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Cultural variation in unrealistic optimism Heine, Steven J.

Abstract

The recently proposed notion that self-enhancing biases are significantly implicated in mental health is being challenged by cross-cultural research which suggests that such biases may be limited to cultures which foster an independent construal of self. We examined whether individuals from a culture characteristic of an interdependent construal of self (Japanese) would show less unrealistic optimism about potential, future life events than individuals from a culture characteristic of an independent construal of self (Canadian). Canadian respondents were indeed significantly more unrealistically optimistic than the Japanese, although the Japanese did demonstrate an optimism bias in some localized cases. Canadians made more unrealistically optimistic judgments for particularly threatening events, whereas this was not so for the Japanese. The weaker unrealistic optimism bias of the Japanese was associated with lower self-esteem, lower dispositional optimism, a more external locus of control, and less of a tendency to imagine stereotypical people associated with the events. The results provide further evidence that self-enhancing tendencies are more common for cultures characteristic of an independent construal of self.

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