Self-Perception in Late Adolescence: An Interactive Perspective

Article excerpt

Positive self-perception, or high self-esteem, is a desired outcome of the developmental process. It has been linked to long-term mental health (Damon, 1983; Rosenberg, 1985), and to emotional well-being (Harter, 1988). Self-perception has been shown to reflect developing cognitive abilities and social circumstances (Dusek & Flaherty, 1981; Stanwyck, 1983). Toddlers are literally learning to recognize their own images in a mirror, and the young child provides a self-description in terms of action and later in terms of qualities and traits (Damon & Hart, 1982). Social components become important in later childhood (Frey & Ruble, 1985), while adolescents have increased self-awareness as their cognitive and social development allows the taking of another's perspective and the accepting of inconsistencies (Glick & Ziegler, 1985). By late adolescence, a coherent and intergrated self-perception can emerge.

The present study was concerned with temperament characteristics that may interact with the context and features of home and school to facilitate positive self-perception by late adolescence. The role of temperament was conceptualized with a bidirectional, interactive model and a developmental contextual perspective (Lerner, 1991). In an interactive model, temperament defines the individual's style with developmental tasks and mediates the response of the environment to the individual (Lerner & Busch-Rossnagel, 1981; Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Consistent with Cairns (1991), self-perception is viewed as the result of multiple contributions that vary with age and context. The model assumes that at each stage of development, the child brings his or her particular set of temperament characteristics to social and instructional settings. When individual characteristics are adequate to meet the demands of an environment, the child is successful and may receive positive feedback. In contrast, when characteristics make it difficult to satisfy environmental presses, the child is more likely to experience failure and negative self-perceptions.

Temperament is used here to describe long-term individual characteristics with genetic origins (Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, & Tellegen, 1990; Scarr & Kid, 1983). The specific temperaments under consideration were derived from work done as part of the New York Longitudinal Study (Thomas & Chess, 1977). Temperament was a candidate as a contributor to self-perception because it had previously been linked to a variety of positive behavioral outcomes (Chess & Thomas, 1990; Klein, 1987; Park-Cohen & Bell, 1988). Temperament has also been used within an interactive model linking environmental fit with behavioral outcomes (Lerner, 1984; Lerner, Lerner, & Zalski, 1985).

The potential role of temperament in the development of self-perception can be seen in typical experiences of adolescents within the academic setting. In American education students generally study five to seven subjects daily with increasing numbers of teachers. A premium is placed on being able to move from class to class with little disorder and with immediate engagement. An individual whose temperament allows these constant changes in place, teaching style, and demands, easily meets institutional expectations and receives considerable positive feedback about the value and appropriateness of their temperament characteristics. In contrast, the less adaptable and less flexible individual usually has experienced years of being unsuccessful in meeting demands and being punished for failures. As young people become able to make social comparisons and to evaluate their own behaviors, they also become able to incorporate these successes and failures into their self-perceptions.

Previous research has linked self-esteem and perceived competence to temperament in adolescents. Klein (1992) examined the relationship of self-reported temperament and perceived social competence in a late adolescent sample. …