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Likes, Dislikes, and the Perception of Choice as Self-Expression across Cultures

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Abstract Self-expressive functions of choice, routinely found in individualistic cultures, have also been evidenced in collectivistic cultures, when choice involves culturally relevant aspects of the self. In this research, we focus on the perception of choice by others, and set off to determine which culture-specific contexts make a choice self-expressive, according to the disjoint and the conjoint model of agency. We predict that choice reflecting exclusive preferences, with clear boundaries between likes and dislikes, will be perceived as more diagnostic of the self for Westerners than choice reflecting inclusive preferences, with broadened likes, but no dislikes. However, choice reflecting inclusive preferences will be perceived as more self-expressive for Easterners than for Westerners. Results from a study comparing how Germans and South/Southeast Asians make inferences about choice, confirm our hypothesis. Perceptions of exclusive preferences as extrovert by Germans, but as introvert by South/Southeast Asians, mediate the effect of culture on choice diagnosticity, suggesting that choice can be self-expressive in both the West and the East, if it corresponds to basic premises about agency held in a given culture.


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