Self-Perception

The self-perception theory, developed by social psychologist Daryl Bem, is a theory of how self-knowledge unfolds. It assumes that internal states are inferences resulting from observation of one's behavior.

Understand how people get to know themselves is important because self knowledge is considered a basis which people use in the process of forming values, preferences and attitudes. Clear self knowledge helps people make decisions in daily life, whereas the absence of well-defined self knowledge can render an individual unable to make these decisions.

The self-perception theory consists of two basic claims. The first claim is that people develop their own attitudes, beliefs, and other internal states by observing their own behavior. For example, if an individual watches many soccer games they can conclude that they are interested in soccer.

The second claim suggests that the individual steps into the role of an outside observer and focuses on the external features of their behavior to determine their own inner characteristics when inner signals are weak or ambiguous. The core of the two claims is that people observe their behavior and the circumstances in which it occurs to ascertain their own beliefs and attitudes.

The self-perception theory has become considerably influential partially because it offers a simple explanation of how self-knowledge develops. Another reason why the self-perception theory has been gaining popularity is that it acts as a foil to the cognitive dissonance theory, the most famous psychological theory of how behavior shapes self-knowledge.

Cognitive dissonance theory, developed by Leon Festinger, assumes that if a person's behavior is changed, his or her thoughts and feelings will change to minimize the dissonance. Festinger believed that when people a confronted with a disharmony within themselves between two factors, they try to redress the balance by either changing the original thought, accepting the opposing thought, or getting rid of the behavior.

The self-perception theory differs from the cognitive dissonance theory in two aspects. Firstly, unlike cognitive dissonance theory, the self-perception theory does not consider that a change in self-knowledge requires some kind of stimulus such as the dissonance reduction. The only thing the self-perception theory requires for a change in self-knowledge to take place is people's willingness to infer their own attitudes and beliefs by observing their own behavior.

Secondly, the self-perception theory states that self-knowledge can be shaped by using one's own behavior when the internal cues of prior beliefs are weak. The cognitive dissonance theory, for its part, claims that people develop self-knowledge only when the internal cues of prior beliefs are clear and run counter of their behavior. Psychologists believe that both self-perception theory and cognitive dissonance theory can be applied to explain how self-knowledge changes under different conditions. The behavior in the self-perception theory that serves to adjust self-knowledge does not conflict with clear initial self-views, while the cognitive dissonance theory assumes that the behavior that contributes to a change in self-knowledge is inconsistent with prior beliefs.

The self-perception theory is able to provide an explanation of how people develop self-knowledge from behavior even when there is no inconsistency between prior beliefs and behavior. For instance, the self-perception theory can account for how people find out that they have an intrinsic liking for an activity that they did not previously enjoy, even when there are not obvious reasons to explain their behavior. Conversely, the self-perception theory can explain how people deduce that they are not intrinsically fond of an activity that they once enjoyed when there are obvious situational incentives that can explain their behavior.

The cognitive dissonance theory cannot explain this type of self-view development because the behavior in question does not conflict with the initial belief. The self-perception theory, on the other hand, can, because it does not assume that initial beliefs need to contradict behavior for people to form self-knowledge.

In addition, the self-perception theory comes into use in many marketing or persuasive techniques and helps explain the foot-in-the-door phenomenon, a compliance tactic according to which a person is more likely to agree to a large request if presented with a smaller request first. Furthermore, self perception processes are believed to be connected with topics such as interpersonal attraction and pain perception.

The self-perception theory is one of the most influential theories of how people develop self-knowledge because it can explain how people get to know themselves under a wide range of conditions.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Self-Knowledge and the Self
David A. Jopling.
Routledge, 2000
The Missing Link in Cognition: Origins of Self-Reflective Consciousness
Herbert S. Terrace; Janet Metcalfe.
Oxford University Press, 2004
On Building, Defending, and Regulating the Self: A Psychological Perspective
Abraham Tesser; Joanne V. Wood; Diederick A. Stapel.
Psychology Press, 2005
Self and World
Quassim Cassam.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Motivated Social Perception
Steven J. Spencer; Steven Fein; Mark P. Zanna; James M. Olson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Self-perception is discussed throughout
Development of a General Measure of Individuals' Recognition of Their Self-Perception Processes
Robak, Rostyslaw W.; Ward, Alfred; Ostolaza, Kimberly.
North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 1, March-April 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Children's Self-Concept: A Multicultural Comparison
Kenny, Maureen C.; McEachern, Adriana.
Professional School Counseling, Vol. 12, No. 3, February 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Leadership Processes and Follower Self-Identity
Robert G. Lord; Douglas J. Brown.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Handbook of Competence and Motivation
Andrew J. Elliot; Carol S. Dweck.
Guilford Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Self-perception is discussed in multiple chapters, including: Chap. 5 "Motivation from an Attribution Perspective and the Social Psychology of Perceived Competence," Chap. 6 "Competence Perceptions and Academic Functioning," Chap. 30 "Social Comparison and Self-Evaluations of Competence"
Factors Influencing Self-Perception of Health Status
Kaleta, Dorota; Polánska, Kinga; Dziankowska-Zaborszczyk, Eizbieta; Hanke, Wojciech; Drygas, Wojciech.
Central European Journal of Public Health, Vol. 17, No. 3, September 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Handbook of Learning Disabilities
Karen R. Harris; H. Lee Swanson; Steve Graham.
Guilford Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Self-Concept and Students with Learning Disabilities"
The Effect of Weight on Self-Concept, and Psychosocial Correlates of Physical Activity in Youths: The Effects of Obesity Go beyond the Physical
Welk, Gregory J.; Joens-Matre, Roxane.
JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Vol. 78, No. 8, October 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Self-Perception of Women Who Live with an Alcoholic Partner: Dialoging with Deviance, Strength, and Self-Fulfillment*
Peled, Einat; Sacks, Ilana.
Family Relations, Vol. 57, No. 3, July 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Self-Concept Clarity and Women's Sexual Well-Being
Hucker, Alice; Mussap, Alexander J.; McCabe, Marita M.
The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator