The purpose of this article is the examination of the concept of “the self.” To understand what is meant by the term “the self” in the social world, one has to focus on the definition of the concept first. Here, terms like self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy are of focus to comprehend the application of “the self.”
The Definition of “The Self”
Several psychological schools of thought define “the self” as a key component of the cognitive representation of one’s identity. Contemporary psychology defines “the self” as an integral part of one’s cognition, affect, motivation, and social identity. The major representative of the humanistic point of view regarding “the self” is Carl Rogers (1971). Rogers suggests that people have a need for positive regard that reflects a universal requirement to be loved and respected. Because others provide this positive regard, one grows dependent on them. One begins to see and judge oneself through the eyes of other people, relying on their values. According to Rogers, one outgrowth of placing importance on the values of others is the degree of mismatch between a person’s experience and his or her self-concept, or self-impression. If the discrepancy is minor, so are the consequences. But if the discrepancy is substantial, it will lead to psychological disturbances in daily functioning, such as the experience of frequent anxiety.
One of the most plausible alternative theory was suggested by Daryl Bem (1972) in his self-perception theory. Bem put forth the idea that people form attitudes by observing their own behavior, using the same principles that they use when they observe others’ behavior to draw conclusions about others’ attitudes. In other words, people are sometimes unclear about the reasons for which they have just demonstrated a certain behavior. In those instances, they will look at their behavior and try to figure out just why they did what they did. For example, if one were the subject who received $1 for saying that a task one hated was very interesting, the person might look at what he said and try to figure out why he said it. The most likely explanation is “Well, if I agreed to say I liked the task for a paltry $1, then I probably didn’t dislike it all that much. In fact, I probably liked it.” Therefore, when this person is asked by the experimenter to indicate his attitude, he might respond with a relatively positive attitude toward the task. Of course, this is the same result that dissonance theory would predict – more positive attitude change in the lower-incentive condition ($1) than in the higher-incentive condition ($20) – but the underlying reason is different. Whereas the dissonance explanation suggests that attitude change is due to the presence (in the $1 condition) of the unpleasant state of dissonance that a subject tries to overcome, the self-perception theory suggests it is due to an active search for understanding one’s behavior. “The self” helps itself to foster psychological equilibrium by the means of self-perception theory and dissonance theory.
A Personal Reflection
Components of the concepts of “the self” are self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. A person’s self-concept, which is the impression one holds of oneself includes two components: self-relevant information is defined by self-schemas and one’s dreamed or dreaded possible self. Another term which relates to “the self” is self-esteem which means a person’s idea about his self-worth consisting of one’s abilities and traits. The last term, self-efficacy is defined by one’s knowledge about oneself’s effectiveness and competence.
My personal answer to “Who am I?” is: I am a nature-loving earthling, a proud citizen of the European community with its diversity of cultures, a fan of German produced cars and German philosophers, a humorous and conscious psychologist (dreamed self), a sensitive but demanding (dreaded self) mother and wife, a hormone controlled woman with ups and downs.
To define myself on the account of self-esteem has been solved due to the previous sentences. I am self-opinionated, but try to downplay it, when I believe that my presence is violating another person’s personal hideaway. But don’t trespass my heaven either, otherwise I may give the trespasser a piece of my mind. My self-esteem is drawn between an individualistic and collectivist body of thought which is deeply rooted within myself and is called ambivalence by contemporary psychologists.
Self-efficacy is my second name. I fit the stereotype of a true German: punctual, orderly, disciplined, and hard-working. If I opt for something like motherhood or school, then I will give my best which comes close to a compulsive perfectionist sometimes by leaving side-effects in forms of obsessions aside. I rather accelerate proceedings and I am full of energy, which intensifies some intrinsic urge to process even further.
Although one can’t be sure whether dissonance or self-perception theory provides the more accurate description of how people react to inconsistencies between their attitudes and their behavior. What seems clear is that most people try to make sense of their own self, their own attitudes and behaviors and maintain consistency between them. When one behaves in a way that is inconsistent with one’s attitudes, one tends to change his attitudes to make them fit better with his behavior to achieve psychological equilibrium.
Yours, Beate Landgraf