The Self: Understanding Ourselves in a Social Context



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The Self:

Understanding Ourselves in a Social Context

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Slide 7 Self-Concept Video

Slide 12 Culture and Self-Conception Video

Origins of the Self

  • Rudimentary Self-Concept

  • Some primates

  • Humans at age 2 years

Origins of the Self

  • Child’s self-concept

  • Concrete

  • References to characteristics like age, sex, neighborhood, and hobbies

  • Maturing self-concept

  • Less emphasis on physical characteristics

  • More emphasis on psychological states and how other people judge us

Researchers have examined whether other species have a self-concept, by seeing whether individuals recognize that an image in a mirror is them and not another member of their species. The same procedure has been used with human infants.
Source: Eddie Lawrence/Dorling Kindersley

Self-Concept Video

Click on the screenshot and listen to how this teenage girl discusses her self-concept in terms of both concrete characteristics and an awareness of how she is viewed by others.

Cultural Differences in Defining the Self

  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  • American proverb

  • The nail that stands out gets pounded down.

  • Japanese proverb

Independent View of the Self

  • In many Western cultures, people have an independent view of the self.

  • Independent view of the self

  • A way of defining oneself in terms of one’s own internal thoughts, feelings, and actions and not in terms of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of other people.

Independent View of the Self

  • Westerners

  • Define themselves as separate from other people

  • Value independence and uniqueness

Interdependent View of the Self

  • Many Asian and other non-Western cultures have an interdependent view of the self.

  • Interdependent view of the self

  • A way of defining oneself in terms of one’s relationships to other people; recognizing that one’s behavior is often determined by the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others.

Culture and Self-Conception Video

Click on the screenshot to watch Dr. Kitiyama discuss differences in self-conception in Eastern and Western cultures.

Interdependent View of the Self

  • Connectedness and interdependence valued

  • Independence and uniqueness are frowned upon

When Harvard-educated Masako Owada abandoned her promising career to marry Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan and assumed the traditional roles required of her, many Western women questioned her decision. At issue for many was cultural interdependence versus independence of the self.
Source: AP Photo/Pool, Tsugufumi Matsumoto

Cultural Differences in Defining the Self

  • Not all Westerners are independent!

  • Not all Easterners are interdependent!

  • Within cultures, there are differences in the self-concept.

Gender Differences in Defining the Self

  • Gender stereotypes

  • Women talk about interpersonal problems and relationships.

  • Men talk about anything but their feelings (usually sports).

Gender and the Development of the Self

  • Starting in early childhood, American girls are more likely to:

  • Develop intimate friendships.

  • Cooperate with others.

  • Focus their attention on social relationships.

  • Boys are more likely to focus on their group memberships.

Gender and Interdependence

  • Women

  • Relational interdependence

  • Focus on their close relationships

  • Men

  • Collective interdependence

  • Focus on their memberships in larger groups

Figure 5.1
Gender Differences in Types of Interdependence

Male and female college students were asked to describe an important emotional event in their lives. Women reported more relational events, ones that had to do with close personal relationships. Men reported more collective events, ones that had to do with their membership in larger groups. (From Gabriel & Gardner, 1999, p. 648)

Gender Similarities or Differences?

  • Psychologically, men and women are much more similar than different

  • Relative differences in the way women and men define themselves in the USA

  • Women have a greater sense of relational interdependence than men

Knowing Ourselves through Introspection

  • Introspection

  • The process whereby people look inward and examine their own thoughts, feelings, and motives.

Knowing Ourselves through Introspection

  • People do not rely on introspection very often.

  • Reasons for feelings and behavior can be outside conscious awareness.

Focusing on the Self

  • Amount of time people spend thinking about themselves has increased in recent years.

  • Archival analysis of song lyrics

  • Use of first person singular pronouns increased from 1980 to 2007

Figure 5.2
Use of First-Person Singular Pronouns in Popular Songs

As a measure of self-focus in American culture, researchers counted the number of first-person singular pronouns (e.g., I, me) in the lyrics of the 10 most popular songs of the year, every year from 1980 to 2007. As you can see, they found a steady increase over time.Adapted from DeWall, Pond, Campbell, & Twenge (2011)

Self-Awareness Theory

  • The idea that when people focus their attention on themselves, they evaluate and compare their behavior to their internal standards and values.

