Interdependent Self-Construals

Interdependent Self-Construals Definition

Self-construal refers to the way in which a person thinks about and defines the self. Importantly, self-construal is not only a way of viewing oneself but also a way of understanding one’s relationship to the larger social world. When people are construing or thinking about themselves in an interdependent way, they are likely to think first and foremost about their roles in relationships (e.g., “I’m Nancy’s best friend” or “I’m the youngest son in my family”) and their important group memberships (e.g., “I’m a sorority sister” or “I’m an Asian American”). An interdependent self-construal, because of its emphasis on relationships and groups, is thus one in which the self is seen as fundamentally embedded in the larger social world. Interestingly, thinking of the self in this relatively social way has been shown to influence a wide range of values, emotions, and social behavior.

Interdependent Self-Construals Background

Interdependent Self-ConstrualsInterdependent self-construals were first explored primarily in terms of cultural differences, because it was found that members of East Asian and Latin American cultures were much more likely to think of the self in an interdependent way than were North Americans, and it was thought that this social way of construing the self could potentially explain some well-known cultural differences. For example, an interdependent self-construal is very common in Japanese, Korean, and Indian cultures, and it was thought that this might explain why members of these cultures place a higher value on belonging, emphasize social obligations, and are more likely to view the causes of other people’s behavior as rooted in the social situations they faced rather than in terms of being driven by their individual personalities.

Of course, to say that interdependent self-construal is a causal factor in these cultural differences, one would need to be able to look at the effects of self-construal apart from culture. Fortunately, the capacity to construe the self as interdependent is not limited by one’s cultural upbringing. Everyone, regardless of cultural background, sometimes construes the self inter-dependently. Indeed, anytime one views the self as part of a “we” instead of only a “me,” this represents an interdependent construal. For example, when individuals are playing a team sport or spending time with their family, they are more likely to construe the self as interdependent. From this, researchers found that there were ways to study the effects of self-construal directly, by encouraging people to construe the self in a more or less interdependent fashion before they engaged in other tasks. Because the effects of experimentally manipulated self-construal were often found to be very similar to cultural differences, researchers who study self-construal can now do so in a variety of ways: Some look at members of East Asian cultures, who maintain relatively interdependent self-construals; some experimentally prime or activate interdependent self-construal; and some use personality scales to look at individual differences in interdependent self-construal. The effects of interdependent self-construal that are reviewed in this entry have been discovered using all of these methods.

Values, Emotions, and Social Behavior

When people construe the self as interdependent, it increases the importance of social connections and maintaining harmony with others. Values like belonging, friendship, family safety, and national security take precedence, and interdependent people become significantly less tolerant of others who break social norms or fail to live up to social obligations.

Certain emotions are also more likely to be experienced by those with an interdependent self-construal. Because of the increased importance of social obligations, people with a more interdependent self-construal judge the self through others’ eyes; thus, some negative emotions that are experienced when one disappoints another person or fails to live up to social standards (e.g., anxiety, guilt, and shame) are experienced more frequently and intensely for those with interdependent construals. However, interdependence has emotional benefits as well as costs. For example, more ego-focused emotions, such as anger, are less likely to be experienced. Finally, when people view the self as interdependent, they take greater pleasure and pride in the accomplishments of close others and groups, and so in some ways, they have more opportunities for happiness than if limited to taking pleasure in individual accomplishments alone.

In terms of social behavior, maintaining a more interdependent self-construal appears to benefit society at large. People are more cooperative than competitive, work harder at group endeavors, and are better at resolving social dilemmas when they are construing the self as interdependent. They are also more likely to put the good of a relationship partner or social group above their own desires; thus, in many ways it appears that interdependent construal leads to less selfish behavior. However, the benefits of interdependence only extend to those relationships and groups that are incorporated as part of the self; interdependence has also been associated with greater prejudice toward outgroups. Thus, the prosocial behaviors that are seen in interdependent people may actually be equally selfish; the self has simply been broadened to encompass one’s own relationships and groups.

Gender Differences in Interdependent Self-Construals

A powerful stereotype in American society is that women are more social than men. It is thus perhaps not surprising that psychologists originally expected women to be more likely to construe the self in a social fashion as well. However, research has revealed that men and women are equally likely to maintain an interdependent self-construal. Gender differences do exist, but it is in the type of interdependence, rather than in the extent of interdependence. Recall that interdependence may be based on both roles in close relationships and memberships in social groups. Women appear to place greater emphasis on the relational aspects of interdependence, whereas men place greater emphasis on the collective or group-based aspects of interdependence. In other words, women define the self with more close relationships, experience more emotional intensity in close relationships, and are more willing to sacrifice for a close other when compared to men. Conversely, men define the self with more group memberships, experience more emotional intensity in group contexts, and are more willing to sacrifice for their groups when compared to women. However, despite these minor differences in emphasizing one type of social connection over another, interdependent self-construals appear to be equally prevalent and powerful for both sexes, understandable when one considers the profound importance of social connections for all humans.


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