Self-esteem refers to one’s general sense of worthiness as a person (Rosenberg, 1979). Global self-esteem – the evaluative component of self-knowledge, heavily in-vested with feelings about the self – “is literally defined by how much value people place on themselves… High self-esteem refers to a highly favorable global evaluation of the self. Low self-esteem, by definition, refers to an unfavorable definition of the self” (Baumeister et al., 2003, p. 1). Low self-esteem in adolescence is a risk factor for negative outcomes in important life domains. For example, Trzesniewski et al. (2006) found that low self-esteem during adolescence predicts poor mental and physical health, worse economic well-being, and higher levels of criminal activity in young adulthood. Similarly, other studies found that low self-esteem prospectively predicts antisocial behavior, eating disturbances, depression, and suicidal ideation (McGee, Williams, 2000; Donnellan et al., 2005; Orth, Robins, Roberts, 2008). Notwithstanding, research findings have supported that people in different cultures (e.g., collectivism vs. individualism) may have various perceptions and evaluations about themselves due to distinct self-construals (Markus, Kitayama, 1991). For these reasons self-esteem is extensively studied in a cross-cultural perspective, but there are still several debates concerning cultural differences. Specifically, although it is widely believed that people in individualistic cultures have higher self-esteem than in collectivistic cultures (e.g., Heine et al., 1999; Chan, 2000), some studies demonstrated that collectivist people do not differ from individualistic people in their level of self-esteem (e.g., Schmitt, Allik, 2005; Li et al., 2015). More recently Cai et al. (2007) suggested that Chinese (collectivistic) feel as positively toward themselves as Americans (individualistic) do, but are less inclined to evaluate themselves in an excessively pos-itive manner (see: Cai, Wu, Brown, 2009).
Although many scales are available for measuring self-esteem, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965), which is by far the most popular among researchers, has been shown as one of the few tools with good psychometric qualities to assess global self-esteem (Blascovich, Tomaka, 1991; Baumeister et al., 2003) and was extendedly used in cross-cultural studies. The scale is highly reliable. Indeed, its reliability is so high that a single item (“I have high self-esteem”) may be sufficient (Robins, Hendin, Trzesniewski, 2001; Baumeister et al., 2003). Initially, self-esteem was conceived as an indivisible concept and within that framework the RSES was developed as a unidimensional construct (e.g., Schmitt, Allik, 2005). However, self--esteem’s unidimensionality has been very much debated, and evidence for a dual-istic approach of self-esteem was proposed by Tafarodi and his colleagues (Tafarodi, Swann, 1995; 2001; Tafarodi, Milne, 2002), who identified two correlated but distinct factor of global self-esteem (Tafarodi, Swann, 2001) that provided a superior fit compared to a one-factor global self-esteem model. According to this factor model, self-esteem is comprised of the dimensions self-competence and self -liking. Self--competence, defined as the evaluative derivative of personal agency, refers to the generalized sense of one’s own efficacy or power; it reflects the degree to which people see themselves as competent, capable and efficacious (efficacy-based self-esteem). Self-liking, on the other hand, is defined as the evaluative experience of oneself as a social object, a good person, socially relevant, and maintains group harmony ac-cording to internalized criteria for worth. Self-liking refers to the generalized sense of one’s own worth as a social object; it reflects the degree to which individuals feel they are persons of value (worth-based self-esteem) and it is considered to depend more on internalized positive regards from others. Several studies demonstrated that discerning self-liking from self-competence can be valuable (e.g., Bardone et al., 2003; Sassaroli, Ruggiero, 2005). Although based on their findings, Tafarodi and Swann (1995) developed a questionnaire specifically designed to measure both dimensions of self-esteem, the RSES self- liking (SL_RSES) and self -competence (SC_RSES) dimensions can be derived from the RSES based on the two factor model identified by Tafarodi (Tafarodi, Milne, 2002).
