Possible Self Definition Essay
"Self-construction" redirects here. For other uses, see Self-construction (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Self-awareness, Self-consciousness, Self-esteem, Self-image, or Self-perception.
One's self-concept (also called self-construction, self-identity, self-perspective or self-structure) is a collection of beliefs about oneself that includes elements such as academic performance,gender identity, sexual identity, and racial identity. Generally, self-concept embodies the answer to "Who am I?".
Self-concept is distinguishable from self-awareness, which refers to the extent to which self-knowledge is defined, consistent, and currently applicable to one's attitudes and dispositions. Self-concept also differs from self-esteem: self-concept is a cognitive or descriptive component of one's self (e.g. "I am a fast runner"), while self-esteem is evaluative and opinionated (e.g. "I feel good about being a fast runner").
Self-concept is made up of one's self-schemas, and interacts with self-esteem, self-knowledge, and the social self to form the self as whole. It includes the past, present, and future selves, where future selves (or possible selves) represent individuals' ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, or what they are afraid of becoming. Possible selves may function as incentives for certain behavior.
The perception people have about their past or future selves is related to the perception of their current selves. The temporal self-appraisal theory argues that people have a tendency to maintain a positive self-evaluation by distancing themselves from their negative self and paying more attention to their positive one. In addition, people have a tendency to perceive the past self less favorably (e.g. "I'm better than I used to be") and the future self more positively (e.g. "I will be better than I am now").
Psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were heavy influences in popularizing the idea of self-concept in the west. According to Rogers, everyone strives to reach an "ideal self". Rogers also hypothesized that psychologically healthy people actively move away from roles created by others' expectations, and instead look within themselves for validation. On the other hand, neurotic people have "self-concepts that do not match their experiences...They are afraid to accept their own experiences as valid, so they distort them, either to protect themselves or to win approval from others."
The self-categorization theory developed by John Turner states that the self-concept consists of at least two "levels": a personal identity and a social one. In other words, one's self-evaluation relies on self-perceptions and how others perceive them. Self-concept can alternate rapidly between the personal and social identity. Children and adolescents begin integrating social identity into their own self-concept in elementary school by assessing their position among peers. By age 5, acceptance from peers has a significant impact on children's self-concept, affecting their behavior and academic success.
The self-concept is an internal model that uses self-assessments in order to define one's self-schemas. Features such as personality, skills and abilities, occupation and hobbies, physical characteristics, etc. are assessed and applied to self-schemas, which are ideas of oneself in a particular dimension (e.g., someone that considers themselves a geek will associate "geek-like" qualities to themselves). A collection of self-schemas make up one's overall self-concept. For example, the statement "I am lazy" is a self-assessment that contributes to self-concept. Statements such as "I am tired", however, would not be part of someone's self-concept, since being tired is a temporary state and therefore cannot become a part of a self-schema. A person's self-concept may change with time as reassessment occurs, which in extreme cases can lead to identity crises.
According to Carl Rogers, the self-concept has three different components:
Researchers debate over when self-concept development begins. Some assert that gender stereotypes and expectations set by parents for their children impact children's understanding of themselves by approximately age 3.However, at this developmental stage, children have a very broad sense of self, typically, they use words such as big or nice to describe themselves to others. While this represents the beginnings of self-concept,others suggest that self-concept develops later, around age 7 or 8. At this point, children are developmentally prepared to interpret their own feelings and abilities, as well as receive and consider feedback from peers, teachers, and family. Despite differing opinions about the onset of self-concept development, researchers agree on the importance of one’s self-concept, which influences people’s behaviors and cognitive and emotional outcomes including (but not limited to) academic achievement, levels of happiness, anxiety, social integration, self-esteem, and life-satisfaction.
Academic self-concept refers to the personal beliefs about their academic abilities or skills. Some research suggests that it begins developing from ages 3 to 5 due to influence from parents and early educators. By age 10 or 11, children assess their academic abilities by comparing themselves to their peers. These social comparisons are also referred to as self-estimates. Self-estimates of cognitive ability are most accurate when evaluating subjects that deal with numbers, such as math. Self-estimates were more likely to be poor in other areas, such as reasoning speed.[clarification needed]
Some researchers suggest that, to raise academic self-concept, parents and teachers need to provide children with specific feedback that focuses on their particular skills or abilities. Others also state that learning opportunities should be conducted in groups (both mixed-ability and like-ability) that downplay social comparison, as too much of either type of grouping can have adverse effects on children's academic self-concept and the way they view themselves in relation to their peers.
Worldviews about the self in relation to others differs across and within cultures.Western cultures place particular importance on independence and the expression of one's own attributes (i.e. the self is more important than the group). Asian cultures, however, favor an interdependent view of the self: interpersonal relationships are more important than one’s individual accomplishments, and individuals experience a sense of oneness with the group. Such identity fusion can have positive and negative consequences. Identity fusion can give people the sense that their existence is meaningful (e.g. Japanese nuclear plant workers expose themselves to radiation to help fix the plant after a tsunami); and this type of mindset is associated with a high quality of life.
