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Title: Self-identity  
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Subject: Race (human classification), Outline of self
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"Self-construction" redirects here. For other uses, see Self-construction (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Self-awareness, Self-consciousness, Self image, or Self-perception.

One's self-concept (also called self-construction, self-identity or self-perspective) is a collection of beliefs about oneself[1][2] that includes elements such as academic performance,[3][4][5][6][7] gender roles and sexuality,[8][9][10] racial identity,[11] and many others. Generally, self-concept embodies the answer to "Who am I?"[12]

Self-concept is distinguishable from self-awareness, which refers to the extent to which self-knowledge is clearly defined, consistent and currently applicable to one's attitudes and dispositions.[13] Self-concept is made up of one's self-schemas. Additionally, self-concept interacts with self-esteem, self-knowledge, and social self to form the self. Self-esteem refers to the evaluation or comparison of one's self-concept and self-schemas to form one's overall self-worth.[12][14]

The self-concept includes past, present and future selves. Future or possible selves represent individuals' ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, or what they are afraid of becoming. These different selves correspond to one's hopes, fears, standards, goals, and threats for their present selves. Possible selves may function as incentives for future behavior and also provide an evaluative and interpretive context for the current view of self that is used when one self-evaluates, contributing to one's self-esteem.[12][15] Self-esteem and self-concept cannot be used interchangeably. Self-esteem focuses on an evaluative and opinionated aspect to one's self (e.g., I feel good about the fact that I am a fast runner), whereas self-concept is more of a cognitive or descriptive component to one's self (e.g., I am a fast runner). This distinction is important to note, as self-concept and self-esteem closely interact to form an overall view of the self.

The perception which people have about their past or future selves is related to the perception of their current self. The temporal self-appraisal theory [16] argues that people have a tendency to maintain a positive evaluation of the current self by distancing their self-concepts from their negative selves and paying more attention to their positive selves. In addition, people have a tendency to perceive the past self less favorably[17] (e.g., I'm better than I used to be) and the future self more positively [18] (e.g., I will be better than I am now).


Psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow paved the way for this concept. According to Rogers, everyone strives to become more like an "ideal self". The closer one is to their ideal self, the happier one will be. Rogers also claimed that one factor in a person’s happiness is unconditional positive regard, or UPR, from others. UPR often occurs in close or familial relationships, and involves a consistent level of affection regardless of the recipient’s actions.[19] Rogers explained UPR as neither approving nor disapproving of someone based on their behaviours or characteristics but rather accepting them without judgement.[20] From a therapy frame of reference, Rogers identified the significance of a client perceiving a therapist’s UPR towards them, so that the client would not feel judged as they attempt to accurately express themselves. Evidence of UPR in self-concept research is apparent in studies by Benner and Mistry (2007) and Tiedemann (2000). Research has indicated that adolescents whose mothers and teachers had high expectations for their future educational attainment experienced more academic success than those whose adult influences had lower expectations.[21] Adults’ high expectations for children are also reported as being important buffers from the negative effects of other parties’ low expectations by developing feelings of positive regard in adolescents.[22] In research about parent stereotypes, the correlation between parents’ beliefs about their early elementary age children’s mathematics abilities and the children’s actual abilities increased as children aged.[23] This demonstrates the strong relationship between adults’ beliefs about children and children’s beliefs about themselves, indicating the importance of developing unconditional positive regard for students so they can develop it themselves.

An important theory related to self-concept is the self-categorization theory (SCT), which states that the self-concept consists of at least two "levels," a personal identity and a social identity. In other words, one’s self-evaluation rely on both one’s self-perceptions and how one fits in socially. The self-concept can alternate rapidly between the personal and social identity.[24] Research by Trautwein et al.(2009) indicates that children and adolescents begin integrating social comparison information into their own self-concept in elementary school by assessing their position among their peers.[25] Gest et al.’s (2008) research findings reveal that peer acceptance has a significant impact on one’s self-concept by age 5, affecting children’s behaviour and academic success.[26] Both of these research examples demonstrate the social influences on a person’s self-concept.

