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Cultural norm fulfillment, interpersonal belonging, or getting ahead?: A large-scale cross-cultural test of three perspectives on the function of self-esteem
Gebauer, J., Sedikides, C., Wagner, J., Bleidorn, W., Rentfrow, P. J., Potter, J., Gosling, S. D.

Cultural norm fulfillment, interpersonal belonging, or getting ahead?: A large-scale cross-cultural test of three perspectives on the function of self-esteem

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(3), 526-548. 10.1037/pspp0000052

What is the function of self-esteem? We classified relevant theoretical work into 3 perspectives. The cultural norm-fulfillment perspective regards self-esteem a result of adherence to cultural norms. The interpersonal-belonging perspective regards self-esteem as a sociometer of interpersonal belonging. The getting-ahead perspective regards self-esteem as a sociometer of getting ahead in the social world, while regarding low anxiety/neuroticism as a sociometer of getting along with others. The 3 perspectives make contrasting predictions on the relation between the Big Five personality traits and self-esteem across cultures. We tested these predictions in a self-report study (2,718,838 participants from 106 countries) and an informant-report study (837,655 informants from 64 countries). We obtained some evidence for cultural norm fulfillment, but the effect size was small. Hence, this perspective does not satisfactorily account for self-esteem’s function. We found a strong relation between Extraversion and higher self-esteem, but no such relation between Agreeableness and self-esteem. These 2 traits are pillars of interpersonal belonging. Hence, the results do not fit the interpersonal-belonging perspective either. However, the results closely fit the getting-ahead perspective. The relation between Extraversion and higher self-esteem is consistent with this perspective, because Extraversion is the Big Five driver for getting ahead in the social world. The relation between Agreeableness and lower neuroticism is also consistent with this perspective, because Agreeableness is the Big Five driver for getting along with others.