Studies of self-concept, the findings from which have been reliably used in clinical programs and taught in education and psychology, have suffered from a lack of both a solid theoretical base and a clear definition of the term. It is not clear whether self-concept is a part of mind and an ingredient of mental state, a construct from the cognitive sciences, an active part of personality or of the ego and unconscious, or a physiological process as suggested from brain research. In other words, is the self a construct from philosophy, psychology, cognition, or the neurosciences; a part of personality, a part of the thought process, or part of some identifiable entity existing in the cerebral cortex?
Nor is it clear whether the psychological construct of self is related to other concepts, such as personal identity, self-esteem, and the ego (Harter, 1983), as sometimes each of these terms refers to the whole person or a structure or element within a person (De Levita, 1965). What is evident is that the majority of researchers continue to assume that self-concept, however defined in theory, is primarily governed in development by environmental determinants despite abundant evidence from the neurosciences of the strong influence of its genetic heritability.
EMPIRICAL RESEARCH ON SELF-CONCEPT
Behavioral and social science research is rich with studies that typically link low self-concept to sociological conditions and a panoply of personal and social disorders. Evidence correlates low self-concept with suicide (Emery, 1983; Walker & Mehr, 1983), crime (Krueger & Hansen, 1987), alcoholism, teenage pregnancy (Patten, 1981; Zongker, 1977), drug abuse (Reardon & Griffing, 1983), and welfare dependency. Some maintain that low self-concept leads to economic problems that tax the public purse. Others believe that the economy itself contributes to personality disorders, which result in feelings of low self-concept and low self-esteem. But whatever the relationship, self-concept is almost always described as having degrees, like a thermometer; of being either high or low, positive or negative.
O'Donnell (1979) reported a slightly stronger relationship between self-reported and peer-reported self-esteem for older adolescents than for younger adolescents. But the major findings were not for age, but for sex and race. O'Donnell found a stronger relationship for whites than for blacks, and for older females than for older males. Zongker (1977) found that pregnant teenage girls had feelings of poor self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, and were dissatisfied with their bodies. He concluded that girls with such attitudes prior to conception are at high risk for pregnancy.
Studies in educational psychology have attempted to demonstrate how self-concept, differentiated into academic and nonacademic self-concept, correlates in school-aged children with other school variables, such as achievement. Positive self-concept is presumed to be a significant contributor to academic success (Purkey, 1970; Hummell & Reselli, 1983), to the relative ease in adolescent adaptation to societal norms and expectations (Openshaw, Thomas, & Rollins, 1983), and to more mature interpersonal relations (Tierno, 1983). On the other hand, low self-concept has been found to be associated with poor scholastic performance (Rosenberg & Gaier, 1977) and with the learning disabled (Chapman, 1988).
Shavelson et al. (1976) proposed that self-concept is one's perception of self, and that this perception stems from how one perceives the general social environment, particularly significant others. Shavelson and others believe that the self-concept structure is both multidimensional and hierarchical, and that new perceptions build on the self in academic and nonacademic areas. Byrne and Shavelson (1986) and Marsh et al. (1995) have proposed various models for self-concept. They and others have also suggested that the theory base is unclear, that inferior methodology has been applied, and that instruments used have been psychometrically weak.
Marsh and associates (1988, 1995) have investigated the multiple dimensions of self-concept in coeducational high schools in Australia. Marsh cited earlier research that concluded that self-concept declines during the preadolescent years, levels out in the middle adolescent years, and increases in later adolescence. Marsh (1988) also found such variation in self-concept at different adolescent stages. Marsh concluded that the transition from single-sex to coeducational schools enhances the self-concepts of both boys and girls, and "that this enhanced self-concept is not at the expense of academic progress."
Finkelstein and Gaier (1983) found that older students had significantly lower scores on an identity scale than did nonstudent peers, which appears to demonstrate that formal schooling actually has the unintended effect of prolonging adolescence. Students are reaching puberty earlier, but retaining dependency status longer.
Chapman (1988) found that the self-concepts of learning-disabled students were lower than those of nonhandicapped children, but that there were greater differences for academic self-concept than for general self-concept. Chapman concluded that academic self-concept was "a factor related to, yet distinct from, general self-concept or self-esteem."
