2004b) and of established findings regarding the psychological health benefits of selfenhancement (Taylor, Lerner, Sherman, Sage, & McDowell, 2003a, 2003b) as well as the universality of these benefits (Anderson, 1999; Bonanno, Field, Kovacevic, & Kaltman, 2002; Stewart et al., 2003). There had to be an explanation.
We feel that Is there a Universal Need for Positive Self-Regard? is an important challenge to psychology and can't be brushed off as being inconsistent with western psychological theories or results. The substance of this author's claim is that Japanese exaggerate their competence and virtue according to Japanese ideals, so are not an exception to the universality of this exaggeration. This may well be true to some degree, but this tangential to Heine's core claim that self-esteem need not form the core of mental health, for example that self-critical thoughts are less associated with depression in Japanese, and also that depression and anxiety are more socially acceptable in Japan.
Instead, the individuated entity versus aggregate mechanism as well as selective recruitment, focalism, and egocentrism are best thought of as moderators of the better-than-average effect (Alicke & Govorun, in press). These moderators cannot supplant motivational interpretations for the effect. The moderators are not alternatives to motivational explanations. As Alicke and Govorun (in press) pointed out, motivational accounts explain why the effect occurs, whereas the earlier mentioned moderators or mechanisms explain how it occurs. To make a convincing argument that these moderators, either in isolation or combination, can supplant motivational interpretations, it would be necessary to show that they eliminate the effect. They do not. They attenuate the effect, but they do not eliminate it. Although various nonmotivational moderators contribute to the better-than-average effect (Chambers & Windschitl, 2004), the effect is largely due to the desire to maintain a self-view that compares favorably with one’s peers.
This relates to another dispute about whether the Above Average Effect may be due to cognitive limitations rather than a desire for self-promotion or self-esteem. “Motivational explanation” corresponds to the social psychology concept of “motivated belief” we believe something not because it is true, but because this belief makes us feel good. See Illusion and Well-Being and Biases in Social Comparative Judgments.