Saturday, September 1, 2007

The social self: An ever-evolving construct

Abstract: The aim of this blog is to discuss who I am in social psychological terms. The blog examines my social identity, my self-concept and the socio-psychological variables which I believe have shaped my life and who I am. This blog also refers to research studies and social psychological theories in an effort to further explore and understand my social self.

The self refers to “an important tool with which the human organism makes its way through human society and thereby manages to satisfy its needs” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.71). As Stapel and Blanton (2004, p.468) posit, knowledge of one’s social self provides “information that is necessary for navigating, controlling and responding to the social world”. The self is not a fixed entity, rather, it is a dynamic and multifaceted structure which can change depending on social situations (Fiske, 2004, p.170). Situational variables not only influence the manner in which one behaves, but also how one perceives and conceptualises their social identity. There are numerous social psychology theories which can be used to aid in reflecting on the social self.

Figure 1. The socio-psychological variables which have shaped my life.

I am a twenty-one year old, Caucasian female and I am a Uniting Church Christian. While I do not regularly attend Church, I live my life based around the Church’s teachings. I was born in Canberra, and being a member of a military family, I spent most of my life moving around Australia. I have both Australian and British ancestry in my family, however, it has mainly been Australian culture which has shaped my life. If I had been born and raised in another culture, not only could my values and beliefs differ significantly from what they do now, but I would have a whole different life story with a whole different set of experiences and perspectives.

In my life, I have a number of social roles. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend and a psychology student, just to name a few. I have a strong belief in God and I value democracy, equality and respect, and have no tolerance for prejudice, racism and discrimination. I have a strong love and admiration for my family and my close friends and I am very passionate about my university studies. My self-schema includes personality traits such as being friendly, trustworthy, compassionate, respectful and loyal. I also consider myself to be a competitive, driven and often pessimistic person provided the right social situation.

I have also been a part of a number of groups throughout my life. It was through charity and fundraising groups in high school that I developed a love of psychology. I began to witness how various social variables can impact upon people and groups and the negative effects that poverty and discrimination have. I developed a sense of altruism during this time, and pursued psychology and counselling studies as a result. I am now also a member of the student body at the University of Canberra and the Golden Key International Honours Society.

It was during my high school years that I began to realise what kind of person I am, including my strengths, weaknesses and what I value in life. While living in Darwin, I was exposed to Australia’s native, Indigenous culture and traditions. Living there as a Caucasian individual, I was witness to the detrimental effect that racism and prejudice has on those targeted. While previously oblivious to this issue, I learned quite quickly that I was opposed to racism and prejudice in all its forms, and this belief stands true today. This is just one example of where social experiences and contexts have shaped my beliefs, values, morals and social attitudes.

McClelland (1953) proposed three key motivational needs; the needs for achievement, authority and affiliation (Stuart-Kotze, 2007). I developed a strong need for both achievement and affiliation early on in my life. While making friends and being socially accepted was very important to me as a child, I became increasingly driven by extrinsic incentives and the need for achievement became a significant motivating factor. I developed the attitude that I always had to excel academically, and eventually my self-worth became dependant on this. I find myself equating my self-worth with my ability to achieve at whatever I try to do. This factor has been very stable throughout my life, and has never wavered. Not only do I have a strong need for achievement, I also have a strong need to avoid failure (Deckers, 2005, p.205).

According to the looking-glass self theory, individuals learn about themselves by imagining how others perceive and judge them (Baumeister & Bushman, 2004, p.80). I often feel very self-conscious that others are evaluating me and judging the things I say and do, which is very consistent with the spotlight effect theory (Fiske, 2004, p.187). These constant maladaptive thoughts where I believe that people will perceive me in a negative light have contributed to my very shy and reserved public self. In contrast, my private self is more energetic and boisterous. I have often found a major discrepancy between my public and private self. I think this stems from early negative experiences, so I often do feel rather nervous when in certain social situations, sometimes altering my behaviour as a result. While my own self-appraisal is that I can be a very energetic and outgoing, I often believe that I am perceived very differently by others.

