Self and Agency in Context: Ecologies of Abundance and Scarcity

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This work considers sociocultural foundations of self and agency in material affordances associated with affluence and poverty. We first review work that links independent self-construal and disjoint agency to material abundance. We then report an experiment among students at North American (n = 52) and West African (n = 60) universities, in which we manipulated abundance and scarcity concepts and assessed effects on a pronoun-selection measure of self-construal. Participants in the North American setting and abundance condition selected first-person pronouns (particularly, I and me) with greater frequency than did participants in the West African setting and scarcity condition. In contrast to modernity accounts, which propose that individualism promotes prosperity, results are consistent with the alternative account: that abundance can promote independent or disjoint varieties of self and agency. Discussion focuses on the distinction between cultural and structural varieties of sociocultural influence and contributions of international perspectives to psychological science.

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