Alternative views of the self

Especially in the field of consumer behavior, a wide variety of philosophies regarding the self have emerged. These viewpoints can be generally divided into two groups: single and multiple component theories. Those using a single component perspective have focused on the actual self – the perception of oneself as one believes she actually is.

Other researchers subscribe to multiple component perspectives, which argue that a full understanding of the self is best obtained by using schemes that account for two or more components or dimensions. The simplest multiple component model proposes that the self is two dimensional having an ideal as well as an actual component. The ideal self may be defined as the perception of oneself as one would ideally like to be. Other multiple component advocates have suggested additional aspects which would extend views of the self into three or more dimensions. Among several viewpoints, these newer perspectives include the social self – the perception of oneself as one believes others actually perceive him to be the ideal social self – the perception of one’s image as he would like others to have of him; and the expressive self – the ideal self or the social self, depending on situational and social factors. Figure graphically portrays these components of the self.

While this wide variety of perspectives on self concept has led to a degree of confusion in the field some researchers have recently argued that the various definitions should be viewed as complements to each other rather than as competing viewpoint to choose among. One recent argument along this line is that the self has a variety of dimensions (actual, ideal, social and the like) and the consumer’s goals as well as the situation she confronts at any particular time, will determine which aspects of the self will influence her behavior. For example the ideal self may be the predominant influence on an individual when she is purchasing sweaters while the actual self may exert a strong influence when she is purchasing an automobile.

Major areas of Investigation

A comprehensive review of the self concept area identified five major types of research investigations relating consumer behavior to self concept:

1) Attempts to determine if specific types of self concepts are related to socioeconomic or psychological factors such as social stratification and personality.
2) Studies of whether the behavior of consumers is related to the degree of congruity between their self concepts and their perception of product and brand images.
3) Investigations of the degree to which consumers’ behavior is consistent with their perceptions of themselves (such as, do consumers who perceive themselves as innovative tend to act as innovators in their purchasing patterns?)
4) Studies relating to the possibility that consumers attribute their self images to products that have similar images, or to products that they regularly purchase ( I purchase this product so it must be like me)
5) Research focused on whether product images that is consistent with the consumer’s self concept influence his self perceptions (This product resembles me in a number of ways, so I probably am like it in many other ways).

Although a comprehensive treatment of each is beyond the scope of this article, we turn our attention to one major focus of investigation as described in item two above how the behavior of consumers is related to the degree of congruity between their self concepts and their perception of products.