Textbook Chapter 3: The Self
The self is an important tool with which the human organism makes its way through human
society and thereby manages to satisfy its needs. To be effective at this, the human self has
taken shape in a way that is marked by some deep, powerful drives. Among these drives is a
strong concern with how one is perceived by others. This drive mostly serves the goal of
survival or reproduction. However, it is human tendency to care broadly about what other
people think of you; even people that you do not depend on for survival or reproduction.
What is the self?
The self is something hard to define. Some brain researchers claim that the self is an
illusion, mostly because they cannot find an area of the brain that corresponds to the self.
But we know the self exists because of how we act in our everyday lives. Without the self,
how would we know who we were in relation to others, and who, for example, a $20 bill
The Selfs Main Jobs
Selves are structured to serve a function
Much of the self is designed to enable you to relate to others, including claiming and
sustaining a place in a cultural system that connects you to many other people
There is also the conflict between selfish impulse and social conscious. The self
knows what is best for them. But on the other hand, selfishness must be kept under
control if society is to operate effectively, and selves often incorporate the morals
and other values of the culture. These morals often tell you what is best for the
group. Hence the self must be able to understand these social morals and other
values- plus be able to act on them, even when that requires overriding ones
natural, selfish impulses.
The self has 3 main parts:
Self-knowledge (or self Interpersonal self (or Agent self (or executive
concept) public self) function)
Information about self Self-presentation Decision making
Self-awareness Member of groups Self-control
Self-esteem Relationship partner Taking charge of situations
Self-deception Social roles Active Responding
These parts correspond to several main things that the self does.
Self-awareness allows one to make elaborate sets of believes about
the self. The self reflects on itself and stores information about itself
as well. o Interpersonal self:
Most people have a certain image that they try to convey to others.
This public self bears some resemblance to the self-concept, but the
two are not the same.
The self is often working in complex ways to gain social acceptance
and maintain good interpersonal relationships.
o Agent self:
This is the part that gets things done. It enables the self to make
choices and exert control, including both self-control and control
over other people (and things). Basically whenever you make a
decision to do something, this is the agent self.
Who makes the self: The individual or society?
Probably the best account of the origins of selfhood is that the self comes into being
at the interface between the inner biological processes of the human body and the
sociocultural network to which the person belongs (that is, the other people in the
society, plus its general store of common beliefs and practices).
o Society is very important to the presence of a self; if you lived on a deserted
island, there would be no point in having a name, an ethnic identity, a set of
morals, etc. At most you would have preferences, but they would not seem
like personal values since no one would be around to have an opinion
o Then again, even without meeting other humans, a person might still have a
conception of self as a body separate from its environment. (Eg: the
difference between dropping a stone on your foot and dropping it on a tree
root is an important sign of self).
A True or Real Self?
o Most people like to think that they have an inner true self, but most social
scientists are sceptical of this. They ask if the inner self is different from the
presented self, what makes the inner one the true self?
o The idea of an inner true self different from behaviour may have its origins
in class prejudices. Back when social mobility began to increase, so that
some aristocrats became poor while merchants became rich, the upper
classes wanted to continue believing that they were inherently better than
other people even if the others had more money. The upper class could not
point to obvious differences in behaviour, because in many instances
aristocrats had deplorable behaviour. Hence the upper class settled on the
view that the superiority of the blue bloods lay in their inner traits that
could not be directly seen.
o Fiction or not, people still believe in the inner true self, and this belief
affects how they act. Ralph Turner noted that different cultures (or different
groups or historical eras within a culture) may differ in their ideas about the true self by placing emphasis on either of two main approaches: impulse and
Self as impulse refers to the persons inner thoughts and feelings.
Self as institution refers to the way that the person acts in public,
especially in official roles.
o Many people realize that they sometimes put on a public performance that
differs from how they feel inside. Turners point was that cultures disagree
as to whether the public actions or the inner feelings count as the more real
or true side to the self.
o Attitudes towards marriage may reflect different attitudes about the real
In cultures that emphasize self as impulse, the actual wedding
ceremony and its legal or religious significance are secondary.
Marriage is seen as a psychological union of two persons, and what
matters is how they feel about each other. If they fall out of love, they
may justify leaving their spouse as being true to themselves.
Therefore a marriage is only as good as the current emotional state
of the partners.
In contrast, in a culture that emphasizes the self as an institution
downplays the inner feelings and instead places great significance on
role performance. A couple may have a good marriage if they act the
way they are supposed to as husband and wife, even if they cease to
love each other. The actual wedding society counts much more in
such societies than it does among the impulse-oriented societies,
because it is at the wedding that the real self changes to become
married in the eyes of society.
Culture and Interdependence
o Selves are somewhat different across different cultures. The most studied
set of such cultural differences involves independence vs. interdependence.
This dimension of difference entails different attitudes toward the self and
different motivations as to what the self mainly tries to accomplish, and it
results in different emphases about what the self is.
o Markus and Kitayama and Triandis:
Asians differ from North Americans and Europeans in how they
think of themselves and how they seek to construct the self in
relation to others.
They introduced the term self-construal, which means a way of
thinking about the self.
An independent self-construal emphasizes what makes the self
different and sets it apart from others. An interdependent self-
construal emphasizes what connects the self to other people and
groups. For example, describe yourself in a list of words. If most of
the words are personal attributes, this is more independent.
If most of the words are connections to other people, this is
They contended that Easterners (Japan, China, Korea) tend to be
more interdependent, whereas Westerners (USA, Canda, Western
Europe) tend to be more independent. These differences are not just
superficial ways of talking about the self; they represent deep seated
differences in what the person strives to become.
o What are selves for?
The self has to gain social acceptance; people are not meant to live
alone. The self is a tool people use to accomplish goals.