Skip to main content

Social Mobility Attributions in East Asian and Pacific Cultures: Power Distance and Individualism as Moderators of Self-Attribution Bias

  • Melissa Lopez Reyes (a1)

Self-attribution bias operates in social mobility attributions, with positive circumstances triggering individualist attributions (attributed to one's merits) and negative circumstances triggering structural attributions (attributed to one's race, religion, sex, social connections). Analyses of East Asian and Pacific data of the International Social Survey Programme's Social Inequality Module show that perceived social inequality (PSI) leads to structural attributions, while high subjective social position (SSP) leads to individualist attributions. Cultural contexts, however, support or temper self-attribution bias, thus modifying the effects of PSI and SSP. Cross-level interactions show that the effect of PSI on structural attributions is larger in small power-distance countries, while the effect of SSP on individualist attributions is larger in countries with small power distance, high individualism, and low country average for SSP. That a small power distance strengthens the effects of PSI on structural attributions and of SSP on individualist attributions suggests contrasting scenarios, where disadvantaged groups devalue their competencies for mobility, while privileged groups believe themselves deserving of better outcomes. The context-dependency of the SSP effect suggests the modifiability of individualist attributions. These results help explain why mobility attribution profiles of Australia and New Zealand differ from those of China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Social Mobility Attributions in East Asian and Pacific Cultures: Power Distance and Individualism as Moderators of Self-Attribution Bias
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Social Mobility Attributions in East Asian and Pacific Cultures: Power Distance and Individualism as Moderators of Self-Attribution Bias
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Social Mobility Attributions in East Asian and Pacific Cultures: Power Distance and Individualism as Moderators of Self-Attribution Bias
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Melissa Lopez Reyes, Department of Psychology, De La Salle University, 2401 Taft Avenue, Manila, 0922 Philippines. Email:
Hide All
Billet, P. (2011). Youth social capital: Getting on and getting ahead in life (Doctoral thesis). University of Wollongong, Australia. Retrieved from
Breen, R. (1997). Inequality, economic growth and social mobility. British Journal of Sociology, 48, 429449.
Bjørnskov, C., Dreher, A., Fischer, J.A.V., Schnellenbach, J., & Gehring, K. (2013). Inequality and happiness: When perceived social mobility and economic reality do not match. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 91, 7592.
Bochner, S., & Hesketh, B. (1994). Power distance, individualism/collectivism, and job-related attitudes in a culturally diverse work group. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 25, 233257.
Booth, A. (1999). Initial conditions and miraculous growth: Why is South East Asia different from Taiwan and South Korea? World Development, 27, 301321.
Campbell, J.D., Trapnell, P.D., Heine, S.J., Katz, I.M., Lavallee, L.F., & Lehman, D.R. (1996). Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 141156.
Cattell, V. (2001). Poor people, poor places, and poor health: The mediating role of social networks and social capital. Social Science & Medicine, 52, 15011516.
Choi, I., Nisbett, R.E., & Norenzayan, A. (1999). Causal attribution across cultures: Variation and universality. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 4763.
Clemente, J.A.R., Daganzo, M.A.A., Bernardo, A.B.I., & Pangan, C.A.C. (2017). Filipino adolescents’ conceptions of socioeconomic mobility: A consensual qualitative research. Child Indicators Research, 10, 117140.
Duval, T.S., & Silvia, P.J. (2002). Self-awareness, probability of improvement, and the self-serving bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 4961.
Eylon, D., & Au, K.Y. (1999). Exploring empowerment cross-cultural differences along the power distance dimension. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23, 373385.
Farh, J.L., Hackett, R.D., & Liang, J. (2007). Individual-level cultural values as moderators of perceived organizational support–employee outcome relationships in China: Comparing the effects of power distance and traditionality. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 715729.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117140.
Fischer, R. (2009). Where is culture in cross cultural research? An outline of a multilevel research process for measuring culture as a shared meaning system. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 9, 2549.
Fong, C. (2001). Social preferences, self-interest, and the demand for redistribution. Journal of Public Economics, 82, 225246.
GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences (2012). International Social Survey Programme. ISSP 2009 – Social Inequality IV. Variable report. Cologne, Germany: Author.
Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE). (2004). Understanding the relationship between national culture, societal effectiveness and desirable leadership attributes: A brief overview of the GLOBE project. Retrieved from
Gugushvili, A. (2016). Intergenerational social mobility and popular explanations of poverty: A comparative perspective. Social Justice Research, 29, 402428.
