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The Self-Concept

Author(s): Viktor Gecas

Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 8 (1982), pp. 1-33
Published by: Annual Reviews
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Ann.Rev. Sociol. 1982. 8:1-33
Copyright? 1982 byAnnualReviewsInc. All rightsreserved

of Sociologyand RuralSociology,Washington
Pullman,Washington 99164


The self-concept is undergoing something of a renaissancein contemporary

socialpsychology. It has, of course,been a centralconceptwithinsymbolic
interactionism sincetheseminalwritings ofMead (1934), Cooley(1902), and
James(1890). However,evenwithinthissociologicaltradition therehas been
a revitalization
ofinterest intheself-concept: withdevelopments inroletheory
(Turner1978; Gordon1976), withthe increasingfocuson the conceptof
identity(McCall & Simmons1978; Stryker 1980;Gordon1968;Guiot1977;
Burke1980),withthereemergence of interest in social structureandperson-
ality(House 1981;Turner1976;Kohn1969,1981;Rosenberg1979),andwith
thereconceptualization ofsmallgroupexperimental situations (Alexanderand
colleagues1971, 1981; Webster& Sobieszek1974).
Thereemergence oftheself-concept is evenmoredramatic withinpsycho-
logical social psychology.Much of this revitalization of interestin self-
phenomena (e.g. self-awareness, self-esteem, self-image, self-evaluation)is
duetothe"cognitive revolution"in psychology (Dember1974; Manis 1977),
generally at theexpenseof behaviorism.As a result,theself-concept has
becomeconspicuousin areas and traditions thatwerepreviously considered
alienterrain: withinbehaviorism via Bem's (1972) theoryof self-attribution;
within sociallearning theoryvia Bandura's(1977) focuson self-efficacy; and
within cognitive dissonancetheory via Aronson's(1968) andBramel's(1968)
reformulations. evidentintheoriesofattitude
It is also increasingly andvalue
formation and change(Rokeach1973, 1979), in attribution theory(Epstein
1973; Bowerman1978), and in variousotherrecenttheoriesof cognitive


processes(see Wegner& Vallacher1980). Perhapsas important as these

"intentional" theoretical developments in socialpsychology fortherefocuson
self-concept is whatone reviewercalls "theinadvertent rediscovery of self"
in experimental social psychology(Hales 1981a). This refersto theobser-
vationthatexperimental resultsfrequently couldbe explainedas wellorbetter
bytheoperation of self-processes withinthesesettings[suchas Alexander's
"situatedidentity theory"(1981)] thanby thetheoretical variablesunderin-
vestigation. This "inadvertent" discoveryof selfmayhavecontributed to the
so-called"crisis"in social psychology (Boutilieret al 1980; Hales 1981a).
In thisreviewI focuson developments andtrends inself-concept theory and
researchwithinsocial psychology.'However,as Stryker(1977) and House
(1977) pointout,thereareseveralsocialpsychologies. The majordistinction
is betweensocialpsychology developedwithinthesociologicaltradition and
thatemergingfromthe psychologicaltradition.The self-concept is in-
creasingly important withinbothdisciplines;developments withinbothare
reviewed.The twosocialpsychologies differ in theirfocus.Sociologytends
to focuson theantecedents of self-conceptions, andtypically looksforthese
withinpatterns of social interaction. Psychology, on theotherhand,tendsto
focuson theconsequencesof self-conceptions, especiallyas theserelateto
behavior.The latterfocusis morelikelythantheformer to lead to questions
ofmotivation (e.g. theself-esteem motive,consistency motive,efficacy mo-
tive).In a sense,sociologyand psychology have complementary biases re-
garding theself-concept. Ifthe"fundamental bias"ofpsychologists
is an overly"internal"view of the causes of behavior(Ross 1977), the
attributionbias ofsociologistsis a tendency tolookforthecausesofbehavior
outsidetheindividual-i.e. in culture,social structure, or social situation.
Severalaspectsoftheself-concept literature arenotreviewed:I do notdelve
intotheextensiveliterature on specificsocial identities, such as sexual and
genderidentities, variousoccupationalidentities, and specificdeviantidenti-
ties (e.g. delinquent,criminal,mentalpatient).Here I treatthe social-
psychological literatureon self-concept, largelyignoring theclinical,human-
istic,andphilosophical traditions.


An initial distinctionmust be made between the terms "self" and
"self-concept."Muchconfusionin socialpsychology
a processor a structure
stemsfromthefailureto distinguish

'The selfanditsderivativetermshaveoccupieda centralplace withinhumanistic

in thesocialsciences.The reemergence
oftheself-concept refers
withinsocial psychology.

and "self-concept." Self as used here refersto a process, the processof

reflexivitywhichemanatesfromthe dialecticbetweenthe "I" and "Me".
Whilediscussionsof the relationship betweenthe "I" and the "Me" have
periodically appearedin the literature [see especiallyLewis (1979) for a
social-behaviorist interpretation
of the "I"; Carveth(1977) and Petryszak
(1979) fora biologicalinterpretation; and Weigert(1975) fora phenom-
enologicaltreatment], themajoroutlinesoftheconceptofselfhaveremained
largelyunchangedsince the formulations of James (1890) and Mead
(1934)-i.e. theselfis a reflexive phenomenon thatdevelopsin social inter-
actionand is based on thesocial character of humanlanguage.The concept
of selfprovidesthephilosophicalunderpinning forsocial-psychological in-
quiriesinto the self-concept but is itselfnot accessible to empiricalin-
The"self-concept," on theotherhand,is a productofthisreflexive activity.
Itis theconcepttheindividual hasofhimself as a physical,social,andspiritual
or moralbeing.2
Rosenberg definestheself-conceptbroadlyas "thetotality ofan individual's
thoughts and feelingshavingreference to himselfas an object" (1979:7).
Similarlybroadis Snygg& Combs's statement that"thephenomenalself
includesall thosepartsof thephenomenal fieldwhichtheindividualexperi-
ences as part or characteristic of himself"(1949:58). A more specific
definitionis providedbyTurner:"Typicallymyself-conception is a vaguebut
vitallyfeltidea of whatI am likein mybestmoments, of whatI am striving
towardandhave someencouragement to believeI can achieve,or of whatI
cando whenthesituation suppliesincentivesforunqualified effort"(1968:98).
In Turner's(1968, 1976)formulation, theself-concept also involves(to some
extent)thesenseof spatialand temporal continuity, a distinctionof essential
selffrommereappearanceandbehavior(whichhe terms"self-image"), and
theidentification of thepersonin qualitativeand locationaltermsas well as
in evaluativeterms.
Perhapsthemostnovelconceptualization of theself-concept is offeredby
Epstein(1973). Froman attribution perspective, Epsteinsuggeststhatthe
self-concept can bestbe viewedas a theory thata personholdsabouthimself
as an experiencing, functioningbeingin interaction withtheworld.In spite

2Self-awareness is centralto humanexperienceand a definingfeatureofthehumancondition,

butthereis some doubtaboutwhetherit is uniquelyhuman.Recentstudiesof chimpanzees
suggestthattheseprimates areatleastcapableofself-recognition,
as measuredbytheirresponses
to theirmirror-images (Gallup, 1977). In his reviewof the primatestudies,Meddin(1979)
concludesthatchimpanzeesare indeedcapable of reflexivethoughtand have at least a rudi-
mentary conceptofself.Furthermore, itappearsthatthissenseofselfarisesinchimpanzeesmuch
as itdoes(according toMead) inhumans-i.e. through socialinteraction,

of his overemphasis on knowledgeand beliefsas the foundation forself-

concepts(rather thanon values,attitudes, and motivations), Epstein'sinter-
estingformulation accountsformanyof therecurring featuresof the self-
conceptinthesocial-psychological literature.He wouldhavebeenevenmore
accurateifhe had conceptualized theself-concept as a self-ideology-when
itcomesto ourself-concepts, we aremuchless interested in "theorytesting"
thanin self-affirmationand self-protection (as we shallsee in thesectionon
self-conceptas a sourceof motivation). Nevertheless, Epstein'sideas about
the self-concept are compatiblewithsociologicalformulations, especially
thosestemming fromstructural versionsof symbolicinteractionism (Stryker
1980; Heiss 1968; Gordon1968). Thereare differences in emphasis,to be
sure;butwithinbothoftheseviews,theself-concept is conceptualized as an
organization(structure) of variousidentities and attributes,and theirevalu-
ations,developedout of the individual'sreflexive,social, and symbolic
As such,theself-concept is an experiential,
nomenonaccessibleto scientific inquiry.This reviewdeals withthe self-
conceptand notwiththeconceptof self.


