What Is Self-Concept?


What Is Self-Concept?

Self-concept refers to people’s characteristic ideas about who they are and what they are .

Although psychologists often talk about the self-concept, a person’s self-concept typically consists of a loose collection of ideas rather than a single unified conception of the self.

The self-concept is grounded in subjective experience. This means that a person’s self-concept may be different from what he or she is actually .

History of Self-Concept

One of the first psychologists who wrote about the self-concept was William James, a psychologist in the late 19th century. James distinguished between the I and the ME. The I is the part of the self that is actively perceiving and thinking. The ME is the part of the self that becomes an object of the person’s thoughts and perceptions. The self-concept relates primarily to the ME.

Adaptive Functions of the Self-Concept

Having a self-concept is a uniquely human trait. The capacity to form a self-concept presumably evolved because it promoted survival and reproduction among early humans. Because people have a self-concept, they can consider themselves in alternative times and circumstances.

Thus, one adaptive function of the self-concept lies in helping people plan for the future. Goals, particularly ideals and obligations, are indeed central to people’s self-concepts.

When a person’s current self differs from his or her desired self, this motivates the person to take action to move closer to the desired self. Another adaptive function of the self-concept is to facilitate social behavior.

When people view themselves similarly as their interaction partners, this helps people predict how others will behave toward them. A shared cultural background may lead people to construe their self-concepts in a similar manner.

For instance, people living in Western cultures the United States or France tend to regard themselves as more independent from others. By contrast, people living in Eastern cultures such as Japan or India tend to think of themselves as more mutually dependent. When people have similar self-concepts, they may understand each other better.

Structure of the Self-Concept

Self-concepts have a certain structure. One important aspect of the structure of the self-concept is self-complexity. Individuals with a complex self-concept distinguish between many distinct aspects or dimensions of themselves. Individuals with a simple self-concept view themselves in terms of only a few broad aspects or dimensions.

Individuals with a simple self-concept are more vulnerable to stress than are individuals with a complex self-concept. This is because individuals with a complex self-concept can overcome negative feedback in one self-domain (e.g., getting fired from one’s job) by turning their attention to other self-domains (e.g., one’s family life, religion).

Individuals with a simple self-concept cannot follow this strategy.

Another important aspect of the structure of the self-concept is whether self-views are implicit or explicit. Explicit self-views are ideas about the self of which people are consciously aware. Implicit self-views are ideas about the self that are unconsciously held.

Self-views may become unconscious when people use them over and over again, so that these ideas become automatic mental habits. Explicit self-views are easier to observe than implicit self-views are. This is mainly because people themselves do not know about their implicit self-views.

Nevertheless, implicit self-views can be observed indirectly because they influence how people respond to self-relevant objects or situations.

Implicit self-views are especially ly to guide people’s behavior when people rely on their immediate intuitions, for instance, when people are responding very quickly or when they are distracted.

Self-Concept Motives

When people learn about themselves, certain kinds of information are especially valuable to them. It seems intuitively plausible that people should be interested in obtaining accurate information about themselves.

The desire for accurate information about the self has been called the self-assessment motive. As it turns out, self-assessment is not the only motive surrounding the self-concept. Three additional motives have been found to influence how people construct their self-concepts.

First, people want to receive positive, self-enhancing feedback, which is known as the self-enhancement motive. Second, people want to confirm what they already believe about themselves, which has been called the self-verification motive.

Third, people want to learn things that help them to improve themselves, which is known as the self-improvement motive.

Self-assessment, self-enhancement, self-verification, and self-improvement jointly determine which information people use to construct their self-concepts.

However, the motives sometimes conflict. For instance, self-enhancement leads people to prefer positive feedback, even when their self-concepts are negative. However, self-verification leads people with negative self-concepts to prefer negative feedback.

The conflict between self-enhancement and self-verification motives has been extensively studied by psychologist Bill Swann and associates. These researchers found that self-enhancement drives people’s immediate emotional reactions to self-relevant information.

However, self-verification may still prevail in people’s cognitive beliefs about themselves. People with a negative self-concept may thus internalize negative feedback, even when this feedback is emotionally painful to them.

People with a positive self-concept don’t experience this conflict because for them, both self-enhancement and self-verification foster a preference for positive feedback.

The different self-concept motives become dominant under different circumstances. Self-enhancement is the most automatic motive, at least among people living in the West. Self-enhancement therefore becomes stronger when people are distracted or emotionally aroused.

Self-assessment becomes stronger when people are deliberating about the pros and cons of a course of action. Self-verification becomes stronger when people possess great confidence in their beliefs about themselves. Finally, self-improvement becomes stronger when people believe that they can change their self-attributes.

Moreover, self-improvement is particularly strong among people in Eastern cultures.