Model of self-concept

The self-concept is an internal model that uses self-assessments in order to define one's self-schemas.[27] Features such as personality, skills and abilities, occupation(s) and hobbies, physical characteristics, etc. are assessed and applied to self-schemas, which are ideas one has of oneself in a particular dimension (e.g., someone that considers themselves a geek will associate geek-like qualities and be an expert on those qualities). 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 the self-concept. It is important to note that statements such as "I am tired" would not be part of someone's self-concept, since being tired is a temporary emotional 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.

Academic self-concept

Academic Self-Concept (ASC) refers to the personal beliefs someone develops about their academic abilities or skills.[25] A person's ASC develops and evolves as they age. Some research suggests that ASC begins developing in early childhood, from age 3 to 5, due to parental/family and early educators’ influences,[23] While other research contends that ASC does not develop until age 7 or 8, when children begin evaluating their own academic abilities based on the feedback they receive from parents, teachers and their peers.[28] By age 10 or 11, children view their academic abilities by comparing themselves to their peers.[29] These social comparisons are also referred to as self-estimates.[30] Self-estimates are frequently utilized to help one form an idea of oneself.[30] Research shows that self-estimates of cognitive ability were most accurate when numerical ability was estimated.[30] Furthermore, research shows that self-estimates were more likely to be poor in other areas of cognitive ability such as reasoning speed that are considered less frequently.[30]

There are a variety of social factors that contribute to development of an ASC and developing a positive ASC has been related to people’s behaviours and emotions in other domains of their life, influencing happiness, self-esteem, and anxiety levels to name a few.[31] Due to the significant impact ASC has on a person’s life, it has been argued that educational systems should foster positive self-concept development in children.[31]

These research findings are important because they have practical implications for parents and teachers. Research indicates that parents and teachers need to provide children with specific feedback that focuses on their particular skills or expressed abilities in order to increase ASC.[32] Other research suggests that learning opportunities should be conducted in a variety of mixed-ability and like-ability groupings that down-play social comparison because too much of either type of grouping can have adverse effects on children’s ASC in the way they view themselves in relation to their peers.[25][33]

Effects of success and failure

Various studies have examined the effects that success and failure can have on an individual's self-concept. Individuals often form their self-concept based on past experiences of success or failure, attributing the outcome to their own personal worth. By doing this, individuals can commit the fundamental attribution error. In this case, the error may arise when the person falsely believes that a specific aspect of who they are determined the positive or negative outcome. By attributing a negative outcome to oneself, self-concept can be unnecessarily harmed. However, attributing positive outcomes to oneself can increase self-concept. These attributions can even have an effect on self-perception, achievement behaviors in the future, and expectancies.[34] Austin and Vispoel (1998) found strong links between where an individual attributed success or failure and, specifically, musical self-concept.

Changes in self-concept can be mediated and predicted by various factors. One important factor in academics is evaluation of performance by peers, or peer academic reputation (PAR). Gest, Rulison, Davidson, and Welsh (2008) found evidence for the predictive ability of PAR with regard to students' in upper grades academic self-concept.[35] If a student has a reputation for success or failure in the academic setting, the student may develop a negative self-concept. This shows that it is may not only be the actual success or failure that has an effect, but may also be the secondary effects of poor academic reputation among peers that influence students' self-concept.

There are also effects that have been studying by looking at how self-concept can influence success or failure and attributions of success and failure. In a study of university undergraduate students, self-esteem was studied by examining students' attributions for their success or failure after being given a word association test. Dutton and Brown (1997) found that self-esteem could predict participants' attribution of their success or failure in the word test.[36] Individuals with high self-esteem tended to make more self-serving attributions to outcomes than did individuals with low self-esteem.

