The relatively stable set of perceptions you hold of yourself is called your

Hazel J. Markus and Paula S. Nurius

Theoretical work in both psychology and sociology accords self-concept a critical role in organizing past behavior and in directing future behavior. Self-concept is viewed broadly as the meeting ground of the individual and society and represents the individual's efforts to find personal meaning and understanding. Self-concept has been studied with respect to virtually every conceivable domain of behavior, including such diverse concerns as cognitive ability and competence, moral behavior, occupational choice, delinquency and deviance, friendship patterns, family relations, and health and adjustment. The implicit view of many of these studies, and the one proposed here, is that self-concept is not incidental to the stream of behavior but functions to mediate and regulate the stimuli provided by the environment. Self-concept is not the only psychological structure implicated in guiding behavior, but it is a central one. In this chapter we explore the development of self-concept during middle childhood, focusing on both the content of self-concept—what children understand about themselves—and the function of self-concept—how it may control or regulate behavior.

Self-understanding and self-regulation have nearly always been treated as independent, and virtually no research relates the two. Each is important for middle childhood, and each could have been the focus of a separate chapter. We discuss them together to highlight the idea that the two areas are interdependent. This interdependence is particularly evident during middle childhood.

In recent efforts to understand the self and to link it to the regulation of behavior, it is connected with a hyphen to an ever-increasing set of phenomena. There are studies not only of self-concept, self-esteem, and self-regulation but also self-understanding, self-awareness, self-evaluation, self-monitoring, self-presentation, self-consciousness, self-control, and self-management. This recent surge of interest in the self is reflected in several thorough collections of empirical and theoretical work, including Bandura (1978), Craighead et al. (1978), Damon and Hart (1982), Flavell and Ross (1981), Harter (1983b), Lynch et al. (1981), Rosenberg (1979), Rosenberg and Kaplan (1982), Suls (1982), and Wegner and Vallacher (1980).

For the most part these efforts are not integrative reviews that critically evaluate the state of research but rather are chapters or collections of papers summarizing the empirical and theoretical results of the recent interest in the self. They provide a clear picture of what is known, suggest some promising directions for further effort, and reveal issues that are not yet appropriately understood. Taken as a whole, they examine many important concerns, but a unified consideration of both the content and the behavioral function of the self-concept is yet to be made. Moreover, the research specifically relevant to middle childhood is scattered throughout these works and constitutes only a small fraction of the total. Compared with research on adults, the range of self-concept research specific to school-age children has been extremely limited. In addition, most empirical research on the self-concept has been decidedly atheoretical, especially with regard to school-age children. The vast majority of the studies have investigated only a single aspect of the self-concept: self-esteem (how good or bad children feel about themselves). The premise underlying almost all research on the self is that self-concept is not just reflective or incidental to the ongoing behavior but is importantly engaged in mediating and regulating behavior. Whether one focuses on the recent surge of empirical work on the self or on some of the earlier theoretical statements about self-concept (e.g., Adler, 1972; Comb and Snygg, 1959; Homey, 1953; Kelly, 1955; Rogers, 1951; Sullivan, 1953), one idea is clear: self-concept is critically implicated in behavior. Moreover, if one is interested in significant behavior change, one must change self-concept.

Four features of middle childhood mark this period as especially significant in shaping the content and function of a child's self-concept. Between the ages of 6 and 12, most children begin having extensive contact with society and must intensify their efforts to come to terms with both their own needs and goals and those of others in their social environments (e.g., parents, teachers, peers). They become less egocentric and are thus better able to empathize and take the perspective of another person. As a result, they are increasingly sensitive to the views of others and to social, as opposed to material, reinforcers. Also, during middle childhood, their repertoire of concepts and skills continues to grow at a rapid rate. The acquisition of a variety of intellectual, social, artistic, and athletic skills provides new domains for self-definition.

The influence of these characteristics of middle childhood on the development of self-understanding and self-regulation are dealt with by the major developmental theorists, although their views are somewhat inconsistent. Freud (1956) viewed middle childhood as a period of latency when, in contrast to earlier periods of development, children are relatively free from domination by the id. It is the age of the ego, the time at which the child can, in a relatively unconflicted manner, turn away from the family to the outside world. This allows the child to become rapidly socialized—to develop both the self and the social knowledge necessary to become a member of society.

Cooley (1902) and Mead (1934) stressed that the basis of the self-concept is the individual's perception of the reactions of others. Middle childhood, as the time when individuals become most intensely aware of the evaluation of others, can thus been seen as a critical period for the development of the social self. According to Erikson (1959), middle childhood is the stage of self-development that can best be characterized by the conviction ''I am what I learn.'' The child's increasing interest in learning and developing new skills culminates in a personal "sense of industry"—a basic sense of competence (in contrast to one of inferiority) that is relevant both to the mastery of more sophisticated learning tasks and to cooperation. Depending on the experience of this period, children develop views of themselves as industrious and productive or as inferior and inadequate. Piaget (1952), focusing on children's cognitive development, characterized middle childhood as a time when children become less egocentric and much more responsive to the views of others. The development of self-concept, then, is marked by a growing appreciation of the self as a social object.

