Self Concept - Simply Psychology (2023)

Self Concept

By Dr. Saul McLeod, published 2008

The self-concept is a general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself.

Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition:

"The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is".

The self-concept is an important term for both social and humanistic psychology. Lewis (1990) suggests that the development of a concept of self has two aspects:

(1) The Existential Self

(1) The Existential Self

This is 'the most basic part of the self-scheme or self-concept; the sense of being separate and distinct from others and the awareness of the constancy of the self' (Bee, 1992).

The child realizes that they exist as a separate entity from others and that they continue to exist over time and space.

According to Lewis awareness of the existential self begins as young as two to three months old and arises in part due to the relation the child has with the world. For example, the child smiles and someone smiles back, or the child touches a mobile and sees it move.

(2) The Categorical Self

(2) The Categorical Self

Having realized that he or she exists as a separate experiencing being, the child next becomes aware that he or she is also an object in the world.

Just as other objects including people have properties that can be experienced (big, small, red, smooth and so on) so the child is becoming aware of himself or herself as an object which can be experienced and which has properties.

The self too can be put into categories such as age, gender, size or skill. Two of the first categories to be applied are age (“I am 3”) and gender (“I am a girl”).

In early childhood. the categories children apply to themselves are very concrete (e.g., hair color, height and favorite things). Later, self-description also begins to include reference to internal psychological traits, comparative evaluations and to how others see them.

Carl Rogers (1959) believes that the self-concept has three different components:

• The view you have of yourself (self-image)

• How much value you place on yourself (self-esteem or self-worth)

• What you wish you were really like (ideal-self)

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Self-image (how you see yourself)

Self Concept - Simply Psychology (1)

This does not necessarily have to reflect reality. Indeed a person with anorexia who is thin may have a self-image in which the person believes they are fat. A person's self-image is affected by many factors, such as parental influences, friends, the media etc.

Kuhn (1960) investigated the self-image by using The Twenty Statements Test.He asked people to answer the question 'Who am I?' in 20 different ways.

He found that the responses could be divided into two major groups. These were social roles (external or objective aspects of oneself such as son, teacher, friend) and personality traits (internal or affective aspects of oneself such as gregarious, impatient, humorous).

The list of answers to the question “Who Am I?” probably include examples of each of the following four types of responses:

1) Physical Description: I’m tall, have blue eyes...etc.

2) Social Roles: We are all social beings whose behavior is shaped to some extent by the roles we play. Such roles as student, housewife, or member of the football team not only help others to recognize us but also help us to know what is expected of us in various situations.

3) Personal Traits: These are the third dimension of our self-descriptions. “I’m impulsive...I’m generous...I tend to worry a lot”...etc.

4) Existential Statements (abstract ones): These can range from "I’m a child of the universe" to "I’m a human being" to "I’m a spiritual being"...etc.

Typically young people describe themselves more in terms of personal traits, whereas older people feel defined to a greater extent by their social roles.

Self-esteem (the extent to which you value yourself)

Self-esteem (the extent to which you value yourself)

Self-esteem (also known as self-worth) refers to the extent to which we like, accept or approve of ourselves, or how much we value ourselves.

Self-esteem always involves a degree of evaluation and we may have either a positive or a negative view of ourselves.

High self-esteem (we have a positive view of ourselves)

This tends to lead to

  • Confidence in our own abilities
  • Self-acceptance
  • Not worrying about what others think
  • Optimism

Low self-esteem (we have a negative view of ourselves)

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This tends to lead to

  • Lack of confidence
  • Want to be/look like someone else
  • Always worrying what others might think
  • Pessimism

There are several ways of measuring self-esteem. For example, Harrill Self Esteem Inventory is a questionnaire comprising 15 statements about a range of interests. Another example is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which is a neutral cartoon given to the participant who then has to devise a story about what's going on.

