Cognitive Social Psychology: The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition

By Gordon B. Moskowitz | Go to book overview

4
Eva M. Pomerantz Jill L. Saxon Gwen A. Kenney
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Self-Evaluation: The Development of Sex Differences

How people evaluate themselves has a number of important implications for their psychological functioning. Self-evaluation appears to influence the manner in which people deal with challenge (see Bandura, 1994; Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998, for reviews), as well as people's emotional experiences (see Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989; Higgins, 1987, for reviews). Hence, a great deal of attention has been directed toward understanding how people evaluate their competencies and expectancies for future performance. In addition to the question of the consequences of self-evaluation, several other questions have guided work on the topic. What motives drive the manner in which people evaluate themselves? What aspects of the situation influence how people evaluate themselves? What characteristics of the person determine the form that self-evaluation takes? The effort to answer questions such as these in social psychology began with James (1890), continued on with Festinger (1954a), and is evident in much current social-cognitive work (see Eccles et al., 1998; Suls & Wills, 1991; Swann, 1990; Taylor & Brown, 1998; Trope, 1986; Wood, 1989, for reviews).

Although these questions are important, another question of import is whether there are sex differences in self-evaluation. This question has taken on particular significance for investigators attempting to elucidate sex differences in psychological functioning (e.g., Dweck, 1986; Eccles, 1984; Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994; Ruble, Greulich, Pomerantz, & Gochberg, 1993). The issue of sex differences in self-evaluation is at the heart of the present chapter. To situate the work on sex differences in self-evaluation, the chapter begins with a review of self-evaluation as it has been studied more generally. This is followed by a review of work on sex differences in self-evaluation. Subsequently, an approach that may be used to guide future research on sex differences in self-evaluation and its consequences for psychological functioning is presented. We end by briefly highlighting some of the key differences in work on self-evaluation in general and work on sex differences in self-evaluation. We also suggest how the two might be better integrated.


A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF SELF-EVALUATION

Motives Underlying Self-Evaluation

One of the most central questions guiding work concerned with self-evaluation is that of what motivates self-evaluation. That is, why do people evaluate themselves? What purpose does it serve? Until recently, this has been a hotly contested issue. In his seminal theory of social comparison, Festinger (1954a) initially proposed that people have a need to accurately evaluate themselves to reduce any uncertainty they have about themselves. He argued that, in an effort to meet this self-assessment need, people seek to compare themselves with similar others. This concern with self-assessment is also evident in Carver and Scheier's (1998) model of self-regulation. Carver and Scheier proposed that people desire to assess their progress toward their goals in an effort to ensure that they eventually meet their goals. Only by accurately assessing their progress can people change ineffective strategies and adopt effective ones (see also Ruble & Frey, 1991). Although Festinger viewed the self-assessment motive as the central force guiding self-evaluation, he also suggested that people are motivated by self-improvement. As a consequence, according to Festinger, people compare themselves not only with similar but also with superior others. Such upward comparison has been well documented (see Taylor & Lobel, 1989, for a review) and actually appears to foster self-improvement (e.g., Blanton, Buunk, Gibbons, Kuyper, & Hans, 1999).

As investigators further explored the motives that drive self-evaluation, two other motives came to be viewed as central. Although research subsequent to Festinger's theory on social comparison provided evidence for both the self-assessment and self-improvement motives, it also suggested that these two motives were in no way the only motives guiding self-evaluation (see

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