Numerousdimensionsof the self-concept have been consideredin social
psychology (forelaboratetypologiessee Gordon1968; Rosenberg1979:Ch.
1). An elementary is betweenthe contentof self-
but usefuldistinction
conceptions (e.g. identities)
and self-evaluations
(e.g. self-esteem).
focuseson themeaningscomprising theselfas an object,givesstructure
contentto self-concept,and anchorstheselfto social systems.Self-esteem
deals withtheevaluativeand emotionaldimensionsof the self-concept. In
experiencethesetwoaspectsoftheself-concept arecloselyinterrelated:
evaluationsare typicallybased on substantive aspectsof self-concept,
typicallyhave evaluativecomponents.Withinsocial psychology
thesetwodimensions involvelargelyseparateliteratures.

or self-esteemrefersto theevaluativeandaffective aspectsof
theself-concept(Wells & Marwell1976; Shibutani1961). Mostresearchon
theself-conceptfocuseson thisdimension, so thatsometimes is
equatedwithself-esteem (Wells & Marwell 1976). For example,Wylie's
(1974, 1979) extensivereviewsof the self-concept literaturedeal almost
exclusively The mainreasonforthepreeminence ofthis
aspectof self-concept is the motivational significanceof self-esteem(see

In muchof thisliterature, self-esteem refersto an individual'soverall

self-evaluation[Rosenberg's(1965) unidimensional scale is one of themost
widelyusedmeasuresofself-esteem]. Increasingly, however,variousaspects
of self-esteemhave been differentiated-e.g. sense of powerand sense of
worth(Gecas 1971); "inner"and "outer"self-esteem(Franks& Marolla
1976);evaluation andaffection (Wells& Marwell1976);senseofcompetence
and self-worth(Smith1978); self-evaluation and self-worth (Brissett1972);
andcompetence and morality (Rokeach1973; Vallacher1980; Hales 1980).
Commontothesesubdivisions is thedistinctionbetween(a) self-esteem based
on a senseof competence, power,or efficacy and (b) self-esteem based on
a senseofvirtueormoralworth.The importance ofthisdistinction lies inthe
suggestion thatthesetwobases of self-esteem maybe a function of different
processesof self-concept formation (Wells & Marwell1976) and thatthey
constitutedifferentsourcesof motivation.Briefly,competency-based self-
esteemis tied closelyto effective performance (Bandura1978; Franks&
Marolla1976; Gecas 1979; Harter1978; Mortimer & Lorence1979; Smith
1968).As a result,itis associatedwithself-attribution andsocialcomparison
processes.Self-esteem based on virtue(termedself-worth) is groundedin
normsand valuesconcerning personaland interpersonal conduct e.g. jus-
tice,reciprocity,honor.The processof reflected appraisal(see below) con-
tributesto the formation of self-worth (Vallacher1980; Gecas 1971). The
distinctionbetween"self-efficacy" and "self-worth," whileconceptually im-
portant,tendstoblurattheexperiential level. Senseofworthmaybe strongly
affectedbysenseofcompetence andvice versa[see, forexample,Covington
& Beery(1976) on theinterconnection betweenthesesourcesof self-esteem
in school].
REFLECTEDAPPRAISALS Thatour self-concepts reflect
theresponsesand ap-
praisalsof othersis the dominantpropositionin the sociologyof self.
Grounded conceptof the"looking-glassself"
in Cooley's (1902) influential
andinMead's theory (1934) thattheself-conceptdevelopsthrough theprocess
ofrole-taking others,theprocessof reflected appraisalsis thecornerstone of
thesymbolicinteractionist perspective on self-conceptformation (see Rose-
nberg1979:64;Kinch 1963).
Givenits widespreadacceptancewithinsociologyand even psychology,
one wouldthinkthisproposition had been demonstrated empirically beyond
question;butthisis hardlythecase. To be sure,many(especiallysymbolic
have investigated
interactionists) therelationship betweenothers'appraisals
and the individual'sself-concept (e.g. see Miyamoto& Dornbusch1956;
Quarantelli& Cooper1966). However,thepoweroftheopinionsofothersto
initiateand/oraffectthe development of the self-concept is stillin doubt.
Shrauger& Schoeneman(1979) examinedthe empiricalevidenceforthe

"looking-glass self" in over fiftystudies.They observethat:(a) People's

self-perceptions agreesubstantially withtheway theythinkothersperceive
them.However,(b) thereis verylittleagreement betweenpeople's self-
perceptions andhowtheyareactuallyviewedbyothers.Shrauger & Schoene-
man concludethat"thereis no clear indicationthatself-evaluations are
influenced by the feedbackreceivedfromothersin naturallyoccurring
Thereare a numberof reasonswe shouldnotbe surprised at thedisparity
betweenself-concepts and theappraisalsof others.One is thedifficulty of
gettinghonestfeedbackfromothers,especiallyifitis negative(Felson1980).
The normsof adultsocial interaction in ourculture,whichGoffman (1959)
examinedwithsuch insight,inhibithonestappraisalof others,substituting
"tact"and proper"deferenceand demeanor"to protectself-esteem. As a
result,we mayoftenbe unawareof whatothersthinkof us.
Anotherreasonforthe mismatchbetweenself-concept and others'ap-
praisalsis thatnotall othersare equallysignificant to us. In a largestudyof
Baltimore schoolchildren, Rosenberg(1973) foundthatthecredibility andthe
value of thesignificant other'sevaluationssignificantly affected thechild's
self-concept. Similarly, Webster& Sobieszek(1974) foundthatthecredibility
of the evaluatorhad a substantialeffecton the individual'stask-specific
Perhapsthe mostimportant reasonforthe low correspondence between
self-concept andtheappraisalsofothersis theactivedistorting influence ofthe
self-concept. Our perceptions of others'evaluationsof us are biasedtoward
favorableassessments.The self-esteem or self-enhancement motivehas a
distorting effecton our perceptions,concepts,and memories.Rosenberg
(1973) demonstrates howthisprocessof selectivity is evenreflected in whom
we choosetobe oursignificant others,as wellas inothersourcesofinfluence
on ourself-concepts (Rosenberg,1979).
Giventhegenerally low correlationsbetweenself-evaluations andtheactual
evaluationsof others,and the generallystrongrelationships betweenself-
evaluations and theperceivedevaluationsof others,we mustfocusresearch
muchmoreon such neglectedconsiderations as: How is information from
othersabouttheselftransmitted, received,interpreted, and actedupon(Sh-
rauger& Schoeneman,1979)? If role-taking is the fundamental process
through whichappraisalsare reflected, whataffectsthecontentof whatis
"taken"in role-taking? Even thoughthe hypothesis of reflected appraisals
remainsimportant in thetheoryof self-concept formation, empiricaldemon-
strationof itsvalidityhas becomeproblematic in recentyears.
SOCIAL COMPARISONS Social comparison is theprocessin whichindividuals
assesstheirown abilitiesand virtuesby comparing themto thoseof others.

According toFestinger's (1954) theory ofsocialcomparisons, themainfunc-

tionoftheprocessis reality-testing, whichis mostlikelytooccurin situations
whereknowledgeabout a self-attribute is ambiguousor uncertain.In the
experimental researchguidedbythistheory, comparison processeshavebeen
initiated by exposingthe subjectto the presenceof anotherperson.For
example,Morse& Gergen(1970) used "Mr. Clean" and "Mr. Dirty"as the
comparison othersina "job application" situation,andfoundthatthepresence
of"Mr.Clean"produceda significant decreaseinsubjects'self-esteem, while
thepresenceof the undesirableother("Mr. Dirty")significantly enhanced
It wouldbe a mistake,however,to thinkof social comparison as merelya
meansof reality-testing, fortheindividualis nota neutralobserverbut an
activeconstructor of social reality.Veblen's (1899) penetrating analysisof
conspicuousconsumption by the leisure class for the purposeof self-
enhancement revealsthemoreinsidiousside of socialcomparison processes.
Within sociology,socialcomparison processesaremostlikelytobe studied
viatheconceptofthereference group,whichserves(a) as a normative group
(i.e. thesourceofnormsandvaluesfortheindividual) and(b) as a comparison
group[i.e. as theprovider of standards (Kelley,1952)]. In
of self-evaluation
theformer usage,thereference group'snormsmaybecometheinternalized
standard againstwhichtheindividual judgeshimself. Thiswouldbe consistent
withJames's(1890) conceptualization of self-esteemas a function of the
discrepancy betweenaspirations and achievements.
Mostsociologicalresearchon socialcomparison processestreatsreference
groupsas comparison groups.Davis's (1966) studyofthecampusas a "frog
pond"(emphasizing theimportance ofthelocal frameofreference) is a good
Social comparison processesare mostlikelyto operatewithinlocal groups
underconditions of competition [see Covington& Beery(1976) on thecon-
sequencesof "gradingon the curve"for students'self-esteem] and great
subgroup andvisibility.
differentiation Rosenberg(1975) focusedon thelatter
condition in a studyof theeffectsof "contextualdissonance"on students'
self-esteem. He used "contextualdissonance"to denotethe resultof the
interaction, in a socialcontextsuchas a classroom,betweenthemajority and
a disvaluedminority. Rosenbergfoundthatminority statuswithregardto
race,social class, competence, or values had a negativeeffecton students'
self-esteem. The findings ofBachman(1970), andDrury(1980), showingthe
negativeconsequencesof schoolintegration fortheself-esteem ofblackchil-
dren,are consistent withRosenberg'sanalysis.
whattheyare feeling