Regulation Of Behavior: The Self-System And The Social System

Like most researchers, we view self-concept as an essentially social phenomenon. To develop a concept of the self, a child must take the self as an object and view it as others do. From the child's point of view, then, constructing a self-concept involves the integration of self-perception with other people's perceptions. The child's self-concept builds on itself as each new item of information is chosen, interpreted, and absorbed into the context of previous self-knowledge. The self-concept is not a fixed or a static entity; it is a dynamic structure. Some aspects of it change continually in response to the current interplay of individual and social forces.

From a social-psychological perspective, children's behavior can be regulated by their own needs, desires, goals, knowledge, skills, and expectations (self-system forces) or by what other people need, desire, know, expect for them (social-system forces). Under some circumstances, behavior may seem inordinately regulated by the social system (e.g., when a 10-year-old, saving for a bike, is required to buy his sister a birthday present). Under other circumstances, behavior may appear as regulated solely by the individual at the expense of certain social-system constraints or conventions (e.g., when the 10-year-old disregards the gift-giving convention in favor of keeping the money for his bike).

Coregulation refers to a coordination and interdependence of these personal and situational forces. Such mutual and reciprocal regulation can be seen as the goal of socialization. When such coregulation occurs, behavior does not seem to be regulated by the social situation, nor does it seem to be personally determined or completely controlled by individual needs and desires. Rather, coregulation stems from internalized norms and values—those that were originally imposed on the child by the social system but that have since been incorporated into the child's self-system and are now maintained by individual desires and goals. When this occurs, the self-system and the social system can be seen as interdependent.

As they participate in more activities and settings and as an increased number of people attempt to regulate their behavior, school-age children develop more sophisticated strategies for controlling their own behavior. Increased self-regulation occurs as children work to control their own behavior in whatever domains are available (clothes, eating, hobbies, or free-time activities). At the same time, the social system places ever greater demands and constraints on them. Many school-age children, for example, are required to care for younger children, to participate in household chores, to do homework, and to obey a variety of playground and classroom rules.

As they mature and are socialized, children's own needs, desires, goals, knowledge, skills, and expectations overlap or become the same as those of society, and coregulation occurs. As a consequence, children begin to complete homework, to help others, or to obey rules because they themselves desire to do so. Thus, in middle childhood, children become acutely aware of the social forces on behavior and of the benefits of behaving in accordance with them. Children learn that their own needs can often be met by regulating behavior according to the demands of the larger social system.

Children of different ages, of different backgrounds, or of different cultures vary with respect to how much of their behavior is a result of their own goals, knowledge, skills, and expectations and how much is controlled by the constraints provided by others. For some children the coordination of self and social-system pressures on behavior is not always successful, and the individual and social forces create an inordinate struggle that continues during most of middle childhood and perhaps throughout life. Only by locating children within their relevant social environments can we begin to make reasoned speculations about the processes of self-definition and self-understanding and the likely role of the resulting self-concept in regulating behavior.

Self-Concept Tasks Of Middle Childhood

As children enter middle childhood and strive to become members of society, they are faced with a number of social tasks or problems. These tasks are present throughout life, but effort with respect to them is particularly evident during middle childhood. These tasks shape self-concept in major ways, and growth in the content and function of the self-concepts of school-age children is critically dependent on how these tasks are approached and completed. Four of these tasks are described below.


Developing a relatively stable and comprehensive understanding of the self. At the most general level, this involves an increasing differentiation of what is "me" from what is "not me" and an understanding, in Goffman's (1959) terms, of what the "territories of the self'' are. In earlier periods of development, self-understanding is likely to be based on ascribed characteristics (e.g., name, boy, brother) and on an understanding of one's own capacities and abilities. In middle childhood, self-understanding expands to reflect other people's perceptions. A key feature of this period is an increasing sensitivity to the needs and expectations of others and to the knowledge of the self that comes from them. A majority of the child's efforts may be directed toward belongingness (particularly with respect to their peers) and developing a social identity through the world of achieved roles to which they have now been introduced (e.g., becoming a friend, a student, a girl scout, a baseball team member). Self-understanding now also includes some awareness of more achieved characteristics, such as values, norms, enduring goals, ideals, future plans, and strategies.


Refining one's understanding of how the social world works. During middle childhood, children move beyond simple social-role categorization to the more complex coordination of several social or behavioral roles. They begin to identify the rules governing appropriate social conduct with respect to these more complex role discriminations. A child can understand, for example, that a parent can also be someone else's child or that the one person can be both nice and mean (Fischer et al., in press).

In acquiring a better understanding of the relationships among people, children begin to appreciate more fully the concepts of fairness, power, equality, and status and to further differentiate their early notions of friendship and trust. Their social understanding is very often facilitated by a best friend, typically a same-sex peer with whom the child creates a private social world. This private world can be critical for self-concept development because it serves as a training ground for social, emotional, and moral development. As children interact with peers who don't always share their view of the world, they develop an understanding of the limits of their own perspective.


