Development and Structure of the Body Image - Vol. 1

By Seymour Fisher | Go to book overview

1
The Body Stimulus

IDENTIFICATION OF SELF

It is by now well documented that a person becomes uncomfortable when made increasingly aware of his or her somatic self. Such augmented awareness may result from looking in a mirror,1 hearing a recording of one's voice, or just being exposed to an audience ( Fisher, 1970; Holzman, 1964). Heightened response has been detected even when people are unknowingly confronted with their self-representations. For example, if shadow profile pictures are obtained from people without their knowledge, a considerable percentage of the individuals will fail to identify themselves when they later encounter their pictures mixed in with the shadow profiles of others. Interestingly, when they are asked to describe or evaluate their own unidentified profiles, they usually do so in exaggeratedly flattering terms that suggest a self-protective strategy ( Huntley, 1940; Reitz & Thetford, 1967; Schnitzer, 1961; Wolff, 1943;). However, they may also at times respond in a markedly self-depreciatory fashion. Fisher ( 1970) noted:

There is plenty of evidence that when an individual is confronted with his body or some representation of it as a perceptual object he gets stirred up in fairly unique ways. He is surprised, puzzled, autonomically activated, and motivated to take various kinds of defensive strategies. It is even a bit astonishing to learn that he does not have a precise patent against which to compare his mirror image and may have difficulty in deciding precisely how he looks. (p. 14)2

Apparently, as suggested by Holzman, Berger, and Rousey ( 1967), selfrepresentations contain information that is ordinarily shut out, but that becomes threatening when it cannot be avoided, as in the context of the direct confrontation of one's mirror image or recorded voice.3 There may be expressions and postures that reveal unconscious attitudes that are largely ego alien. Support for such a view comes from studies (e.g., Rogers & Walsh, 1959) demonstrating that, when persons are asked to describe self-representations (e.g., pictures of self) under conditions where they are not aware of the self-reference involved, they exaggerate just those qualities about which they are especially defensive. For example, persons inhibited about being aggressive unknowingly rated their self-representations as more aggressive than those of others ( Rogers & Coleman, 1959).

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