Self-Referential Processing Accounts for Cultural Variation in Self-Enhancement Versus Criticism: An Electrocortical Investigation

Cristina E. Salvador, Aya Kamikubo, Brian Kraus, Nai Ching Hsiao, Jon Fan Hu, Mayumi Karasawa, Shinobu Kitayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


European Americans are self-enhancing, whereas East Asians are sometimes self-critical. However, the mechanisms underlying this cultural difference remain unclear. Here, we addressed this gap by testing 32 Taiwanese and 32 American young adults, who indicated whether their self-esteem would change in various episodes involving success or failure. We monitored their electroencephalogram (EEG) and assessed upperalpha band power in response to the outcome information. An increase in upper-alpha power indicates internally directed attention; therefore, it is an index of self-referential processing when assessed during a judgment about the self. As predicted, Americans judged that their self-esteem (but not another’s) would increase more after a success than it would decrease after a failure, thereby showing the previously observed self-enhancing pattern. Taiwanese tended to show the opposite pattern, self-criticism. Notably, Americans, but not Taiwanese, showed an increase in upper-alpha band power in response to the self’s successes (vs. failures). This bias in the EEG index of self-referential processing predicted the cultural difference in selfenhancement (vs. criticism). The role of self-referential processing in self-enhancement is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1904-1918
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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