Figure 5.3
Self-Awareness Theory: The Consequences of Self-Focused Attention

When people focus on themselves, they compare their behavior to their internal standards.(Adapted from Carver & Scheier, 1981)

Self-Awareness Theory

  • Sometimes people go far in their attempt to escape the self.

  • Focusing on the self can be very aversive.

  • Ways to turn off “internal spotlight” on oneself:

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Binge eating

  • Sexual masochism

Self-Awareness Theory

  • Getting drunk, for example, is one way of avoiding negative thoughts about oneself temporarily.

Self-Awareness Theory

  • Self-focus is not always damaging or aversive.

  • Example—if you have experienced a major success.

  • Can also remind you of your sense of right and wrong.

Culture and Self-Awareness

  • Outside perspective on self

  • East Asians

  • Insider perspective on self

  • Western culture

Judging Why We Feel the Way We Do: Telling More Than We Can Know

  • It can be difficult to know why we feel the way we do.

  • What is it about your sweetheart that made you fall in love?

  • How much does sleep affect your state of mind?

  • What really determines what mood you’re in?

Judging Why We Feel the Way We Do: Telling More Than We Can Know

  • However, we believe we can know reasons for our feelings

  • We “tell more than we can know”

  • Overlook reasons that are difficult to verbalize

Judging Why We Feel the Way We Do: Telling More Than We Can Know

  • Causal Theories

  • Theories about the causes of one’s own feelings and behaviors; often we learn such theories from our culture.

  • Problem

  • Schemas and theories are not always correct. Can lead to incorrect judgments about the causes of our actions.

The Consequences of Introspecting About Reasons

  • Reasons-Generated Attitude Change

  • Attitude change resulting from thinking about the reasons for one’s attitudes; people assume their attitudes match the reasons that are plausible and easy to verbalize.

In an episode of the TV program 30 Rock, Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) made a list of the reasons why she liked and disliked her boyfriend Dennis (played by Dean Winters). According to research on self-generated attitude change, the act of making this list might have changed her mind about how she felt, at least temporarily.
Source: Patricia Schlein/WENN Photos/Newscom

The Consequences of Introspecting About Reasons

  • Problem

  • May bring to mind reasons that are not accurate, but are easy to verbalize

  • Convince self into believing that attitude matches the easy to verbalize reasons

The Consequences of Introspecting About Reasons

  • Reasons-generated attitude could lead to regret when “hard to verbalize” original reasons for attitude returns

Knowing Ourselves by Observing Our Own Behavior

  • Self-Perception Theory

  • The theory that when our attitudes and feelings are uncertain or ambiguous, we infer these states by observing our behavior and the situation in which it occurs.

Knowing Ourselves by Observing Our Own Behavior

  • Infer inner feelings from behavior

  • Only when not sure how we feel

  • People judge whether their behavior

  • Really reflects how we feel

  • Or the situation that made us act that way

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

  • Intrinsic Motivation

  • The desire to engage in an activity because we enjoy it or find it interesting, not because of external rewards or pressures.

  • Extrinsic Motivation

  • The desire to engage in an activity because of external reasons, not because we enjoy the task or find it interesting.

Many programs try to get children to read more by rewarding them. But do these programs increase or decrease a child’s love of reading?
Source: Pearson

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

  • Many teachers or parents reward kids for good grades with compliments, candy, gold stars, or toys.

  • Other programs reward kids for reading books.

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

  • We have to consider the effects of rewards on people’s thoughts about:

  • Themselves

  • Their self-concept

  • Their motivation to read in the future

  • Danger of reward programs

  • Reading for rewards, not because it’s actually enjoyable

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

  • Overjustification Effect

  • The tendency of people to view their behavior as caused by compelling extrinsic reasons, making them underestimate the extent to which it was caused by intrinsic reasons.


Figure 5.4
The Overjustification Effect

During the initial baseline phase, researchers measured how much time elementary school students played math games. During the reward program, they rewarded the children with prizes for playing with the games. When the rewards were no longer offered (during the follow-up phase), the children played with the games even less than they had during the baseline phase, indicating that the rewards had lowered their intrinsic interest in the games. (Adapted from Greene, Sternberg, & Lepper, 1976)

Preserving Intrinsic Interest

  • Avoiding over-justification when using rewards

  • Rewards will undermine interest only if interest was initially high.