Expectations, conditioning, and gauging

According to Kathleen Berger, author of The Developing Person, guilt plays a significant role in shaping a young child's self-concept. As an example, she describes a child that is coddled at home, and his/her socially unacceptable behavior is never thwarted by the parent(s). When the child is denied whatever they want from another child, he/she strikes out towards other children, not understanding that there will be consequences and possible retaliation. If this kind of behavior were to occur in a classroom environment, a teacher could use guilt in an attempt to shape the spoiled child's self-concept by reminding the student that hitting others is not acceptable in most social situations. In essence, guilt shapes behavior. Berger goes on to explain that most children over the age of 5 have some sense of the rules and regulations that govern social behavior that they learn from a guardian, thus shaping their self-concept without using guilt. In some cases, if maladaptive behavior is left unchecked, the seeds of bullying could start to germinate.[37]

Self-concept is linked directly to a person's level of anxiety, according to the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. According to Rogers, if a child feels highly valued and wanted, that person is more likely to grow up with a positive self-image, with the possibility of becoming self-actualized. Rogers describes this individual as a fully functioning person with a low level of anxiety, which he attributes to inconsistencies between self-perceptions and possible-self. Here again, expectations play a major role in shaping self-concept. Dr. Rogers hypothesizes that psychologically healthy people actively move away from roles created by others' expectations but instead look within themselves for validation.[38]

"Neurotic and psychotic peoples, on the other hand, 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."

Children learn at an early age that certain conditions will be placed upon them in exchange for approval or love from the parents. For example, a parent may tell a child that he/she must love the new baby sister or brother, or else Mommy and Daddy won't love them. This kind of hostage mentality could harbor and suppress negative ill will towards the new baby which will eventually express itself later on in life.[39]

To gauge a child's self-concept, Susan Harter developed the Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents. In it, domains such as scholastic competence, behavior conduct, close friendships, social acceptance, athletic competence, romantic appeal, and physical appearance are rated using a number of indicators. Some of the positive indicators include whether the child or adolescent expresses their opinion, maintains eye contact during conversion, works cooperatively in a group, maintains a comfortable space between self and others, and uses proper voice levels for various situation. Negative indicators could include teasing, gossiping, using dramatic gesturing, engaging in inappropriate touching or avoiding physical contact, verbally putting down self or others, or bragging about achievements, skills, or appearance.[40]

Positive Development and Educational Influences

According to William Watson Purkey (1999),[41] all individuals have internal dialogue, known as what he calls The Whispering Self. All internal dialogue is influenced and shaped by one’s self-concept. In agreement with Purkey, if a student has a strong, positive self-concept, he or she will establish positive internal dialogue, leading to success.[41] Contrary to this, if a student has a negative self-concept, he or she will establish negative internal dialogue, leading to loss.[41] Invitational education and practice emphasizes that teachers have the ability to improve learning in the classroom when self-concept is enhanced and strengthened.[42]

In education, according to Purkey (1999) [41] and self-concept theory, emphasis is placed on the teacher as the primary force in fostering students’ positive self-concept. Research indicates that empathy, non-possessive warmth, and genuineness are three essential qualities that all teachers must possess to foster positive development in students.[43] This positive self-concept will condition the development of positive whispering selves in students.[41] Central to the theory of invitational education, it is the goal of the teacher to help students recognize both positive and negative self-talk, while acquiring the necessary skills to eliminate any negative dialogue.[41]

Teacher’s can guide this development by helping students eliminate the use of “I can’t” or “I never”.[41] Instead, Purkey suggests that teachers can view their students as able, valuable, and responsive through creating a caring environment, both in the classroom and the entire school.[41] A caring environment will create positive experiences for students, which are the necessary conditions for students to develop an increased self-concept.[41] Invitational theory and practice emphasizes the importance of establishing a caring and supportive learning environment in which all students have the ability to thrive.[42] The optimism and authenticity that is practiced will allow all students to develop strong self-concepts, positive internal dialogue, and to reach their full potential.[42]