  1. Baumeister, R. F. (1998). The self. In D. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 680-740). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Kihlstrom, J. F., & Klein, S. B. (1994). The self as a knowledge structure. In R. S. Wyer, Jr., & T. K. Srull (Eds.), Handbook of social cognition (Vol. 1, pp. 153-208). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  3. Sedikides, C., & Skowronski, J. J. (1997). The symbolic self in evolutionary context. Personality and .Social Psychology Review, 1, 80-102.

Источник: http://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/self/self-concept/

What Is Self-Concept and Why Does It Matter?

What Is Self-Concept?

Source: Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Our self-concept is the image we have of our bodies, capabilities, impressions, etc. (Bailey, 2003). It includes:

  • The material self. Our body, possessions, and other things in our lives.
  • The interpersonal self. The views others hold about us.
  • The intrapersonal self. Our emotions, desires, needs, values, etc. (Epstein, 1973)

Research psychologists noticed that the way we see ourselves is often similar to the way others see us. This finding is referred to as the looking-glass self (Epstein, 1973). This research taught us that much of our self-concept emerges from the social interactions we have with others. Our 'self' emerges the information others tell us about who we are.

Our self-concept also includes the self-awareness that we are part of categories our age, gender, race, etc. Some people theorize that self-concept is the glue that holds all the pieces of our personality together. And, at its most basic, self-concept is the answer we give when asked the question «Who am I?»

Why Does the Self-Concept Matter?

Each of us has parts of ourselves that we believe are the most important (Epstein, 1973).

For example, an athlete might view their athleticism to be of central importance to their self-concept, even though they also enjoy cooking and are part of a big family.

Some have even suggested that the self is arranged hierarchically, with relatively important parts above less important parts. But each of us decides which parts are important to us.

​As we experience new things and gain additional information from others, the self-concept may determine which new aspects of personality are acceptable.

If new parts don't jibe with the old parts, they may not be allowed, thus ensuring that our sense of self remains reliable and intact (Epstein, 1973). As we grow older, contradictory evidence may have less impact on our self-concept.

So it can become harder to integrate external information, particularly if it disrupts important aspects of the self-concept.

How Does Self-Concept Relate to Well-Being?

Several aspects of the self-concept also play a role in well-being. These include:

  • Self-image: The way you see yourself.
  • Self-esteem (or self-worth): The extent to which you value yourself or believe you have worth.
  • Ideal self: The vision you have of your best self.

Self-image ​

The terms self-image and self-concept are sometimes used interchangeably, but more often, self-image is defined as how you see yourself. This may be literal, when looking in the mirror. But it can also involve mental representations of yourself. These may or may not be consistent with what one actually sees in the mirror.

Self-esteem (or self-worth)

Self-esteem is broadly defined as the extent to which we or value ourselves. This generally includes evaluating two parts of ourselves (Tafarodi & Swann Jr, 2001):

  • Intrinsic value. This refers to our belief that we are a good (or not-so-good) person. If we have intrinsic value, then we value ourselves just for being who we are. This is also sometimes thought of as the extent to which we ourselves.
  • Instrumental value. This refers to our belief that we can do good things. If we have instrumental value, then we value ourselves because of the things we do. This is also sometimes thought of as the extent to which we respect ourselves.

Ideal self

The ideal self is defined as the self we would to be—our best self. It appears to originate from the ideal selves that our parents hold for us and communicate to us through childhood (Zentner & Renaud, 2007).

​In positive psychology, the ideal self is thought to include three parts (Boyatzis, & Akrivou, 2006):

  • The image of our desired future. This may include dreams, aspirations, and goals.
  • Hope. This includes self-efficacy and optimism (beliefs that we can indeed achieve our goals).
  • A clear self-concept. This includes an understanding of our core identity and enduring traits. Our ideal self needs to fit with our values, beliefs, and who we are.

Our ideal self is a vision of what we could be or do. That's why the ideal self is thought to be a helpful motivator—it inspires us to progress toward goals and improve our lives in beneficial ways. It may also include aspirations, passions, dreams, and purpose—all things that tend to be good for our well-being.

In Sum

Our self-concept is an important guiding principle that helps us navigate the world and understand our role in it. Parts of our self-concept may be good or not-so-good for our well-being. That's why learning more about our own self-concept can be beneficial.

Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.


​Bailey 2nd, J. A. (2003). Self-image, self-concept, and self-identity revisited. Journal of the National Medical Association, 95(5), 383.

​Boyatzis, R. E., & Akrivou, K. (2006). The ideal self as the driver of intentional change. Journal of management development.

Epstein, S. (1973). The self-concept revisited: Or a theory of a theory. American psychologist, 28(5), 404.

