2011. Vol.2, No.5, 440-444
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.25068
Under vs. over Primary Control Discrepancies and Their
Relationships to Well-Being in a Primary Control Culture
Orrie Dan
Department of psychology, The Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel, Emek Yezreel, Israel.
Received Febeurary 27th, 2011; revised April 28th, 2011; accepted June 2nd, 2011.
This study investigates the relationship between “under” and “over” cultural self discrepancy, and the individ-
ual’s well-being. “Under cultural self discrepancy” occurs when the individual expects that s/he would fail to
behave in specific situations in accordance with the culture norms. In “over cultural self discrepancy” the indi-
vidual expects to over react and exaggerate the expected behavior. The hypothesis of this paper is that in a cul-
ture that emphasizes primary control, “under cultural discrepancy” would be negatively correlated with well be-
ing, while “over cultural discrepancy” would not be. To that end, four equstionnaires were adiminstered to130
first-year, Israeli Psychology undergraduates: The Primary and Secondary Control Dilemmas Questionnaire;
Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale; Depressive Experiences Questionnaire; and Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results
clearly demonstrate that “under primary control self discrepancy” correlates negatively with well being, while
“over primary control self discrepancy” does not. Since Israeli culture emphasizes primary control, these results
support the hypothesis that “under cultural self discrepancy” is negatively correlated with well being, while
“over cultural self discrepancy” is not in such cultures.
Keywords: Primary and Secondary Control, Well-Being, Culture, Discrepancy
Consistency is thought to be a powerful basic drive, similar
to needs such as hunger or thirst (Festinger, 1957). The rela-
tionship between the need for consistency and well being has
been incorporated in various theories including the cognitive
dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957); “self-ideal” discrepancy
(Rogers, 1951; Rogers & Dymond, 1954) and the self discrep-
ancy theory (Higgins, 1987).
Cognitive dissonance theory suggest that people who hold
conflicting or incompatible beliefs or attitudes are likely to
experience discomfort (e.g. Festinger, 1957; Sanderson, Wallier,
Stockdale & Yopyk, 2008). Indeed, many studies show that
cognitive dissonance causes psychological tension or discom-
fort (e.g., Aronson, 1992; Festinger, 1957; Rydell, McConnell
& Mackie, 2008), unpleasant feelings (e.g. Elliot & Devine,
1994) and physiological arousing (e.g. Elkin & Leippe, 1986;
Losch & Cacioppo, 1990, Harmon-Jones, Brehm, Greenberg,
Simon & Nelson, 1996).
A common discrepancy is that of the “self-ideal” which
arises from difference between a person’s self and the ideal self.
It has been suggested that this discrepancy is an indicator of
maladjustment, so that a higher level of discrepancy indicates a
less well adjusted, more unhappy, and more defensive individ-
ual (Rogers, 1951; Rogers & Dymond, 1954).
Higgins (1987) suggests that three basic domains of the self
play a role in self-discrepancy: 1) the actual self; 2) the ideal
self; and 3) the ought self. Various studies find that “each type
of discrepancy reflects a particular type of negative psycho-
logical situation that is associated with specific emotional/ mo-
tivational problems” (Higgins, 1987). Self-discrepancies were
shown to differentially relate to shame and guilt proneness
(Tangney, Niedenthal, Covert & Barlow, 1998). Individuals
who describe themselves as relatively consistent in different
roles or situations report higher levels of well-being than do
individuals who have more inconsistent or fragmented self-
concepts (Donahue, Robins, Roberts & John, 1993; Sheldon,
Ryan, Rawsthorne & Ilardi, 1997). The validated conclusion
from such studies is that negative well being is expected when-
ever there are self inconsistencies or self discrepancies.
Culture shapes behavior and influences behavioral norms.
People look for consistency with their cultural and societal
norms, in part because it impacts their social identity (Tajfel &
Turner, 2004), and in part because differing from social norms
can lead to negative consequences (Schachter, 1951). While
most people share many of the basic experiences of social life,
their reaction to- and interpretations of- events are colored and
influenced by their specific culture (Mesquita, Frijda & Scherer,
1997; Scherer, 1997). Western theories of social behavior and
personality assume the importance and favorable value of con-
sistency (Cross, Gore & Morris, 2003).
