Category: The self

Most of us have some insight into our personality traits, but how self-aware are we in the moment?

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Correlations between momentary self-views and observed behaviour, from Sun and Vazire, 2018.

By guest blogger Jesse Singal

Your ability to accurately understand your own thoughts and behaviour in a given moment can have rather profound consequences. If you don’t realise you’re growing loud and domineering during a heated company meeting, that could affect your standing at work. If you react in an oversensitive manner to a fair and measured criticism levelled at you by your romantic partner, it could spark a fight.

It’s no wonder, then, that psychology researchers are interested in the question of how well people understand how they are acting and feeling in a given moment, a concept known as state self-knowledge (not to be confused with its better-studied cousin trait self-knowledge, or individuals’ ability to accurately gauge their own personality characteristics that are relatively stable over time).

In a new study available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, Jessie Sun and Simine Vazire of the University of California, Davis adopted a novel, data-heavy approach to gauging individuals’ levels of personality state self-knowledge (i.e. their personality as it manifested in the moment), and it revealed some interesting findings about the ways in which people are – and aren’t – able to accurately understand their own fleeting psychological states.

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Close friends become absorbed into our self-concept, affecting our ability to distinguish their faces from our own

GettyImages-941413016.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

When we say that our close friends have become a part of us, we’re usually talking metaphorically. Yet prior research has shown there is a literal sense in which this is true. For instance, we’re slower at judging whether given personality traits apply to us or our friends, compared with when judging whether traits belong to us or someone we’re not close to – it’s as if our friends’ traits and our own have somehow become shared, which makes the judgment trickier. Similarly, in terms of brain activity, we respond to mistakes made by friends in a similar way to how we respond to our own mistakes.

Now a team led by Sarah Ketay at the University Hartford have shown how this absorption of friends into our self-concept can manifest at a visual level, affecting our ability to distinguish their faces from our own. Writing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Ketay’s team said “The present research supports the idea that close others are processed preferentially and may overlap with the self.”

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There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Abraham Maslow and self-actualisation – a new paper puts the record straight

Abraham_Maslow.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Abraham Maslow was one of the great psychological presences of the twentieth century, and his concept of self-actualisation has entered our vernacular and is addressed in most psychology textbooks. A core concept of humanistic psychology, self-actualisation theory has inspired a range of psychological therapies as well as approaches taken in social work. But a number of myths have crept into our understanding of the theory and the man himself. In a new paper in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, William Compton of Middle Tennessee State University aims to put the record straight.

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Study suggests your adulthood self-esteem has its roots in the way you were raised as a child

By Christian Jarrett

Studies of identical and non-identical twins indicate that our self-esteem is influenced by the genes we inherited from our parents, but also, and perhaps slightly more so, by environmental factors. And according to a new study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, these environmental influences started playing a lasting role very early in life.

Ulrich Orth at the University of Bern has reported evidence that, on average, the higher the quality of a person’s home environment when they were aged between 0 and 6 years – based on warm and responsive parenting; cognitive stimulation; and a safe, organised physical environment – the higher their self-esteem many years later in adulthood.

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More time spent abroad increases “self-concept clarity” – confidence in and clarity about who you are

GettyImages-642751110.jpgBy Emma Young

The idea that taking a gap year allows you to “find yourself” is often derided. But if you spend that time living in one foreign country, it just might. And if you can make it years, even better. 

Hajo Adam at Rice University, US, led what his team say is the first empirical investigation of the effects of living abroad on “self-concept clarity” – how clearly and confidently someone defines who they “are”. Since people are increasingly spending time living abroad for work or study – and since other “transitional” life experiences, such as getting a new job or getting divorced have been associated with decreases in self-concept clarity – it’s important to study this, the researchers write in their paper in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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We are haunted more by regrets about not becoming the person we wanted to be, than not becoming the person we were expected to be

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Regrets about not becoming our “ideal selves” are more enduring than regrets about not becoming our “ought selves”

By Christian Jarrett

In research published in the 1990s, psychologists asked people to list their biggest regrets in life and found that they tended to mention things they hadn’t done, rather than things they had.  Now, one of the psychologists behind that seminal research – Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University – together with his colleague Shai Davidai at The New School for Social Research – have looked into the content of people’s regrets, as opposed to how they were brought about (by action or inaction). Across six studies, the pair present new evidence, published in Emotion, that our most enduring regrets concern not living up to our ideal selves (i.e. not becoming the person we wanted to be), as opposed to not living according to our “ought selves” (the person we should have been based on our duties and responsibilities).

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Becoming the real you: Do we become more authentic as we get older?

GettyImages-665831230.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Do you think you are closer to your “true self” today than in the past? If so, is this a work in progress? Will the you of the future be even more authentic than you are today?

A pair of US psychologists recently put these kind of questions to over 250 volunteers across two studies, to find out if there is a general pattern in the way that we think about the development of our true selves.

Reporting their findings in Self and Identity, Elizabeth Seto and Rebecca Schlegel found there is a tendency for us to see ourselves as becoming progressively more authentic through life. “If these reflections are at all reflective of how people feel in real time,” they concluded, “it is possible that people believe they will be the closest they have ever been to who they really are when they reach the end of their lifetime.”

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New insights into lifetime personality change from “meta-study” featuring 50,000 participants

GettyImages-636223928.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

It’s a question that goes to the heart of human nature – do our personalities change through life or stay essentially the same? You might think psychology would have a definitive answer, but this remains an active research question. This is partly because of the practical challenge of testing the same group of individuals over many years. Now a major new contribution to the topic has been made available online at the PsyArXiv repository. The researchers, led by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, have compared and combined data from 14 previously published longitudinal studies, together involving nearly 50,000 participants from the US, Europe and Scandinavia. Their findings confirm and extend existing knowledge, showing how personality traits tend to change through life in predictable ways.

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What is the secret to being more assertive? Having self respect

GettyImages-172982903.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Why are some of us more inclined than others to stick up for ourselves, not aggressively, but assertively. Assertive people let others know when they feel mistreated and they’re confident saying “no” to unwanted demands.

Presumably it has to do with how see ourselves, yet past research has established that two key aspects of the self-concept – good feelings about the self (“self-liking” or “self-confidence”) and seeing oneself as competent – are not strongly related to assertive behaviour.

Daniela Renger, a researcher at the Institute of Psychology at Kiel University in Germany, believes this is because most relevant to assertiveness is self-respect – “a person’s conviction that they possess the universal dignity of persons and basic moral human rights and equality”. Across three studies published in Self and Identity, Renger shows that self-respect is a distinct psychological concept and that it is uniquely correlated with assertive behaviour.

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Belief in our moral superiority is the most irrational self-enhancing bias of all

GettyImages-185266971.jpgBy Emma Young

Most of us believe we are smarter, harder-working and better at driving than average. Clearly we can’t all be right. When it comes to moral qualities, like honesty and trustworthiness, our sense of personal superiority is so inflated that even jailed criminals consider themselves to be more moral than law-abiding citizens.

Why should the “better-than-average” effect be so pronounced for moral traits? In new work, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Ben Tappin and Ryan McKay at Royal Holloway, University of London have found that it’s because we’re especially irrational when it comes to evaluating moral traits. Moral superiority appears to be “a uniquely strong and prevalent form of positive illusion,” they write.

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