Developing standards and expectations for one's own behavior. Children must internalize the standards of their society so that their needs and goals better coincide with those of society. A child increasingly reflects on and incorporates norms not only to please others but also to please the self as well. For the school-age child the task of developing standards is often complicated by having two relevant societies to function within—the society of children and the child's larger adult society.

The standards and expectations that are incorporated into self-concept are the basis for self-evaluation and self-criticism. A child's self-esteem will depend on whether the outcome of these evaluations leads to self-doubt or to self-confidence. Moral development, consisting of more advanced moral reasoning and increased motivation to behave morally, is an especially important aspect of the acquisition of standards and expectations for the self. Essential to moral development is the growing ability to "decenter" and to take another's point of view (Flavell, 1975). This involves not only being able to differentiate one viewpoint from another but also controlling one's own viewpoint when making inferences about others (Higgins, 1981). Moreover, the school-age child becomes able to hold and integrate multiple and not always congruent views of the self. For example, both the "good" self and the "bad" self can now be identified and to some extent understood.


Developing strategies for controlling or managing one's behavior. As children enjoy increasing freedom and participation in the social worlds, they must assume an increasingly greater responsibility for the control of their behavior. Impulse control strategies are now complemented by the child's motives for learning, mastery, and accomplishment. School-age children must also learn to contend with conflicting goals and expectations (e.g., their own and those of adults, peers) and to cope with the way in which goals, values, and expectations may differ among individuals and situations.

This task requires that children develop a behavioral repertoire of self-monitoring, self-presentation, and self-control strategies and skills. It further requires that they believe in their ability to be efficacious and to bring their behavior into line with personal or social standards. A particularly important aspect of managing one's behavior involves learning to realistically assign and accept responsibility and blame.

In the course of solving these four tasks, a child generates a substantial amount of knowledge that increases self-understanding and affects self-regulation. The rate and the extent to which children approach these tasks are not uniform; they vary among children and contexts or situations, depending on factors in the self-system and the social system. The resultant self-knowledge includes descriptive information about physical, demographic, and trait characteristics as well as knowledge about one's behavioral capacities. Perhaps even more important, however, the base of self-knowledge now includes representations of one's needs and motives, both those given by society and those that are relatively more individual and idiosyncratic. Moreover, it contains one's goals, plans, rules, and behavioral strategies for meeting personal and social standards. In this sense self-concept can be seen as both a product of past social behavior and an impetus for future social behavior. It is this rich and dynamic nature of self-concept that has not been sufficiently appreciated in previous research and that is increasingly the focus of recent studies.

In the following sections, we review what is currently known about the nature of self-concept and its role in the regulation of behavior in school-age children. The empirical literature can be roughly organized into two broad categories: research that has focused on the content of self-understanding and self-knowledge and research that has focused on the function of self-concept by investigating such processes as self-regulation and self-control. Throughout we highlight the unanswered questions and suggest research to achieve a richer understanding of the content and function of the self-concept of the school-age child. We also examine a number of important social variables that are likely to be associated with variation in the nature of self-understanding and to influence behavioral regulation.

Research On Self-Understanding

Self-Description: From Concrete To Abstract

Virtually all of the empirical work on the development of self-understanding has examined children's self-descriptions to determine what they reveal about the self as an object of thought. In James's (1910) terms, they have focused on the self as "me" and typically have not been concerned with the self as "I"—that aspect of the self that is active and ongoing and that contains the processes of thinking and knowing. The generally held view in the developmental literature is that a concept of self has its early roots in children's abilities to recognize themselves. This rudimentary self-concept is further elaborated and differentiated throughout development as the individual develops an understanding of those aspects of self that are regarded as significant.

The empirical studies on the development of self-knowledge provide a reasonably consistent picture. With increasing age a child's conception of the self becomes increasingly abstract (Bannister and Agnew, 1977; Livesly and Bromley, 1973; Montemayor and Eisen, 1977; Rosenberg, 1979). Young children describe themselves in objective, concrete terms, noting their appearance, their address, and their toys. In contrast, adolescents are much more likely to describe themselves in terms of personal beliefs, characteristics, and motivations. For example, a 9-year-old might say, "My name is Bruce, I have brown eyes, I'm 9 years old, I have 7 people in my family," whereas a 17-year-old girl might say, "I am a human being, I am a girl, I am an individual" (Montemayor and Eisen, 1977).

Exactly how the concrete, somewhat shallow self-concept of the 6-or 7-year-old evolves into a more complex pattern is unclear. Nor do we understand why children select particular categories to use in describing themselves at particular times. McGuire et al. (1978) and McGuire and Padawer-Singer (1976) reported that children, like all others, were likely to think about themselves in terms of those dimensions on which they are distinctive or on which they stand out from others. Thus, young children in classrooms filled with older children were likely to mention their age when asked to "Tell us about yourself." Similarly, the relatively small number of children with red hair were more likely to mention hair color. Black and Hispanic children attending a school that was predominantly white were much more likely to mention their race or ethnic group than were white students.