Gugushvili, A., Bukodi, E., & Goldthorpe, J.H. (2017). The direct effect of social origins on social mobility chances: ‘Glass floors’ and ‘glass ceilings’ in Britain. European Sociological Review, 33, 305316.
Hardaway, C.R., & McLoyd, V.C. (2009). Escaping poverty and securing middle class status: How race and socioeconomic status shape mobility prospects for African Americans during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 242256.
Hegtvedt, K.A., & Johnson, C. (2000). Justice beyond the individual: A future with legitimation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63, 298311.
Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York, NY: Wiley.
Hofstede, G. (1983). The cultural relativity of organizational practices and theories. Journal of International Business Studies, 14, 7589.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture's consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing cultures: The Hofstede model in context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2.
Hofstede, G., & Bond, M.H. (1988). The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth. Organizational Dynamics, 16, 521.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hong, Y.Y., Morris, M.W., Chiu, C.Y., & Benet-Martinez, V. (2000). Multicultural minds: A dynamic constructivist approach to culture and cognition. American Psychologist, 55, 709720. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.55.7.70
Hulin, C. (2001). Measurement. III.B. Can a reliability coefficient be too high? Journal of Consumer Psychology, 10, 5556.
Hunt, M.O. (1996). The individual, society, or both? A comparison of black, Latino, and white beliefs about the causes of poverty. Social Forces, 75, 293322.
International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). (2008). International Social Programme 2009 Social Inequality IV. Final questionnaire. Retrieved from
International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) Research Group. (2012). International Social Survey Programme: Social Inequality IV — ISSP 2009. Cologne, Germany: GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA5400 Data file version 3.0.0. doi:10.4232/1.11506
Kim, S. (2010). Public trust in government in Japan and South Korea: Does the rise of critical citizens matter? Public Administration Review, 70, 801810.
Kluegel, J.R. (1987). Macro-economic problems, beliefs about the poor and attitudes toward welfare spending. Social Problems, 33, 8299.
Kraus, M.W., Piff, P.K., & Keltner, D. (2009). Social class, sense of control, and social explanation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 9921004. doi:10.1037/a0016357
John, O.P., & Benet-Martínez (2000). Measurement: Reliability, construct validation, and scale construction. In Reis, H.T. & Judd, C.M. (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in social and personality psychology (pp. 339369). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, T., Kulesa, P., Cho, Y.I., & Shavitt, S. (2005). The relation between culture and response styles. Evidence from 19 countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36, 264277. doi:10.1177/0022022104272905
Kelley, H.H. (1973). The processes of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107128.
Kelley, H.H., & Michela, J.L. (1980). Attribution theory and research. Annual Review of Psychology, 31, 457501.
Kerr, W.R. (2014). Income inequality and social preferences for redistribution and compensation differentials. Journal of Monetary Economics, 66, 6278.
Letki, N., & Mierina, I. (2015). Getting support in polarized societies: Income, social networks, and socioeconomic context. Social Science Research, 49, 217233.
Lew, J. (2010). Asian American youth in poverty: Benefits and limitations of ethnic networks in postsecondary and labor force options. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 15, 127143.
Lin, N., & Bian, Y. (1991). Getting ahead in urban China. American Journal of Sociology, 657688.
Major, B. (1994). From social inequality to personal entitlement: The role of social comparisons, legitimacy appraisals, and group membership. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 26, 293355.
Markus, H.R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224253.
Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S.H., Fontaine, J., Anguas-Wong, A.M., Arriola, M., Ataca, B., . . . Grossi, E. (2008). Mapping expressive differences around the world: The relationship between emotional display rules and individualism versus collectivism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 39, 5574. doi:10.1177/0022022107311854
Mead, G.H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mezulis, A.H., Abramson, L.Y., Hyde, J.S., & Hankin, B.L. (2004). Is there a universal positivity bias in attributions? A meta-analytic review of individual, developmental, and cultural differences in the self-serving attributional bias. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 711747. doi:10.1037/0033–2909.130.5.711
Moghaddam, F.M. (2003). Interobjectivity and culture. Culture & Psychology, 9, 221232.
Moghaddam, F.M. (2010). Commentary: Intersubjectivity, interobjectivity, and the embryonic fallacy in developmental science. Culture & Psychology, 16, 465475. doi:10.1177/1354067X10380160
Montiel, C.J., & Macapagal, M.E.J. (2006). Effects of social position on societal attributions of an asymmetric conflict. Journal of Peace Research, 43, 219227.
