How the Self concept Develops

Behaviorists have formed various theories of how people develop their self concepts. Social interaction provides the basis for most of these theories. Four particular views of self concept development are presented below:

Self Appraisal

Some theorists believe that a person fashions a self concept by labeling his own dominant behavior patterns according to what is socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior. For example certain behaviors are classified as social and others are labeled as anti social. By observing his own behavior a person might begin to develop an awareness that his behavior falls into the general category antisocial. With repeated confirmation of this label, a portion of the person’s self concept emerges playing a dominant role in how he views himself.

Reflected Appraisal

A second theory of self concept development is termed reflected appraisal or the looking glass self. Basically this theory holds that appraisals a person receives form others mold the self concept. The extent of this influence depends upon characteristics of the appraiser and his or her appraisal. Specifically, greater impact on the development of a person’s self concept is said to occur when : (1) the appraiser is perceived as a highly credible source, (2) the appraiser takes a very personal interest in the person being appraised (3) the appraisal is very discrepant with the person’s self concept at the moment, (4) the number of confirmations of a given appraisal is high , (5) the appraisals coming from a variety of sources are consistent and (6) appraisals are supportive of the person’s own beliefs about himself or herself. Appraisals from significant others such as parents close friends trusted colleagues and other persons the individuals strongly admires influences self concept development.

Social Comparison

The reflected appraisal theory gives a rather depressing picture of self concept development because it emphasizes that people are passive and merely reflect the appraisals of others. The social comparison theory, however, states that people’s self concepts depend on how they see themselves in relation to others. Thorstein Veblen the major proponent of this theory was curious as to why people so strongly desired to acquire more goods and services than were necessary to meet their physical needs. The absolute amount of products, property, and services was not as important, he felt as the relative amount accumulated that is in comparison with others. The end sought by accumulation is to rank high in comparison with the rest of the community. So long as the comparison is distinctly unfavorable to him self, the normal average individual will live in chronic dissatisfaction.

This theory has much more direct bearing upon the development of marketing strategies that have the theories discussed so far. In particular this view of how people perceive themselves is dependent upon their perception of their relative status as compared to social class, reference groups and other groups important to them. By determining which groups a person compares himself or herself to in the consumption of products and services, marketers can develop messages that communicate the group referent’s use of particular products and brands. Purchases would then be seen by the person as a means to increase relative position in the group.

Festinger improved upon the social comparison theory by arguing that people need to affirm continuously that their beliefs and attitudes are correct and that they compare their beliefs and attitudes with others to determine the validity of their own. If, for example a person is asked whether she is conservative, Romantic, or sociable the answer will depend to large extent on how the person perceives herself in comparison with others.

Biased Scanning

The last theory we shall discuss is concerned with motivation and biased scanning. In essence this theory views self concept development in terms of identify aspirations and biased scanning of the environment for information to confirm how well the person is meeting his or her aspirations. It suggests that a person who aspires (is motivated) to be a good lawyer for example will seek out information that help to confirm this aspiration and filter out information that contradicts it. Thus, perceptual scanning is biased toward ourselves as we would like to be (that is, it is toward self gratification)

As we can see, thee theories of self concept development take somewhat different views of how people see themselves. In reality probably all of the theories are working to some extent. Our self concepts are very likely shaped to varying degrees according to how we perceive ourselves relative to others, our levels of aspirations and biased selection of information about ourselves the labeling of ourselves according to how we perceive society categorizes us, and the reflected appraisals of significant others.