The conscientiousness paradox: Cultural mindset shapes competence perception

Xiaohua Sylvia Chen, Ben C.P. Lam, Emma E. Buchtel, Michael Harris Bond

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Studies comparing personality across cultures have found inconsistencies between self-reports and measures of national character or behaviour, especially on evaluative traits such as Conscientiousness. We demonstrate that self-perceptions and other-perceptions of personality vary with cultural mindset, thereby accounting for some of this inconsistency. Three studies used multiple methods to examine perceptions of Conscientiousness and especially its facet Competence that most characterizes performance evaluations. In Study 1, Mainland Chinese reported lower levels of self-efficacy than did Canadians, with the country effect partially mediated by Canadian participants' higher level of independent self-construal. In Study 2, language as a cultural prime induced similar effects on Hong Kong bilinguals, who rated themselves as more competent and conscientious when responding in English than in Chinese. Study 3 demonstrated these same effects on ratings of both self-perceived and observer-perceived competence and conscientiousness, with participants changing both their competence-communicating behaviours and self-evaluations in response to the cultural primes of spoken language and ethnicity of an interviewer. These results converge to show that self-perceptions and self-presentations change to fit the social contexts shaped by language and culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-436
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Personality
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Competence perception
  • Conscientiousness
  • Cultural mindset
  • Language priming
  • Self-efficacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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