Morris, M.W., & Peng, K. (1994). Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 949971.
NationMaster (2017). Economy >Distribution of family income >Gini index: Countries compared. Retrieved from
Neckerman, K.M., & Torche, F. (2007). Inequality: Causes and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 33, 335357.
Orr, L.M., & Hauser, W.J. (2008). A re-inquiry of Hofstede's cultural dimensions: A call for 21st century cross-cultural research. The Marketing Management Journal, 18, 119.
Oyserman, D., Coon, H.M., Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 372.
Perry, B. (2013). What do we know about income inequality in NZ? Extracts from the 2013 household income reports. Retrieved from
Peterson, R.A. (1994). A meta-analysis of Cronbach's coefficient alpha. Journal of Consumer Research, 21, 381391.
Preacher, K.J. (2017). Interactive calculation tools for establishing simple intercepts, simple slopes, and regions of significance. Retrieved from
Preacher, K.J., Curran, P.J., & Bauer, D.J. (2006). Computational tools for probing interactions in multiple linear regression, multilevel modeling, and latent curve analyses. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 41, 437448.
Putnam, R.D. (1993). The prosperous community. The American Prospect, 4, 3542.
Raudenbush, S.W., & Bryk, A.S. (2002). Advanced quantitative techniques in the social sciences series: Vol. 1. Hierarchical linear models. Applications and data analysis methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Republic of China (Taiwan) Statistical Bureau (2017). Republic of China (Taiwan) statistics from Statistical Bureau. Retrieved from
Robert, C., Probst, T.M., Martocchio, J.J., Drasgow, F., & Lawler, J.J. (2000). Empowerment and continuous improvement in the United States, Mexico, Poland, and India: Fit on the basis of the dimensions of power distance and individualism. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 643658.
Russell, G.M. (1996). Internalized classism: The role of class in the development of self. Women & Therapy, 18, 5971.
Sachweh, P. (2012). The moral economy of inequality: Popular views on income differentiation, poverty and wealth. Socio-Economic Review, 10, 419445. doi:10.1093/ser/mwr023
Saguy, T., & Chernyak-Hai, L. (2012). Intergroup contact can undermine disadvantaged group members’ attributions to discrimination. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 714720. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.01.003
Sahar, G. (2014). On the importance of attribution theory in political psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 8, 229249.
Sakamoto, A., Rarick, J., Woo, H., & Wang, S.X. (2014). What underlies the Great Gatsby Curve? Psychological micro-foundations of the ‘vicious circle’ of poverty. Mind & Society, 13, 195211. doi: 10.1007/s11299-014-0144-x
Schimmack, U., Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2005). Individualism: A valid and important dimension of cultural differences between nations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9, 1731.
Shane, J., & Heckhausen, J. (2013). University students' causal conceptions about social mobility: Diverging pathways for believers in personal merit and luck. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 82, 1019.
Taras, V., Kirkman, B.L., & Steel, P. (2010). Examining the impact of Culture's consequences: A three-decade, multilevel, meta-analytic review of Hofstede's cultural value dimensions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 405.
Taylor, M.C., & Merino, S.M. (2011). Race, religion, and beliefs about racial inequality. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634, 6077. doi:10.1177/0002716210389537
Triandis, H.C. (1989). The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts. Psychological Review, 96, 506520.
Tsukamoto, S., Holland, E., Haslam, N., Karasawa, M., & Kashima, Y. (2015). Cultural differences in perceived coherence of the self and ingroup: A Japan–Australia comparison. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 8389.
Vinken, H. (2006). East Asian Values Surveys. Making a case for East Asian-origin values survey concepts. Mannheim: ZUMA (ZUMA Arbeitsbericht 2006/05).
Weiner, B. (2008). Reflections on the history of attribution theory and research: People, personalities, publications, problems. Social Psychology, 39, 151156.
Weiner, B., Osborne, D., & Rudolph, U. (2010). An attributional analysis of reactions to poverty: The political ideology of the giver and the perceived morality of the receiver. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 199213. doi:10.1177/1088868310387615
The World Bank. (2017). The World Bank national accounts data and OECD national accounts data files. Retrieved from
Yun, Y.M. (1994). Class structure and class mobility in East Asia: A comparison among South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Korea Journal of Population and Development, 23, 258282.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 1834-4909
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-pacific-rim-psychology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 74 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 94 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 14th February 2018 - 23rd March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.