A small study done in Israel showed that the divide between independent and interdependent self-concepts exists within cultures as well. Mid-level merchants in an urban community were compared to those in a kibbutz (collective community). The collectivist merchants valued the interdependent self more than the urban ones, who held more value to independent traits. The individualists described themselves largely in terms of personal traits, while collectivists used more hobbies and preferences. When the individualists did give interdependent responses, most responses were focused on work or school; individualist responses from interdependents focused most on residence.
Research from 1997, inspired by the differences in self-concept across cultures, suggested that men tend to be more independent, while women tend to be more interdependent. A study from 1999 showed that, while men and women do not differ in terms of independence or interdependence, they differ in their types of interdependence. Women utilize relational interdependence (identifying more with one-to-one relationships or small cliques), while men utilize collective interdependence (defining themselves within the contexts of large groups).
Gender differences in interdependent environments appear in early childhood: by age 3, boys and girls choose same-sex play partners, maintaining their preferences until late elementary school. Boys and girls become involved in different social interactions and relationships. Girls tend to prefer one-on-one (dyadic) interaction, forming tight, intimate bonds, while boys prefer group activities. One study in particular found that boys performed almost twice as well in groups than in pairs, whereas girls did not show such a difference.
Girls are more likely to wait their turn to speak, agree with others, and acknowledge the contributions of others. Boys, on the other hand, build larger group relationships based on shared interests and activities. Boys are more likely to threaten, boast, and call names, suggesting the importance of dominance and hierarchy in groups of male friends. In mixed-sex pairs of children aged 33 months, girls were more likely to passively watch a male partner play, and boys were more likely to be unresponsive to what their female partners were saying. The social characteristics of boys and girls as they develop throughout childhood tend to carry over later in life as they become men and women, although characteristics displayed as younger children are not necessarily entirely reflective of later behavior.
Why do people choose one form of media over another? According to the Galileo Model, there are different forms of media spread throughout three-dimensional space. The closer one form of media is to another the more similar the source of media is to each other. The farther away from each form of media is in space, the least similar the source of media is. For example, mobile and cell phone are located closest in space where as newspaper and texting are farthest apart in space. The study further explained the relationship between self-concept and the use of different forms of media. The more hours per day an individual uses a form of media, the closer that form of media is to their self-concept.
Self-concept is related to the form of media most used. If you consider yourself tech savvy, then you will use mobile phones more often than you would use a newspaper. If you consider yourself old fashioned, then you will use a magazine more often than you would instant message.
Main article: Outline of self
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Saul McLeod published 2008
The term self-concept is a general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself.
Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition:
"The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is".
The self-concept is an important term for both social and humanistic psychology. Lewis (1990) suggests that development of a concept of self has two aspects:
(1) The Existential Self
This is 'the most basic part of the self-scheme or self-concept; the sense of being separate and distinct from others and the awareness of the constancy of the self' (Bee, 1992).
The child realizes that they exist as a separate entity from others and that they continue to exist over time and space.
According to Lewis awareness of the existential self begins as young as two to three months old and arises in part due to the relation the child has with the world. For example, the child smiles and someone smiles back, or the child touches a mobile and sees it move.
(2) The Categorical Self
Having realized that he or she exists as a separate experiencing being, the child next becomes aware that he or she is also an object in the world.
Just as other objects including people have properties that can be experienced (big, small, red, smooth and so on) so the child is becoming aware of him or her self as an object which can be experienced and which has properties.
The self too can be put into categories such as age, gender, size or skill. Two of the first categories to be applied are age (“I am 3”) and gender (“I am a girl”).
In early childhood. the categories children apply to themselves are very concrete (e.g., hair color, height and favorite things). Later, self-description also begins to include reference to internal psychological traits, comparative evaluations and to how others see them.
Carl Rogers (1959) believes that the self-concept has three different components:
• The view you have of yourself (self-image)
• How much value you place on yourself (self-esteem or self-worth)
• What you wish you were really like (ideal-self)
Self-image (how you see yourself)
This does not necessarily have to reflect reality. Indeed a person with anorexia who is thin may have a self image in which the person believes they are fat. A person's self image is affected by many factors, such as parental influences, friends, the media etc.
Kuhn (1960) investigated the self-image by using The Twenty Statements Test.
He asked people to answer the question 'Who am I?' in 20 different ways. He found that the responses could be divided into two major groups. These were social roles (external or objective aspects of oneself such as son, teacher, friend) and personality traits (internal or affective aspects of oneself such as gregarious, impatient, humorous).
The list of answers to the question “Who Am I?” probably include examples of each of the following four types of responses:
1) Physical Description: I’m tall, have blue eyes...etc.
2) Social Roles: We are all social beings whose behavior is shaped to some extent by the roles we play. Such roles as student, housewife, or member of the football team not only help others to recognize us but also help us to know what is expected of us in various situations.
3) Personal Traits: These are the third dimension of our self-descriptions. “I’m impulsive...I’m generous...I tend to worry a lot”...etc.
