Past studies showed that compared to North Americans, East Asians have lower self-esteem and their self-esteem scores do not predict self-esteem-related motivations and self-perceptions. These findings have been interpreted in terms of a lack of the need for positive self-regard in East Asian contexts. We posit that the East - West difference in self-esteem may arise from the popularity of the dialectical self (the idea that one can have both a positive and negative self) in East Asia and of the internally consistent self (the notion that having a positive self implies not having a negative one, and vice versa) in North America. Consistent with this idea, we found that the Chinese American difference in self-esteem level was driven primarily by Chinese participants' greater tendency to agree with negatively worded self-esteem items. Furthermore, because of the motivation to maintain consistent responses, North Americans' response pattern varied depending on whether the first item in the self-esteem measure was positively or negatively worded. Finally, contrary to the lack of positive self-regard explanation, for both Chinese and North Americans, agreement with positively worded self-esteem items predicted self-esteem-related motivations and self-perceptions.
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