Is self-enhancement culturally universal or relativistic? This article highlights a nuanced dynamic in East Asian culture. Modesty is a prevailing norm in China. The authors hypothesized that because of socialization practices and prohibitive cultural pressures, modesty would be associated with and lead to low explicit self-enhancement but high implicit self-enhancement, that Chinese participants would deemphasize explicitly the positivity of the self when high on modesty or situationally prompted to behave modestly but would capitalize on their modest disposition or situationally induced behavior to emphasize implicitly the positivity of the self. In support of the hypotheses, dispositionally or situationally modest Chinese participants manifested low explicit self-esteem while manifesting high implicit self-esteem. Modesty among American participants constrained explicit self-esteem but yielded no associations with implicit self-esteem. The results showcase the tactical nature of self-enhancement in Chinese culture and call for research on when and how self-enhancement is pursued tactically in different cultures.
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