​Tafarodi, R. W., & Swann Jr, W. B. (2001). Two-dimensional self-esteem: Theory and measurement. Personality and individual Differences, 31(5), 653-673.

​Zentner, M., & Renaud, O. (2007). Origins of adolescents' ideal self: An intergenerational perspective. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(3), 557​

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Источник: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/202109/what-is-self-concept-and-why-does-it-matter

Module II: Perception

What Is Self-Concept?

After completing this section, students should be able to:

How we perceive others has a direct impact on how we choose to communicate with them.  Recalling the six images conceptSelf-concept, other-concept, and meta-concept. Module II, Section 1, the first image that comes into play is actually our perception of self.

Our self-perception influences how we choose to present ourselves to those around us. If Bev sees herself as confident and interesting, she is more ly to be outgoing and talkative.

If Ruth sees herself as uninteresting, she is more ly to be shy and more hesitant to engage others.  

Self-Perception is an image we hold about our self and our traits and the judgements we make about those traits. Self-perception includes two, core perceptual processes: our self-concept, or the picture we have in our heads of who we are; and our self-esteem, or how we judge and evaluate those traits.

A note of caution before we continue. Self-concept and self-esteem are complex, psychological dynamics with a myriad of influences.

The intention here is introduce a basic, perception-based way to view self-concept and self-esteem. In other words, this is a simplified look at a complex human dynamic.

Realize that to understand this topic, there is far more to learn from fields such as psychology and sociology.


Our self-concept is our perception of the traits we have, a list of the characteristics we see in ourselves.  This list is not positive nor negative, but it is just a list of what we believe is true about ourselves. We create our list through self-appraisal and feedback from others.

Our self-appraisal is our perception of our traits and behaviors. It is looking in a mirror and using our own senses to perceive what we are. We must realize, however, that the perceptual processes that influence our interpretation of others applies to us as well.  Those influences can lead to a distorted picture.

As teenagers, we all went through the acne stage, and at times we became overly focused on a single spot to the

Image 1

point that it was all we could see in the mirror, when others may have barely noticed it.

  A young man distraught about his family’s history of male-patterned baldness may be hyper-attuned to his hair and any changes, over emphasizing slight variations in thickness. On a more serious note, an individual with anorexia nervosa will perceive herself as «fat» when, in fact, she may be dangerously underweight.

As we know about the perception process, we cannot always believe our own eyes, so we need to be kind to ourselves, realizing our perceptions can easily be distorted. 

The feedback we get from others is a way we can check and validate our self-appraisal. If Todd sees himself as a very funny person, people laughing at his jokes would validate his self-appraisal.

  He would see evidence that he is viewed by others the same way he views himself. If Marjorie sees herself as a caring friend, having others seek her out for comfort and support validates that self-appraisal.

  Marjorie sees evidence that others see her as a caring person. 

Sometimes we may see an incongruity between our self-appraisal and feedback from others. For instance, Don may think he is an interesting conversationalist, yet no one seems to want to carry on a conversation with him.

When faced with this sort of disparity, Don can either reevaluate his self-appraisal, or he can choose to ignore the feedback.  The origin of the feedback makes a difference.

  Feedback from our reference groups will usually be harder to ignore, while feedback from strangers can be more easily dismissed.  While ignoring feedback from trusted individuals may be risky, being overly sensitive to the reactions of others is wise unhealthy.

  In our western culture, we tend to emphasize traits we see as negative, so reevaluating our self-appraisal in light of this feedback can be a healthy way to keep our self-image in check. 


After we become aware of our traits, we evaluate them; we judge whether we a specific trait or behavior.

For instance, Gabrielle may evaluate her weight as undesirable; thus, her self-esteem in this aspect of her self-concept is lower.

However, she may also evaluate her relationship with her partner as a very good and healthy, so she has higher self-esteem in this aspect of her self-concept.

In order to evaluate anything, including our traits and behaviors, we must compare those traits and behaviors to something. We use criteria, standards by which we measure something.

  If we are interested in buying a certain car, the only way we can evaluate the price is by comparing it to other cars of similar value.  We may shop around at various dealers, or perhaps we look up the suggested retail price from Kelley’s Blue Book.

  That suggested price is a criterion, a measure, by which we can determine if the offered price is appropriate.

Our self-esteem works the same way. Our fields of experience contain standards by which we measure and judge ourselves. For Esther to evaluate her weight, she can compare herself to those in her reference group, to her relatives, to medical height/weight charts, to celebrities, and so on.

  As the criteria, the thing to which she compares herself, changes, her evaluation will ly change.  If weight issues run in her family, in comparison to them she may see her current weight favorably.

   If she compares her weight to what the medical community deems appropriate for her height, however, that evaluation may be less positive.   We all have ideas of what it means for a person to be attractive, and we use those as standards to judge ourselves as well.