Although these findings about developmental changes in self-knowledge are plausible, Hatter (1983b) draws attention to a potential difficulty in using an adult category system to analyze the "Who am I?" responses of children at different developmental levels. The meanings of certain terms used by children take on very different meanings at different ages. Hatter noted that when a 10-year-old describes himself or herself as a "person," the term is likely to be used in a very concrete fashion to indicate that "Now I am a person who is quite separate or distinct from others." When an 18-year-old uses the word person, it may be in terms of its more abstract metaphysical sense of ''I am a human, I am like all other people." Similarly, the mention of girl by a 6-year-old may reflect the realization of gender constancy, while the mention of girl by an 11- or 12-year-old may be in reference to thoughts about her social or sexual self.

The research on self-understanding could be productively elaborated and extended by focusing on knowledge about the self that is not based solely on physical and psychological traits or categories. By relying on the unstructured "Who am I?" format, researchers may fail to generate information about other critical aspects of self-knowledge, such as a child's rules, standards, goals, plans, and strategies for maintaining behavior. While children may not have the verbal ability to describe or report efficiently these aspects of self-knowledge, they represent a significant component of their growing self-understanding. Some amount of in-depth, semistructured interviewing may be necessary to elicit these other aspects of self-understanding from school-age children.

Guardo and Bohan (1971) successfully used a semistructured interview with children ages 6-9 to evaluate each child's sense of constancy. They found that most children have a sense of self-identity and did not believe, for example, that they could change into an animal, a child of the opposite · gender, or even a different child of the same gender. Yet the reasons underlying the children's beliefs varied across age levels. Young children thought they could not change because of overt physical or behavioral factors; older children thought they could not change into another child because of differences in thoughts and feelings.

In a study designed to study children's "naive epistemologies," Broughton (1978) confirmed these general findings on self-constancy. While young children are quite likely to confuse the terms body, self, mind, and brain, the 8-year-old child begins to appreciate that a mind is separate from the body and has control over behavior. When a sense of the subject self is achieved, the child can begin to monitor his or her own thoughts and to develop internal personal standards for behavior. At this point, issues of personal regulation and their potential conflict with social regulation are decidedly more apparent for the child.

Selman (1980) suggested that even 6- or 7-year-olds can appreciate the distinction between a subjective self and an objective self. Others (e.g., Flavell et al., 1978) have found the emergence of this differentiation around age 3, suggesting that it may bear an important relationship to language. development. One sure indicator that a child has differentiated the objective self from the subjective or mental self is an understanding of the concept of self-deception. At about age 8, children appreciate the idea that the self can fool the self—that you can talk yourself into saying or doing one thing while thinking another (Selman, 1980). The processes underlying such self-understanding deserve intensive empirical and conceptual scrutiny, for they are at the heart of how children develop a will or a sense of individual purpose and of how they become aware of both their separateness and connection to the social world.

Beyond Self-Description

Some research using methods other than simple self-descriptions suggests that school-age children may have a much more elaborate and extensive system of self-knowledge than has typically been assumed. Damon and Hart (1982), for example, concluded that some aspects of what they distinguish as the four major senses of self—physical self, active self, social self, and psychological self—are evident in some form at nearly every age. During middle childhood, they claim, the physical self includes activity-related physical attributes; the active self includes capabilities relative to others; the social self includes activities that are considered in light of others' reactions (approval or disapproval); and the psychological self includes knowledge, learned skills, motivation, or activity-related emotional states.

Harter's (1983b) model of developmental change in self-concept combines a focus on both content and structure. Hypothesizing an increasing differentiation as well as an integration of the self-concept, she suggests five dimensions—physical attributes, observable attributes, emotions, motives, and cognitions—that progress through four states paralleling Piagetian stages, from simple descriptions to trait labels to single abstractions to higher-order abstractions.

Future research on self-understanding should concentrate on several aspects that have yet been fully considered and explored: self-knowledge of emotions, of motives and goals, of skills and abilities, and of social roles. Very little is understood, for example, about children's understanding of emotional states, their origins, or their consequences. Anecdotal evidence suggests that during middle childhood children have some of their most intense emotional experiences. They can be devastated when they are rejected by a desired peer group, club, or team, and they can be enormously proud of themselves when they get a perfect score on a test or win an athletic event. The function of these experiences in generating enduring self-knowledge and in producing an overall level of self-esteem is also not well understood. The empirical work on self-esteem documents that children vary in their sense of goodness or worth and that most children have some understanding of what constitutes a good self and a bad self. Yet for the most part self-esteem has been analyzed separately from the content of self-knowledge; it is therefore difficult to determine the exact antecedents of feelings of pride or shame in the self or, reciprocally, the manner in which these feelings may influence the nature and extent of self-knowledge.

Children's understanding of their abilities and skills also should be examined. The theoretical work on self and identity formation claims that in middle childhood children develop a sense of their competence and an initial sense of themselves as valued members of society. The adult's global feelings of self-confidence can often be traced to particular events and experiences of this period. Yet little is known about these aspects of self-concept and how they develop. Higgins and Eccles (1983), for example, suggested that one's enduring self-concept of academic ability is dependent on one's experiences in elementary school. A variety of studies on self-esteem in middle childhood also indicate that a child's general feeling of self-worth may be linked to academic experiences (see Epps and Smith, in this volume) and that efforts in other nonacademic areas may not compensate for the feelings of inferiority that can accompany, for example, the disheartening experience of a failure in school.

