Strangers in a Strange Land: Relations between Perceptions of Others’ Values and both Civic Engagement and Cultural Estrangement

Rebecca Sanderson, Mike Prentice, Lukas Wolf, Netta Weinstein, Tim Kasser, Tom Crompton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Healthy democracies require civic engagement (e.g., voting) from their citizens. Past research has suggested that civicengagement is positively associated with self-transcendence values of care and concern for the welfare of others, and negativelyassociated with self-enhancement values of self-interest, dominance and personal success. However, research has yet to addresswhether people’s perceptions of others’ values are related to civic engagement. Across three studies with nationallyrepresentative samples in the UK and US (Ns ≥ 1,000), we explored how civic engagement relates to a) perceptions of nationalvalues, b) perceptions of the values of one’s typical compatriot, and c) perceptions of the values encouraged by social and culturalinstitutions. Study 1 showed that the tendency for British citizens to perceive British culture as valuing self-transcendence was associated withan increased likelihood of voting in the 2015 general election. These findings were replicated for ‘a typical British person’ (Study 2)and ‘a typical American person’ (Study 3); Studies 2 & 3 also found that perceived self-enhancement values of typical compatriotswere negatively correlated with reported voting. We also examined how perceptions of others’ values relate to cultural estrangement—the feeling of not fitting in one’s culture orof being atypical. Like civic engagement, those who perceived less self-transcendence and more self-enhancement in their culturefelt more culturally estranged. Mediation analyses in Studies 2 & 3 revealed that estrangement helped to explain the relationshipbetween perceptions of others’ values and voting. In sum, the extent to which Brits and Americans perceive that self-transcendence values are strongly held by other citizens isassociated with feeling less estranged and with reports of being more civically engaged. In contrast, the perception that thesetargets hold or promote self-enhancement values is positively associated with feelings of estrangement, to the detriment of civicengagement. Implications for future research and democratic processes are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number559
JournalFrontiers in Psychology: Personality and Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2019


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