  So if Esther’s sense of attractive body size is the unrealistically thin nature of many models and celebrities, she may judge her weight quite severely.

Self-esteem, then, is a function of the perceived distance between our criteria and our current selves.  As we move closer and closer to our goals, our self-esteem strengthens.  Too often we assume the only way to improve self-esteem is to change the reality of ourselves, such as losing weight, to be closer to our ideal.

  However, another avenue is to re-evaluate and re-consider the criteria itself.  Often, the standards we hold for ourselves are unrealistic and unattainable.  The type of standard we use to evaluate ourselves is crucial in maintaining healthy self-esteem.

  There are two sources for these criteria: internal standards, and external standards.

Image 2

Internal standards are standards we have decided are right and reasonable for us individually.  We use these to set goals and direction in our lives.

  If Khalid has decided that earning a college degree is right for him, that standard helps him have a clear goal; it can give a sense of direction and purpose.  Khalid can evaluate his behavior how well it aids him in reaching his goal.

  If Juliana decides that losing 20 pounds is a proper goal for her, she has a concrete, measurable target.  She can measure herself by her progress in reaching that goal.  These are goals to reach, and they are realistic and attainable.

External standards, however, can be dangerous.  When we fall prey to standards that are thrust upon us by societal forces, such as family, friends, and media, we are in dangerous territory.

Consider the unrealistic standards our entertainment industry sets for physical appearance for both males and females. We see highly manipulated images of attractiveness, and through constant exposure to those images we can begin to feel they embody the criteria we need to reach.

  The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty (Dove 2013) is an example of an attempt to counter these overwhelming external pressures, and to emphasize the need to measure oneself internally, not on what others say we should be.

  Focused on young women, the program works to make people aware of those external pressures and, as a result, to reduce the influence of such societal images.

These external, social pressures are very powerful, and they are not accidental.  In The Poverty of Affluence, Paul Wachtel (1988) argued that advertising deliberately works at keeping those standards just reach.

  Advertising creates ever-moving standards of beauty, wealth, health, or other such measures.  By constantly changing the standards, we keep buying their products to try to meet those false standards.   We can always be thinner, have more/better hair, look sexier, or act cooler.

  Continually setting new standards for dress and appearance drive purchasing.

Wachtel goes on to explain that this constant inadequacy leads to us to measure ourselves in terms of material possessions or money. If we do not have the right type of car, house, clothing, hair style, and on and on, we are not «with it.

» The way to be «with it» is to buy something that someone else says we ought to have, wear, or use.

This is such a danger to our self-esteem because as one matures, the search for higher self-esteem can lead us into a more and more frantic attempt to meet these unrealistic standards.

In this frantic attempt, we easily fall prey to the fallacy of oughts. The fallacy of oughts is the mistaken belief that we must satisfy everything we ought to be, ought to do, ought to buy. These oughts are the products of our society, our peers, our colleagues and advertising.

These are the standards we mistakenly feel we must live up to. Once we get caught in the trap, we start what Albert Ellis labelled musterbating, the act of attempting to meet this powerful and overwhelming world of oughts (Nemade, Staats Reiss, & Dombeck, 2007).

We constantly strive to fulfill the external standard, ignoring our internal standards.

Although the external pressures to measure up to social standards can be very powerful, as we become aware of those influences, we can combat them.

  We can use our internal standards to evaluate the external ones, assimilating those we find appropriate for us, but tossing aside those that are not.

However, if we are under the influence the external standards, our internal ones often fall by the wayside, buried in the onslaught of external forces.

Perception of self is the same process as perception of others, just turned on oneself.   We sense information about ourselves, either through self-appraisal or from the feedback from others.

  We use this information to create our self-image, a list of our traits and characteristics.

  And we interpret what that self-image means to us; we measure how much we those traits, developing our self-esteem.

As mentioned at the beginning of this section on self-concept, self-esteem issues can be quite complex, influenced by a multitude of factors in one’s life.  To learn more about self-concept issues, consider an appropriate psychology class to investigate the deeper dynamics of self-concept.

We see that perception of self is subject to the pressures of variables that can cause distortions in that perception. By recognizing those pressures, we can moderate the effects of those pressures.

The terms and concepts students should be familiar with from this section include:




Dove. (2013).  The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.  Retrieved 3/21/13 from http://www.dove.us/ Social-Mission/campaign-for-real-beauty.aspx.

Nemade, R., Staats Reiss, N., & Dombeck, M. (2007). Albert Ellis’ Cognitive Theory of Depression.  MentalHelp.net. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=13007&cn=5

Wachtel, P.L. (1983). The poverty of affluence: A psychological portrait of the american way of life. British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers.

Источник: http://introtocommopensource.ridgewater.edu/ModuleII/ModIISect3.html

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