Special Session Summary Cross-Cultural Explorations of Aspects of the Self


Deborah Cours (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Cross-Cultural Explorations of Aspects of the Self", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 22-23.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 22-23



Deborah Cours, California State University Northridge, U.S.A.


This session brought together three papers that investigate social cognitive processes related to the concept of the self. Consistent with ACR’s mission to extend our theoretical borders, these authors represent experience and data from Asia (China, Hong Kong, and Japan), Eastern Europe (Romania), and North America (Canada, U.S.).

Cross-cultural research allows us to examine the degree to which our theories about consumer behavior, most of which were developed in westernized cultures (mostly North America), appropriately describe and predict behavior in other cultures. It is interesting to investigate the similarities and differences in consumer behavior across cultures. In this session, we explore cross-cultural similarities and differences in social psychological processes that affect individual traits and self-identification.

The first paper, by Louie and Cours, explored forced upward and downward social comparisons and the implications for consumer behavior and propensity toward social comparison. The authors compared data from Hong Kong Asians, recent Asian immigrants to Canada from Hong Kong, Asian Canadians, and non-Asian Canadians. Cultural differences existed, in that Asians were more likely to use negative comparison information, while non-Asian North Americans were more likely to use positive comparison information. Yet, cultural similarities existed as well: for example, gender differences in social comparison behavior were similar across cultures.

In the second paper, Hiromi Ikeuchi, Takehiro Fujihara, nd Itsuko Dohi (all Japanese social psychologists), explored victims’ reactions to the loss of goods following disastrous earthquakes. They compared data from victims of the 1994 Northridge, California (U.S.) earthquake with data from victims of the 1995 Nishinomiya, Kobe (Japan) earthquake. They find cultural similarity and validate Belk (e.g. 1988) in that personal belongings were measured to be an important part of the extended self across both Japanese and U.S. populations. The authors also reported cultural differences in the types of objects that were reported as most regrettably lost and the type of emotional reactions experienced in reaction to the loss.

The third paper (Luca and Cours) introduced Taylor’s model of positive illusions and presents applications to consumer preference and choice behavior. Positive illusions, which are characterized by an above-average sense of control and unrealistic optimism, are related to personal well being and success. The authors presented data from a sample of Romanian MBA students showing that positive illusions can be demonstrated by some measures of consumer behavior. Luca and Cours also discussed some potential relevant areas of consumer research that can be explored using Taylor’s model of positive illusions.

There were several integrating themes within the session, and these themes were reflective of the discussion that followed the paper presentations. A common theme across all three papers was the consideration of the nature of cultural differences. Both the paper by Louie and Cours and the paper by Ikeuchi, Fujihara, and Dohi compared data from cultures typically regarded as collectivist (Hong Kong and Japan) to data from cultures typically regarded as individualist (U.S. and Canada). Luca and Cours also reported on past research on differences in self-serving biases between cultures that are collectivist vs. individualist. Luca (1999) found evidence for the existence of positive illusions in Romanian culture, a culture typically considered more collectivist than North American culture. It was noted that researchers must exhibit caution in attributing differences between samples of different cultures and nationalities to broad cultural traits.

Another theme considered the trade-offs between homogeneity and heterogeneity in research samples. Ikeuchi, Fujihara, and Dohi had the unusual opportunity to compare victims of very similar natural disasters that occurred in two very different cultures. The Northridge and Kobe earthquakes occurred exactly one year apart and were both located near large universities. In the Luca and Cours study, using a sample of Romanian MBA students might be criticized for being non-representational of broader cultural values (i.e. one might argue that MBA students would be more likely than other sub-groups within the culture to demonstrate positive illusions). However, this homogeneous sample leads to a tougher test when looking for differences among the subjects with relatively lower versus higher levels of positive illusions.

Finally, we all sought to explore and explain both similarities and differences between cultures. The session’s presentations an discussion focused on the importance of cross-cultural research and the applicability of our theories to other cultures.



Therese Louie, University of Washington, U.S.A.

Deborah Cours, California State University, Northridge, U.S.A.

Although research has examined the propensity and implications of engaging in voluntary social comparisons, little research has examined what happens when comparison information is provided unsolicited, what we call "forced comparisons." This paper represents an exploratory study of forced comparisons. We compare Asian and non-Asian samples on their reports of receiving forced comparisons while growing up, of the nature of those comparisons (i.e. upward vs. downward), of the effect of those comparisons, and of their current propensity to engage in voluntary upward anddownward social comparison as adults. We find that non-Asians report having received more downward (favorable) comparisons about their personality and behavior than Asians report. More Asians than non-Asians rate downward comparisons as having an unfavorable effect. Asians report engaging in more voluntary upward (unfavorable) comparisons than do non-Asians. In seeking to explain these differences, we speculate that perhaps collectivist cultures use upward comparisons to establish and maintain group standards and, hence, enhance the group. Individualist cultures may use downward comparisons to boost self-esteem and enhance the individual. Several gender differences were also found. We discuss implications of this research and potential for future consumer research.



Hiromi Ikeuchi, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan

Takehiro Fujihara, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan

Itsuko Dohi, International Buddhist University, Japan

"Extended self" is defined as the aggregation of all objects that people regard as a part of themselves; for example, their body parts, parents, friends, animal pets, job, social roles, etc. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the emotional reaction of involuntary loss of the extended self, that is, "material possessions," and to examine the structure of "extended self." We collected samples from the victims of the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake (209 university students) and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake (87 university students). We asked them to describe what kinds of the favorite possessions they lost, the emotion when they lost them, and what kinds of the external objects they regarded as a part of themselves, etc. The results showed interesting similarities and differences between the victims of two earthquakes. The similarity was found that the most victims of both earthquakes had similar emotional reactions, that is, "sad," to the loss of important possessions. The differences were found that the victims of Hanshin Earthquake regarded the material possessions as the extended self and valued the lost possessions more than the victims of Northridge Earthquake did.



Anastasia Luca, UCLA, U.S.A.

Deborah Cours, California State University, U.S.A.

We seek to introduce the notion of positive illusions to the consumer literature, extend the measure of positive illusions to consumption behavior, and consider consumer theory implications of the positive illusions construct.

Using the Romanian sample data from Luca’s (1999) study, we explore differences in expected consumption between individuals who score high vs. low on positive illusions.



Deborah Cours, California State University Northridge, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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