  • The type of reward makes a difference.

  • Performance-contingent rewards are less damaging to intrinsic interest

Preserving Intrinsic Interest

  • Task-contingent rewards

  • Rewards that are given for performing a task, regardless of how well the task is done.

  • Performance-contingent rewards

  • Rewards that are based on how well we perform a task.

Understanding Our Emotions

  • Example

  • Consider how happy, angry, or afraid you feel at any given time.

  • How do you know which emotion you are experiencing?

  • Don’t we know how we feel without having to think about it?

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

  • Stanley Schachter (1964)

  • Experience of emotion is similar to other types of self-perception

  • Infer our emotions by observing our behavior

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

  • Schachter’s theory

  • We experience emotions in a two-step self-perception process:

  • Experience physiological arousal.

  • Seek an appropriate explanation for it.

Figure 5.5
The Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

People first experience physiological arousal and then attach an explanation to it.

Schachter and Singer (1962)

  • Research Question

  • Given the same degree of physiological arousal, will people “feel” different emotions depending on their environment?

Schachter and Singer (1962)

  • Cover Story: Injection of “Suproxin” test of vision

  • IV 1= Physiological Arousal

  • epinephrine informed

  • (shake, heart pound, face flush)
  • epinephrine ignorant

  • (mild, harmless, no side effects)
  • Placebo

  • (saline, mild, harmless, no side effects)

Schachter and Singer (1962)

  • Cover Story: Injection of “Suproxin” test of vision

  • IV 2= Environmental Cues (Mood of “Stooge”)

  • Euphoric/happy (playing games)

  • Angry (insulting questionnaire)

  • DV = Participant’s mood

Schachter and Singer (1962)

  • Results

  • Epinephrine-informed group

  • Did not become angry when exposed to angry stooge

  • Had alternate explanation for their arousal (the drug)
  • Epinephrine-ignorant group

  • Became euphoric

  • Joined stooge in playing games

Implications of The Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

  • Implications

  • Emotions are somewhat arbitrary.

  • Emotions depend on our explanations for arousal.

Finding the Wrong Cause Misattribution of Arousal

  • To what extent do the results found by Schachter and Singer (1962) generalize to everyday life?

  • Do people form mistaken emotions in the same way as participants in that study did?

  • In everyday life, one might argue, people usually know why they are aroused.

Finding the Wrong Cause Misattribution of Arousal

  • Misattribution of Arousal

  • The process whereby people make
    mistaken inferences about what is
    causing them to feel the way they do.

  • Arousal from one source (e.g., caffeine, exercise, a fright) can enhance the intensity of how the person interprets other feelings (e.g., attraction to someone).

When people are aroused for one reason, such as occurs when they cross a scary bridge, they often attribute this arousal to the wrong source—such as attraction to the person they are with.
Source: Deymos/Dreamstime

Figure 5.6
Misattribution of Arousal

When a woman approached men on a scary bridge and asked them to fill out a questionnaire, a high percentage of them were attracted to her and called her for a date. When the same woman approached men after they had crossed the bridge and had rested, relatively few called her for a date. (Adapted from Dutton & Aron, 1974)

Mindsets—Understanding Our Abilities

  • Fixed mindset

  • Idea that we have a set amount of an ability that cannot change

  • Growth mindset

  • Idea that our abilities are malleable qualities that we can cultivate and grow

Using Other People to Know Ourselves

  • Social contact is crucial to the development of a self-concept.

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • How do we use others to define ourselves?

  • Measure our own abilities and attitudes by comparing to other people.

  • If you donate $50 to charity and find out your friend donates $10, you can feel generous.

  • If you find out friend donated $100, you might not feel as generous!

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • Social Comparison Theory

  • The idea that we learn about our own abilities and attitudes by comparing ourselves to other people.

  • The theory revolves around two important questions:

  • When do you engage in social comparison?

  • With whom do you choose to compare yourself?

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • When do you engage in social
    comparison?

  • No objective standard exists to measure against

  • When we experience uncertainty

  • Example—New office donation program, not sure what amount would be generous, you are especially likely to compare yourself to others.