Cultural discrepancies can be divided between the ‘ought’
and ‘actual’ self (Higgins, 1987). It was suggested that the
magnitude of discrepancy between them is important in relation
to well being (Sanderson et al., 2008). However, to date the
effect of the type of discrepancy was not considered. Here we
conceptualize two sub categories based on the type of discrep-
ancy: 1) “Under cultural self discrepancy” occurs when an in-
dividual thinks that in a specific situation s/he ought to behave
in line with the cultural norms, but that in practice s/he will not
behave that way. Thus, the “under cultural self discrepancy”
individual expects be unable to meet expectations based on the
cultural norms. A simple example is when a person has pur-
chased an item, and the amount of change given back was less
than it should have been. The individual may believe that, ac-
cording to cultural norms, s/he should insist politely on receiv-
O. DAN 441
ing the correct amount. However, an “under cultural self dis-
crepancy” person would expect to act differently by “letting
go” and “never minding”. 2) “Over cultural self discrepancy”
occurs when a person expects to over react and exaggerate the
behavior expected from the cultural norms. In the example of
the lacking change, rather than politely requesting the correct
amount as expected by society, such a person would expect to
react strongly- for example by shouting loudly to “give me my
money right away!”
The goal of this study is to investigate the relationship be-
tween under versus over cultural self discrepancy and well
being. Both the cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957),
“self-ideal” theory (Rogers, 1951) and the self discrepancy
theory (Higgins, 1987) predict that since both “under cultural
self discrepancy” and “over cultural self discrepancy” involve
self-discrepancy, both would be negatively correlated with well
being. Based on previous literature and the importance of cul-
ture norms, it is hypothesized in this study that “under cultural
discrepancy” should be negatively correlated to well being.
However, based on the importance of culture norms, it is hy-
pothesized in this study that the discrepancy arising from
‘over-fulfilling’ societal norms does not impact well being,
since the behavior is still in line with society’s expectations.
Thus, while the hypothesis in this study agrees with previous
works that “under cultural discrepancy” should be negatively
correlated to well being (due to the discrepancy and the associ-
ated failure in meeting societal norms), “over cultural discrep-
ancy” should not be correlated to well being.
To that end, we examine primary and secondary control ori-
entations, which are very much culturally dependent (Azuma,
1984; Essau, 1992; morling & evard, 2006; Seginer, 1998;
Seginer, Trommsdorff & Essau, 1993; Trommsdorff & Friedl-
meier, 1993; Weisz, Rothbaum & Blackburn, 1984). The pri-
mary and secondary control model, proposed by Rothbaum,
Weisz, and Snyder (1982), distinguishes between two kinds of
control orientation: primary and secondary. Primary control
pertains to the perception individuals have of their ability to
influence existing realities and shape their environment, bring-
ing it in line with their needs and wishes. Secondary control
refers to the perceptions individuals have of their ability to
reshape their own behavior and attitudes in order to accommo-
date them to external realities. In employing secondary control
individuals try to conform to existing circumstances without
changing them. Instead of controlling the external conditions
they exert control over the psychological effects elicited by this
reality (Weisz et al., 1984).
Primary control cultures are ones in which individual
autonomy and self-actualization are highly valued (Tromms-
dorff et al., 1993), encouraging the use of primary control in
most situations, rather than secondary control strategies. Thus,
“under primary control discrepency” means an individual ex-
pects to fail to use primary control in specific situations. On the
other hand, “over primary control discrepency” means that the
indivudal expects to use more primary control than dictated by
societal norms.
Israeli culture is highly primary control-oriented, where the
value assigned to the use of primary control is greater than the
value assigned to the use of secondary control (Kurman & Dan,
2007; Seginer et al., 1993). Thus, for Israeli individuals, “under
primary control discrepancy” is expected to relates negatively
to well being, due to the threat to the self by the idea that others
and self expectations differ from actual behavior. In contrast,
“over primary control discrepancy” is not expected to relate to
well being, since such individuals are acting within the pa-
rameters of the society norms and expectations.
The present study investigates the associations between “un-
der primary control cultural discrepancy”, “over primary con-
trol cultural discrepancy” and the sense of well-being in Israeli
subjects using three indicators of well-being: low level of de-
pression, low level of anxiety, and high level of self-esteem.
First, it was hypothesized that 1) discrepancy between the per-
ceived ought primary control and the perceived actual primary
control will be negatively related to well being. This discrep-
ancy was termed as “general primary control cultural discrep-
ancy”. This prediction is in line with cognitive dissonance the-
ory (Festinger, 1957); “self-ideal” discrepancy (Rogers, 1951;
Rogers & Dymond, 1954); and the self discrepancy theory
(Higgins, 1987). Dividing the discrepancy to its components:
“under primary control cultural discrepancy” versus “over pri-
mary control cultural discrepancy” it was hypothesized that 2)
“under primary control cultural discrepancy” would be nega-
tively correlated with well being, but “over primary control
cultural discrepancy” would not be related to well being.
Participants included 130 (90 Female) first-year undergradu-
ate students at an Israeli university, enrolled in introductory
psychology courses (M = 22.5, sd = 1.82). The participants
received experiment credit in exchange for their voluntary par-
Participants were administered four questionnaires:
Control orientation. The Primary and Secondary Control Di-
lemmas Questionnaire (PSCDQ) was developed for the purpose
of this study. This measure was comprised of 12 dilemma items.
Each dilemma was followed by a continuity of 7 points scale.
One pole representing primary control orientation and the other
pole representing secondary control orientation. For example,
“Your friends invite you to go out and eat pizza with them. You
prefer to eat falafel now”. Primary control orientation response
—“I will try to change my friend’s mind to go eat falafel”.
Secondary control orientation response—“I will accommodate
myself to my friend’s wish, and eat pizza with them. Pizza is
also tasty”. Participants responded to each dilemma twice. They
indicated first their present control orientation for each dilemma
situation (the actual control condition), and then pointed out
how they should have responded to the dilemma situation (the
ought control condition). The scoring of the discrepancy was
determined by subtracting the actual from the ought for each
dilemma. A content validity for the items was conducted by
two experts in the field, who sorted the presented dilemmas.
The situations used in the questionnaire are those that both
experts agreed on as representing primary and secondary con-
trol. Internal Cronbach coefficient consistencies was α = 0.60.
For the reliability and validity of self-discrepancy measures see:
Watson, et al., (2010).
Self-esteem. The Rosenberg 10-item Self-Esteem Scale (SEI;
Rosenberg, 1965) was used to measure general self-esteem.
These items were rated by a 6-point scale (1 = strongly disagree,
6 = strongly agree). An example item is “I feel that I am a per-
son of worth, at least on an equal plane with others”. Scores
were calculated by averaging the mean scores of all items.
Their range, therefore, was 1 - 6, with lower scores reflecting a
lower level of self-esteem. This instrument is well known for its
high reliability and validity for measuring general self-esteem.
Its internal reliability in previous research ranged between 93 .-
86. (Goldsmith, 1986). In the present sample its internal
consistency was α = 0.86.
Anxiety. Trait anxiety was assessed with the Trait Anxiety
Inventory (Spielberger, 1983). It is a 20 item scale. Respon-
dents indicated how they “generally” felt by endorsing state-
ments such as “I feel nervous and restless.” Endorsements were
made on a scale ranging from 1 (almost never) to 4 (almost
always). The items were totaled to yield an overall anxiety
score, with high scores indicating high trait anxiety. In the pre-
sent sample its internal consistency was α = 0.90.
Depression. Depression was measured by Depressive Ex-
periences Questionnaire (Blatt & Quinlan, 1979). This measure
is comprised of 66 items. Sample item: “I often find that I don’t
live up to my own standards or ideals. All items were answered
on a 7-point scale from strongly agree (7) to strongly disagree
(1). The items were totaled to yield an overall depression score.
For more details of reliability and validity see Viglione, Clem-
mey & Camenzuli, 1990; Blaney & Kutcher, 1991. In the pre-
sent sample its internal consistency was α = 0.86.
Participants were administered the four questionnaires at the
laboratory, in four groups of 30 - 40 participants each. The
procedure was exactly the same for each group, under con-
trolled and identical conditions. The experimenter read the
instructions to the subjects. The questionnaires were counter-
balanced. All of the participants gave informed consent.
The first hypothesis of the study pertained to the correlation
between “general primary control culture discrepancy” and
well-being. It was expected that, as previously shown in various
studies (e.g. Sheldon et al., 1997), the discrepancy would be
negatively related to well-being as indicated by reports of
self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
Table 1 describes Pearson correlations between “general
primary control cultural discrepancy” and the three measures of
well-being. Results showed significant positive correlations
between the “general primary control cultural discrepancy”,
anxiety, and depression. Conversely, higher levels of self-es-
teem are associated with lower degrees of “general primary
control cultural discrepancy”.
In order to examine the second hypothesis that “under pri-
mary control cultural discrepancy” is corelated negatively to
well-being, while “over primary control cultural discrepancy” is
not, further Pearson correlation analysis was conducted. Par-
ticipants were assigned into two groups: 1) those who thought
they should use more primary control than they think they
would actually do (“under primary control cultural discrepancy,”)
Table 1.
Correlations between general primary control discrepancy”, “under
primary control discrepancy and over primary control discrepancy
and three measures of well-being.
Measures of well-being
Control gap Depression Self-esteem Anxiety
General (N = 130) 041** –0.24* 0.33**
Under Primary (N = 89)0.48** –0.27* 0.37**
Over primary (N = 33) 0.03 –0.08 0.09
Note: General = general primary control discrepancy, Under Primary =
under primary control discrepancy, Over primary = over primary control
discrepancy. * p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
and (b) those who thought they should use less primary control
than they think they would actually do (“over primary control
cultural discrepency”).
Results showed negative correlation between the “under pri-
mary control cultural discrepancy “and well-being. Those cor-
relations are similar to the correlations between the “general
primary control cultural discrepancy” and well-being. Results
also show significant negative correlations between the “under
primary control cultural discrepancy” and self-esteem (Table 1).
In contrast, no significant correlations were found between the
“over primary control cultural discrepancy” and well-being
characteristics (anxiety, depression, and self esteem) in the
second group (Table 1).
Primary and secondary control orientations are known to
strongly depend on culture (Azuma, 1984; Essau, 1992; Mor-
ling & Evard, 2006; Seginer, 1998; Seginer, Trommsdorff &
Essau, 1993; Trommsdorff & Friedlmeier, 1993; Weisz et al.,
1984). Individuals who live in a primary culture would prefer,
then, to cope using primary control orientation, thereby con-
forming to society norms.
The first hypothesis predicted negatively correlation between
“general primary control discrepancy” and well-being. This
hypothesis was clearly confirmed. Our results show that the
“general primary control cultural discrepancy” between the
control orientation an individual claims s/he would use in cer-
tain situations, and the control orientation s/he thinks should be
used in the same situations, is negatively related with
well-being for both over and under cultural discrepancy. This
corresponds to previous studies suggesting that any discrepancy
between what a “person thinks he ought to do” and what “he
thinks he will actually do” will be expressed in low well-being
( Festinger, 1957, Higgins, 1987, Rogers, 1951, Sanderson et
al., 2008; Watson, Bryan & Thrash, 2010). Thus, the expected
negative correlation between “general primary control cultural
discrepancy” and well-being was confirmed.