Why Polish adolescents versus Italy and China
As already quoted, self-esteem and its dimensions (i.e., self-liking and self-competence) were extensively studied and debated in a cross-cultural perspective with inconsistent results. The most recent studies stressed the importance of cultural power disparities closed associated with national variation in self-esteem and its two dimensions (e.g., Schmitt, Allik, 2005; Li et al., 2015).
Poland, Italy and China are three nations with different cultural values. According to Hofstede’s individualism-collectivism model (http://geert-hofstede.com), China is a typical collectivistic country, whereas Italy is representative of individualistic countries. Chinese culture requires people to be modest and not to show their personal strength (e.g., Cai et al., 2007). In Poland several ethical, religious and social differences are present in one culture, due to its historical heritage (Stefaniak, Bilewicz, 2016). Specifically, with the collapse of communism and its collectivistic culture in 1989, many fast changes occurred at the economic, social and individual level, making a country, which used to be collectivist, to undergoing the process of social and economic system transformation closer to individualistic countries (Liberska, 2002; Różycka, Żemojtel-Piotrowska, Khanh Ha, 2013; Brycz, Różycka-Tran, Szczepanik, 2015) and this is confirmed by Hofstede’s individualism-collectivism model (http://geert-hofstede.com), which categorized Poland as an individualistic country (the Individualism score is 60). The sudden change from a collectivistic/ communism structure, to a individualistic/capitalism society may have threaten the sense of security and belongings perceived under the communism (Wejnert, Djum-abaeva, 2004; Siemieńska, 2014) and must have had an impact on self-esteem above all in youngest generation.
Mean level of self-esteem, self-competence and self-liking in a cross-cultural perspective in adolescence
Although it has been consistently demonstrated that East Asian (e.g., China) adolescents have lower self-esteem than their North American (e.g., the U.S.) and European (e.g., Britain) counterparts (Kwan, Bond, Singelis, 1997; Chung, Mallery, 1999; Farruggia et al., 2004; Cai et al., 2007), prior studies found that participants in most Asian as well as Western countries scored higher than the theoretical midpoint of RSES (25.00; Schmitt, Allik, 2005; Cai, Wu, Brown, 2009; Li et al., 2015).
Schmitt and Allik (2005) compared self-esteem in adult samples of 53 countries including Poland. According to Schmitt and Allik’s (2005), Polish sample’s mean score on RSES was 30.34 very similar to the one of the Italian sample (M = 30.56), but higher than the Chinese sample’s mean score on RSES which was 27.54. As for adolescents samples, in the Polish validation sample (Łaguna, Lachowicz-Tabaczek, Dzwonkowska, 2007) 303 adolescents aged 15-18 were included and the means was lower than in the adult sample (M = 28.24, SD = 4.46). In a very recent study on a wide sample of early adolescents of Mage = 14.37 years (SD = 1.55) no significant differences were found in the level of self-esteem in mainland China (M = 28.87, SD= 4.69) and Italy (M= 29.88, SD= 4.88) (Li et al., 2015). All these findings support the view of the importance of take into account developmental stage besides the individualistic versus collectivistic framework, and also to frame the results within the cultural disparities among countries (Triandis, Gelfand, 1998; Tafarodi, Walters, 1999; Triandis, 1999; Schmitt, Allik, 2005).
During the past 2 decades, the large number of studies which have examined gender differences in self-esteem (Kling et al., 1999; Twenge, Campbell, 2001; Robins et al., 2002; Trzesniewski, Donnellan, Robins, 2003; Orth, Trzesniewski, Robins, 2010; Shaw, Liang, Krause, 2010; Orth, Robins, Widaman, 2012; Zeigler-Hill, Myers, 2012) found that, starting from adolescence, a significant gender gap such that males tend to report higher levels of self-esteem than females do. About gender differences in Polish, data were published only for the whole sample including subjects aged 15-55 (females N = 669, M = 29.19, SD = 4.28, males N = 451, M = 29.94, SD = 4.26) (Łaguna, Lachowicz-Tabaczek, Dzwonkowska, 2007), suggesting significant gender differences, even if no statistical analyses were run by the authors. In Italy, significant higher level of self-esteem were found in boys as compared with girls in the Italian validation study carried out by Prezza, Trombaccia and Armento (1997) and in University students (Mannarini, 2010). Higher level of self-esteem in males were also found in 348 students (214 males and 134 females) from a large university in Main-land China (Ye, Yu, Li, 2012).