The self-concept also encompasses representations of motives, goals, and potential selves—selves that are hoped for or aspired to (ideal selves) and selves that are feared. We know that children vary in their motives for achievement and affiliation (Atkinson and Birch, 1978; Kohn, 1977), but we are unaware of the specific antecedents or consequences of these motives. In a study of possible selves, Markus and Nurius (1983) suggested that the development of various competencies and abilities may be fostered by social environments that allow individuals to develop a variety of possible selves—the capable self, the productive self, the useful self, the nice sell the important self. In retrospect, it is hardly surprising that there is relatively little empirical work on the dynamic aspects of self—on goals, motives, or possible selves. These elements of self-concept often do not have natural language labels, as do behavioral characteristics or qualities; studying them therefore requires a departure from some of the standard self-descriptive techniques.

A final, relatively neglected aspect of school-age children's self-understanding is what they know about their social selves and their place in the social world. Work by McGuire and McGuire (1982) suggests that, by age 8, children derive self-knowledge from social comparisons of all sorts. Ruble (in press) found that young children (less than 7 years old), when asked to describe their performance on a task, used an absolute statement, telling how well they did on a particular task. Older children based their self-evaluations, at least in part, on a comparison of their own behavior with that of other children. Livesly and Bromley (1973) also documented the use of social comparisons around the age of 7.

As a child's awareness of others is refined, he or she becomes capable of self-criticism. Some research indicates that children ages 9-10 evidence a temporary drop in self-esteem, perhaps because of their emerging self-critical abilities. Self-criticism is obviously linked to the internalization of standards, and both are key factors in developing self-control and self-management (see the section below).

School-age children also take on a variety of new social roles—student, team member, friend. This type of self-knowledge is particularly important because it reflects knowledge of one's self in achieved rather than ascribed roles (Higgins and Eccles, 1983). In general, however, the self-knowledge that accompanies social roles is not well understood by researchers and requires the in-depth study of children in the appropriate contexts. For example, some research (Blumenfeld et al., 1979) suggests that acquiring self-knowledge of the student role may be as important as acquiring academic skills.

We know relatively little about these additional aspects of self-knowledge in part because self-concept is most often investigated in highly artificial situations. Assessing self-concept in meaningful contexts (play situations, competitive/cooperative situations, frustrating or rewarding situations) may activate some of these other aspects of self-knowledge and allow investigators to have access to them. Self-descriptions also should be elicited under a variety of task constraints. As children begin to appreciate the discrepancies between the subjective and the objective self, the settings in which descriptions are elicited may affect their reports. Thus, children may describe themselves in one way to their teacher and in quite another way to a potential friend or a stranger.

The Self-Concept In Information Processing

There is consensus in most of the recent research on self-understanding that self-concept is not a unitary, monolithic structure but is a multifaceted phenomenon, some aspects of which are continually changing. In viewing self-concept as an active, dynamic structure that is involved in mediating the social environment, self-concept has been viewed as an organized set of cognitive structures. Building on cognitive personality theory (Epstein, 1973; Kelly, 1955), Markus (1977, 1980) defined the self as a set of cognitive schemas. Self-schemas are knowledge structures about the self that derive from past experiences and that organize and guide the processing of the self-relevant information contained in the individual's social experiences. The individual is thought to actively construct both generalizations and by-potheses about the self from ongoing life events (e.g., ''I am independent," "I get along well with all types of people," "I am shy,'' "I am a good mother, teacher, volleyball player"). Self-schemas develop around those aspects of the self that become personally significant in the course of social interactions, and they reflect domains of enduring salience, investment, or concern.

Self-schemas provide the individual with a point of view, an anchor, or a frame of reference. As mechanisms of selectivity, they guide the individual in choosing the aspects of social behavior to be regarded as relevant and function as interpretive frameworks for understanding this behavior. The information-processing consequences of self-schemas have been discussed at length elsewhere (see Markus and Sentis, 1982; Markus and Smith, 1981, for reviews). With respect to the self, individuals with self-schemas in particular domains (1) can process information about the self efficiently (make judgments with relative ease and certainty, (2) are consistent in their responses, (3) have relatively better recognition memory and recall for information relevant to this domain, (4) can predict future behavior in the domain, (5) can resist information that is counter to a prevailing schema, and (6) can evaluate new information for its relevance to a given domain.

The self-schemas of children have not yet been explored, but Markus (1980) hypothesized that during middle childhood some of the most powerful and enduring self-schemas take shape. Self-schemas of academic ability, of popularity with peers, and of athletic ability are particularly likely to be generated during the elementary school years. Self-schemas define a past self, but even more important, because they contain representations of goals, plans, and behavioral strategies, they help define a future possible self.

A schematic view of the self does not make it any more accessible to direct observation, yet a view of the self as a knowledge structure (or a set of structures) does divest it of some of its mystical properties. Investigators may ask some relatively more focused questions about the active role of the self and the self as a process. Such questions include: How is the self represented in memory? How does it influence the way we process information about the social world? Is the self-structure just one of many structures that may be engaged to handle incoming information, or is it unique in some ways? And where in the information-processing sequence is it implicated—at encoding, at retrieval, or at inference?