The premise of this study, as expressed by the second hy-
pothesis, was that in a primary control culture (such as Israel),
“under primary control culture discrepancy” and “over primary
control cultural discrepancy” will differ in their relationship to
such measures as anxiety, depression, and self esteem. Specifi-
cally, it was expected that “under primary control cultural dis-
O. DAN 443
crepancy” will show a negative correlation with well-being,
while “over primary control cultural discrepancy” will have no
correlation with well-being.
Indeed, our findings confirm the hypothesis. We find that
“under primary control cultural discrepancy” is negative related
to well-being. The nature of the correlation is similar to that for
the “general primary control cultural discrepancy”, and is well
documented in the literature. However, “over primary control
cultural discrepancy” did not show any correlation with
We suggest that this is due to a cultural filtering effect, where
individuals use societal norms to determine acceptable behav-
iors (Miller and Prentice 1996, Sanderson, Wallier Stockdale &
Yopyk, 2008). In a primary control culture, “under primary
control cultural discrepancy” indicates that the individual ex-
pects to fail in following society’s norms. The threat to the self
due to the difference leads to a negative correaltion with well
being. Also, such individuals face disappointments combined
with self-doubts, thereby decreasing well being. On the other
hand, “over primary control cultural discrepancy” indicates a
strong conformity to society’s norms and expectations to act
within culturally legitimate approaches. Thus, there is no threat
to the self. Moreover, an individual displaying “over primary
control discrepancy” is more likely to fulfill needs, or at least to
have the reassurance that s/he has tried their best, thereby
strengthening well being.
Future studies may examine the contribution of each of these
suggested mechanisms to the “under” and “over” primary con-
trol cultural discrepancies. Also, conducting a similar study in a
secondary control culture which emphasizes group orientation
and the alignment of the self with others (e.g. Japan, see Azuma,
1984) will expand our understanding of the cultural factor and
help verify the conclusions of this study. In addition, while this
current study measured everyday dilemma situations, it would
be interesting to conduct such a study using extreme situations
where the results are of high value for the individual.
The current study has some limitations. Well being was
measured as the outcome of anxiety, depression and well being.
Many more aspects of well being were not assessed in this
study, but may contribute to understanding the relations be-
tween different circumstances of “primary control cultural dis-
crepancy” and aspects of well being. Another limitation of the
study is the moderate item consistency; this was expected be-
cause of the different situational domains the dilemma repre-
sents, an outcome of the theoretical approach for studying pri-
mary and secondary control orientation as very much situ-
ational dependent concepts rather than a global personality
characteristic (Grob, Flammer & Wearing, 1995; Heckhausen,
Worsch & Fleeson, 2001; Seginer, 1998; Wrosch & Heck-
hausen, 1999). Finally, the study is the reliance on subjective
reports of the participants. Conducting behavioral experiments
can widen the understanding beyond conflicting attitudes or
believes to the facet of conflicting attitude and behavior.
The current study shows that in a primary control culture,
“under primary control cultural discrepancy” is negatively cor-
related to well-being, while “over primary control cultural dis-
crepancy” has no correlation with well-being. The latter differs
from expectations based on highly documented theories, such
as cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957), “self-ideal”
discrepancy (Rogers, 1951; Rogers & Dymond, 1954), and the
self discrepancy theory (Higgins, 1987). The current study re-
sults, using the “primary control cultural discrepancy”, suggest
changing the question. Instead of determining whether attitude
discrepancies are related to well being, it should be determined
under what circumstances attitudes and belief discrepancies
relate negatively to well being, and what circumstances do not
Our results show that, contrary to previous theories, not all
discrepancies, gaps, or dissonance, between attitudes (believes),
or between attitudes and behavior, must end with correlates of
low well being. Indeed, people confront such situations fre-
quently, but few of those influence well-being significantly.
Thus, a conclusion of this study is the emphasis on the two
possible directions of discrepancy, especially the over self/
ultural discrepancy. The actual might be more than ‘the ought’
or ‘the ideal’, rather than under. This affects outcomes: Our
results show that the different directions of discrepancy relate
differently to well-being. Another conclusion from this study is
the suggestion that there is a cultural-dependent mechanism that
enables filtering discrepancies in a manner that does not affect
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