Tafarodi and his colleagues supported that level of self-competence and self--liking dimensions of self-esteem are differentially prevalent across cultures (Tafarodi, Swann, 1996; Tafarodi, Lang, Smith, 1999; Tafarodi, Walters, 1999). Specifically, they have proposed a “trade-off hypothesis” in which self-competence is thought to be nurtured in individualistic cultures at the expense of self-liking, whereas self-liking is thought to be inherent in collectivistic cultures at the expense of self-competence. In individualistic cultures (such as the United States), self-confidence, in-dependence, and the priority of the instrumental self would take precedence over group harmony, resulting in higher levels of self-competence but lower levels of self--liking. In collectivistic cultures (such as China), the individual needs for self-confidence and efficacy are subordinated to the social needs of others, resulting in overall higher self-liking but lower self-competence. Tafarodi and colleagues (Tafarodi, Swann, 1996; Tafarodi, Lang, Smith, 1999; Tafarodi, Walters, 1999) supported this hypothesis in comparison of Chinese college students (i.e., collectivistic) and American students (i.e., individualistic), in comparisons of Spanish (i.e., collectivistic) and British (i.e., individualistic) college students and in comparisons of Malaysian (i.e., collectivistic) and British samples. Schmitt and Allik (2005) explored the trade-off hypothesis in 53 countries in college students. First, they found that in all nations (with the exception of Switzerland) the average individual scored significantly higher on self-competence than on self-liking. Second, using more sophisticated statistical methods they showed a more complex picture living open question to the trade-off hypothesis above all in countries that were not extremely individualistic or collectivistic according to Hofstede (2001). Support for this hypothesis was found only when the 10 (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States) or 5 (Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States) most individualist countries or the most absolute individualist country (the United States) were compared respectively with the 10 (Bangladesh, Botswana, Chile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru, Serbia, and South Korea) or 5 (Bangladesh, Botswana, Indonesia, Peru, and South Korea) most collectivistic countries or the most absolute collectivistic country (Indonesia). Schmitt and Allik (2005) also correlated raw nation-level scores on self-competence and self-liking with Hofstede’s (2001) dimension of Individualism (vs. Collectivism), hypothesizing that if self-competence was more accentuated (and self-liking more attenuated) in individualistic cultures, it might be expected that national levels of these self-esteem facets would correlate in opposite directions with Individualism. Neither self-competence, nor self-liking, were found to be significantly related to Individualism at the national level. As for gender differences Tafarodi and Swann (1996) found qualitative higher levels of self- competence and self-liking in male than female adults (see: Tafarodi, Lang, Smith, 1999; Tafarodi, Walters, 1999).
Considering that the aforesaid debates have not been completely solved and that there are some limitations in previous studies and that further investigation is warranted above all in adolescents’ sample, the present study compared the level of self-esteem, self-liking and self-competence in Polish adolescents with Chinese (collectivistic) and Italian (individualistic), which may contribute to some extent to the existing literatures.
It was expected that: (1) adolescents in Poland, Italy and China, have a positive self-esteem (i.e., the score on RSES is higher than midpoint), (2) self-esteem scores would be higher in boys than in girls in the three countries, (3) level of self-esteem in Polish adolescents would be within the range of normative data already published in Poland (Łaguna, Lachowicz-Tabaczek, Dzwonkowska, 2007), (4) Italian and Chinese adolescents scores would not differ confirming data found in a previous recent paper (Li et al., 2015), (5) self-competence would be higher than self-liking in the three countries (Schmitt, Allik, 2005), (6) self-liking and self-competence scores would be higher in boys than in girls in the three countries (Tafarodi, Swann, 1996).