4) Existential Statements (abstract ones): These can range from "I’m a child of the universe" to "I’m a human being" to "I’m a spiritual being"...etc.
Typically young people describe themselves more in terms of personal traits, whereas older people feel defined to a greater extent by their social roles.
Self-esteem (the extent to which you value yourself)
Self-esteem (also known as self-worth) refers to the extent to which we like accept or approve of ourselves, or how much we value ourselves. Self-esteem always involves a degree of evaluation and we may have either a positive or a negative view of ourselves.
High self-esteem (we have a positive view of ourselves)
This tends to lead to
- Confidence in our own abilities
- Not worrying about what others think
Low self-esteem (we have a negative view of ourselves)
This tends to lead to
- Lack of confidence
- Want to be/look like someone else
- Always worrying what others might think
There are several ways of measuring self-esteem. For example, Harrill Self Esteem Inventory is a questionnaire comprising 15 statements about a range of interest. Another example is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which is a neutral cartoon given to the participant who then has to devise a story about what's going on.
Morse and Gergen (1970) showed that in uncertain or anxiety-arousing situations our self-esteem may change rapidly. Participants were waiting for a job interview in a waiting room. They were sat with another candidate (a confederate of the experimenter) in one of two conditions:
A) Mr. Clean - dressed in a smart suit, carrying a briefcase opened to reveal a slide rule and books.
B) Mr. Dirty - dressed in an old T-shirt and jeans, slouched over a cheap sex novel.
Self-esteem of participants with Mr. Dirty increased whilst those with Mr. Clean decreased! No mention made of how this affected subjects’ performance in interview. Level of self-esteem affects performance at numerous tasks though (Coopersmith, 1967) so could expect Mr. Dirty subjects to perform better than Mr. Clean.
Even though self-esteem might fluctuate, there are times when we continue to believe good things about ourselves even when evidence to the contrary exists. This is known as the perseverance effect.
Miller and Ross (1975) showed that people who believed they had socially desirable characteristics continued in this belief even when the experimenters tried to get them to believe the opposite. Does the same thing happen with bad things if we have low self-esteem? Maybe not, perhaps with very low self-esteem, all we believe about ourselves might be bad.
Argyle (2008) believes there are 4 major factors that influence self-esteem.
1. The Reaction of Others
If people admire us, flatter us, seek out our company, listen attentively and agree with us we tend to develop a positive self-image. If they avoid us, neglect us, tell us things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear we develop a negative self-image.
2. Comparison with of Others
If the people we compare ourselves with (our reference group) appear to be more successful, happier, richer, better looking than ourselves we tend to develop a negative self-image BUT if they are less successful than us our image will be positive.
3. Social Roles
Some social roles carry prestige e.g., doctor, airline pilot, TV. presenter, premiership footballer and this promotes self-esteem. Other roles carry stigma. E.g., a prisoner, mental hospital patient, refuse collector or unemployed person.
Roles aren’t just “out there.” They also become part of our personality i.e. we identity with the positions we occupy, the roles we play and the groups we belong to.
But just as important as all these factors, are the influence of our parents! (See Coopersmith’s research.)
Ideal Self (what you'd like to be)
If there is a mismatch between how you see yourself (e.g., your self-image) and what you’d like to be (e.g., your ideal-self ) then this is likely to affect how much you value yourself.
Therefore, there is an intimate relationship between self-image, ego-ideal and self-esteem. Humanistic psychologists study this using the Q-Sort Method.
A person’s ideal self may not be consistent with what actually happens in life and experiences of the person. Hence, a difference may exist between a person’s ideal self and actual experience. This is called incongruence.
Where a person’s ideal self and actual experience are consistent or very similar, a state of congruence exists. Rarely, if ever does a total state of congruence exist; all people experience a certain amount of incongruence. The development of congruence is dependent on unconditional positive regard. Roger’s believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence.
Michael Argyle (2008) says there are four major factors which influence its development:
- The ways in which others (particularly significant others) react to us.
- How we think we compare to others
- Our social roles
- The extent to which we identify with other people
Argyle, M. (2008). Social encounters: Contributions to social interaction. Aldine Transaction
Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.) (1999). The self in social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press (Taylor & Francis).
Bee, H. L. (1992). The developing child. London: HarperCollins.
Coopersmith, S. (1967). The antecedents of self-esteem. San Francisco: Freeman.
Kuhn, M. H. (1960). Self-attitudes by age, sex and professional training. Sociological Quarterly, 1, 39-56.
Lewis, M. (1990). Self-knowledge and social development in early life. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality (pp. 277-300). New York: Guilford.
Miller, D. T., & Ross, M. (1975). Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: Fact or fiction? Psychological Bulletin, 82, 213–225
Morse, S. J. & Gergen, K. J. (1970). Social comparison, self-consistency and the concept of self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 148-156.
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How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Self concept. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/self-concept.html
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Who Are you? The Psychology of the Self (MIT Lecture).