Openshaw et al. (1983) found that adolescent self-esteem was more a function of social interaction and "reflected appraisals" of others than a modeling of parents' self-esteem. Buri (1992) investigated the effects of parental nurturance and found a positive correlation with the self-esteem of college students, but more so for females than males. Brookover (1989) noted "that self-concept of academic ability is not constant but varies with the social situation and expectations, evaluations that students perceive others hold for them." This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of special education students who had higher self-concepts when placed in special education classes than when they were transferred to regular classrooms.
The majority of empirical investigators have focused on the self-concept of adolescents from the perspective of unfolding social relationships, particularly with parents and peers (Openshaw et al., 1983). According to Rosenberg and Gaier (1977), "adolescence is a critical stage of identity seeking partially through the vehicle of widening peer relationships." Tierno (1983) observed that middle schools were inappropriate for dealing with early adolescents' emerging sense of self-identity, especially schools that emphasized academics and minimized personal development.
Schiamberg (1969) presented an enlightening analysis of intergenerational relationships among adolescents in non-American cultures. He pointed out, following Erikson, that the primary source of conflict between parents and adolescents is the failure of parents to accord recognition to adolescent achievements, and the adolescent revolt against parental values and dominance. He also credited Lewin's field theory, which maintains that the adolescent is in transition to an adult life space. What seems clear is that adolescent self-concept is not just a matter of studying personality, but also involves interactions within a sociocultural framework. The sociocultural interaction hypothesis, he concluded, suggests that environment is the primary agent responsible for identity formation.
Verkuyten (1995) investigated the relationship between ethnic identity and self-feelings among both majority and minority youth. Verkuyten assessed global self-esteem, self-concept stability, and ethnic membership among Dutch youth and found no significant differences, except to report that minority Dutch youth, primarily Turkish and Chinese, identified more positively with their ethnic identity than did the majority Dutch youth.
In South Africa, Meyer (1988) found that scholastic self-concept made a more significant contribution to the prediction of scholastic achievement than did IQ. Meyer concluded that nonacademic self-concept variables had no predictive value for the scholastic achievement of secondary school students in that country. Also in South Africa, Burns (1988) found in a study of both white and colored adolescents that there was less emphasis on coping with societal problems than on issues that affected them personally.
In a study of youth on the island of Cyprus, Metzer and Hajiangelis (1982) found that adolescents were well adjusted. The study investigated 3,209 adolescents aged 11-18 in twenty-one schools and concluded that girls were more adjusted than boys in behavior, but were more rebellious in their thinking. The study noted that girls did not "misbehave," yet did not agree with the traditional values in the society, especially concerning the conservative sexual mores. But "the young people learn to identify themselves with the societal expectations and develop a high self-concept." The study concluded that "the self-concept of girls is higher both concerning desirable behavior and school performance."
Bar-Joseph and Tzuriel (1990) conducted a study of sex differences in mathematics achievement among 12th graders in several countries. They concluded that the data tended to contradict the theories that explain boys' superiority in math on the basis of biological factors. However, they did not address the issue of whether general self-concept may influence academic self-concept, and that general self-concept may be regulated by biological differences. Studies demonstrating sex differences in self-concept during adolescence are not surprising, as it is well accepted that girls do indeed develop at some stages of early adolescence much more quickly than boys. Because girls are more biologically advanced than boys during certain stages of adolescence, it can reasonably be concluded that their self-concept would also be more advanced.
This inquiry was based on the understanding that self-concept, and the perception of that series of conscious reflections and unconscious responses to images by which we understand the self and personal identity, is part of an evolving genetic sequence that converges in mid to late adolescence. The primary hypothesis was that adolescent self-concept is an emerging conscious and unconscious set of developmental activities governed predominantly, but not exclusively, by genetic inheritances.
