Research Article: Manipulated taking the agent versus the recipient perspective seems not to affect the relationship between agency-communion and self-esteem: A small-scale meta-analysis

Date Published: February 28, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Olga Bialobrzeska, Michal Parzuchowski, Bogdan Wojciszke, Kimmo Eriksson.


There is a growing debate about the relationship between self-perceived agency-communion and self-esteem. One viewpoint for this debate is offered by the Dual Perspective Model, a novel theoretical framework that introduces the agent and the recipient as two fundamental perspectives in social perception. Building on this model, we expected higher importance of self-ascribed agency for self-esteem in the agent perspective than in the recipient perspective and a higher importance of self-ascribed communion for self-esteem in the recipient than in the agent perspective. However, the meta-analysis of six experiments (N = 659, 68% females) showed no interaction of the perspectives and self-ascribed agency and communion in predicting self-esteem. These findings demonstrate that the relationship between agency-communion and self-esteem seems to be fairly independent of one’s temporary mindset.

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There is strong evidence in the published literature that self-esteem is determined by how one evaluates oneself on the agency dimension [1–3]. The role of self-ascribed communion is more ambiguous, though. Some researchers argue that the belief about one’s communion is weakly related to self-esteem [3], whereas others claim that communion (and especially morality) is essential for self-concept [4–6]. There is still not much research on the moderators of the link between agency-communion and self-esteem. In the present paper we examine one such moderator–taking the agent versus the recipient perspective, which is based on a new theoretical framework, the Dual Perspective Model by Abele and Wojciszke [1,7]. This extends our recent work which documented that taking the agent perspective moderates the relationship between self-ascribed agency and self-esteem [8]. The current article addresses the same issue but this time we used an experimental and behavioral manipulation [9] of the agent versus recipient perspective, rather than measure it as an individual difference (a habitual preference to take an action and influence others).

In Experiment 1, we examined whether the agent and the recipient perspectives, manipulated by playing the assigned role in the situation arranged in the lab, affected the importance of agency and communion for self-esteem.

In Experiment 2, our aim was to examine the interaction effect between self-ascribed agency-communion and the agent-recipient perspectives on self-esteem with a different manipulation of the agent-recipient perspectives. The dependent variables, that is, self-esteem and self-ratings on agentic and communal traits, were measured in exactly the same way as in Experiment 1.

The first two studies found no effect of higher importance of agency for the agent’s self-esteem and higher importance of communion for the recipient’s self-esteem. In Experiment 3, we went beyond manipulating the different roles in the interaction. First, we used a manipulation that addressed the focus of attention (performance versus experience). Furthermore, to address potential critics (bottom-up approach [47,48]) that the mere intention to act is not sufficient to induce a sense of agency we have introduced a manipulation accompanied by an actual (motor) action that had an impact on a direct environment. Following this notion, in the agent perspective condition, we assigned the participants an effortful motor task that had a visible effect at the end.

The analysis of the manipulation check items indicated that, as expected, the participants in the recipient perspective condition felt that they had no control over the situation, t(54) = 1.68, p = .049 (one-sided), and focused on experiencing various sensations, t(54) = 2.40, p = .010 (one-sided), to a greater extent than the participants in the agent perspective condition did, whereas the latter participants focused more on performing an action, t(54) = 2.02, p = .025 (one-sided). The participants in both conditions did not differ in response to a question about whether they had the capacity to act, t(54) = 0.08, p = .470 (one-sided). It is likely that the expression ‘capacity to act’ was too vague.

In the prior three experiments, we manipulated taking the agent and recipient perspectives with what the participants were doing (planning a day versus observing, uncovering the cards versus observing, pumping up the chair versus sitting in the chair). In the next studies, the manipulations were based on memory recollection and priming rather than actual behaviors. We continued to assess self-esteem and self-rating on agency and communion. However, we have also decided to measure more carefully the sub-categories of communal traits (namely morality and sociability), as previous studies have shown that the morality dimension might have its own specifics [20]. Thus, we used an extended list of agentic and communal traits, which capture morality and sociability separately within the communion dimension.

The constructs of the agent and recipient perspectives are very broad, and this is an evident obstacle in studying them. Therefore, we focused on specifying some contextual factors that could interfere with the perspectives.

In Experiment 6, we combined the tested model with one additional variable–status. We reasoned that in everyday life, taking the agent perspective often coincides with high status, while taking the recipient perspective coincides with low status. For example, one may argue that the dyadic manipulations we used in Experiments 1 and 2 could also be a manipulation of subjective status. In Experiment 6 we attempt to disentangle these two constructs by manipulating both perspective and status.

We integrated the results of all of the experiments by conducting a meta-analysis. In the Comprehensive Meta-Analysis software, we input moderation effect size coefficients (weighted by the sample size) to estimate the moderation effect of the perspectives on the relationship between agency-communion and self-esteem. In Experiment 4, 5 and 6, we aggregated the morality and sociability subscales into a one index of self-ascribed communion. In Experiment 5 and 6, that included additional conditions (event valence and status) we computed a single effect size comparing the collapsed agent conditions with the collapsed recipient conditions. According to Cumming’s recommendation [59], we used the more conservative random effects model.

Across six experiments we found no support for the hypothesis that the relationship between self-ascribed agency-communion and self-esteem could be modified by the perspective one takes–the perspective of agent vs. the perspective of recipient. Our results provide novel experimental evidence that a temporary role or mindset had no substantial role in the link between the Big Two and self-esteem, although this possibility has been suggested by theorists (Dual Perspective Model [1,36]).




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