Similarities and Differences in Physical Self-Concept of Males and Females during Late Adolescence and Early Adulthood

By Caglar, Emine | Adolescence, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Similarities and Differences in Physical Self-Concept of Males and Females during Late Adolescence and Early Adulthood


Caglar, Emine, Adolescence


Physical self is considered to be an important psychological outcome, correlate, and antecedent of physical activity behavior (Sonstroem, 1998) and is regarded as an important contributor to overarching, global perceptions of self-worth in multidimensional, hierarchical models of self-esteem (Fox, 2000). This important psychological construct--physical self is defined as an individual's perception of himself/herself in aspects of physical domains such as strength, endurance, sport ability, and physical appearance (Fox & Corbin, 1989).

Generally, physical self has been investigated in Western cultures from different perspectives. For example, much support for the physical self instruments and theoretical models of physical self has been obtained largely from responses of students in Western countries (e.g., Fox & Corbin, 1989; Marsh et al., 1994; Van de Vliet et al., 2002). Further, sex differences in physical self have also been frequently studied (e.g., Marsh, 1998; Lindwall & Hassmen, 2004) in Western cultures. Numerous studies have used multidimensional questionnaires which have shown that males score consistently higher than females (Marsh, 1998; Sonstroem, 1998) on physical self-concept. The reasons for sex differences can be explained by the greater opportunities for males to develop their physical skills. These differences in participation inevitably are influenced by stereotypes of male and female physical and psychological attributes (Colley, Berman, & Millingen, 2005). In terms of self-objectification theory, through a combination of media exposure and everyday social encounters. Western culture socializes girls and women to internalize an objectifying observer's perspective on their own bodies, thus becoming preoccupied with their own physical appearance (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997). A potential negative consequence of the body objectification process for females may be a more negative body image and lower self-esteem as compared to males (Lindwall, 2004).

In recent years, age differences in physical self have been examined in Western samples. For example, Marsh (1998) examined the age effects on physical self-concept of Australian students by using multidimensional physical self-concept scales and reported no change in physical self-concept with age during adolescence. In addition, Maiano, Ninot, and Bilard (2004) investigated age changes in physical self-concept of 11- to 16-year-old adolescents and found an age effect on global self-esteem, physical self-worth, and body attractiveness but not on perceived sport competence, physical condition, and strength. Further, most of the studies on age effects used multidimensional self-concept scales and reported that self-concept increased with age for late adolescents and early adulthood, but for preadolescents, self-concept showed a decline with age (Marsh, 1989; Sonstroem, 1998). In addition, there is much evidence that physical self-concept becomes more negative during adolescence (Wigfield, Eccles, MacIver, Reuman, & Midgley, 1991) and that adolescents' global perceptions of physical competence decline significantly from 12-16 years (Marsh, 1989, 1998). The possible mechanisms for age differences in physical self can be explained with the formation of self. From a developmental perspective, the self becomes increasingly differentiated. In childhood, self-representations are typically very positive, with the child overestimating his/her abilities. During adolescence, there is extreme preoccupation with the opinions and expectations of significant others in different roles. In late adolescence and early adulthood, typically, many of the attributes reflect personal beliefs, values, and moral standards that have become internalized or, alternatively, constructed from their own experiences (see Harter, 1999).

As can be seen from the above-noted literature, most of the studies about physical self-concept have been conducted in Western cultures. …

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