Morse and Gergen (1970) showed that in uncertain or anxiety-arousing situations our self-esteem may change rapidly. Participants were waiting for a job interview in a waiting room. They were sat with another candidate (a confederate of the experimenter) in one of two conditions:

A) Mr. Clean - dressed in a smart suit, carrying a briefcase opened to reveal a slide rule and books.

B) Mr. Dirty - dressed in an old T-shirt and jeans, slouched over a cheap sex novel.

Self-esteem of participants with Mr. Dirty increased whilst those with Mr. Clean decreased! No mention made of how this affected subjects’ performance in interview.

Level of self-esteem affects performance at numerous tasks though (Coopersmith, 1967) so could expect Mr. Dirty subjects to perform better than Mr. Clean.

Even though self-esteem might fluctuate, there are times when we continue to believe good things about ourselves even when evidence to the contrary exists. This is known as the perseverance effect.

Miller and Ross (1975) showed that people who believed they had socially desirable characteristics continued in this belief even when the experimenters tried to get them to believe the opposite.

Does the same thing happen with bad things if we have low self-esteem? Maybe not, perhaps with very low self-esteem, all we believe about ourselves might be bad.

Argyle (2008) believes there are 4 major factors that influence self-esteem.

1. The Reaction of Others

If people admire us, flatter us, seek out our company, listen attentively and agree with us we tend to develop a positive self-image. If they avoid us, neglect us, tell us things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear we develop a negative self-image.

2. Comparison with Others

If the people we compare ourselves with (our reference group) appear to be more successful, happier, richer, better looking than ourselves we tend to develop a negative self-image BUT if they are less successful than us our image will be positive.

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3. Social Roles

Some social roles carry prestige e.g., doctor, airline pilot, TV. presenter, premiership footballer and this promotes self-esteem. Other roles carry a stigma. E.g., a prisoner, mental hospital patient, refuse collector or unemployed person.

4. Identification

Roles aren’t just “out there.” They also become part of our personality i.e. we identity with the positions we occupy, the roles we play and the groups we belong to.

But just as important as all these factors, are the influence of our parents! (See Coopersmith’s research.)

Ideal Self (what you'd like to be)

If there is a mismatch between how you see yourself (e.g., your self-image) and what you’d like to be (e.g., your ideal-self ) then this is likely to affect how much you value yourself.

Therefore, there is an intimate relationship between self-image, ego-ideal and self-esteem. Humanistic psychologists study this using the Q-Sort Method.

A person’s ideal self may not be consistent with what actually happens in the life and experiences of the person. Hence, a difference may exist between a person’s ideal self and actual experience. This is called incongruence.

Self Concept - Simply Psychology (2)

Where a person’s ideal self and actual experience are consistent or very similar, a state of congruence exists. Rarely, if ever does a total state of congruence exist; all people experience a certain amount of incongruence.

The development of congruence is dependent on unconditional positive regard. Roger’s believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence.

Michael Argyle (2008) says there are four major factors which influence its development:

  1. The ways in which others (particularly significant others) react to us.
  2. How we think we compare to others
  3. Our social roles
  4. The extent to which we identify with other people

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Self concept. Simply Psychology.

APA Style References

Argyle, M. (2008). Social encounters: Contributions to social interaction. Aldine Transaction

(Video) Wellbeing For Children: Confidence And Self-Esteem

Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.) (1999). The self in social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press (Taylor & Francis).

Bee, H. L. (1992). The developing child. London: HarperCollins.

Coopersmith, S. (1967). The antecedents of self-esteem. San Francisco: Freeman.

Kuhn, M. H. (1960). Self-attitudes by age, sex and professional training. Sociological Quarterly, 1, 39-56.

Lewis, M. (1990). Self-knowledge and social development in early life. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality (pp. 277-300). New York: Guilford.

Miller, D. T., & Ross, M. (1975). Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: Fact or fiction? Psychological Bulletin, 82, 213–225

Morse, S. J. & Gergen, K. J. (1970). Social comparison, self-consistency and the concept of self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 148-156.

Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch,Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill.

Further Information

Self-EsteemCarl RogersHumanismSocial RolesPerson Centered TherapySelf-concept Self-concept Book Chapter The Harrill Self Esteem Inventory

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What is self-concept short answer? ›

Self-concept is how we perceive our behaviors, abilities, and unique characteristics. 1 For example, beliefs such as "I am a good friend" or "I am a kind person" are part of an overall self-concept.

What is self-concept in psychology? ›

The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is.” A similar definition comes from Rosenberg's 1979 book on the topic; he says self-concept is: “…the totality of an individual's thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object.”

What are the 3 parts of self-concept psychology? ›

According to Rogers, the three core parts of self-concept are:
  • Ideal self: your vision and ambitions of who you want to be.
  • Real self (self-image): how you currently see and perceive yourself.
  • Self-esteem: how much worth and value you believe you have.

What are the 4 types of self-concept? ›

Second, we distinguish the four main conceptual units that constitute the various selves of self-presentation. These are the public self, the self-concept, the actual or behavioral self, and the ideal self.

What is self-concept in psychology quizlet? ›

Self-concept. An individual's view of self; subjective; mixture of unconscious and conscious thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Identity. The internal sense of individuality, wholeness, and consistency of a person over time and in different situations. Being distinct and separate from others.

What is self-concept and why is it important? ›

A self-concept is an understanding you have of yourself that's based on your personal experiences, body image, your thoughts, and how you tend to label yourself in various situations.

Why is self-concept important in psychology? ›

A healthy self-concept also has a major influence on psychological and social outcomes—it encourages the healthy development of: Personal and social abilities. Coping skills. Social interaction.

What are the main aspects of self-concept? ›

According to Carl Rogers, self-concept has three components: self-image, self-esteem, and the ideal self. Self-concept is active, dynamic, and malleable.

What are the 2 main elements of the self-concept? ›

The self-categorization theory developed by John Turner states that the self-concept consists of at least two "levels": a personal identity and a social one. In other words, one's self-evaluation relies on self-perceptions and how others perceive them.

What are the three C's of self-concept? ›

When it comes to achieving success, most research actually points towards pretty clear results: a woman needs confidence to believe in herself, competence to deliver results, and the right connections to create opportunities and lift her up.

What are three ways self-concept is formed? ›

There are three main components of self-concept:
  • Self-image- How we see ourselves including physical and cognitive evaluations.
  • Ideal-self- The person we would like to be or become.
  • Self-worth- This is also known as self-esteem which is formed by social interactions and feedback from others.
Sep 29, 2021

What are the 7 factors of self-concept? ›

These factors are :
  • Age.
  • Appearance.
  • Gender.
  • Culture.
  • Emotional development.
  • Education.
  • Relationships with other people.
  • Sexual orientation.

What are the 6 factors that influence self-concept? ›

Various factors believed to influence our self-esteem include:
  • Genetics.
  • Personality.
  • Life experiences.
  • Age.
  • Health.
  • Thoughts.
  • Social circumstances.
  • The reactions of others.
May 23, 2018

What is the best definition of self-concept quizlet? ›

Self-concept is an individual's view of him- or herself. It is a complex mixture of unconscious and conscious thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions.

What is the impact of self-concept? ›

Your self-concept says a lot about who you are — to yourself and the world. It impacts your emotions and behaviors and can define the level of success you achieve. In other words, your self-concept is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is the objective of self-concept? ›

To believe in ourselves and change our perceptions of the word around us.To built in our confidence.To keep self doubts away. How the child exhibits? Communicates positive feelings about himself/herself ,accept responsibility,approach new situations with confidence and possess an internal locus of control.

How does self-concept affect personality? ›

Self Concept is Dynamic

We see and behave according to the things and situations. Thus, it is observed that self concept is a continuous development where we let go things that don't match our self concept and hold on those things that we think are helpful in building our favorable perception.