Genetic forces are clearly at work in the perception of the self, though rarely acknowledged except in the neurological sciences, and these bio- logically evolving forces that form the unconscious also shape the conscious perception of identity. Wheeler (1992) reported that scientists are finding a substantial genetic underpinning to human behavior, but Greene (1991) pointed out that most researchers favor environmental factors: "Most assume that the serf is a function of social and cultural relationships." Yet even the Gestaltist Kohler (1969) stated that "psychological facts and the underlying events in the brain resemble each other in all their structural characteristics" (p. 66). Harter (1983) has suggested that there is "a need to consider the evaluation of the self from a developmental perspective" (p. 366). As an example of the emerging physiological evidence, Schuman (1995), a biologist investigating the process of physiological learning, has found that substances known as growth factors are instrumental in shaping the development of the brain.
Moreover, in an age when many believe that there is a separate ethnic self-concept for each minority group (Banks & Grambs, 1972), and that these images of the serf are primarily derived from social experiences or the lack thereof ("In this country the black individual is given a consistent image of who he is by white society"; Banks & Grambs, 1972, p. 122), it is imperative to investigate the biological and developmental factors in the psychological construct of the serf.
Adolescent self-concept, for the purpose of this study, is a set of genetically driven perceptions, linked to the conscious and unconscious, of adolescent identity in its multiple manifestations, including perceptions about the body, attitudes, interests, relations with others, perceptions of self, and personal and academic identity. It is assumed that this set of perceptions of identity, together with inherited unconscious patterns of behavior, will change throughout the normal maturational process.
The intent has been to control for cross-cultural factors by conducting an international survey of adolescents from varied cultural backgrounds, although the present report is only on majority and minority Chinese youth. If results are relatively stable from several different countries and across continents, ethnicities, and cultures, then it is probable that adolescent self-concept is influenced mostly by biological determinants. However, if there is demonstrated variability in the results from country to country, then it is probable that cultural determinants predominantly influence general personality conceptions of the self at this formative stage of life.
This long-term study has been pursued in several countries, providing diversity in language, religion and beliefs, customs and living standards. A preliminary report on the pilot testing of the survey instrument and data gathering from America, Cyprus, England, South Africa, and Cameroon revealed that perceptions adolescents have of their personal identity do not vary greatly from country to country, or from culture to culture, and have a high degree of constancy (Sharpes, 1988).
Sample and Procedure
Coopersmith's Self-Esteem Inventory is primarily for children, and hence unsatisfactory for adolescents. The Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS) is widely used, but its purpose is primarily clinical and it is too lengthy. Thus, a one-page self-concept inventory, modified from similar instruments, was designed for adolescents. The instrument was validated in 1989 with the TSCS. Ezeilo (1982) found that the TSCS was a useful tool for studying Nigerian youth, which supports the cross-cultural acceptability of the instrument used in the present study.
Anderson and Hughes (1989) pointed out that such new instruments are needed: "... one primary focus of future research in the area of self-esteem and parenting should be to develop better measurement instruments" (p. 464). Moreover, they report that "young children's reports of their own self-esteem are likely to be different from reports provided by different sources, for example, parents or teachers" (p. 463).
The instrument has thus far been translated into Spanish, Afrikaans, and Chinese. Translation into the vernacular constitutes an additional lowering of confidence in the construct, and thus weakens construct validity (Messick, 1995). It is not possible to know with high confidence the accuracy of the translations, although they have been subjected to more than one cross-check, or whether the trait, in this case self-concept, might be construed differently in different languages.
The instrument was first pilot tested with a large group of secondary students in the U.S. and Cyprus in 1986. A panel of educators from North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, attending an international seminar in the Netherlands in 1988, also reviewed the instrument, serving as a validation of its cross-cultural and international administration and clarity of meaning.
The 36 items on the instrument ask adolescents to respond on a five-point Likert-type semantic differential scale to statements, in the form of grouped variables, about their identity, bodies, attitudes, relations with others, interests, perceptions of others, and general academic self-concept. According to Dyer (1979), such "ordered categories" fall between nominal and ordinal measurements. This construction of composite variables facilitates interpretation of the data.
Copies of the one-page instrument, translated into Mandarin Chinese, were distributed in six different cities to 603 randomly selected high school students aged 13 to 18 in the People's Republic of China. This included 301 Han Chinese (the majority ethnic group), and two ethnic minorities - 200 Mongolian Chinese and 102 Korean Chinese.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Relative uniformity of responses on the instrument, especially among a random sample of adolescents of different ethnicities, would indicate that self-concept may be predominantly an outcome of genetic heritability. Self-concept then could be said to be only partly a result of ethnic or cultural origin or adolescent status within social groups. The idea of self-concept clearly may not be the same for adults as it is for adolescents. Indeed, it may also be wrong to conclude that adolescent self-concept is simply an immature form of adult self-concept.