The current study included three samples recruited in middle and high schools.
303 Polish adolescents (176 boys, 127 girls; Mage = 16.86 years, SD= 0.87 years) were recruited in Bydgoszcz, 302 Italian adolescents (170 boys, 132 girls; Mage = 16.85 years, SD = 0.87 years) were selected in the Venetian Region, and 300 Chinese adolescents (178 boys, 122 girls; Mage = 16.86 years, SD= 0.84 years) were recruited in Guangzhou. All samples came from a working and middle-class background. Participants were collected in public schools, which served mainly middle-class families (SES; Hollingshead, 1975), within urban and suburban school districts. About 93% of the families who received the leaflet agreed that their children participate in the study. All participants indicated that they were from two-parent family, and they did not have psychological or psychiatric counselling over the past two years.
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965) was used to assess respondents’ level of self-esteem. This scale consists of ten items rated on a 4-point scale (from “1 = strongly disagree” to “4 = strongly agree”), five of which are negatively worded and the other five items are positively worded. Higher scores indicate better self-esteem. Following Tafarodi and Milne (2002), the RSRS was split into two dimension self-liking (5 items) and self-competence (5 items).
Sample items include “I feel that I have a number of good qualities” (self-liking) and “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself” (self-competence). Chinese, Italian, and Polish adolescents answered the Chinese, Italian, and Polish versions of this scale, respectively. RSES has been extensively used among Chinese, Italian, and Polish adolescents, showing adequate psychometric properties (e.g., Schmitt, Allik, 2005; Dzwonkowska, Lachowicz-Tabaczek, Łaguna, 2008). The Cronbach’s α for Polish, Italian, and Chinese adolescents were .82, .79, and .85, respectively. For the self-liking .77, .67, .68; for self-competence .65, .68, .85.
This study is part of a large collaboration between the University of Padua (Italy), Guangzhou University (China), and Catholic University of Bydgoszcz (Poland). The study was conducted in compliance with the ethical standards for re-search outlined in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct(American Psychological Association, 2010). Approval by the Ethical Committee for Psychological Research was obtained from universities. Consent was obtained from school masters and parents before data collection and adolescents provided their assent before participation. No incentives were awarded; voluntary participation and anonymity were emphasized. Participants completed the questionnaires during regularly scheduled classes and were instructed to be open and honest in their responses and to refrain from sharing answers with each other. Administration was conducted in compliance with the standard procedures. Participants’ personal information was kept highly confidential.
Data were processed in SPSS 18.0. First, the internal consistency reliability of RSES (total score and dimensions) were calculated. Second, Univariate (ANOVAs) analyses of variance were conducted to determine if country and gender and their interaction as between-subject variables had a significant effect on total self-esteem score and self-liking and self-competence scores. Differences were interpreted when (1) F was significant (p < .05), and (2) partial eta square (η²p) were substantially significant (1-5%; Cohen, 1988; 1992).
Cultural differences in mean level of RSES
Table 1 presents the means, standard deviations, of the study variables according to country and gender. Global self-esteem was higher than the cut-off in the three countries and self-competence was higher than self-liking in the three countries.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics of main variables
ANOVAs were performed with self-esteem total score, self-liking and self-competence scores respectively as dependent variables and with country and gender as independent variable (table 2).
Table 2. Results of ANOVA analysis
Results indicated that self-esteem total score (F(2, 899) = 8.03, p< .001, η2 = .018), self-competence score (F(2, 899) = 19.21, p < .001, η2 = .041) but not self-liking score (F(2, 899) = 1.90, p = .15, η2 = .004) were significantly different across countries. Bonferroni’s post-hoc revealed that Polish adolescents reported the lowest total self--esteem and self-competence scores among the three countries, and Chinese adolescents’ self-esteem and self-competence scores were not significantly different from Italian adolescents.
