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Chapter 11: Understanding Self & Others
WHO AM I? SELF-CONCEPT
• Self-Concept: Attitudes, behaviours, and values that a person believes make him or her a unique
Origins of Self-Recognition
• William James: Foundation of self-concept is the child’s awareness of his/her own existence,
independently of other people and objects in the environment and continuing over time.
• I-Self: Self as observer, experiencer, knower and actor – I sense parts of myself, I know myself,
continuity of identity, coherence, and agency. I-self develops early in infancy.
• Me-Self: Attributes of me, e.g. material characteristics, psychological characteristics, and social
characteristics. Testing this requires verbal report.
• 2-4 Months: Understanding of agency
• 8 Months: Separation anxiety, understanding of self separate from mother.
• 9 to 12 Months: Joint attention and social referencing
• At 9 months, a baby looks at a mirror and touches the face or waves at it – interacting with the image
as an interesting stimulus without recognizing themselves
• Rouge test with a red mark on the infant’s face; at around 18 months, babies see the red mark in the
mirror, then reach up and touch their own noses instead of simply reaching for the mark in the mirror at
12 months. By age 2 (24 months), most children are capable of this.
• This has been tested with infants who have never seen mirrors previously to remove confound, with
Israeli desert communities. These infants show the same developmental trend.
• Around 20 months, toddlers look more at photographs of themselves than of other children, start
referring to themselves by name or with personal pronouns (I, me), and sometimes know their age and
gender. These all suggest that self-awareness is well-established by age 2.
• Development of self-conscious emotions such as shame and pride around age 2. The Terrible Twos of
saying no and refusing to act by parents’ instructions show ability to differentiate their own desires and
goals from parents, learning to think for themselves independently.
• Self-awareness grows from social interaction in infancy, differentiating that interactions involve different
roles for the caregiver and infant (my and other roles).
• Infant’s understanding of their own body is another root of self-awareness, from observing their own
movements to pinpoint “that’s not just any hand, that’s my hand” by 3-5 months. Play with objects
contributes, providing opportunities to explore how their movements relate to the physical world.
• Soon after self-awareness develops, autobiographical memory emerges with recognition of continuity
in the self over time. This is fostered by conversations with parents about the past and future, e.g.
• Understanding of ownership also implies awareness of continuity of self over time, with past
experience of playing with the toy extending to ownership in the present
• Once self-awareness is established with understanding of their existence and a unique mental life, they
begin to want to define themselves by acquiring a self-concept
The Evolving Self-Concept
• For preschoolers, self-concept consists of observable concrete attributes such as physical
characteristics, preferences, possessions, and competencies (“I can count to 50”). They also emphasize
personal characteristics that are relatively unchanging across time and setting, and tend to overestimate
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• Asian children have self-concepts defined more by social relationships
• At 5-7 years, self-concepts tend to include more emotions, social groups to which they belong (“I’m
on the hockey team”), and describe their level of skill compared to peers (“I’m the best speller in my
• Use higher-order descriptors, such as “I’m smart” rather than “I’m good with words”
• In adolescence, self-concepts include attitudes (“I love
chemistry”) and personality traits, as well as religious and
political beliefs. Self-concept also tends to vary with setting.
• Adolescents’ self-concepts are also future-oriented, such as
occupational goals, educational plans, or social roles
• With age, self-concept becomes richer and the type of
knowledge individuals have of themselves changes.
Adolescents’ understanding is more abstract and
psychological – this reflects the type of developmental trend
Piaget describes, moving from the real and tangible to the
abstract and hypothetical.
• Early adolescents in grade 7 may feel distress at opposing
attributes, but later realize self can be different in different
contexts – unify separate traits into higher-order descriptors. E.g. Adaptable in social settings vs. being
distressed over being sociable with friends but reserved
The Search for Identity
• Adolescents use hypothetical reasoning skills to
experiment with different selves, imagining themselves in
different roles particularly career-oriented. Testing is also
romantically-oriented, or involve religious and political
• Adolescent Egocentrism describes the self-absorption
that marks the teenage search for identity. Adolescents
know others have different perspectives on the world, but
still wrongly believe they are the focus of others’ thinking.
This phenomenon is the imaginary audience – their
performance is being watched constantly by peers.
• Personal Fable: Adolescent tendency to believe their experiences and feelings are unique, that no one
has ever felt or thought as they do, and that no one could understand the power of their emotions.
• Illusion of Invulnerability: Misbelief that misfortune only occurs to others, e.g. they believe they can
have sex without becoming pregnant since that misfortune could not happen to them.
• These biases all become less common as adolescents progress towards achieving an identity.
• Erikson: Adolescent identity crisis, as part of a particular psychological or social crisis that must be met
and resolved in each of the 8 stages across the lifespan. This could result in two opposing outcomes,
identity or role confusion.