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • With whom do you choose to compare yourself?

  • Initial impulse—anyone who is around

  • Occurs quickly and automatically

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • Goal—Know the furthest level to which we can aspire

  • upward social comparison:

  • Comparing to people who are better on a particular ability.

  • Goal—feel better about yourself

  • downward social comparison:

  • Comparing to people who are worse on a particular trait or ability.

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • We adopt other people’s views in some circumstances

  • “Looking glass self” (Cooley, 1902)

  • We see ourselves and the social world through the eyes of other people

  • Adopt other’s views when want to get along with them

Knowing Ourselves by Adopting Other People’s Views

  • Social Tuning

  • The process whereby people adopt another person's attitudes.

Figure 5.7
Social Tuning to a Likable Experimenter

Participants took a test of automatic prejudice toward black people, after interacting with an experimenter who was likable or unlikable and wore an antiracism T-shirt or a blank T-shirt. When the experimenter was likable, participants showed less automatic prejudice when she was wearing the antiracism T-shirt than when she was not (the higher the number on the scale, the more the anti-black prejudice). When the experimenter was unlikable, participants reacted against her views: They showed more automatic prejudice when she was wearing the antiracist T-shirt than when she was not. These results show that people tend to automatically adopt the views of people they like, but automatically reject the views of people they do not. (Adapted from Sinclair, Lowery, Hardin, & Colangelo, 2005)

Self-Control: The Executive Function of the Self

  • Self-Control

  • Making choices about present and plans for the future

Self-Control: The Executive Function of the Self

  • Thought suppression

  • Attempt to avoid thinking about something we would prefer to forget

  • Not that efficient!

Self-Regulatory Resource Model

  • Views self-control as a limited resource

  • Like a muscle that gets tired with frequent use

  • Rebounds in strength with practice

  • To increase self-control

  • Practice exerting self-control

  • Set behavioral intentions

Impression Management:
All the World’s a Stage

  • Impression Management

  • The attempt by people to get others to see them as they want to be seen.

Impression management in action: In the 1970s, David Duke was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan; in 1991, he ran for governor of Louisiana as a mainstream conservative Republican. A remarkable change occurred in Duke’s presentation of self during this time.
Source: (left) Library of Congress; (right) Lee Corkran/Sygma/Corbis

Impression Management Strategies

  • Ingratiation

  • Flattering, praising, and generally trying to make ourselves likable to another person, often of higher status

  • Self-handicapping

  • Creating obstacles and excuses for ourselves

  • If we do poorly on a task, we can avoid blaming ourselves

Impression Management Strategies

  • Self-handicapping

  • Behavioral self-handicapping

  • Example: pulling an all-nighter before a test.

  • Reported self-handicapping

  • Example: complaining about not feeling well when you take a test.

Culture and Impression Management

  • Culturally Universal

  • Desire to manage image we present

  • Cultural Differences

  • Kinds of images we want to present

  • E.g., “Saving face” is important in Asian cultures

Virtually all politicians try to manage the impressions they convey to the public, sometimes distorting reality. President John F. Kennedy presented himself as a healthy, vigorous man, when in fact he suffered from degenerative bone disease and chronic back pain and was under heavy medication for much of his presidency.
Source: (left) Everett Collection/SuperStock; (right) John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Self-Esteem:
How We Feel about Ourselves

  • Self-Esteem

  • Overall evaluation (positive or negative) that people have of themselves

  • High self-esteem

  • Protective function
  • Motivational function

Self-Esteem:
How We Feel about Ourselves

  • Terror management theory

  • High self-esteem buffers against thoughts of death

Self-Esteem:
How We Feel about Ourselves

  • Narcissism

  • Combination of excessive self-love and a lack of empathy toward others

  • Has increased in college students since the 1980s

In Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and was so fond of his own image that he couldn’t leave and eventually died. Today, narcissism refers to the combination of excessive self-love and a lack of empathy toward others.
Source: Barritt, Peter/SuperStock/ Alamy

Summary and Review

  • The Self

  • Functions and Definitions

  • Sources of Self Knowledge

  • Introspection

  • Self-Perception

  • Social Interaction

  • Self-Presentation



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