Cultural differences

Worldviews about the self in relation to others differs across and within cultures.[44] In Western cultures, an individualistic and independent approach is adopted where society places particular importance on becoming independent and to express one's own attributes.[45] Relationships, memberships, groups, and their needs and goals, tend to be secondary to the self. Self-assessment of one's self-concept also includes social comparisons. The Social comparison theory states that people strive to accurately define themselves and therefore utilize social comparisons to accurately define the self during the self-evaluative process.[33][46] Within these social comparisons, one will find upward (e.g., positive) and downward (e.g., negative) comparisons that can either enhance or threaten our self-concept and self-esteem.[12] In such cases where we feel threatened, it is not uncommon to make explanations for why we are not performing to the same degree as others, thereby preserving our self-concept and self-esteem.[12] In Asian cultures, an interdependent view of the self is more prevalent and these cultures often experience identity fusion more frequently.[44] Interpersonal relationships are more central than one’s individual accomplishments, as individuals experience a sense of oneness with the group.[44] Great emphasis is placed on these relationships, and the self is seen primarily as an integral part of society.[44] Research has shown that this identity fusion can have positive and negative consequences.[44] The positive impact that identity fusion can have on people is that they feel 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.[44] On the other hand, such strong interdependence can lead to catastrophic events (e.g., acts of terrorism).[44]

A study published in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations gives another division of the independent and interdependent selves based on subcultures. A small study done in Israel shows the different characteristics most prevalent of mid-level merchants in an urban community versus those in a communal settlement, called the kibbutz. Similar to the Western v. non-Western perspectives, the collectivist members valued the interdependent self more that the urban members. Likewise, the urban samples held more value to independent traits than the kibbutz. Both answered with more independent traits than interdependent. The study divided the independent and interdependent traits into subcategories to further define what are the most valued by the two subcultures. On the independent scale, personal traits showed the greatest prevalence for the individualists, while hobbies and preferences were greater for the collectivists. Work and school were the most frequently described interdependent responses for the urban sector, while residence was most often referred to by the kibbutz. Overall, the study intensifies the knowledge that self-concept depends on inner attributes, abilities, and opinions from the community based on collective ideology. Further studies on other subcultures would be needed to create a generalization on a wider scale.[47]

Gender differences

Gender has also been shown to be an important factor in the formation of self-concept. Early research inspired by the differences in self-concept across culture suggested that men tend to be more independent while women tend to be more interdependent.[48] Independent self-construct refers to the fact that representations of others are separate from the self.[49] Interdependent self-construct refers to the fact that representations of others are considered as part of the self.[49] However, more recent research [50] has shown that, while men and women do not differ between independence and interdependence generally, they do differ in the distinction between relational and collective interdependence. Men utilize collective interdependence while women utilize relational interdependence. In other words, women identify more with dyadic (one-on-one) relationships or small cliques, whereas men define themselves more often within the context of larger groups.[51] Research also shows that as gender roles become blurred in Western society (e.g., more men are staying at home and women are being empowered in the workplace), these differences may change.[49]

Women have often been stereotyped as being more emotional than men.[52] This area of gender differences is important to research, as self-concepts that encompass gender may also encompass the self-conscious emotions or tendencies associated with gender. Women, for example, allegedly show more guilt, shame and embarrassment whereas men show more pride.[52] Research shows that women in fact do show more guilt, shame and embarrassment than men but that men and women show the same amount of pride.[52] Furthermore, gender differences in self-conscious emotions are different between ethnicities and are greatest within white populations when compared to Black or African, Asian, and Latin American samples.[52] More research in this area is needed to extrapolate the gender differences across different cultures and ethnicities, as most of the samples used in gender studies are White samples. This reliance on a specific sample can lead researchers to overestimate the magnitude of gender differences in terms of emotions of women in comparison to men.[52]

The developmental perspective

Research by Tiedemann (2000) found that parents’ and teachers’ gender stereotypes about children’s mathematical abilities influenced children’s self-concepts about their mathematical ability prior to having extensive experience with math in school.[23] Tiedemann’s (2000) research findings also indicate that the correlation between adult’s gendered stereotypes and children’s beliefs about themselves increased as children aged throughout elementary school.[23] Additional research by Benner and Mistry (2007) indicates that parent’s initial expectations for their children, during early childhood, correlate with children’s academic success.[53] These findings highlight the influence of adult stereotypes and expectations on children’s self-concept formation.