In the social-psychological research on self-concept, other recent developments might be productively applied to understand the self-concept of the school-age child. Greenwald (1980), for example, has analyzed the self as a totalitarian state with some built-in biases that function to preserve its organization. These include egocentricity, beneffectance (a view of the self as responsible for the desired but not the undesired), and conservatism (resistance to cognitive change). All of these cognitive biases surely begin to develop very soon in an individual's experience of self and contribute to the total self-concept. Other theoretical ideas on self-presentation, self-monitoring, and self-awareness are also analyses of self-concept processes that could be usefully explored with children (see Wegner and Vallacher, 1980, for a review).

Research On Self-Regulation

Self-regulation can best be described as a set of components (e.g., self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-reinforcement, and self-control) constituting a dynamic process rather than as a single act or state. The disparate attempts to specify this complex process can be organized under four major headings: (1) ego control theories, (2) social learning theories, (3) cognitive/behavior modification theories, and (4) component models of self-regulation. The degree to which the self is centrally implicated by these theoretical perspectives varies, but they have all generated research that is potentially important for understanding the role of the self-concept in behavioral regulation during middle childhood.

Implications From Ego Psychology

With respect to self-management skills and motives, the psychodynamic model focuses on the internal drives and familial influences involved in adaptation, self-preservation, and mastery as well as on the conflicts and complications involved with each. In this tradition, Freud (1922) envisioned self-management as stemming both from the drive for self-preservation and from the management functions of the ego and the superego. The influence of the superego comes through the conscience as the moderating moral agent and through the ego ideal as the internalization of positive values and aspirations from significant family members (or, according to Shibutani, 1961, from a wider social network). Middle childhood is viewed as a period of latency wherein the superego has become strong enough to keep the disruptive forces (impulses) of the id under control, thus allowing the ego to develop. Through development of the ego, coregulation of self and social forces increasingly supplants the more fundamental regulation based on impulse (self as id) gratification. By its very definition as a period of latency, this ego development is not viewed as consciously involving intense conflict or struggle on the part of the individual. Furthermore, while some degree of external influence is acknowledged, traditional ego control theorists view self-control as a relatively stable personality characteristic deriving predominantly from forces within the self.

Loevinger's (1966; Loevinger and Wessler, 1970) theory of ego development, which expands on Kohlberg's (1969) well-known stages of moral development, incorporates many elements of the early ego theorists. Her model postulates a fixed sequence of developmental stages of impulse control and character development. With each stage the child is better able to control his or her behavior and to understand both internal and external sources of conflict and reward. Increasing self-control is first motivated by fear of reprisal, followed by a sense of moral obligation to obey rules, and finally by a sense of moral principle and personal integrity. This last stage best characterizes middle childhood. While developmental progress certainly varies, children in later middle childhood tend to be less rigid and self-centered in their moral reasoning.

From a developmental point of view, several questions about this and similar general stage models arise. While the stages are assumed to be broadly applicable, empirical validation of them as a measure of individual differences has been achieved only for adults. Whether the sequential nature of these stages can be generalized to children, however, is unclear. The extent to which such variables as intelligence and verbal fluency (Hauser, 1976) may mediate or be influenced by stage development is also unclear. And the extent to which the ego developmental levels can be used to predict and explain situation-or domain-specific behavior needs further investigation.

A somewhat different line of research involving impulse control has been that of Block and Block (1971, 1980). Their view of ego functioning draws heavily on Lewin's (1935, 1936, 1938, 1951) theory of motivational dynamics in a bounded psychological system of needs and forces. The major focus of their work has been identifying the components of ego control and ego resiliency, and their work is especially pertinent to middle childhood because it links the concept of ego control to the self-regulation patterns and skills of the individual.

In their investigation of antecedents leading to individual differences in ego control, Block and Block found considerable evidence of particular parental characteristics and child-rearing techniques associated with lack of impulse control (undercontrollers) and excessive control (overcontrollers). For example, undercontrollers as children tended to have neglectful parents who typically made little effort to encourage achievement or to teach age-appropriate skills. Family dynamics were often tense and unpredictable, with punishment often being more an expression of the parents' own anger than a consequence of the child's behavior that could be controlled. In short, the extent to which and the manner in which parents taught or imposed regulation on their children was predictive of the children's subsequent patterns of self-regulation. Even though the ego-control perspective highlights the role of the individual disposition, this research also implicates the potentially powerful influence of the salient environment—the family—and the importance of attending to it in the study of self-regulation.

The empirical investigation of many ego-centered constructs with children has required adjustments to make them more meaningful and appropriate to various age levels. What is lacking in the ego psychology literature is a thorough analysis of the ways in which ego control, ego resiliency, and other ego-related skills or states may be manifested differently at different developmental stages. Also needed is an assessment of the complementary nature of other theoretical explanations of self-regulation with those of ego development.