and thinkingby makinginferencesbased on observingtheirown overtbe-

havior.ThusBem suggeststhatwe learnaboutourselvesandothersin essen-
tiallythesameway-i.e. fromobserving behaviorand makingdispositional
theorycan be subsumedunderthemoregeneralattribution
theory,whichdeals withhow individuals makecausal inferences abouttheir
ownandothers'behavior.Attribution theory ingeneralis moreappropriate to
theconsideration as a causal factorin social interaction
of self-concept than
to questionsof self-conceptdevelopment. This distinction becomesrather
blurred,however,sincetheself-concept is an important "cause" of itsown
formation.For example,Rosenberg's(1979) discussionof "psychological
andGergen's(1971) discussionof"biasedscanning"as processes
ofself-conceptformation, referto mechanisms
essentially orprocesseswithin
theself-conceptwhichare instrumental in theformation of self-conceptions.
Someof theseprocesseswillbe thefocusof thesectionon self-concept as a
sourceof motivation.
tenon variations inself-esteem acrosssuchcategories as raceandsocialclass.
Withregardto race,current researchhas foundeitherno difference between
theself-esteem levelsofblacksandwhites,orthatblackshaveslightly higher
self-esteem thanwhites(Yancey et al 1972; Rosenberg& Simmons1972;
Jacques& Chason1977;Taylor& Walsh1979). Thiscounterintuitive finding
has generated theoretical speculation.McCarthy& Yancey(1971) developed
theidea thatblacksaremorelikelythanwhitestoblamethe"system"(exter-
nalizeblame)fortheirrelatively low status,thereby minimizing theeffectof
social stratification
on self-esteem. Rosenberg& Simmons(1972) propose
"valueselectivity" (i.e. devaluingthedomainwhereone has low status)as a
methodof mitigating the effectsof low economicstatus.Heiss & Owens
(1972) suggestthattheblacksubculture is a reference groupthatprovidesa
buffer betweenthelargersocietyand blackself-esteem. All of these expla-
nationssoundreasonable, butnonehasreceivedmuchempirical support so far
(see Taylor&Walsh, 1979). In a recentreviewof researchon blackidentity
and self-esteem, Porter& Washington(1979) observethatgeneralcom-
parisonsshedlittlelighton thedevelopment of self-esteem withinminority
groups:"Atthispoint,we do notneedmorestudiesof generaldifferences in
self-esteem betweenblack and whitepopulations.Variationsin racial and
personalself-esteem shouldbe investigated withcarefulattention bothto the
effectof macrostructural factorsand to thespecificsituational and personal
contexts in whichthesefactorsoperate"(1979:70). I wouldadd thatgreater
specificationofdimensions ofself-evaluation andof self-concept is advisable
inthisareaofresearch.Porter& Washington (1979), forexample,foundthat

blacksreported higherlevels of self-regard but lowerfeelingsof personal

efficacy thanwhites.Taylor& Walsh's (1979) decomposition of self-esteem
intoseveralcontext-specific dimensions revealedracialdifferences thatwould
havebeen hiddenif onlyglobal self-esteem had been considered[see also
Schwartz& Stryker's (1970) dimensionalization of self-esteem].
Likewise,the literature on social class and self-esteem is fraught with
contradictory, inconsistent,and generallyweak findings(see Wylie 1979:
57-116). Theexception tothisgeneralization is theworkofRosenberg andhis
colleagues[see Rosenberg(1979) fora synthesis of muchof thisresearch].
Pursuing thequestionof how thebroadersocial environment structuresthe
immediate interpersonal interactions of theindividual,Rosenberg& Pearlin
(1978) masterfully demonstrate how social class impingeson theself-esteem
ofadultsthrough fourprocessesof self-concept formation (i.e. reflectedap-
praisals,social comparisons, self-attribution, and psychologicalcentrality),
and whythe operationof theseprocessesproducesnegligiblesocial-class
differences forchildren.
Rosenberg hasshownthesamesensitivity inhisanalysisofsocial-structural
influences on self-esteem inothersocialcontexts, especiallyschoolandfamily
(Rosenberg1965, 1975;Rosenberg& Simmons1972). In thefamilycontext,
Rosenberg foundthattheinfluence of suchstructural variablesas birthorder
and"brokenfamilies"on theself-esteem of childrenis substantially affected
by a numberof conditionalvariables-e.g. religiousbackground,age of
mother at divorceor separation, child'sage, andnumberand sex of siblings.
An important intervening variableis theextentto whichparentalinterest and
support forthechildis affected by thesestructural and conditional variables,
sinceparental is positively
interest relatedto child'sself-esteem. Thisfinding
ofa positiverelationship betweenparentalsupport/affection and child'sself-
esteemis one of the mostconsistent in thefamilyresearchon self-esteem
formation (Coopersmith 1967;Gecas 1971; Hales 1980;Thomaset al 1974).
Onelimitation ofRosenberg'sextensive researchis thatittreatsself-esteem
as a globalandunidimensional variable.Thereis someevidence,forexample,
thattheefficacy andworthdimensions ofself-esteem aredifferently relatedto
familyprocesses.Gecas (1971) foundparentalsupportto have a stronger
positiverelationship withadolescents'feelingsof self-worth thanwiththeir
feelings of self-efficacy.Self-efficacy, on theotherhand,was moresensitive
to thepowerrelationships withinsocial contexts-i.e. senseof self-efficacy
waslowerwhentheindividual was ina subordinate position,suchas in school
(Gecas 1972). Furthermore, Gecas (1972) foundthatparentalbehaviorsas
antecedents of theadolescents'"familyself-esteem" (i.e. self-esteem within
thefamily)had littleeffecton self-esteem in othersocialcontexts(i.e. when
peersorschoolwereusedas theframeofreference forself-evaluations). This
suggeststhatresearchon self-esteem formation mustincreasingly refineits

focusbyspecifying antecedentsanddelimiting boththeconceptofself-esteem

andthecontexts in whichit operates[a conclusionalso reachedbySchwartz
& Stryker(1970:122-23)in theirattempt to explaintheiranomalousfindings
regardingtheself-esteemof"badNegroboys"].Suchrefinement is beginning
tobe pursuedintheresearchon socialclass andself-esteem (Walsh& Taylor,
forthcoming)andmayhelpto increasetheamountof variancein self-esteem
thatcan be explainedby social class (now typically4% or less).

If thereis a centralthemein thesociologicalliterature on theself-concept it
is theideathatthecontent andorganization ofself-concepts reflectthecontent
and organization of society.Prominent as theevaluativedimensionof self-
conceptis in socialpsychology, itdoes notbeardirectly on thisproposition.
The conceptof identity does. Perhapsthisis one reasonthatthemostpromi-
nentcontributor to thesociologicalresearchon self-esteem has urgedthatwe
"go beyondself-esteem" (Rosenberg1979). Beyondself-esteem lies thecon-
ceptof identity, thatvastdomainof meanings attached to the selfand com-
prisingthecontentand organization of self-concepts.
The interpenetration of selfand societyis mostdirectly addressedin the
symbolicinteractionist tradition[tracedprimarily to Mead (1934), Cooley
(1902), and Thomas(1923)]. This tradition has splitintotwo major(and
severalminor)variantsthatdifferon fundamental conceptualizations and
assumptions regarding self and society,on substantive foci, and on meth-
odology.The two mainvariantsare the "processualinteractionists" (more
commonly knownas the"ChicagoSchool")andthe"structural interactionists"
(associatedwiththe"Iowa School"). The divisionsbetweenthesetwoorien-
tationsreflect inmanyrespectsthefundamental divisioninthesocialsciences
betweenhumanistic/interpretive orientationsand positivistic/nomothetic ori-
entations[forreviewsof the "Chicago" and "Iowa" schools of symbolic
interactionism, see Kuhn(1964) and Meltzeret al (1975)]. The conceptof
"identity" has a somewhatdifferent character in each of theseorientations.
cessualinteractionist byBlumer(1969), itsmajor
as exemplified
and others(Glaser & Strauss1967; Strauss1978; Becker 1964;
Stone1962), is itsemphasison thesocial situationas thecontextin which
identities through
are establishedand maintained theprocessof negotiation.
bargaining(Blumstein1973),is a central
aspect of the individual'sbroadertask of "definingthe situation"and
"constructingreality."Meaningis viewedas an emergent of thisfluidand
Actionandinteraction areseenprimarily as
indeterminate "I" and theprobleminvolvedin
becauseof theunpredictable

aligningactions.The construction of identitiesforself and othersin the

situationis alwaysa problematic activitybasedon a tenuousconsensusofthe
participants. Role-takingbecomesan important cognitiveactivity in thisdia-
lecticalprocess(Turner1962), as is the processof altercasting [imposing
identitieson others(Weinstein & Deutschberger 1963)]. In sum,identity from
theprocessualinteractionist perspective is situated,emergent, reciprocal, and
negotiated. Furthermore, processualinteractionists view theself-concept as
inseparable cause and consequencein social interaction.
Theinseparability ofself-concept as cause andconsequenceis mostevident
in Goffman's (1959, 1963, 1967) imaginative and influentialvariantof pro-
cessual symbolicinteractionism.3 Utilizingthe metaphorof social life as
theater,Goffman describesinconsiderable detailthe"stagingoperations" and
"impression-management" involvedin thepresentation of selfin social en-
counters. Desiredidentities are theprizessoughtin theseinteraction arenas,
whichareacquiredas muchbycompetent performance oftheactorsas bythe
socialconstraints ofthesituation andthedispositions oftherelevant othersin
theinteraction. In Goffman'sview, self and othersconstruct identities by
staginga definition of thesituationthatinvolvesall participants. We are at
oncetheproductsand thecreatorsof theseencounters.
The methodological predilection of theprocessualinteractionists has been
theobservation (especiallyfromthevantagepointof a participant) of social
interaction in "natural"social settings. The rationale[emphasized by Blumer
(1969)] is thattheinvestigator can bestcapturetheprocessof identity con-
struction by entering the "universeof discourse"of thissocial worldas a
role-taking participant.Othermethodologies havealso beenusedtorevealthe
situated,processual,andmeaningful worldof theinteractantse.g. lifehis-
tories,historicalanalysis,and even the laboratory experiment when it is
viewed as a social situationcreated by the scientist(Denzin 1970; McPhail
Severalresearchstreamsrelevantto thedevelopment of theself-concept
havebeengenerated bytheprocessualinteractionist
One bodyof
research,inspiredlargelyby Goffman'swork,deals withthedynamicsof
and altercasting
self-presentation [see Arkin(1980) and McCall & Simmons
(1978) forreviews].These studieshave focusedon suchtopicsas tacticsof
identitybargaining(Weinstein1966; Blumstein1973, the presentation of
motives,disclaimers,and accounts(Hewitt& Stokes1975; Scott& Lyman

