Self-concept is a multi-dimensional construct that refers to an individual's perception of "self" in relation to any number of characteristics, such as academics (and nonacademics), gender roles and sexuality, racial identity, and many others. Each of these characteristics is a research domain (i.e. Academic Self-Concept) within the larger spectrum of self-concept although no characteristics exist in isolation as one’s self-concept is a collection of beliefs about themselves. While closely related with self-concept clarity (which "refers to the extent to which self-knowledge is clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable"), it presupposes but is distinguishable from self-awareness
Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals...

, which is simply an individual's awareness of their self. It is also more general than self-esteem
Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame: some would distinguish how 'the self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the...

, which is the purely evaluative element of the self-concept.

The self-concept is an internal model which comprises self-assessments. Features assessed include but are not limited to: personality
Personality psychology
Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that studies personality and individual differences. Its areas of focus include:* Constructing a coherent picture of the individual and his or her major psychological processes...

, skills and abilities, occupation(s) and hobbies, physical characteristics, etc. For example, the statement "I am lazy" is a self-assessment that contributes to the self-concept. However, the statement "I am tired" would not be part of someone's self-concept, since being tired is a temporary state and a more objective judgment. A person's self-concept may change with time as reassessment occurs, which in extreme cases can lead to identity crises
Identity crisis (psychology)
"Identity crisis is the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence." The term was coined by the psychologist Erik Erikson. The stage of psychosocial development in which identity crisis may occur is called the Identity Cohesion versus Role Confusion stage...


Another model of self-concept contains three parts: self-esteem, stability, and self-efficacy. Self-esteem is the "evaluative" component--it is where one makes judgments about his or her self-worth. Stability refers to the organization and continuity of one's self-concept. Is it constantly in flux? Can singular, relatively trivial events drastically affect your self-esteem? The third element, self-efficacy, is best explained as self-confidence. It is specifically connected with one's abilities, unlike self-esteem.

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. 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. Despite differing opinions about the onset of self-concept development, researchers agree on the importance of one’s self-concept, influencing 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.

Furthermore, the self-concept is not restricted to the present. It includes past selves 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. They correspond to hopes, fears, standards, goals, and threats. Possible selves may function as incentives for future behavior and they also provide an evaluative and interpretive context for the current view of self..

A Brief History

The psychologists who paved the way for this concept were Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers
Carl Ransom Rogers was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology...

 and Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow
Abraham Harold Maslow was an American professor of psychology at Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research and Columbia University who created Maslow's hierarchy of needs...

. 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
Unconditional positive regard
Unconditional positive regard, a term popularly believed to have been coined by the humanist Carl Rogers , is basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does. Rogers believes that unconditional positive regard is essential to healthy development...

, 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. Roger’s explained UPR as neither approving nor disapproving of someone based on their behaviours or characteristics but rather accepting them without judgement. From a therapy frame of reference, Rogers identified the significance of a client perceiving a therapist’s UPR towards them in order for it to have meaning because the client should not feel judged as they attempt to accurately express themselves. Evidence of UPR in self-concept research in 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. 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. 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. 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 relating to self-concept is the self-categorization theory
Self-categorization Theory
Self-categorization theory is a theory of social categorization that includes categorization of the self as a key feature. The theory was developed by John Turner and colleagues, and along with social identity theory it is a constituent part of the social identity approach...

 (SCT), which states that the self-concept consists of at least two “levels,” a personal identity and a social identity. In other words, people’s self-evaluations 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. 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. Gest et al.’s (2008) research findings reveal that peer acceptance has a significant impact on one’s self-concept by age 8, affecting children’s behaviour and academic success. Both of these research examples capsulate the social influences on a person’s self-concept.

Academic Self-Concept (ASC)

ASC refers to the personal beliefs someone develops about their academic abilities or skills. A person’s ASC develops and evolves as they age. Research by Tiedemann (2000) suggests that ASC begins developing in early childhood, from age 3 to 5, due to parental /family and early educators’ influences. 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. According to Rubie-Davis (2006), by age 10 or 11 children view their academic abilities by comparing themselves to their peers.

Due to the variety of social factors that influence one’s ASC, developing a positive ASC has been related to people’s behaviours and emotions in other domains of their life, influencing one’s happiness, self-esteem, and anxiety levels to name a few. Due to the significant impact ASC has on a person’s life, fostering positive self-concept development in children should be an important goal of any educational system.

These research findings are important because they have practical implications for parents and teachers. Research by Craven et al. (1991) 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. 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.