Social Learning Theory And Self-Management

While ego-control theorists view self-control as a stable dispositional (personality) characteristic, social learning theorists focus on the discriminative, situationally specific qualities of self-control. For example, a child's perception of how rewarding or punishing a model or a course of action is perceived to be will greatly influence his or her behavior. The basic self-control processes that have been explored from a social learning perspective also have centered around the functional control of impulses. By and large, these pursuits have involved resistance of temptation in the absence of surveillance, self-imposed delay of gratification or expression of impulses for the sake of future consequences, the tolerance of self-initiated frustration, and delay of self-imposed rewards (see Hatter, 1983b, for an extensive review).

Although recent work on social learning has begun to address the role of cognitive mediators in the self-control process, traditional approaches focused on environmental sources of behavioral control and viewed the individual in a largely reactive position. From this perspective, behavior that appears to be under control through self-reinforcement can, under close examination, be shown to be caused by near or distant external contingencies. Those who relax these traditional assumptions have tended to highlight the interactive relationship between the individual and the environment.

Two areas that have been studied from a social learning perspective are especially relevant to the self-concept tasks of middle childhood: (1) the effects of punishment and (2) the effects of modeling on self-regulation and self-control. Considerable support now exists for the general effectiveness of punishment in a child's development of internalized control (i.e., values and norms incorporated into the self-system) (see Johnston, 1972 and Parke, 1977, for reviews). Both the affective and cognitive aspects of self-concept play a role in self-regulation. For example, Aronfreed (1968, 1969, 1976) built a strong case for the importance of affect (particularly anxiety) in promoting the internalization of self-control standards. In his view a child will strive to avoid such negative affects as guilt, anxiety, or fear that become associated with the cognitive representations that co-occur with the punishment of certain behaviors. By reducing the occurrence of these negative affects, the child will avoid or reduce the associated cognitions and, thus, the related behavior.

Although a variety of potentially negative consequences are associated with punishment, there is evidence that punishment is particularly effective if accompanied by an explicit verbal rationale or moral evaluation. The relative effectiveness of different types of rationales tends to vary with the developmental stage of the child. For example, rationales emphasizing the rights of others as well as those based on empathy and an appreciation for others' feelings are more effective with children age 7 or older than with preschoolers. Pressley (1979) and Parke (1970, 1974, 1977) attribute these results to increased cognitive sophistication and more developed moral reasoning (and, thus, a better defined self-system).

Because of their greater self-awareness and astuteness at observing and inferring from others, school-age children are particularly vulnerable to influence through social modeling. Investigation of the effects of modeling in shaping and eliciting desirable behavior or suppressing undesirable behavior in children indicates the importance of situational and model characteristics. For example, the extent to which models are perceived as powerful and rewarding (Mischel and Grusec, 1966; Mischel and Liebert, 1966, 1967) or as behaving consistently with a child's moral or performance standards (e.g., Mischel and Liebert, 1966; Rosenhan and White, 1967) is significantly related to the likelihood of the child's emulating them and adopting their standards. Children are also more likely to inhibit behavior that they have observed being punished (Bandura, 1973; Bandura et al., 1963), particularly when the relevant contingencies are clearly communicated (Ross and Ross, 1976) and the child has an opportunity to practice the self-regulatory response (White, 1972).

Cognitive/Behavior Modification

Based on experimental clinical evidence with adults (e.g., Bandura, 1977; Mahoney, 1974) and with children (Craighead et al., 1976), social learning theories have expanded to incorporate an emphasis on cognitive mediation. These broader models highlight the role of social cognition (structures and processes) and developmental variables in self-regulation. The inclusion of active internal (self-system) variables and their dynamic, interactive relationships with external (social-system) variables represents an attempt at more integrative theorizing and more effective applications (Craighead et al., 1978).

Recent work by Mischel and his colleagues, for example, has focused on the mediating influence of attentional and cognitive-representational processes on children's ability to delay gratification and to resist temptation. Their empirical work suggests that it is the nature of the cognitive representation of rewards (e.g., thinking of a marshmallow as being white and puffy like clouds versus thinking of it as sweet and chewy) that appears to be the major determinant of young children's ability to wait for a larger reward. Furthermore, cognitive transformations that serve to minimize motivational arousal (i.e., that minimize the desire for immediate gratification) are likely to be most effective in promoting self-control (Mischel, 1974; Mischel and Baker, 1975; Mischel and Moore, 1973, Moore et al., 1976). Building on a greater awareness of his or her own motives and the conflicts they engender, the school-age youngster begins to develop an array of self-control strategies for managing difficult tasks and for overcoming "hot" (affect-laden) temptations (Mischel, 1979). This phenomenon exemplifies the manner in which the major developmental tasks in middle childhood build on each other as children become more and more accomplished and sophisticated in their self-control efforts.

In investigating children's ability to use self-instructional plans, Mischel and Patterson (1976, 1978) found that both the nature of the content or substance (e.g., temptation inhibiting, reward oriented, task facilitating) of the plan used, as well as its structure or organization (e.g., detailed or not), influenced the effectiveness of its use. More recent investigations into children's knowledge about the self-control process have suggested that lack of knowledge and lack of a repertoire of relevant strategies partly explain young children's failure to employ effective self-control strategies (Glucksberg et al., 1975; Patterson and Kister, in press).

