In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Self-Construal

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Original Statements of Cultural Differences in Self-Definition
  • Relational Self-Construal
  • Developmental Influences
  • Self-Construal and Emotion
  • Self-Construal and Relationships
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Neuroscience Approaches
  • Research Controversies and Ongoing Issues

Psychology Self-Construal
Susan Cross
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0051


Self-construal refers to the grounds of self-definition, and the extent to which the self is defined independently of others or interdependently with others. Initially, the term derived from perceived cultural differences in the self. Westerners were thought to have an independent self-construal, which is characterized by separateness from others, by attention to one’s abilities, traits, preferences, and wishes, and by the primacy of one’s individual goals over those of in-groups. East Asians were thought to have an interdependent self-construal, which is characterized by a sense of fundamental connectedness with others, by attention to one’s role in in-groups, and by the primacy of group goals over one’s individual goals. Later, a third characterization, the relational self-construal, was proposed; it represents the ways that people may define themselves in terms of close, dyadic relationships. Social and cultural psychologists now view these as three dimensions of the self, which virtually all people construct to some degree. Cultural differences in self-definition arise through differences in the relative strength or elaboration of these self-construals. Consequently, the literature on self-construal can seem somewhat confusing: self-construal is described at times in terms of very different understandings of the self in different cultures, and at other times in terms of universal dimensions (independent, relational, or interdependent) that vary in strength in different cultures.

General Overviews

The most comprehensive overview of existing research on self-construal has been compiled by Cross, et al. 2011. A shorter version of this article is available in Cross, et al. 2009. Overviews of the culture and self-construal literature are available in Kitayama, et al. 2007. Oyserman and Lee 2008 provide a useful meta-analysis of priming studies (which they refer to as individualism-collectivism priming, although common self-construal priming techniques are regularly used in the studies they review). Oyserman, et al. 2002 reports the results of a meta-analysis of cross-cultural research using common self-construal measures.

  • Cross, Susan E., Erin E. Hardin, and Berna Gercek Swing. 2009. Independent, relational, and collective-interdependent self-construals. In Handbook of individual differences in social behavior. Edited by Mark R. Leary, and Rick H. Hoyle, 512–526. New York: Guilford.

    This article provides a brief overview of the development, measurement, and research findings of the past twenty years of research on the concept of self-construal.

  • Cross, Susan E., Erin E. Hardin, and Berna Gercek Swing. 2011. The what, how, why, and where of self-construal. Personality and Social Psychology Review 15:142–179.

    DOI: 10.1177/1088868310373752

    This article provides an extensive review of the origins of theory and research on self-construal, current approaches to measurement and research, and findings in the domains of cognition, emotion, motivation, and social behavior.

  • Kitayama, Shinobu, Sean Duffy, and Yukiko Uchida. 2007. Self as cultural mode of being. In Handbook of cultural psychology. Edited by Shinobu Kitayama and Dov Cohen, 136–174. New York: Guilford.

    This chapter identifies how cultural modes of being (i.e., a focus on the individual as the primary actor versus a focus on the individual as a member of groups that act) are manifested in different approaches to agency, self-representations, and cognitive processes. It also examines research on the possible origins of these two modes of being.

  • Oyserman, Daphna, Heather M. Coon, and Markus Kemmelmeier. 2002. Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin 128:3–72.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.3

    This article provides a meta-analysis of the existing research using measures of individualism and collectivism (and measures of self-construal) and examines the effects of individualism/collectivism (or variation in self-construal) on well-being, cognition, self-definition, and relationality. This article sparked controversy in its findings that cross-cultural differences in self-definition were not always consistent with theoretical expectations.

  • Oyserman, Daphna, and Spike W. S. Lee. 2008. Does culture influence what and how we think? Effects of priming individualism and collectivism. Psychological Bulletin 134:311–342.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.311

    This article presents a meta-analysis of studies that have primed self-construal (labeled individualism and collectivism here) and shows that different priming techniques have stronger or weaker effects for different outcomes.

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