The influence of culture has a significant impact in one’s self-concept, or collection of beliefs about one’s overall place and identity in society. Self-concept includes all elements related to one’s perceptions about the self, including socioeconomic status, gender identification, sexual orientation, ethnic identity, motivations and self-esteem (Byrne, 2006). Because individualistic and collectivist cultures differ in how they regard one’s societal role, self-concept will often differ between these two cultural concepts. Individualistic cultures tend to be more prominent in Western cultures, such as throughout Europe and in the United States, while collectivist cultures are more prominent in Asian countries such as Japan (Kashima et al., 2005).
The primary trait associated with individualistic cultures is the concept of the self as the main identifying factor: persons in individualistic cultures frequently use the pronoun, I, as the main identifying force. Individual rights and motivations therefore take precedence (Kim, 2004); independence is a value, and there is less of an emphasis on adhering to familial expectations. Persons who are raised in these cultures are encouraged to develop their own paths in life, and success is often viewed as the ability of the individual to establish him or herself within society. At the same time, there are negative connotations with relying on the help of others past a certain age; children are encouraged to move out of the home and establish their own life and career independent of the parents’ influence.

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In regard to self-concept, the valuation of the self in an individualistic culture often hinges upon how one sees oneself in regard to individualistic values: those who are autonomously successful are often viewed as among the most esteemed individuals in an individualistic society. This can be seen in the stereotype of the ‘self-made man or woman’ who rose from the bottom and achieved great personal success. At the same time, those who are not able to achieve success may suffer from lower levels of esteem, particularly if they continue to rely upon others after a certain age. Persons who remain living with their families into their twenties might be looked down upon; those receiving forms of financial aid, either through one’s parents or from the government, are generally seen as less autonomous and even pitiable by others. Those who are able to adapt to the social expectations of an individualistic culture will have high feelings of self-esteem, while those who do not will have lower feelings of self-esteem, influencing one’s self-concept positively or negatively.

In collectivist cultures, there is a much greater emphasis on encouraging individuals to become active in his or her social role, as determined by one’s family, community and society (Triandis, 2011). The rights of larger social groups tend to take precedence over individual rights. This can also include perceptions of reputation, as an individual’s actions will also reflect upon one’s immediate social group, such as family. The general structure of rules is therefore to promote concepts of selflessness and unity. Individuals in collectivist cultures will work more often in teams, and offering support and receiving help does not have the same potential stigmatization that it has in individualistic cultures. Collectivist cultures therefore abide by the general principle that there is strength in numbers, and that the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual.

Self-concept in collectivist cultures will similarly have an impact on one’s self-concept, based on how integrated one is within the culture. In these cultures, there is a much greater sense of familial obligation; it is much more normal for children to remain in their parents’ home well into adulthood, and there is even an expectation that this will occur, particularly in more rural areas. The same concept applies to business, as it is much more common for employees to remain with the same employer throughout one’s career. At the same time, those who do not adhere to traditional norms may find themselves ostracized; issues of possible difference, particularly in gender identification and sexual orientation, may find themselves more marginalized and will therefore suffer a lower sense of self-concept (Triandis, 2011). Unlike individualistic cultures, those most able to thrive in a collectivist culture are those who are the best team players, as this is what adheres to social norms.

The overall quality of self-concept, or the general feeling of well-being one has in regard to his or her personal beliefs and levels of esteem, will therefore be impacted by whether one’s own value system is aligned with the larger culture (Marcus and Wurf, 2006). Individuals who retain a strong sense of independence or identify with social identifications outside of the mainstream may thrive and gain acceptance in individualistic cultures; at the same time, these persons may find themselves ostracized in collectivist cultures. Alternatively, those who exhibit collectivist values, such as adhering to familial and cultural expectations, may not be as welcomed or valued in an individualistic culture. Individualistic cultures will still value conformity to some extent, particularly in business; however, these individuals are not among the most celebrated in society. Self-concept is therefore often contingent upon the prevailing culture of any given society: those who fit into the norms of the culture will have higher feelings of self-concept than those who remain on the fringe. However, because all cultures are different, with different amounts of emphasis on levels of individualism or collectivism, these will tend to vary between different societies overall.

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  • Kashima, Y., Yamaguchi, S., Kim, U., Choi, S. C., Gelfand, M. J., & Yuki, M. (2005). Culture, gender, and self: a perspective from individualism-collectivism research. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69(5), 925.
  • Kim, U. E. (2004). Individualism and collectivism: Theory, method, and applications. Sage Publications, Inc.
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  • Triandis, H. C. (2011). Individualism‐collectivism and personality. Journal of personality, 69(6), 907-924.