Are Implicit Self-Esteem Measures Valid for Assessing Individual and Cultural Differences?


  • This research is based in part on the first author's PhD dissertation and was supported by a Standard Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada to Heine and an SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship to Falk. Correspondence should be addressed to Carl F. Falk, University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, Los Angeles, CA 90095; email:



Our research utilized two popular theoretical conceptualizations of implicit self-esteem: 1) implicit self-esteem as a global automatic reaction to the self; and 2) implicit self-esteem as a context/domain specific construct. Under this framework, we present an extensive search for implicit self-esteem measure validity among different cultural groups (Study 1) and under several experimental manipulations (Study 2).


In Study 1, Euro-Canadians (N = 107), Asian-Canadians (N = 187), and Japanese (N = 112) completed a battery of implicit self-esteem, explicit self-esteem, and criterion measures. Included implicit self-esteem measures were either popular or provided methodological improvements upon older methods. Criterion measures were sampled from previous research on implicit self-esteem and included self-report and independent ratings. In Study 2, Americans (N = 582) completed a shorter battery of these same types of measures under either a control condition, an explicit prime meant to activate the self-concept in a particular context, or prime meant to activate self-competence related implicit attitudes.


Across both studies, explicit self-esteem measures far outperformed implicit self-esteem measures in all cultural groups and under all experimental manipulations.


Implicit self-esteem measures are not valid for individual or cross-cultural comparisons. We speculate that individuals may not form implicit associations with the self as an attitudinal object.