3Thereis somequestionregarding Goffman's "fit"within

For example,Gonos (1977) makes a persuasivecase for viewingGoffmanas a
ratherthanas an "interactionist"
because of Goffman'semphasison theformal
of social interaction
properties ratherthanon processper se and itsinfinite
variations-a point
madewithsomecondemnation by Denzin& Keller(1981).

et al 1974), and embarrassment
and face-saving
(Goffman1967; Gross & Stone 1964; Modigliani 1971).4
In contrast methodsof mostsymbolicinteractionist
to thenaturalistic re-
search,some recentstudieson thesetopicsuse experimental
special note is the work of Alexander and his colleagues (1971, 1977, 1981)
on "situatedidentity theory."Buildingon Goffman'sideas aboutthe im-
portanceof "expressionsgivenoff" as the basis formakingdispositional
inferences, Alexander& Lauderdaledefinesituatedidentities as "theattri-
butionsthatare made aboutparticipants in a particularsettingas a con-
sequenceoftheiractions"(1977:225). The establishment of identities is con-
sideredthefundamental taskof social encounters. Alexanderconsidersan
identity to be a workingself-meaning constructed out of thematerialof a
particular andnotan aspectof a person'sself-concept
situation, carriedfrom
one situationto another(Alexander& Wiley 1981). Alexanderarguesthat
people act (because of the self-esteem motive)to createthe mostsocially
desirablesituated identityavailable(Alexander& Wiley1981).Alexander has
testedsituatedidentity theoryin a numberof experimental studiesoriginally
designedtotestothersocial-psychological theories(e.g. cognitive dissonance,
riskyshift,prisoner'sdilemma,and expectationstates).He has foundthat
situated identity
theory can accountfortheresultsoftheseexperiments atleast
as well as theothertheoriesproposed.
It shouldbe noted,however,thatthe"situatedidentities" in Alexander's
studiesaredescribedby evaluativeterms-warm,friendly, honest-thatare
attachedto experimental outcomealternatives suchas "conforming subject"
vs. "non-conforming subject".Otherwaysofoperationalizing situatedidenti-
tieswouldpresumably producedifferent results.Furthermore, therelationship
between"situatedidentities" and theidentities actorsbringwiththeminto
socialsituations has notbeenexplored.Alexanderandassociatesareawareof
thisissue buthave not yetpursuedit themselves[see Alexander& Wiley
(1981)]. Doingso wouldtakethembeyondtheimmediate interaction situation
andcloserto theconcernsof thestructural symbolicinteractionists.
A secondbodyofworkinspired bytheprocessualinteractionist perspective
involves"labelingtheory."Labelingtheoryis an adaptationof the more
generalprocessofreflected appraisalto thedevelopment ofdeviantidentities
[Wells (1978) reviewsthe place of self-concept in theoriesof deviance].
Labelingtheory suggeststhatsociety'sreactionto an individual'sinitialdevi-
antbehavioris themajorfactorin thesystematization of deviance,sinceit
alterstheself-concept andsocialidentity ofthepersonlabeled(Lemert1951;
Becker1963; Scheff1966). This societalresponsecan be eitherformal(e.g.

4Theconceptsof "impression
management" and"self-presentation"
withinpsychology as well (see, forexample,Tedeschi1981).

arrestorimprisonment) or informal (e.g. stigmatization)(Goffman 1963). As

Wells (1978) pointsout, the self-concept is implicitin thisperspective on
deviance:"[It] functionsmoreas an intuitively obviousintervening process
thanas a variableto be actuallymeasuredin empiricalevents"(1978:193).
The relatedconceptof "self-fulfilling prophecy"has generated itsownbody
of researchshowinghow labelingprocessescreatecertain"self-fulfilling"
identitiesintheclassroomandelsewhere(Jones1977;Rosenthal& Jacobson
Labelingtheory, thedominant theoryof deviance,has beencriticizedand
debatedin thepast decade (Wells 1978; Glassner& Corzine1978), partly
becauseitpositedtoopassivea rolefortheindividualinbecominga deviant.
Conceptssuchas "self-labeling" (Rotenberg 1974)and"resistance tolabeling"
(Prus1975;Rogers& Buffalo1974)haveappearedreflecting thegeneraltrend
towardtheories of a moreassertiveselfin thesociologicalliterature on devi-
A thirdresearchstreamfromtheprocessualinteractionist perspectivehas
focusedon socialization.Some studieshavedealtwithchildsocializationand
self-concept development (Denzin 1972; Stone1970),butmosthavefocused
on adults(symbolicinteractionists seemrecluctant to studychildren).Mostof
thisresearch hasdealtwithoccupational socialization[e.g. Beckeretal (1961)
on socializationin medicalschool)], socializationintovarioussubcultures,
especiallydeviantsubcultures (Adler& Adler1978; Becker1963), and con-
textsofresocializationoridentity transformation (Lofland1977;Gecas 1981).
Mostof thesestudiesof socializationfromtheprocessualinteractionist per-
spectivearebasedon fieldresearch-i.e. ethnographic reports the
operation ofgeneralsymbolicinteractionist assumptionsconcerning commu-
nication,social interaction,realityconstruction, and self-concept formation.
The processualinteractionists have contributed a numberof "sensitizing
concepts"and conceptualrefinements to thestudyof identity formation and
reformation. Empirically,theircontribution has illustratedmorethantested
theseideas (althoughtheincreasing turntowardexperimentation, mentioned
above,maychangethissituation). Processualinteractionists strongly maintain
thatselfand societyinterpenetrate. However,sincebothselfand societyare
viewedin fluid,processualterms,it is notclearhow social organization is
reflectedintheorganization ofself-conceptions. Theconceptsofstructure and
organization remaina problemat boththe social groupand theindividual
levels[in spiteof thevaliantefforts of Maines (1977) and Strauss(1978) to


theconceptof "situation"is to theprocessualinteractionists,
"role"is to thestructural
as theentreforconsidering

andself-concept. roles.The con-
areviewedmainlyas internalized
nectionbetweenthesetwo conceptsis so close thattheyare oftenused
(Stryker1980:60; McCall & Simmons 1978:16;
together,as in "role-identity"
Burke& Tully1977).Thisconnection directlylinksself-conceptions tosocial
structuresbecauserolesare seen as elementsof social structure, and it pro-
videsthebasis forconsidering theself-concept in organizational terms-i.e.
as a multidimensional configurationofrole-identities. Stryker putitthisway:
"Theselfis seenas embracing multipleidentities linkedto therolesandrole
relationshipsthat constitutesignificantelementsof social structures"
(1979:177).Gordonelaborates justhowroleslinkpersonstosocialstructures:
"thevalue aspectsof rolesconnectpersonsto culture;thenormative aspects
ofrolesprovidemotivation to conductand structure to social action;and the
'sense-making' aspectsof rolesdetermine
or interpretive muchof personal
cognition, predispositions,
attitudinal memories,andplans"(1976:405). The
term"role"typically refersto thebehavioralexpectations associatedwitha
positionor status(eitherformalor informal) in a social system.However,
"role"and "position"are frequently used interchangeably, especiallywhen
they are translatedinto identities e.g. "father,""handball player,"
The structureof self-conceptis viewedas a hierarchical organization of an
individual'srole-identities McCall & Simmons 1978; Heiss
1968). Strykerdevelopedtheidea of self-concept as a saliencehierarchy of
identitiesmost fullythroughthe concept of commitment.He proposes that
''oneis committed to an identityto thedegreethatone is enmeshedin social
relationshipsdependenton thatidentity" (1979:177). In thisview of self-
structure,thegreater the commitment to an identity, themoreconsequential
itis fortheindividual'sconduct[elaborated in Stryker (1980), especiallypp.
83-84]. Note thatStryker'sconceptionof commitment emphasizesthere-
The natureandextensiveness
lationalaspectofrole-identities: ofthe"role-set"
(Merton 1957) or "identity-set"(i.e. the network of identitiesand role-
relationshipsa givenidentityimplies)affectthedegreeofcommitment to the
Turner(1978) expandsourvisionof theidentity commitment process.He
casts theproblemof commitment in the formof role-person mergerand
examinestheconditions underwhichthisis mostlikelytooccur.A distinction
is madebetween"situational determinants" and "individualdeterminants".
The former are circumstancesunderwhichobserversconsiderthepersonas
revealedin therole. Underthelattercategory,Turneridentifies threeprin-
ciplesgoverning role/personmerger:(a) Individuals tendto mergewiththose
rolesbywhichsignificant othersidentify them;(b) theytendtomergeroleand
personselectively so as to maximizeautonomy (cf. theself-efficacymotive)

