The Self as a Regulator of Individual Processes

Beginning in the 1950's and accelerating through the turn of the twenty-first century, much research on personality has moved away from extensive personality theories toward empirically testable hypotheses. Models of the self focus on describing and observing the mental mechanisms by which in dividuals moderate and control their internal processes and their interactions with the world within specific social traditions and expectations.

Albert Bandura, the American founder of social cognitive psychology, conceptualizes the person as part of an interactive triad consisting of individual, behavior, and environment. Like radical behaviorism, social cognitive theory assumes that all human behavior is ultimately caused by the external environment. However, Bandura also describes individuals as having cognitions with which they regulate their own behavior, through the establishment of guiding performance standards. His idea of the self-system consists of internal motivations, emotions, plans, and beliefs which are organized into three processes: self-observation, judgmental processes, and self-reaction. In self-observation, the individual consciously monitors his or her own behavior and describes it. Through judgmental processes, values are placed on the observations, according to personal standards internalized from past experience and comparisons to others. The self-reaction is the self-system's way of punishing, rewarding, changing, or continuing with renewed motivation the behavior that has been self-observed.

Bandura's concept of self-observation has been further refined in research on self-awareness, self-consciousness, and self-monitoring. American social psychologists such as Robert Wicklund, Arnold Buss, Mark Davis, and Stephen Franzoi have defined self-awareness as a state of focusing attention on oneself, while self-consciousness is defined as a traitlike tendency to spend time in the state of such self-awareness. Most such research distinguishes between private self-awareness or self-consciousness, in which a person attends to internal aspects of self, such as thoughts and emotions, and public self-awareness or self-consciousness, in which a person attends to external aspects of self that can be observed by others, such as appearance, physical movements, and spoken words. Private self-awareness and self-consciousness have been associated with intense emotional responses, clear self-knowledge, and actions that are consistent with one's own attitudes and values. Self-monitoring is related primarily to public self-consciousness and is described by American psychologist Mark Snyder as the tendency to engage in attempts to control how one is perceived in social interactions. Snyder's research suggests that high self-monitors use current situations to guide their reactions more than do low self-monitors, which can lead to the relationships of high self-monitors being dependent on situations or activities.

Social cognitive theory has also directed research on self-efficacy, the belief that one will be capable of using one's own behavior, knowledge, and skills to master a situation or overcome an obstacle. For example, Bandura showed in 1986 that people in recovery from a heart attack were more likely to follow an exercise regimen when they learned to see themselves as having physical efficacy. Perceived self-efficacy was demonstrated throughout the 1980's and 1990's as contributing to a wide range of behaviors, from weight loss to maternal competence to managerial decision making.

A final theme coming to prominence since the 1970's relates to identity and self-concept. Self-concept has been defined by American psychologist Roy Baumeister as one's personal beliefs about oneself, including one's attributes and traits and one's self-esteem, which is based on self-evaluations. American developmental psychologists such as Jerome Kagan, Michael Lewis, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn found that by their second year, children become capable of recognizing and cognitively representing as their own their actions, intentions, states, and competencies. With further development, people appear to form not one unitary self-concept, but a collection of self-schemas or ideas about themselves in relation to specific domains such as school or work. American psychologist Hazel Markus has also found time to be a relevant dimension of self-concept, in that persons develop possible selves: detailed concepts of who they hope and fear to become in the future.

Identity is defined as who a person is, including not only the personal ideas in the self-concept but also the public perceptions of a person in his or her social context (for instance, birth name or roles in cultural institutions). Identity consists of two major features: continuity or sameness of the person over time and differentiation of the person as unique compared to others and groups of others. As mentioned with regard to Erikson's theory and Marcia's research, adolescence has been demonstrated to be a primary stage for exploring the values, beliefs, and group memberships that constitute identity. However, identity continues to evolve during adulthood with changes in roles (such as student versus parent) and activities (work versus retirement).

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