Results indicated that self-esteem total score (F(1, 899) = 1.22, p= .27, η2 = .001), self-competence score (F(1, 899) = 0.41, p= .52, η2 = .000) and self-liking score (F(1, 899) = 1.80, p= .18, η2 = .002) were not significantly different across gender. However interaction country x gender were significant for self-esteem total score (F(2, 899) = 10.05, p< .001, η2 = .022), self-competence score (F(2, 899) = 7.62, p< .01, η2 = .017) and self--liking score (F(2, 899) = 10.40, p< .001, η2 = .023).
Trends of interaction country x gender for total self-esteem score, self-liking score and self-competence score are shown graphically in figures 1-3, respectively.
Figure 1. Interaction country xgender for total self-esteem score
Source: own work.
Figure 2. Interaction country x gender for self-liking score
Source: own work.
Figure 3. Interaction country x gender for self-competence score
Source: own work.
Student’s t-test for independent samples was used to analyze significant differences in these interactions. Summary of these t-tests are shown in table 3.
Table 3. Summary of the Student’s t-tests
No significant differences were found between Polish boys and girls for total self-esteem and self-competence scores, but significant difference was found for self-liking, with girls showing higher self-liking than boys. No significant difference was found between Chinese boys and girls in total self-esteem score or the two dimensions. Significant difference was found between Italian boys and girls in total self-esteem score and dimensions, with boys showing a higher score in total self-esteem score and dimensions.
In this study, the mean level of self-esteem of all the three countries was higher than the midpoint, indicating that they all have a positive self-esteem. As expected self-competence was higher than self-liking (Schmitt, Allik, 2005) in the three countries. Polish adolescents’ mean level of self-esteem was similar to the one already found in the normative sample of adolescents aged 15-18 (Łaguna, Lachowicz--Tabaczek, Dzwonkowska, 2007). Level of self-esteem in the Italian and Chinese samples were higher than the one obtained with an early adolescents sample (Li et al., 2015). This finding agrees with the literature that supports how self-esteem increase along adolescence (Erol, Orth, 2011).
However, significant cultural differences in self-esteem levels were found, with Polish adolescents scoring lower than the other two samples. Findings about Italy and China confirm previous results in adolescents samples that did not support that adolescents in individualistic countries (e.g., Italy) have higher self-esteem than in collectivistic countries (e.g., China; Heine et al., 1999). The trend of self-competence goes in the same direction. Polish adolescents feel less competent, capable and efficacious than their Italian and Chinese counterpart. Adolescents of the three countries feel they are persons of values at the same level (self-liking). Within the massive cultural changes, Polish adolescents are asked to increase their goals in autonomy, self--development, economic welfare and all this looks like to make them more insecure about their self-esteem and self-competence in reaching these goals. This insecurity looks like to be the same for boys and girls, as underscored by the fact that no significant difference was found about gender in Poland for global self-esteem or self--competence. The trend for gender difference among Chinese adolescents showed that both girls and boys reached the same level of global self-esteem and self-competence. Italian adolescents were the only ones in which the literature trend that boys have a higher level of self-esteem than girls was confirmed. Anyway, only Polish girls’ self-liking is higher than boys. These findings supported the view that cultural power disparities were most closely associated with national variations in self-esteem, self-competence, and self-liking (Schmitt, Allik, 2005).
This study has some limitations. Data were collected in only one city within each country, and consisted largely of urban youth in one town in the three countries. This means that youth not attending school or living in other social context were excluded, thus the generalizability of result to the overall population is limited. The study was only devoted to means level of global self-esteem, self-competence and self-liking excluding any relation with other developmental outcomes such as depression and other psychological problems.
Despite these limitations, this paper highlights how deep changes in political culture can influence global self-esteem and self-competence. Findings of the current study also inform the development of school-based intervention programs for parents and adolescents aimed at increase self-worth, within a cultural shifting from a communism to a liberal culture mainframe.
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