andpositiveself-evaluations (cf. theself-esteem motive);and(c) theytendto

mergewiththoserolesin whichtheirinvestment has beengreatest (1978:13).
Turnerformulates numerouspropositions derivedfromtheseprinciplesof
role-person merger.This workconstitutes the mostextensiveand formal
attempt to integrate roletheoryand selftheory.
Researchon self-concept by structural symbolicinteractionists has often
usedtheTwentyStatements Test(TST), an open-ended instrument thatsimply
asks personsto give twentyanswersto thequestion"Who am I?" [Other
measuresof identity have recentlyappeared e.g. Burke& Tully (1977),
Jackson(1981), Turner& Schutte(1981).] Originally developedbyKuhn&
McPartland (1954) theTST has been used in numerousstudiesfocusingon
identitiesand theirorganization [see Spitzeret al (1971) fora review].The
TST [and a parallelinstrument developedwithinphenomenological self-
psychology byBugental& Zelen (1950) calledthe"WhoareYou?" (W-A-Y)
technique] is nota measureofself-concept buta stimulus forself-descriptions.
Measurement becomespossiblewhentheresponsesarecoded.Variouscoding
schemeshavebeen developed,fromtheinitiallysimpledistinction between
"consensual" (public)and"subconsensual" (personal)identities (Kuhn& Mc-
Partland1954), to theelaborate,computer-based schemedevelopedby Gor-
don (1968). Most such schemesaim to developidentity categoriesthat(a)
enableexamination of thelinkbetweenself-conceptions and social systems,
and (b) revealpatterns amongtheidentities thatcompriseself-conceptions.
Self-descriptions mentioned first in theTST haveoftenbeenconsidered to be
moreimportant to therespondent thanthosementioned later[an assumption
questioned byGordon(1968) and McPhail& Tucker(1972); theimportance
of sequencehas been shown to vary across populations].Some coding
schemes[e.g. Kuhn& McPartland's(1954) distinction between"consensual"
and"subconsensual"identities, andGordon's(1968) categories of"rolesand
memberships"] explicitlyfocuson the"anchorage"of individualsin social
institutions. Comparisonsare typicallymade betweenpopulations(men vs
women;lowerclass vs middleclass; college studentvs oldersubjects,etc)
withregard,forexample,to theirstructural integration or theirdiversityof
OtherresearchusingtheTST has isolatedparticular identitiesforspecial
attention,suchas gender,ethnic,or familyidentities (Wellman1971; Gecas
1973).Theseparticular identitieshave,ofcourse,receivedconsiderable atten-
tionoutsideof structural symbolicinteractionism as well, and have been
subjected to variousmeasurement strategies[see Wylie(1979) fora review].
Thebulkof theresearchon specificidentities focuseseitheron socialization
intotheidentity (e.g. themassiveliterature on sex-rolesocialization),evalu-
ationsoftheidentity [whichcharacterizes muchoftheresearchon racialand

or conflict
and strainin theself-conceptas a consequence
of role-transitions
[e.g. Lopata (973) on adjustments to widowhood;and
Weigert& Hastings(1977) on identity loss in thefamily].
structureon self-conceptions has been mostapparentat the macrolevelsof
analysis-i.e. wherethe societyor its majorinstitutions are the focusof
Turner's(1976) workon "therealself"is exemplary. He arguesthat
"thearticulationof real selveswithsocial structure shouldbe a majorlinkin
thefunctioning and changeof societies"(1976:990). By "real self"Turner
meansthelocus of an individual'ssenseof authenticity, responsibility, and
accountability."To varyingdegrees,"Turnerproposes,"people acceptas
evidenceof theirreal selveseitherfeelingsand actionswithan institutional
focusoronestheyidentify impulse"(1976:990). Thisdistinction
as strictly is
reminiscent ofKuhn& McPartland's (1954) distinctionbetween"consensual"
and"subconsensual" identities,although Turnerelaboratesto a muchgreater
extenttheconsequencesof thesetwo self-anchorages forpersonalbehavior,
forsocial structure,and forsocial change."Institutionals" are likelyto be
future-oriented;theyadhereto highmoralstandards and considertheselfto
be createdthrough theiractions."Impulsives,"on theotherhand,are likely
tobe orientedtowardthepresent, tofeelconstrained byinstitutional roles,and
toviewtheselfas something tobe discovered.Turnerseekstolocatethe"real
self"byusingan open-ended format to elicitresponseson thecircumstances
in whichpeople feelmost"authentic" or "inauthentic"(Turner& Schutte
1981). An important feature of Turner'sapproachto self-concept is notonly
itsconcernwithwhattheselfis (experientially), butalso withwhattheself
is not(Turner& Gordon1981).
Considering social change,Turner(1976) hypothesizes thatoverthepast
fewdecadestherehas beena substantial shiftawayfroman institutional and
towardan impulsivelocus of self. (He also speculatesaboutFreud'srole in
as a function of changesin society:Riesmanet al (1950) arguedforan
historicalshiftfrom"inner-directed" to "other-directed"motivational types;
Lifton's(1970) chameleon-like "proteanman" and Snyder's(1979) high
''self-monitoring"individualare offeredas prototypes of the individualin
contemporary society.Zurcher(1977) proposedthe"mutableself" to be a
healthyadaptation torapidsocialchange.Marginality anduncertainty seemto
thedevelopment of a "mutableself". Even if such conditionsare
becoming increasingly prevalent, thereis somequestionwhether rootlessness,
lack of commitment to social institutions, and "goingwiththe situational
flow"are salutary features of theselfeven in a rapidlychangingsociety.
Symbolicinteractionists havenotbeenaloneinconsidering therelationship

betweensocialorganization andtheself-concept. Thisconcernis increasingly

evidentin studiesof social structureand personality [see House (1981) and
Simpson(1980) forreviews].For example,Kanter's(1977) analysisof the
psychological consequencesof powerand opportunity in theworkplace,and
Kohn's (1969, 1981) extensiveworkon theconsequencesof occupational
conditionsforself-values andintellectual flexibility
(bothforming theirargu-
mentsin thesociologicaltradition of Durkheim, Weber,andMarx)arerele-
vanthere.In general,theMarxistperspective (and variousderivatives) has
encouragedexaminationof social organizational conditionsin the devel-
opmentof self-estrangement, powerlessness, alienation,and othernegative
aspectsoftheself-concept [see, forexample,Bowles & Gintis(1976) on the
negativeeffectsof thepublicschoolsystemon students'self-concepts]. An
earlyimpressive workfromthisperspective is Luria's (1976) research,con-
ductedin theearly1930s,on theeffectsof thecommunist revolutionon the
consciousness andself-conceptions ofpeasantslivingintheremotevillagesof
Uzbekistan, USSR. Throughextensiveinterviews withthesepeasants,Luria
andhiscolleaguesfoundthatdegreeof exposureto communist ideologyand
involvement in collectivefarmworkhad a dramaticeffecton thelevel and
natureofself-awareness. SomeofLuria'sconclusionsmayhavebeencolored
byhiscommitment toMarxist-Leninist ideologyandhisdesiretodemonstrate
itsbeneficialconsequences.The specificcontentof theideologymaybe less
important in explainingchangesin cognitiveprocessesand self-awareness
thantheexperience ofa revolutionarymovement itself,especiallya movement
thatradicallyredefinesrelationships betweenindividualsand betweenthe
individualand society.Inkeles's(1960) work,forexample,has shownthat
modernization has similarconsciousness-expanding consequences.


Theself-conceptis, toa largeextent,an agentofitsowncreation.Thissection
focuseson threemajormotivesassociatedwiththe self-concept: the self-
efficacymotive;the self-esteem or self-enhancement motive;and the self-
consistencymotive.Whilesociologistshave occasionallyventured intothis
domain,ithasbeendominated bypsychologists,withtheirhistorically
in questionsof humanmotivation.