Tables 1-3 present the results. Although there were some minor differences - such as that Korean Chinese adolescents had higher composite scores - all three groups had uniformly higher perceptions of social relations than they did of their bodies. Females had higher mean scores and more dispersion among their scores than did males, who were surprisingly uniform in their grand mean scores.
What appears to be unusual is that the minority adolescents had higher academic self-concept mean scores than did the majority Han group of adolescents. This phenomenon of higher academic self-concept for minorities, which contradicts the popular assumption that minorities in general have lower academic self-esteem, was also found in earlier research comparing Hispanic and non-Hispanic American adolescents and South African adolescents (Sharpes, 1992).
The evolution of a mature self-concept, of course, involves social interaction. Nevertheless, emerging neuroscientific evidence shows a strong correlation between psychological constructs and identifiable physiological processes in the brain. Supporting this view, the preliminary results of the present study indicate that perceptions adolescents have of their personal identity and its various components are relatively uniform across cultures and minority status.
TABLE I MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS ON COMPOSITE VARIABLES OF SELF-CONCEPT FOR HAN AND MINORITY CHINESE ADOLESCENTS (N = 603) HAN KOREAN MONGOLIAN COMPOSITE n = 301 n = 102 n = 200 VARIABLES Body 3.07 (.79) 3.18 (.81) 3.15 (.79) Attitude 3.38 (.52) 3.44 (.52) 3.41 (.50) Interests 3.46 (.51) 3.58 (.52) 3.51 (.47) Relations 4.11 (.57) 4.41 (.46) 4.12 (.51) Perception of Self 3.20 (.53) 3.31 (.48) 3.14 (.54) Identity 3.40 (.66) 3.50 (.63) 3.27 (.63) Academic 3.78 (.72) 3.98 (.59) 3.95 (.59) GRAND MEANS 3.48 3.62 3.50 Note. Standard Deviations Are in Parentheses TABLE 2 MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS ON COMPOSITE VARIABLES OF SELF-CONCEPT FOR FEMALE HAN AND MINORITY CHINESE ADOLESCENTS HAN KOREAN MONGOLIAN COMPOSITE n = 13 n = 85 n = 103 VARIABLES Body 3.03 (.79) 3.21 (.82) 3.17 (.75) Attitude 3.47 (.58) 3.52 (.51) 3.47 (.47) Interests 3.48 (.53) 3.62 (.55) 3.61 (.41) Relations 4.16 (.59) 4.46 (.44) 4.19 (.44) Perceptions of Self 3.25 (.52) 3.34 (.47) 3.16 (.54) Identity 3.48 (.65) 3.53 (.64) 3.34 (.57) Academic 3.83 (.74) 4.03 (.59) 3.98 (.56) GRAND MEANS 3.52 3.67 3.56 Note. Standard Deviations Are in Parenthesis TABLE 3 MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS ON COMPOSITE VARIABLES OF SELF-CONCEPT FOR MALE HAN AND MINORITY CHINESE ADOLESCENTS (N = 252) HAN KOREAN MONGOLIAN COMPOSITE n = 138 n = 17 n = 97 VARIABLES Body 3.11 (.80) 3.03 (.75) 3.12 (.82) Attitude 3.28 (.42) 3.04 (.37) 3.34 (.52) Interests 3.42 (.48) 3.40 (.36) 3.41 (.50) Relations 4.05 (.55) 4.12 (.44) 4.04 (.57) Perception of Self 3.15 (.54) 3.15 (.50) 3.12 (.53) Identity 3.30 (.65) 3.36 (.53) 3.19 (.69) Academic 3.71 (.69) 3.78 (.57) 3.91 (.62) GRAND MEANS 3.43 3.41 3.44 Note. Standard Deviations Are in Parentheses
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Xinbing Wang, M.Ed., Instructor, Weber State University.…