What is the root of self-concept? ›

We can understand self-concept as the idea or image we have of ourselves. It is formed and conditioned by the many roles we play, our goals and objectives, our personality, our ideology and our philosophy, to name a few things. It's dynamic too, which means it changes over time.

What is self-concept structure? ›

The self-concept is an organized system that shapes how individuals feel about themselves, other individuals, and their social relationships (Leary & Tangney, 2011; Vazire & Wilson, 2012).

What are the stages of self-concept? ›

Five stages in the development of the self-concept can be recognized, with a different type of self-esteem being appropriate to each stage. These stages are: the dynamic self; self-as-object; self-as- knower; self-as-integrated-whole; and the 'selfless' self.

What are the 5 P's of self? ›

The self is noted to have a list of remarkable characteristics, including eight Cs and five Ps. The eight Cs are calmness, clarity, compassion, curiosity, confidence, courage, creativity, and connectedness. The five Ps are presence, patience, perspective, persistence, and playfulness.

What are the 3 characteristics of self? ›

Characteristics of the Self-Concept
  • Physical characteristics.
  • Personality.
  • Social identity.

What are the 3 dimension of self explain? ›

This model is a developmental model of three basic dimensions of self: biological self (starting when an infant first feels the need for food and warmth), social self (starting when an infant begins to perceive persons other than self), and temporal self (starting when an adolescence's thoughts and aspirations for the ...

What is self-concept Kids definition? ›

Self-concept involves children's thoughts and feelings about themselves. Children are not born with the ability to recognize their own feelings and thoughts, and depend on their early relationships and experiences with caregivers to shape and influence the development of their self-concept.

What is self-concept also known as? ›

In the psychology of self, one's self-concept (also called self-construction, self-identity, self-perspective or self-structure) is a collection of beliefs about oneself. Generally, self-concept embodies the answer to the question "Who am I?".

What is self-concept in Grade 5? ›

Your self-concept is how you see yourself. 2. If you see yourself in a positive way, you will feel good about yourself and have a positive self-concept. If you see yourself in a negative way, you will feel bad about yourself and have a negative self-concept. 3.

What is self-concept in school? ›

What is it? Self-concept refers to the ability people have to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Academic self-concept relates to how well an individual feels they can learn. It can vary across academic disciplines and can be effected by past academic performance.

How is self-concept formed? ›

The way in which people perceive themselves creates the mental image or self-concept they have of themselves. That image often differs from the concept others have of them. Self-concept can be described as everything that people think and feel about themselves.

How do you teach self-concept? ›

Visual Activities
  1. Self-Portrait in Action. One thing you can do to help your students develop a strong self-concept is have them paint portraits of themselves doing something they love or feel capable doing. ...
  2. Collage of Me. ...
  3. I Am, I Am Not. ...
  4. Introduction Poem.

Who does self-concept apply to? ›

Self-concept begins to develop in early childhood. This process continues throughout the lifespan. However, it is between early childhood and adolescence that self-concept experiences the most growth. By age 2, children begin to differentiate themselves from others.

Is self-concept a theory? ›

Is Self-Concept Just a Self-Theory? We can think of self-concept like it is a theory we have about ourselves. The more nuanced and detailed the theory, the better it is. That means the more awareness we have about our feelings, characteristics, values, needs, beliefs, etc..., the better we'll understand ourselves.

What are the 3 factors that influence the self? ›

Various factors believed to influence our self-esteem include: Genetics. Personality. Life experiences.

What are the 4 benefits of self-concept? ›

Their findings show that people with high self-esteem generally have more success at school and work, better social relationships, improved mental and physical health, and less anti-social behavior. And, these benefits persist from adolescence to adulthood and into old age.

Why is self-concept is learned? ›

This means that a self-concept is learned: it is a social product of one's experiences. The perception of one's self-concept may differ from how others perceive that person, and it is different during every life stage.


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