Perhapsthemostfundamental senseof self-conceptas cause is foundin the
notionof humanagency,expressedin such termsas effectance motivation
(Bandura1977), intrinsicmotivation(Deci 1975), intentionality(Weigert

1975; Giddens 1979; Taylor 1977), internallocus of control(Rotter1966) and

(Mischel& Mischel1977). Thattheselfis an originating
self-control agent
seemscrucialto the fundamental experienceof self. As Turnerobserves,
"behaviorsthoughtto revealthe trueself are also ones whose causes are
perceivedas residingin thepersonratherthanthesituation" (1976:991).
Historically,symbolicinteractionism has strongly advocatedan active,
creative,and agentiveview of theself.One of thebasic assumptions of this
perspectiveis thatmanis an actoras well as a reactor.BothJamesandMead
emphasizedthe creativeaspectsof humanaction,attributing theseactive
propertiesto the"I" aspectof theself.Even Cooley,his looking-glass meta-
phornotwithstanding, consideredeffective actionas thewellspring oftheself
[see Franks& Seeberger(1980) and Reitzes(1980) forexaminations of this
themeinCooley'swork].The activeselfis also quiteevidentincontemporary
expressionsof symbolicinteractionism, constituting a hallmarkof the
"processualinteractionist"orientation.It is apparent, forexample,in Goff-
man's(1959) workonimpression management as interpersonal Wein-
stein's(1969) workon altercastingas identity manipulation, andvariousother
discussionsof constructingsituations andnegotiating realities(Blumer1969;
Stone & Farberman1970).
Centralas theideaofhumanagencyis tosymbolic theyhave
beenreluctanttocastitinmotivational terms.[Stone& Farberman (1970:467)
thesymbolicinteractionists'antipathy fortheconceptof motivation.]
As a result,theactiveselfis seen primarily as themajorsourceof indeter-
minancyin humanconduct,ratherthanas a sourceof motivation and self-
determination.Therehasbeenno suchreluctance on thepartofpsychologists
to conceptualizemotivationalprocessesemanating fromtheself.One of the
mostinfluentialformulations has beenWhite's(1959) conceptof effectance
or competence motivation. Whitemade a strongcase fortheoperationof a
motivationformastery and theexperienceof selfas a causal agentin one's
environment. He notedthatexploratory and manipulative behaviors(in ani-
malsas well as man) are rewarding in theirown rightand characteristically
occurwhenbasic physiologicaldrivesare satisfied[see deCharms& Muir
(1978) fora reviewof the"intrinsic motivation" and Ross (1976)
fora reviewof conditionsunderwhichextrinsic rewardsundermine intrinsic
motivation].Foote & Cottrell's(1955) concept of "interpersonal com-
petence,"whichtheydefineas theabilitytoproduceintended effects (p. 38),
Brehm's(1966) conceptof"psychological reactance"(themotivation to seek
freedomfromconstraints), Adler's (1927) conceptof "mastery,"Smith's
(1968, 1978) discussion of the "competentself," Franks & Marolla's (1976)
conceptof "innerself-esteem" (self-esteem action),and
based on efficacious
McClellands ' (1975) "powermotive"(strivingforpowerandcontrol)all stress
thebasic motivational elementof the activeself.

The importance of self-efficacy as a majormotivation becomesapparent

whenwe considertheconsequencesof its inhibition or suppression. Within
sociology,thishas been associatedwiththeconceptof alienation(Seeman
1959).Theclassicstatement on thisassociationwas formulated byMarx,who
arguedthatthemostimportant consequenceof powerlessness is alienation.
Alienation hererefersto thefeelingof self-estrangement producedwhenthe
products ofworkareno longerreflections oftheself.Thishappenswhenlabor
becomesmerelyinstrumental and theindividualloses controloverthedirec-
tionandproductsof his work.
Within psychology, thecase fortheimportance ofself-efficacy is addressed
by Seligman(1975), who has tiedhis conceptof "learnedhelplessness"to
depression.Learnedhelplessnessrefersto a chronicsense of inefficacy re-
sulting fromlearningthatone's actionshaveno effecton one's environment.
In recentformulations ofthetheory, Seligmanandhiscolleagues(Abramson
etal 1978)arguethatdepression stemming fromlearnedhelplessness is likely
tooccurwhentheindividual attributeshisinefficacy topersonalfailurerather
thanto universalconditions.Seligmanviews learnedhelplessnessas a
sufficientbutnota necessaryantecedent of depression.His work,however,
accentuates theimportance of self-efficacyforpsychological well-being.
The conditionsand consequencesof theperception of self-as-cause have
becomea majorfocusofcontemporary attributiontheory.Especiallyrelevant
herearetheself-attributions individuals makewithregardtopersonalcontrol
overeventsthataffectthem.Rotter(1966) distinguishes between"internal"
and "external"loci of control,as generalizedexpectanciesthatindividuals
developin relationto theirenvironment. DeCharms(1968) distinguishes
"origins"from"pawns".Kelley(1971) discussestheneedtoperceiveoneself
as exercisingeffectivecontrolinattribution processes.In mostoftheliterature
on consequencesof thesegeneralizedexpectancies,it is betterto be origin
(internalcontrol)thanpawn(externalcontrol)[see Wortman (1976) andLef-
court(1976) forreviewsof causal attributions and personalcontrol].
Bandura(1974, 1977, 1978, 1981), who has recently been developinga
highlycognitiveversionof social learningtheory centered on self-evaluation
processes,has addedseveralrefinements to theself-efficacy literature. Band-
uramakesan important distinction betweenefficacy expectations andoutcome
expectations. An outcomeexpectation is an estimate thata givenbehaviorwill
lead to a certainoutcome;an efficacy expectation is thebeliefthatone can
successfully perform thebehaviorrequiredto producetheoutcome(Bandura
1977:193).The former is a beliefaboutone's environment, thelattera belief
aboutone's competence.Feelingsof futility mayresultfrom(a) low self-
efficacyor (b) perception of a social structure as unresponsive to one's ac-
tions."To alterefficacy-based futilityrequiresdevelopment of competencies
andexpectations of personaleffectiveness. By contrast to changeoutcome-

basedfutilitynecessitateschangesin prevailing environmental contingencies

thatrestorethe instrumental value of the expectanciesthatpeople already
possess"(Bandura,1977:205).ThusBanduradifferentiates perceptions ofself
fromperceptions of self in relationto social structurea distinction that
providesa bridgeto traditional sociologicalconcerns.
The motivational significance ofbeliefsregarding self-efficacy
is also evi-
dentin theliteratureon self-fulfilling
prophecies(Jones1977). Whenpeople
actonerroneous beliefstheycan sometimes altersocialrealityinthedirection
of theinitially
mistaken belief(Bandura1981; Merton1957). Self-fulfilling
prophecies,ofcourse,can eitherincreaseordecreaseself-efficacy, depending
on thenatureof theindividual'sbeliefor expectation.

The motivationto maintain andenhancea positiveconception of oneselfhas
beenthought to be pervasive,even universal(Rosenberg1979; Wells 1978;
Kaplan 1975; Rokeach1979; Hales 1981a). Wells & Marwellobservethat
everyselftheorypositssome variantof thismotive(1976:54). Even some
social-psychological thatdidnotstartoutas selftheories
theories becamesuch
largelybecauseoftheoperation oftheself-esteem motive.Themostdramatic
transformationoccurredfor cognitivedissonancetheory[see especially
Greenwald & Ronis(1978)]. The originalversionof thetheory, in whichthe
motivationalfactorwas a perceivedincongruity betweentwo cognitiveele-
ments,has essentially beenreplacedwithone in whichself-esteem motivates
dissonance-reducing actions. Aronson(1968) and Rokeach (1968, 1973)
arguedthatcognitive dissonanceis a significant
theself-conceptis involved.Greenwald& Ronisdescribethepresentstateof
cognitivedissonancetheoryas follows:"The motivational forcein present
versionsof dissonancetheoryhas muchmoreof an ego-defensive charac-
ter. . . . The theoryseems now to be focused on cognitivechanges occurring
in theserviceof ego defense,or self-esteem maintenance,ratherthanin the
interestof preserving
psychological consistency"(1978:54-55).
Othernotabletheorieshaveincreasingly becomeselftheories becauseofthe
perceived importanceoftheself-esteem motiveincognitive functioning-e.g.
Rokeach'svalue theory(1973, 1979), and attribution theory.Rokeachhas
recentlystated:"Thus,in thefinalanalysis,I havecometo viewtheproblem
of attitudechangeand behaviorchangeas being ultimately linkedto the
problem ofhowchangesarebrought aboutin theself"(1979:53). Rokeach's
theory resemblesthereformulated cognitivedissonancetheoryin thatboth
locatethemotivating mechanismin thediscrepancy betweena cognitiveor
behavioral elementand theperson'sself-conception. Such discrepanciesare
motivating, Rokeachpointsout,becausetheythreaten self-maintenance
self-enhancement (1979:53).

