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Agency-Communion and Self-Esteem Relations Are Moderated by Culture, Religiosity, Age, and Sex: Evidence for the “Self-Centrality Breeds Self-Enhancement” Principle


  • We thank Andreas Nehrlich for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jochen E. Gebauer, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Psychologie, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Deutschland. Email:



Who has high self-esteem? Is it ambitious, competitive, outgoing people—agentic personalities? Or is it caring, honest, understanding people—communal personalities? The literature on agency-communion and self-esteem is sparse, indirect, and inconsistent. Based on William James's theorizing, we propose the “self-centrality breeds self-enhancement” principle. Accordingly, agency will be linked to self-esteem, if agency is self-central. Conversely, communion will be linked to self-esteem, if communion is self-central. But what determines the self-centrality of agency and communion? The literature suggests that agency is self-central in agentic cultures, as well as among nonreligious individuals, men, and younger adults. Communion is self-central in communal cultures, as well as among religious individuals, women, and older adults.


This study examined 187,957 people (47% female; mean age = 37.49 years, SD = 12.22) from 11 cultures. The large sample size afforded us the opportunity to test simultaneously the effect of all four moderators in a single two-level model (participants nested in cultures).


Results supported the unique moderating effect of culture, religiosity, age, and sex on the relation between agency-communion and self-esteem.


Agentic and communal people can both have high self-esteem, depending on self-centrality of agency and communion.