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Chapter 5 discusses research and theory on individual differences (the person who is in the situation
being studied by social psychologists), especially identity, gender, and dispositions (or personality traits).
The goal of the chapter is to identify some of the personal characteristics that have been studied most often
by social psychologists to understand social behaviour.
Many measures of individual differences have been developed and validated over the last 20 or 30
years, so social psychologists today can find measures to assess a wide variety of dispositions. This
availability of diverse measures has resulted in more and more social psychologists using personality or
identity measures in their studies even if their primary interest is not individual differences. Thus,
personality psychology has become increasingly integrated into experimental social psychology. The close
relationship between social and personality psychology is illustrated by the premier journal in social
psychology, which is the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In addition to having personality
in its title, one of the three subsections of this journal is titled Personality Processes and Individual
Differences (the other two subsections are Attitudes and Social Cognition and Interpersonal Relations and
Group Processes). The increasing integration of social and personality psychology is highly desirable
because it adds a new perspective on social behaviour.
File: Self-Concept and Identity
Self-Concept and Identity
The first section of the chapter addresses the self peoples conceptions of who they are and how
they differ from others. Not surprisingly, peoples conceptions of themselves are extremely important
determinants of their emotions and actions. The textbook distinguishes between several terms in the domain
of the self. The self-concept refers to all information about the self in memory, which is extensive. Identity
refers to the specific characteristics that people think define them, so it is more limited than the self-concept.
Self-esteem refers to peoples judgments of their own worthiness whether they are generally good or
deficient individuals. Each of these concepts is important and is discussed in the textbook.
As we just mentioned, the self-concept contains all information about the self in memory. The
quantity of information about the self is very substantial, because most of our memories about the past and
most of our expectations for the future involve the self. One issue that the textbook does not address is how
this information about the self is organized. What structures are used to impose order and to make
information about the self easily retrievable?
Hazel Markus (1977) suggested that people possess self-schemas in certain domains, which organize
existing information and influence the processing of new information. A self-schema is a set of beliefs and
expectations about ones behaviour in a certain domain. We possess self-schemas about ourselves in some
domains but not in others. If an individual possesses a self-schema in a particular domain, he or she is
labelled schematic for that domain, which means that he or she has strong beliefs and expectations about the
self in that domain. People who do not have strong beliefs or expectations about the self in a certain domain
are labelled aschematic.
Markus (1977) determined whether people were schematic or aschematic in a particular domain by
asking them to rate themselves on the domain and to rate the importance of this domain to them: people
who rate themselves as extreme on a dimension and state that the dimension is very important to them are
schematic for that domain; people who are not extreme or who do not consider the dimension to be
important are aschematic.
Lets consider an example to illustrate the implications of self-schemas. We will use the domain ofextraversion. Do you consider yourself to be very extraverted, very introverted, or somewhere in between?
Also, how important is this domain to your self-description that is, how important is extraversion or
introversion to how you see yourself? If you consider yourself to be very extraverted or very introverted
and you consider this part of your self-concept to be important, then you are schematic for this domain. If,
on the other hand, you consider yourself to be low or moderate on extraversion/introversion or if this
dimension is not very central to how you view yourself, then you are aschematic for this dimension.
What are the consequences of being schematic versus aschematic for a particular domain? One
straightforward effect is that people who are schematic for a dimension possess a lot of information about
themselves in that domain and are confident about their self-view. For instance, someone who is schematic
for extraversion can quickly generate many examples of his or her own extraverted behaviour and is
skeptical of arguments that he or she might be shy. A second consequence of a self-schema is that it
influences perceptions of other people. For example, someone who is schematic for extraversion will notice
the degree of extraversion in other people and will categorize others on the basis of their extraversion. In
this regard, the self-schema functions like a chronically accessible concept in perceiving others. Recall
from Chapter 3 on Social Cognition that chronic accessibility refers to whether a concept is easily activated
in general (across time and situations). Because self-schemas are chronically accessible, they affect not
only self-perception but also how other people are perceived.
Returning now to material in the textbook, the section Is It Me or We? discusses the importance of
social groups in personal identity. Individuals group memberships often constitute central elements in how
they see themselves. For example, someone might define herself as a Canadian, as a student at Western, as
a Psychology Major, and so on. Each of these group memberships provides information that distinguishes
her from most other individuals. The textbook points out that these social aspects of identity are even
more central for