Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 4: Effects of the self: Processes of self-regulation (pp. 114–125)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. The Self and Thoughts About Ourselves and Others (pp. 114–115)
    1. Processing self-relevant information
    2. The self-concept and perceiving others
  2. The Self and Emotions: For Me or Against Me? (pp. 115–118)
    1. How do emotions arise?
    2. Appraisals, emotions, and bodily responses: All together now
  3. The Self in Action: Regulating Behavior (pp. 118–121)
    1. Self-guides (Higgins, 1987)
    2. Self-discrepancy theory
    3. Negative effects of self-discrepancies
  4. Temptations and Other Threats to Self-regulation (pp. 121–122)
    1. Short-term benefits and long-term goals
    2. Depletion
  5. Taking Account of Other People's Standards (pp. 122–125)
    1. Following standards
    2. From self to behavior, and back again
    3. Personality differences in behavior: Self-monitoring
The Self and Thoughts About Ourselves and Others
Processing self-relevant information

Once the self-concept is established it is hard to change, and information about the self is processed in a self-affirmative way. However, people who have an unstable self tend to have low self-esteem and high emotional reactivity to daily events.

The self-concept and perceiving others

The self-concept also influences the way we perceive others: We compare others with our own central traits. The self-concept serves as an organizing framework for perceiving and remembering information about people in general.

The Self and Emotions: For Me or Against Me?
How do emotions arise?

The prevailing view today is that emotions are caused by appraisal of a self-relevant object or event. An appraisal is an interpretation of an event, including both the causes of the event and how the event affects the self. Two appraisals are important in influencing emotions:

These appraisals are flexible and can change over situations. Sometimes our appraisals of the cause of the event are wrong, because we are misled by other salient cues.

The way we appraise events and experience emotions also depends on our culture.

Appraisals, emotions, and bodily responses: All together now

Our appraisals not only lead to emotions, but also to behavioral responses like smiling, frowning, and escaping. Furthermore, emotions affect thinking. All these reactions are frequently activated together, so that they become associated. As a result, one aspect can engage all the rest. For example, imitating a smile actually makes you feel happier (see Strack et al., 1988).

Case study: Bodily signs of emotion often intensify emotional feelings

The Self in Action: Regulating Behavior
Self-guides (Higgins, 1987)

Self-guides are personal standards toward which we strive. There are two forms: the ideal self (the person we would like to be) and the ought self (the person we feel we should be).

Self-discrepancy theory

Self-discrepancy theory (Strauman & Higgins, 1988) says that the difference between who we think we actually are and our self-guides influences our emotional well-being and ultimately our self-esteem. Ideal selves represent positive outcomes toward which people strive, termed promotion goals. Ought selves generally involve negative outcomes that people try to avoid, or prevention goals.

The very same goal can represent a promotion goal for one person and a prevention goal for another person.

There are individual differences within cultures in the impact of goals, and there are differences between cultures: members of collectivistic cultures generally focus on prevention goals, whereas members of individualist cultures tend to emphasize promotion goals.

Negative effects of self-discrepancies

Self-discrepancies motivate us to meet our personal goals and standards, but at a price: awareness of our failures to meet our goals is painful and in extreme cases triggers negative emotions, lowered self-esteem, and even depression.

Factors that can exaggerate our awareness of discrepancies:

Temptations and Other Threats to Self-regulation
Short-term benefits and long-term goals

Short-term benefits may challenge our long-term goals. To resist these short-term benefits, we can reward ourselves for sticking to our long-term goal. Another strategy is to change the things we ought to do into things we want to do.

Depletion

Self-regulation leads to depletion, which leads to loss of self-regulation.

Taking Account of Other People's Standards
Following standards

We do not only follow our own standards, but we also follow standards provided by others, even in a very unconscious way. However, we do not always follow standards that others provide us. Sometimes we behave in a particular with the aim of affecting people:

From self to behavior, and back again

Self-presentation not only affects impressions that others hold of us, but also affects our impressions of ourselves, provided that there is an audience for our self-presentation.

Personality differences in behavior: Self-monitoring

Everyone engages in both self-expression and self-presentation. However, people show a stable preference for one or the other, called self-monitoring: High self-monitors want to satisfy the demands of the situations and engage in self-presentation, while low self-monitors try to show who they are and what they stand for, and engage in self-expression.

So what does this mean?

The self-concept is a relatively stable construct. To keep this construct stable, people have several strategies. The other way around, our self-knowledge influences our perception of others. Perceptions of situations lead to appraisals of the situation that in turn lead to emotions. These emotions involve the whole self, body, and mind. According to self-discrepancy theory, people compare themselves with (ideal and ought) self-views, which lead to a motivation to behave in particular ways. This is especially the case when people are self-aware. The self also directs behavior in two ways: self-expression or self-presentation, depending on the level of self-monitoring.

Next topic

Defending the self: Coping with stresses, inconsistencies, and failures

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 4 introduction
  2. Constructing the self-concept: What we know about ourselves
  3. Constructing self-esteem: How we feel about ourselves
  4. Effects of the self: Processes of self-regulation
  5. Defending the self: Coping with stresses, inconsistencies, and failures
  6. Chapter overview (PDF)
  7. Fill-in-the-blanks
  8. Multiple-choice questions