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Self-Esteem, Shame and Personal Motivation


  • Dessi, Roberta
  • Zhao, Xiaojian


The available evidence from numerous studies in psychology suggests that overconfidence is a much more important phenomenon in North America than in Japan. Relatedly, North Americans appear to view high self-esteem much more positively than Japanese. The pattern is reversed when it comes to shame, a social emotion which appears to play a much more important role among Japanese than North Americans. We develop an economic model that endogenizes these observed differences, and relates them to differences in the economic and social environment. A crucial tradeoff arises in the model between the benefits of encouraging self-improvement and the benefits of promoting initiative and new investments. In this context, self-esteem maintenance (self-enhancement) and high sensitivity to shame emerge as substitute mechanisms to induce efficient effort and investment decisions, generating a \North American" equilibrium with overconfidence and low sensitivity to shame, and a \Japanese" equilibrium with high sensitivity to shame and no overconfidence. The analysis identifies the key equilibrium costs as well as the benefits of reliance on each mechanism, and the implications for welfare.

Suggested Citation

  • Dessi, Roberta & Zhao, Xiaojian, 2011. "Self-Esteem, Shame and Personal Motivation," IDEI Working Papers 639, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse, revised Dec 2013.
  • Handle: RePEc:ide:wpaper:23207

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Platt Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2012. "Europe's Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses: Self-Selection and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 1832-1856, August.
    2. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2007. "Beyond Revealed Preference Choice Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," Discussion Papers 07-031, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    3. Moriguchi, Chiaki & Ono, Hiroshi, 2004. "Japanese Lifetime Employment: A Century's Perspective," EIJS Working Paper Series 205, Stockholm School of Economics, The European Institute of Japanese Studies.
    4. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-877, October.
    5. Wood, Stacy L & Lynch, John G, Jr, 2002. " Prior Knowledge and Complacency in New Product Learning," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 416-426, December.
    6. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2009. "Beyond Revealed Preference: Choice-Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 51-104.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ana I. Balsa & Michael T. French & Tracy L. Regan, 2012. "Relative Deprivation and Risky Behaviors," Documentos de Trabajo/Working Papers 1203, Facultad de Ciencias Empresariales y Economia. Universidad de Montevideo..
    2. Fuhai HONG & Xiaojian ZHAO, 2014. "Sunk Cost as a Self-Disciplining Device," Economic Growth Centre Working Paper Series 1503, Nanyang Technological University, School of Social Sciences, Economic Growth Centre.
    3. Gabriella Cagliesi & Denise Hawkes & Max Tookey, 2015. "A Multidimensional approach to workless-ness: a matter of opportunities, social factors and individual's idiosyncrasies," DoQSS Working Papers 15-01, Department of Quantitative Social Science - UCL Institute of Education, University College London.

    More about this item


    Overconfidence; shame; cultural transmission;

    JEL classification:

    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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