As Fiske (2004, p.181) describes, one’s working self-concept varies with differing social situations and contexts. My environment has played a huge role in the development of my social self. While I have never lived outside of Australia, I have been exposed to different sub-groups within Australia. Living in Darwin, I was surrounded by Indigenous individuals and their culture. When I moved back to Canberra, I realised just how different the environment was. As a result, my social self adapted to the new environment and neighbourhood, which also involved rearranging my social identity. Basically, different environments have exposed me to different ways of living and social issues in society.

A study conducted by Tice (1992) found that people are more likely to alter their self-concepts based on interpersonal, public events, as opposed to behaviours which have occurred in private settings. The idea that public events tend to have a greater impact on one’s self-evaluations and self-concept is definitely true of me. In public situations, my behaviour becomes internalised, and I become more self-conscious and anxious as I begin to realise that others could be judging or evaluating my behaviour. I have found that my self-esteem is significantly influenced by public situations. Negative events such as being teased have led me to sometimes approach social situations with caution, as this has been one factor which has altered my self-esteem in the past.

Festinger’s (1954) theory of social comparison proposes that people make comparisons between themselves and others, in either an upward or downward fashion, in an attempt to gain self-knowledge (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, pp.82-83). Self-perception can be either positively or negatively influenced as a result of comparing oneself with another individual (Pelham & Wachsmuth, 1995). Stapel and Blaton (2004) conducted a study focusing on social comparisons. In this study, one group of participants were primed with a photo of a clown, while another group viewed a photo of Albert Einstein. Those that viewed the photo of the clown later judged themselves as very intelligent, while those who were exposed to the photo of Albert Einstein viewed themselves as less intelligent. Similar results were found on other traits, such as friendliness and attractiveness dimensions. As hypothesised, Stapel and Blanton found that even subliminal exposure to comparison information influenced participants’ judgments, opinions and evaluations of themselves.

The social comparison theory often underpins my social behaviour. I compare myself to others constantly, and more often than not, I do this in an upward fashion, where I compare myself to people that I aspire to be like. Since I can be quite introverted in social situations, I compare myself to the more confident and energetic individual who is not afraid to speak their mind in large groups. Sometimes this can have a negative effect on my self-esteem, as I begin to see the discrepancy between my actual self and my ideal self.

The self-discrepancy theory refers to the impact that self-knowledge can have on the way people feel, interact and adapt in social situations. This theory proposes that there a three main selves; the actual self, the ideal self and the ought self (Fiske, 2004, p.199). When I reflect on my actual self, I see myself as a very shy, introverted individual in group situations, but quite an outgoing, energetic person when I am with family and close friends. Ideally, I would like to be more confident in myself in more diverse social contexts, as I am quite a pessimistic person who often underestimates herself in larger groups of people. In regards to my ought self, I feel that I should always be successful at whatever I chose to do. Thus, there seems to be a discrepancy between my actual self and ideal self.

My social self has been evolving constantly throughout my life and will continue to do so. By integrating relevant social psychological theory and research, I am better able to understand my own social identity, self-concept and the variables which shape who I am.


Baumeister, R.F., & Bushman, B.J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.

Deckers, L. (2005). Motivation: Biological, psychological and environmental. (2nd ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Fiske, S.T. (2004). The self: Social to the core. In Social beings: A core motives approach to social psychology. (Ch 5, pp.169-214). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pelham, B.W., & Wachsmuth, J.O. (1995). The waxing and waning of the social self: Assimilation and contrast in social comparison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 825-838.

Stapel, D.A., & Blanton, H. (2004). From seeing to being: Subliminal social comparisons affect implicit and explicit self-evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 468-481.

Stuart-Kotze, R. (2007). Motivation Theory. Retrieved 30 August, 2007, from

Tice, D.M. (1992). Self-concept change and self-presentation: The looking glass self is also a magnifying gladd. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 435-451.

Appendix A

Self-evaluation of Blog

Theory and Research

I was able to effectively search for and locate journal articles which were very pertinent to my blog one topic of the social self. While one was as recent as 2004, the others articles were published in the early to mid nineties. Therefore, my blog may have benefited from some additional, more recent research studies. However, I felt that these studies revealed some very interesting findings pertinent to my topic and facilitated my essay. While I did not cite a large number of studies, I felt it would be more effective to concentrate on a select few and be clear and concise on how the findings could be applied to my social self. In my blog, I covered a number of different social psychology theories and was able to relate them back to my own social identity and self-concept.

Written Expression

Word Count: 1,497.

Readability analysis:
Flesch reading ease: 40.3
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 12.0

The citations, references and the body of the essay were all consistent with the APA style of formatting. I incorporated a concept map in an effort to shed some light on and explore my social self, while I used the body of the text to explore both the socio-psychological variables which have shaped my life, but also how the relevant social psychological theories aid in explaining my social self. I included an abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, reference list and a self-evaluation attached as an appendix. I also included two additional appendices, one of the links to the various posts I made throughout the term, and a link to a larger image of my concept map. The results of my readability analysis indicate that I was close to the desired readability targets, however, this could have been improved upon.

Online Engagement

I believe that my blog is clear, concise and easy for others to read and follow. I was able to embed a video on Asch’s conformity experiment into one of my blog postings, which seemed to generate discussion. I also provided links to another video and information on Milgram’s classic obedience study. I created my blog early on in the semester and I was the first person to include a test concept map in a blog post. I also added features to the blog such as profile information, interests, a recent photo of myself, a social psychology poll, an internet image and I also provided a list of links to my reply comments/postings to others, as well as a list of comments made by others on my blog (See white side bar for links to my comments). I also made a few brainstorm posts throughout the first half of the semester in an effort to clarify my thoughts and share my ideas with others. See Appendix B for links to these posts.

Appendix B

Links to Blog Posts

Test Post

Milgram's Obedience Study

Asch's Conformity Experiment

First Brainstorm Post

Social Self Brainstorm Post

Practice Concept Map

Social Self Concept Map

Appendix C

Social Self Concept Map: Link to larger image


Kara said...

hey Jess!
Your blog is excellent! You have such clarity in your explanations. Something that I lack (thought I would add a bit of social comparison in there). I think your structure is really effective. It interesting to see how we both had similar information, however, our approaches were quite different. I think you did a great job! :)

James Neill said...

Hi Jess,
Just passing through - a couple of quick things you may like to edit before the due time:

- Long paragraph: "The social comparison theory often underpins..."
- Italics for your references.

Alex said...

Comments and Feedback

General Comments and Feedback

I really enjoyed reading your blog discussion. I was impressed with the level of detail and maturity you displayed. You displayed good insight and a good appreciation of the key issues central to the blog topic.


You were able to identify relevant psychological theories and apply these to your discussion. It might have been useful to outline a working definition of 'Social Identity'. Your concept map was very clear and easy to follow. It provided a clear conceptual model, outlining social factors, which have contributed to your social identity.


You were able to use the research well to support and illustrate the theory and many of your ideas and statements.

Written Communication

Written expression was very clear and easy to follow. In-text references and references in the reference list were correctly presented, with a couple of minor errors. Overall, your written expression demonstrated cogency and insight.

On-line Engagement

You have made a number of blog postings, suggesting very good on-line engagement.

Bryan said...

Just a reader from the US passing by too. Great blog and great insights in your piece. Good luck with further works as well!


elieasa marriea said...

I read your blog it is very good. You provided a great information also. According to me it is very difficult to be a social psychologist.
Very great job you are doing..Psychology Counselling