Expectations, Conditioning, and Gauging

According to Kathleen Berger, author of the text 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 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.

Self concept is linked directly to a person's level of anxiety, according to the famous humanistic
Humanistic psychology
Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective which rose to prominence in the mid-20th century, drawing on the work of early pioneers like Carl Rogers and the philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology...

  psychologist Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers
Carl Ransom Rogers was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology...

. According to Rogers, if a child feels highly valued and wanted as a child, 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.

"Neurotic and psychotic people, 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 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. An example of this kind of expression is heard everyday in playground fights in the inevitable statement "He started it!"

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 if 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.

Genetic Component

In a groundbreaking research study, psychological geneticist Robert Plomin
Robert Plomin
Robert Plomin is an American psychologist best known for his work in twin studies and behavior genetics. Plomin has made two of the most important discoveries in that field. First, he has shown the importance of non-shared environment, a term that he coined to refer to the environmental reasons...

 has documented through a recent twins study that there is a genetic component to intelligence specifically related to IQ. Till now, it has been assumed that environment primarily shaped a person's intelligence. The expectation is if one child grows up in a houseful of books nurtured by educated parents, that child should logically become smarter and possess a higher IQ. But according to Dr. Plomin's study, twins growing up in an identical environment sometimes have very different levels of intelligence. This dependency can directly affect a child's self-image. If one child is able to excel in academics and another does not, the child that is excelling more than likely will have extra attention paid to him/her as opposed to the child perhaps thought of as non-engaging or simply lazy.

Quoting the New York Times, "The gene was pinpointed by studying about 50 students whose SAT scores were equivalent to an I.Q. score of 160 or higher, and by comparing their DNA with children of average I.Q. Searching through a small part of the human genome, the long arm of chromosome 6, he found that a particular variant of a certain gene was twice as common in his sample of children with ultra-high I.Q.'s than in those with average I.Q.'s The gene has a very small effect, accounting for about 2 percent of the variance, or 4 I.Q. points, Dr. Plomin said"

At this time there seems to be no practical purpose for Dr. Plomin's work other than to help explain why some children exposed to inferior environmental surroundings do better academically than those with much more opportunity and privilege.

Culture differences

Worldviews about the self in relation to others differs across and within cultures. In Western cultures, “the normative to become independent from others and to discover and express one’s attributes” Relationships, memberships, groups, and their needs and goals, tend to be secondary to the self. When assessing self-concept, one’s positioning among peers is important because of the competitive nature of society, where people view themselves as better or worse than peers. In Asian
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 cultures, an interdependent view of the self is more prevalent. Interpersonal relationships are more central than one’s individual accomplishments. Great emphasis is placed on these relationships, and the self is seen primarily as an integral part of society. When asked to complete 20 “I am” statements, members of non-Western cultures tend to describe themselves in more interdependent terms than members of Western cultures did, whereas members of Western cultures describe themselves as more independent.

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
A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture. Today, farming has been partly supplanted by other economic branches, including industrial plants and high-tech enterprises. Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism...

. 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.

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. However, more recent research 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 tend to conceive of themselves in terms of collective interdependence while women conceive of themselves in terms of 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.

The developmental perspective

Research by Tiedemann (2000) found that parents’ and teachers’ gender stereotypes about children’s mathematic abilities influenced children’s self-concepts about their mathematic ability prior to having extensive math experiences in school. Tiedemann’s (2000) research findings also indicate that the correlation increased between adult’s gendered stereotypes and children’s beliefs about themselves as children aged throughout elementary school. 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. These findings highlight the influence of adult stereotypes and expectations on children’s self-concept formation.

Research by Maccoby (1990) found that boys and girls choose same-sex play partners by age 3 and maintain 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, 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.

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 resulted 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
Affect (psychology)
Affect refers to the experience of feeling or emotion. Affect is a key part of the process of an organism's interaction with stimuli. The word also refers sometimes to affect display, which is "a facial, vocal, or gestural behavior that serves as an indicator of affect" .The affective domain...

, cognition
In science, cognition refers to mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. Cognition is studied in various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science...

, and behavior
Behavior or behaviour refers to the actions and mannerisms made by organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with its environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the physical environment...


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 to what extent 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).

One study, focusing on the developmental perspective, aimed to discover girls’ and boys’ preferences for socialization
Socialization is a term used by sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists and educationalists to refer to the process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies...

. 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.

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 significant difference. The increased productivity of boys in groups was expected due to the greater number of participants, whereas girls did not profit from more participants.

See also

External links

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