Research by Eleanor Maccoby (1990) found that boys and girls choose same-sex play partners by age 3 and maintain their preferences until late elementary school.[54] Boys and girls become involved in different social interactions and relationships. Girls tend to prefer one-on-one dyadic interaction, while boys prefer group activities. Girls tend to share secrets and form tight, intimate bonds with one another. Furthermore, 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. Subsequently, the social characteristics of boys and girls tend to carry over later in life as they become men and women.[54]

Researchers debate when self-concept development begins but agree on the importance of person’s life. Tiedemann (2000) indicates that parents’ gender stereotypes and expectations for their children impact children’s understandings of themselves by approximately age 3.[23] Others suggest that self-concept develops later, around age 7 or 8, as children are developmentally prepared to begin interpreting their own feelings, abilities, and interpretations of feedback they receive from parents, teachers, and peers about themselves.[28] Despite differing opinions about the onset of self-concept development, researchers agree on the importance of one’s self-concept, which influences people’s behaviours and cognitive and emotional outcomes including (but not limited to) academic achievement, levels of happiness, anxiety, social integration, self-esteem, and life-satisfaction.[25][31][55]

Empirical evidence

In a 1999 study by Gabriel and Gardner, five separate experiments were conducted to demonstrate gender differences in self-concept: a 20 statement test evaluating self-construal ("I am..." statements), a series of surveys evaluating trait identification, an exercise evaluating selective memory for emotional events, a diary reading paradigm evaluating selective memory, and a survey concerning a situational dilemma evaluating behavioral intention and desire to behave. Each of these five studies showed in no significant difference between men and women in levels of independence. However, they were able to show a bias among women toward relational interdependence and a bias among men toward collective interdependence in affect, cognition, and behavior.[50]

Other psychologists have postulated that men display an independent concept while women display an interdependent self-concept. One study exploring this aimed to discover whether gender stereotypes have an effect on this gender difference in self-construal. Participants read a list of traits and rated the extent to which the traits applied to a typical man, a typical woman, and the self. When rating men and women in general, both males and females displayed a stereotype for "relational" women (focused on their relationships with others) and "agentic" men (focused on themselves and their individual accomplishments). Self-ratings also corresponded to these stereotypes. The researchers then hypothesized that the stereotypes themselves contribute to the difference in self-construal, and found that this effect is more potent for women than for men. One possible explanation for this imbalance is that "relational" traits tend to be more positively viewed than "agentic" traits, and therefore participants are more likely to apply relational traits to themselves. This research supports the SCT, showing that one’s self-concept is affected by the interplay of self-assessments and social roles (in this case, belonging to the larger group of males or females).[24]

One study, focusing on the developmental perspective, aimed to discover girls’ and boys’ preferences for socialization. Thirty-three-month-old children were assigned to play in pairs. Some pairs were same-sex, others were mixed. Researchers measured both positive and negative social behaviors during play. Both boys and girls had higher levels of social behavior when playing with the same sex than with the opposite sex. In addition, in the mixed-sex pairs, girls were more likely to passively watch a male partner play than vice versa. Boys were more likely to be unresponsive to what their female partners were saying than vice versa.[56]

Another study observed performance in unisex and mixed-sex groups of children. 10-year-old children were placed in either all-male pairs, all-male groups, all-female pairs, or all-female groups. The children were given a task that was equally interesting to males and females. The results of the study found significant correlation between sex of the participants and social structure. Boys performed almost twice as well in groups than in pairs, whereas girls did not show a significant difference. The increased productivity of boys in groups was expected due to the greater number of participants, whereas girls did not benefit from more participants.[57]

See also

Main article: Outline of self


External links

  • An Overview of Self-Concept Theory for Counselors
  • Assessment of Self-Concept
  • Self-concept (Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology)
  • Valdosta)
  • What Are The Effects Of The Self-Concept Theory In High School Students? (Lance Maruscsak)

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