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. …