As aspectsoftheself-esteem motive,self-enhancement emphasizesgrowth,

expansion,andincreasing one's self-esteem,whileself-maintenance focuses
on notlosingwhatone has. The twoengender behavioralstrategies.
In theirexamination of self-esteem in the classroom,Covington& Beery
(1976) describethesetwomotivational orientationsas "striving forsuccess"
and"fearof failure."In general,personswithlow self-esteem aremotivated
moreby self-maintenance thanby self-enhancement.
In Duval & Wicklund's(1972) self-awareness theory,a motivation to
changearisesfromone's awarenessofan incongruity betweenone's idealized
self-concept and one's self-image(the self as it appearsin behavior).The
individual'sevaluationof selfas less thandesirablemotivates himor herto
improve his/herbehaviorinordertomaintain self-esteem. Duval & Wicklund
emphasizeself-focused attention as theinitialstepinthewholeprocess.They
arguethatcomponentsof self (values, beliefs,identities, etc) exertlittle
influence on individualfunctioning untilactivated.(Thisviewis at oddswith
mostsociologicalandmanypsychological conceptions ofself.)Activation can
be inducedby anystimulussuggestiveof theself-Duval & Wicklundused
mirrors and voice recordings in their studies.Once self-directed attention
comesintoplayitwillgravitate towardthemostsalientfeature oftheself.The
natureofsalienceis notwelldevelopedin thistheory.[By contrast, Rokeach
confronts subjectswithfeedbackdesignedto increasetheirawarenessof
apparent discrepanciesin salientaspectsof theirself-conceptions (Rokeach
1973).] Wicklund(1979) suggeststhat"once attention comes to bear on a
specificdimension of self,self-evaluation takeshold"(1979:189). Thiseval-
uationcan be eitherpositiveor negative;but,accordingto Wicklund,only
negativeself-evaluations have important motivationalconsequences.At first
glance,"self-awareness theory" appearsto be a cognitiveconsistency theory;
butin facttheself-esteem motive,activatedby a negativeself-evaluation, is
offered as themajorimpetusforchange.[See criticism of thispointby Hull
& Levy (1979).]
Withinattribution theory, theemergence of theself-esteem motiveis most
evidentin discussionsof self-serving bias in attributionprocesses(Bradley
1978;Arkinet al 1980;Bowerman1978). Thisbias is thetendency ofpeople
totakecreditforpositiveoutcomeswhiledenyingresponsibility fornegative
outcomes.Bradley's(1978) reviewof theattribution researchrevealsstrong
supportforthe operationof self-serving, or defensive,causal attributions
[Miller& Ross (1975) presenta moreskepticalinterpretation].
Theself-esteem motiveis manifest inthegeneraltendency todistort reality
intheserviceofmaintaining a positiveself-conception, through suchstrategi-
es as selectiveperception(Rosenberg1979),reconstruction ofpersonalhistory
(Greenwald1980), and someof theclassicego-defensive mechanisms (Hil-
gard1949). Rosenberg(1979) showsthatselectivity protectsself-esteem by

influencing(a) whichotherswill be significant (i.e. throughselectiveinter-

action,imputation, and valuation),(b) whichsocial comparisonswill be
made,and(c) whichaspectsoftheself-concept willbe central.Psychological
in theserviceof self-esteem
selectivity is also thebasis of Kaplan's (1975)
theoryof delinquent behavior.Kaplan (1975) proposesthatlow self-esteem
duetofailurein thepursuitof "legitimate"activities increasestheprobability
thata personwill engagein deviantactivitiesand selectdeviantothersas a
referencegroupin an effort
toincreaseself-esteem. His ownresearchandthat
ofothers(Rosenberg& Rosenberg1978) seemsto supportthismotivational
component of self-esteem
in theetiologyof devianceand delinquency.
SELF-ESTEEMAS AN INDEPENDENTVARIABLE There is a vast researchliterature
in whichtheself-concept is considerednotin motivational termsbutforits
effectson a widerangeofpsychological andbehavioralphenomena.Mostof
thisliterature focuseson the evaluative dimensionof self-concept, partly
becauseof the strength and pervasiveness of the self-esteemmotive.As a
result,self-esteem hasbeenrelatedtoalmosteverything atonetimeoranother
(Crandall1973:45). For example,self-esteem has been foundto affectcon-
formity orpersuasibility, interpersonalattraction,moralbehavior,educational
orientations, andvariousaspectsofpersonality andmentalhealth[see Wells
& Marwell(1976) andRosenberg(1981) forreviews].In mostresearchareas,
low self-esteem is associatedwithundesirableoutcomes,such as greater
propensity to engage in delinquentbehavioror lower academicinterests,
aspirations, and achievements.
Highself-esteem is generally viewedas havingfavorable consequences, but
theresearchliterature is by no meansclearon thispoint.To be sure,high
self-esteem is commonlyassociatedwitheffectiveand "healthy"personal
functioning-e.g. confidence andindependence (Rosenberg1965),creativity
and flexibility (Coopersmith 1967), and lowerdispositiontowarddeviance
(Kaplan 1975). But it can also be arguedthatdefensemechanisms operate
moreeffectively andforcefully underconditions ofhighself-esteemto inhibit
theperception of negativeinformation (Byrne1961), therebymakingthe
individualless open to new experiencesand change(Katz & Zigler 1967).
Othersarguethata "medium"amountof self-esteem is optimalforpsycho-
logicalfunctioning, considering boththehighand thelow positionsas dys-
functional (Cole et al 1967). Wells & Marwell(1976:69-73) reviewthe
confusing stateof theresearchon optimalself-esteem.
Partof thereasonforthisconfusionis thathighself-esteem maybe due
eithertogenuinely highself-evaluation, basedon effective performance, orto
"defensively" highself-esteem, based on insecurity and confounded witha
needforsocial approval(Hales 198ib; Crowne& Marlowe1964; Franks&
Marolla(1976). But theproblemis morecomplicatedthanthequestionof
differential bases of self-esteem. It has alreadybeen arguedthatthe self-

esteemmotivedistorts perceptionsandcognitions,
in self-deception.
This may be bothfunctional and dysfunctionalforthe individual.In this
regard,someinteresting butdisconcertingfindings
havebeenreported on the
relationshipbetweenaccuracyof self-perception and depression(Alloy &
Abramson 1979;Lewinsohn& Mischel1980). Lewinsohn& Mischel(1980)
foundthatclinicallydepressedpatientswere morerealisticin theirself-
perceptions(as judgedby thedegreeof congruence betweenself-ratingsand
observerratingson a numberof social competencies)thanwerethosein the
"normal"controlgroup,who weremorelikelyto engagein self-enhancing
This line of researchon the mixedbenefitsof self-esteem led
Mischelto speculatethat"self-enhancing informationprocessingand biased
self-encodingmay be botha requirement forpositiveaffectandthepricefor
achievingit" (1979:752).

The motivation forconsistency and continuity in self-concepts is considered
weakerthanthatforself-enhancement (Jones1973). Some have evenques-
tionedits existenceas a selfmotive(Gergen1968). The researchevidence
seemsto supporttheclaimthatself-esteem is a morepowerfulmotivethan
self-consistency when the two are posed againsteach other(Jones 1973;
Krauss& Critchfield 1975). However,thismaybe due largelyto thenature
ofthecontrasts madeandtheareasoftheirapplication. Comparisons between
therelativeefficacy of self-esteem andself-consistency haveall beenmadeat
theevaluativelevel of theself-concept, a circumstance thatfavorstheself-
esteemmotive.Self-consistency is morerelevant tothesubstantive dimension
of the self-concept, the domainof identitiesand beliefsabout self. Two
literaturesin social psychology addresstheself-consistency motive:thepsy-
chologicalliterature on self-concept as a cognitive organization ofknowledge
and beliefs;and the sociologicalliterature on identities as sourcesof mo-
tivation.In the former, consistency refersto the cognitiveorganization of
attitudesabouttheself.In thelatter,consistency is thecongruence between
identitiesand rolebehaviors.
To considertheself-concept as an organization ofknowledgeis toempha-
size itsinformation processing(or encoding)functions, whichstrivetoward
perceivedconsistency[see Epstein (1973), discussedearlier;Greenwald
(1980);Markus(1977, 1980)]. Lecky(1951), an earlyadvocateoftheconsis-
tencymotive,viewedthemaintenance of a unifiedconceptualsystemas the
overriding needof theindividual.The self-concept as a self-theory (Epstein
1973)seekstomaintain a coherent viewofitselfinordertooperateeffectively
in theworld.Markus(1977) considerstheself-concept to be a collectionof
cognitive generalizations (self-schemata) thatorganizetheprocessing of self-
relevant information. These self-schemata becomeincreasingly resistantto

inconsistentinformation [Fiske& Linville(1980) providea criticalassessment

oftheschemaconceptincurrent socialpsychology]. Hull& Levy(1979) have
recastDuval & Wicklund's(1972) self-awareness theory(whichis based on
theself-esteem motive)intoa theory ofself-concept emphasizing information
processingand the organizationof self-knowledge. They propose that
"self-awareness corresponds to the encodingof information in termsof its
relevancefortheself"(Hull & Levy 1979:757).Greenwald(1980) identifies
themotivational elementintheself-concept (as an organization ofknowledge)
as "cognitive conservatism," whichhe viewsas "thedisposition to preserve
existingknowledgestructures, suchas percepts,schemata(categories),and
memories"(1980:606). The motivationfor cognitiveconservatismand,
hence,perceivedself-consistency, manifests itselfintheactivereconstruction
ofmemories andpersonalhistory, as well as in selectiveperceptions (Green-
wald1980). Thisselectiveprocessing ofinformation is typicallyself-serving,
whichis whyitis sometimes difficult
to distinguish self-esteem theoriesfrom
self-consistencytheories[Greenwald (1980) considersthesetwoself-motives
The self-concept as an organizationof identitiesalso providesa mo-
tivationalbasis forconsistency.Foote (1951) arguedthatindividualsare
motivated to act in accordancewiththe values and normsimpliedby the
identities Morerecently, Stryker (1980) has
arguedthatthehigherthesalienceof an identity withintheself-concept, the
greateris itsmotivational significance, a proposition thathas receivedsome
empiricalsupport(Jackson1981; Santee& Jackson1979; Stryker & Serpe,
1982). The motivationfor consistencyor congruencebetween self-
conceptions, rolepreferences, andbehaviorshasbeendemonstrated inseveral
studies(Backman& Secord 1968; Burke& Reitzes 1981). Note thatself-
consistencydoes not mean actual consistencyand continuityin self-
conception,but ratherthe sense or perceptionof consistency; we have a
tendency to createa sense of self-consistency even if consistency and con-
tinuitymaynotin factexist.