• Marcia: In dealing with the identity crisis, experience different phases or statuses:
o Diffusion: Individuals in this state are confused or overwhelmed by the task of achieving an
identity, and are doing little to achieve one.
o Moratorium: Still examining different alternatives, yet to find a satisfactory identity
o Foreclosure: Passively accept an identity determined largely by adults, rather than from
personal exploration of alternatives. May be much more common in cultures without same
opportunities for exploration as North American adolescents. Page 362-383, 21 pages Page 3 of 8
o Achievement: Have explored alternatives and have deliberately chosen a specific identity.
More mature and motivated than the other phases.
• These 4 phases do not necessarily occur in sequence. In the diffusion and foreclosure states,
adolescents are avoiding the crisis or the choice of defining an identity.
• Over time, achievement and moratorium become more common – but are occurring later in life with
higher university/college and grad school attendance rates
• Individuals do not reach achievement status for all aspects of identity at the same time, e.g. for
occupation before religion, or vice versa.
Diffusion Moratorium Foreclosure Achievement
Crisis Present or In crisis Absent Has occurred
Commitment Absent Present but vague Present – strong but Has occurred – is
comes from others committed, decision
made on own terms
Family Parents laissez- Adolescents often Parents overly Parents encourage
Factors faire in child- involved in involved with children autonomy and
rearing; ambivalent struggle Families avoid connections with
rejecting or with parental expressing teachers; differences
unavailable authority explored
Personality Mixed results: Most anxious and High levels of High ego development,
Factors low ego- fearful of success authoritarianism and moral reasoning, self-
development, stereotypical thinking, certainty, self-esteem,
moral-reasoning High ego obedience to performance under
and self- reasoning, self- authority, dependent stress, and intimacy
certainty esteem relationships
Choosing a Career
• Crystallization: Use of emerging identities, talents, and interests as a source of ideas about careers,
around age 13-14. Decisions are provisional, with experimenting with hypothetical careers and trying to
envision what each may be like.
• Specification: Individuals around age 18 further limit their career possibilities my learning more about
specific careers and starting to obtain training required for a specific job. Those choosing higher
education choose certain universities and programs, while others may begin apprenticeships at a trade.
• Implementation: End of teenager years and early 20s, where individuals enter the workforce and learn
first-hand about jobs. This includes learning about responsibility, productivity, getting along with co-
workers, and altering one’s lifestyle to accommodate work. This period is often unstable, an individual
may change jobs frequently.
• There is continuous give-and-take between an individual’s identity and career choice; one’s self-
concept makes some careers more attractive than others, and occupational experiences in turn refine
and shape identity.
• Interest in expressive or artistic activities, and interest in working with one’s hands or outdoors remain
stable across adolescence and young adulthood.
• When parents encourage discussion and recognize autonomy, the children are more likely to reach
achievement status – encouraged to undertake personal experimentation. In contrast, parents who set
up rules with little justification and strict enforcement keep their children in the foreclosure status.
• Women who had achievement and foreclosed identity statuses were most likely to have securely
attached children, due to a strong sense of self and a high commitment status, enhancing parenting.
Ethnic Identity Page 362-383, 21 pages Page 4 of 8
• About 18.5% of adolescents and young adults in Canada are members of an ethnic minority group. An
ethnic identity is feeling a part of one’s ethnic group and learning the special customs and traditions of
their group’s culture and heritage (ethnicity and cultural, not race)
• This identity is achieved by first examining their ethnic roots, demonstrating interest in their heritage.
Adolescents begin to explore the personal impact of their ethnic heritage, such as by learning cultural
traditions and going to cultural festivals. Individuals then achieve a distinct ethnic self-concept.
• Older adolescents more likely to have achieved an ethnic identity due to more opportunities to explore
their cultural heritage. Encouragement by parents and preparation for possible discrimination also help.
• Ethnic identity questioning highest in adolescence, more aware of racism and questioning values of
• Unlike native-born ethnic children, immigrant adolescents face the task of negotiating a culture largely
unfamiliar to them when they enter a new country, and do not immediately identify with their new culture.
• Adolescents with a strong ethnic identity tend to have higher self-esteem and find their social
interactions more satisfying; they’re happier, worry less, and do better in school.
• A strong ethnic identity has protective effects against prejudice
• Some are able to have a well-defined ethnic self-concept and identify strongly with mainstream culture,
while for others identifying with the mainstream weakened ethnic identity in others
Ethnic-Identity Component Preschool Level Early School Level
Ethnic knowledge Simple, global knowledge Complex and specific knowledge,
including cultural traits
Ethnic self-identification Empty labels: “I’m Mexican Meaningful labels: “I’m Mexican
because my mom says so” because my family is from Mexico”
Ethnic constancy Don’t understand Understand permanence of ethnicity
Ethnic-role behaviours Engage in and describe Engage in more role behaviours, know
behaviours, but don’t understand about ethnic relevance
Ethnic feelings an Undeveloped: do as their families Have feelings and preferences
• As successive generations become more assimilated into mainstream culture, their ethnic identity may
• Acculturation: The process of integrating into and adopting the customs of a different culture.
• Adolescents completed questionnaires which measured acculturation, cultural identity, language
proficiency, contact with peers w