Thetopicof stabilityandchangein self-conceptsoverthelifecyclehas been
of longitudinal
neglected,partlyowing to the difficulties research.Also,
life-cycleconcernshave been dominatedby developmental psychologists
(especiallyPiaget and Kohlberg),withtheir major interestin childhood
development, and by neo-Freudians [especiallyErikson(1959)], withtheir
focus on personalityratherthan on self-conceptper se. A promising
development is theincreasing tohistorical
attention onthelifespan,
suchas Elder's (1974) excellentlongitudinalstudyof a cohortof children

duringtheDepressionand in thefollowingdecades. Some of thishistorical

research has triedto demonstrate thesociohistorical relativity
of someof our
life-spanconceptsand assumptions, especiallyour ideas aboutchildhood,
adolescence, andold age (Gergen1980;vandenBerg1961). Buthereas well,
theself-concept tendsto be an incidental concern.
However, some attempts have been made to considerself-concept changes
in thecontextof life-stageanalyses.Gordon(1976), forexample,uses a
"stage-developmental" modelbasedlargelyonErikson's(1959) delineation of
stage-specific dilemmastodiscusschangesinself-concepts overthelifecycle.
Mostresearchon life-cyclechangesin self-concepts has tendedto focuson
transitions to or froma specific"stage"of development. The bulk of this
researchhas focusedon the transition to adolescence,inspiredlargelyby
Erikson's(1959) notionof an identity crisisassociatedwiththisstage.The
researchevidence,while farfromconsistent(cf Long et al 1967), seems
generally to supportthe idea of a self-concept disturbance in adolescence
(Rosenberg1979; Simmonset al 1973; Simmonset al 1979). Rosenberg
(1979)foundthatthisdisturbance in self-conceptis due,notonlytobiological
andhormonal changes,butespeciallyto theshiftfromelementary schoolto
juniorhigh.The interacting effectsof biological,environmental, and social
factorson self-esteem in earlyadolescenceareexaminedin greaterdetailby
Simmons etal (1979), whofoundthattheshiftfromelementary tojuniorhigh
is morestressful forgirlsthanboys,andis especiallyhardon theself-esteem
of earlymaturing (pubertal)girlswhohavebegundating.The shifttojunior
highhadlittleeffect on boys' self-esteem, butearlyphysicaldevelopment had
a positive effect.Clausen(1975) also foundearlymaturation to be advan-
tageousforboys' self-concepts, especiallyforthosefromthelowerclass.
Alongwithself-esteem and body-image,otheraspectsof the self-concept
foundto be affected by thetransition fromchildhoodto adolescenceare the
locusand contentof self-knowledge [e.g. see Rosenberg(1979) on theshift
from"external" to "internal"selfattributions, Gordon(1976) on changesin
thecontentof role-identities, and Montemayor & Eisen (1977) on changes
fromconcreteto abstractmodesof self-representation].
Laterlifestageshavenotreceivednearlyas muchattention as adolescence.
Recently, someinterest has beendirectedtowardthe"middleyears"andthe
"mid-lifecrisis"(Brim1976; Levinson,1978), and towardold age and the
varioustransitions associatedwithit, suchas retirement, the"emptynest,"
bereavement, anddeath.Thesearepromising developments, thoughthislite-
is onlyindirectly concernedwithmatters of self-concept.
Focuson stagesofthelifecycleis notnecessarily thebestwayofaddressing
thequestionof continuity and changein self-concepts over time.Another
approach is toexaminethestructure andcontent of self-concepts acrosstime,
withan eyeto determining theirstability,variability,andmodeofinteraction

withlifeevents.In a sophisticated andinnovative analysis,Mortimer andher

colleagues(Mortimer et al 1981; Mortimer & Lorence1980) examinedsta-
bilityand changein self-concept in a panel studyof 368 men. Usingfour
separatecriteriaof self-conceptstability,Mortimer et al (1981) founda high
levelof stabilityforthissampleon fourself-concept dimensions.Theyalso
demonstrate how earlyself-concept (focusingon the"senseof competence"
dimension) shapesone's lifeeventsin theareasofworkandfamily,andhow
theselifeevents,inturn,havean independent effect on self-concept.Through
a seriesof regression analyses,Mortimer et al (1981) demonstrate "thatthe
relationshipbetweenlifeexperiences andtheself-concept is truly


Measurement continuesto be a seriousproblemfacingresearchon theself-

conceptandthemajorobstacletocumulative andvalidknowledge inthisarea.
Thereare severalexcellentreviewsand critiquesof the multitude of self-
conceptmeasures:Crandall(1973), Wells & Marwell(1976), and Wylie
(1974, 1979) focusmainlyon measuresof self-evaluation; and Spitzeret al
(1971; Spitzer1976) deal withtheTwentyStatements Test. Wylie's(1974,
1979) extensivereviewsgive themostdismalpictureof themethodological
stateofself-concept research.She amplydocuments theprevalenceofinstru-
mentsofuntested orquestionable reliabilityandvalidity,manyusedonlyonce
or twice.Note, however,thatsuch problemscharacterize mostsocial and
psychological measurement (Wells& Marwell1976:250),andhaveespecially
plaguedcognitiveand motivational constructs.
Scholarsin thisarea are at leastbecomingsensitiveto problemsof mea-
surement [whichevenWylie(1974:324) acknowledges as a favorablesign].
This is mostevidentin the studyof substantive self-concept (identities),
where,indeed,themostworkhas beenneeded.The TST, themostfrequently
used measureof identities,has been severelycriticizedas a measureof
self-conceptforits lack of reliabilityand its questionablevalidity(Wells &
Marwell1976:120;Wylie1974:246),as well as forthelimitations itimposes
on statistical
analysis(Jackson1981). Severalpromising measuresof identi-
tieshaverecently appeared.Burke& Tully(1977) haveproposedtheuse of
multiple-discriminant analysison an "Osgood-type"semanticdifferential
scaleto discoverempirically the(connotative) meaningsassociatedwithpar-
Burke(1980) considersthisprocedureto be consistent
withthemeasurement requirements foran interactionist
conceptionof role-
Another development is Jackson's(1981) measureof commitment
to role-identities,
a 23-itemindexwithapparently good reliabilityand con-
structvalidity.Burke& Tully,as well as Jackson,have shunnedtheopen-

endedformat oftheTST. Turner(Turner& Schutte1981),on theotherhand,

is developing
an open-ended instrument people's
to elicitresponsesregarding
senseof their"real selves" and "falseselves." For certainaspectsof self-
concept,an open-endedformat is stillthemostappropriate measure.


The self-concept is rapidlybecomingthedominant concernin socialpsychol-

ogy. In sociology,whereit has long been a centralconcernof symbolic
interactionists, the past decade has seen increasedefforts to examinethe
relationship betweensocial organization and thecontentand organization of
self-concepts. In psychology,the past decade or so has witnessedthe
emergence of a number of specificselftheoriesandtheconversion of several
majorcognitiveandbehavioraltheoriesintoselftheories.The pervasiveness
of theprocessesof self-concept maintenance and enhancement may have
precipitated whathas cometo be considereda crisisin socialpsychology. A
key factorin thiscrisisforpsychologicalsocial psychologyhas been the
realizationthatthe laboratoryexperiment is a social situationin which
"demandcharacteristics" and "situatedidentities"are as relevantto the
subjects'behavioras are theintendedexperimental manipulations.
Sociologicalsocialpsychology has tendedto focuson thedevelopment of
self-concepts, withan eyeto social structural andcontextual influences.Psy-
chologicalsocialpsychology has beenmoreinterested in theconsequencesof
self-concepts forindividual functioning. Still,severaltrendsin therecentself
literatureare commonto bothdisciplines.One is theincreasing tendency to
viewtheself-concept as active.The themeofhumanagencyis, ofcourse,an
oldonein socialpsychology (as wellas inphilosophy). New is theattempt to
capture thisactiveaspectoftheself-concept empirically. A relatedtrendis the
increasing recognition thattheselfanditssocialworldarereciprocally deter-
mined,an idea withbothmethodological and theoretical implications (of
Snyder1981; Wentworth 1980). This bringsme to thethirdtrend:greater
concern[mainlydissatisfaction (Wylie,1974)] withthecurrent stateof self-
conceptmeasurement. One hopes thisintellectual discomfort will be con-
vertedintothecreationof moreadequatemeasuresof self-constructs.
Thecurrent "crisis"in socialpsychology mayultimately be resolvedbyan
integratedself-theory, as severalscholarshavesuggested (Marlowe& Gergen
1969:643;Sherif1977); butwe stillhavea long wayto go. How toreconcile
theneedfora moreanthropomorphic conception ofthehumanbeing(McCall
& Simmons1978:254), one sensitiveto the reciprocity in the self-con-
cept/environment relationship, withtheneedforgreatermethodological pre-
cisionis themajorchallengein thestudyof theself-concept.


I wishto thankMorrisRosenberg,JeylanMortimer, Susan Hales, Milton

Rokeach,Michael Schwalbe,DrethaPhillips,and Ralph Turnerfortheir
helpfulcomments and criticisms
of earlierdrafts.Workon thispaperwas
supportedin partby Project0364, Departmentof RuralSociology,Agricul-
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