Meichenbaum's (1976, 1977) research on self-instructional training, grounded in the early formulations of Luria (1959, 1961) and Vygotsky (1962), represents another important contribution to the study of self-regulation. Meichenbaum applied a developmental framework in assessing the influence of cognitive and linguistic processes over voluntary motor behaviors. In his three-stage model, behavior is initially controlled primarily through the speech of others (usually adults). In stage two the child's overt speech becomes an increasingly effective behavior regulator, and in stage three the child's covert or inner speech aids in effective self-regulation. Meichenbaum and others have used this cognitive behavior/linguistic model to develop treatment programs for children with a variety of impulse-control problems. [For reviews of the treatment efficacy of these and other cognitive behavior modification procedures, see Craighead et al. (1978), Karoly (1977), Kendall (1977), Kendall and Finch (1979), Mash and Dalby (1978), Meichenbaum and Goodman (1971).] Camp and her colleagues have extended this approach by emphasizing the importance of alternative, socially desirable behaviors to replace the inappropriate ones (Camp, 1980; Camp and Bush, in press; Camp and Ray, in press; Camp et al., 1977).

Distinctions between these various theoretical orientations are often not clear, and, as is evident here, considerable overlap exists among the avenues of research. Nevertheless, these efforts all highlight the cognitive behavior link and emphasize the growing awareness of the need to include such internal and "mediational" constructs as self-concept as well as other cognitive structures.

Component Models Of Self-Regulation

Component models of self-regulation specify the processes that trigger self-regulation and the sequence in which they occur. Like the cognitive behavior formulations of self-regulation, these models emphasize the importance of cognitive mediating processes to understand the relationship between cognition and behavior. While originally formulated for application to adults, the study of their application to children is growing.

While the various-component models differ in their specification of the critical processes involved (e.g., Bandura, 1977, 1982; Carver and Scheier, 1982; Kanfer, 1980; Kanfer and Phillips, 1970), all emphasize the importance of monitoring or observing one's own behavior, comparing ongoing performance to previously formed standards of values, and modifying behavior to reduce the perceived discrepancy between ongoing behavior and standards of comparison. Under the Kanfer model, for example, the child may develop new behaviors as well as regulate previously learned ones.

For example, in learning to write the letters of the alphabet, children may carefully monitor their writing behaviors, compare their work with former efforts or with an ideal model, and either modify their writing to more closely approximate their goals or feel satisfied with their accomplishments and leave them as is. A more complex and more social example is the reaction of the child who impulsively takes a favorite toy away from a playmate. The chain of quiet play behavior has been broken. The child sees the friend's unhappiness, evaluates his or her behavior against the value of "nice boys and girls share," experiences guilt, and adjusts his or her behavior by returning the toy and resuming play.

The models also share an emphasis on self-knowledge as primary in self-regulation. Carver and Scheier explicitly implicate self-understanding in their description of the function and salience of self-monitoring and self-anchored reference standards or values (Carver et al., 1981; Carver and Scheier, 1981a, 1981b; Scheier and Carver, in press). Attention or focus on the self serves an important mediating role in self-regulation. Directing attention to the self increases the tendency to compare one's present state with relevant and salient reference values and results in increased conformity to these standards.

Within Bandura's (1981) model, perceived self-efficacy is critical to effective self-regulation. While initial efficacy experiences are centered in the family, peers assume an increasingly important role in the school-age child's developing self-knowledge of his or her capacities. It is through peer interactions that children broaden the scope of or make finer distinctions as to their capacities and subsequent efficacy. The relationship between peer affiliations and efficacy development is viewed as reciprocal and as capable of working to the benefit or the detriment of the child.

The Need For Integrative And Developmental Perspectives

Research on self-management has been characterized by a diversity of theoretical approaches. Unfortunately, advances in one school of thought are rarely considered by another, and the result has been minimal theoretical integration. As a consequence, much of the work has served to explain only pieces of the phenomenon. Many are too global to be of practical utility (e.g., many of the stage models); others are too factor or situation specific to be generalizable across circumstances or to be meaningful to theorists of different perspectives. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of self-management and the range of intervening variables, a streamlining and integration of major findings from the fields of self-theory, cognitive psychology, social learning theory, ego development, and developmental psychology will surely be necessary.

Self-management is a crucial concern of middle childhood, yet much of the research is not couched within a developmental perspective. This omission partly reflects the difficulty of reliably measuring and understanding the various components and processes of self-management given the accelerated changes that characterize normal growth during this period. For example, are the various components of self-regulation equally important at all ages?

At a minimum, the cumulative and age-related nature of children's learning must be acknowledged (Staats, 1975).

Scaled-down models of self-regulation based on adult behavior may be not only insufficient but also inaccurate. Harter (1983b) suggests that the order of acquisition of critical components of the self-regulation process (i.e., self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-reinforcement) may be the reverse of the order in which they are postulated as operating in adulthood. Moreover, constructs and components of the self that are central and meaningful to the adult's self-definition may not be relevant to the child's self-definition or may be relevant in very different ways. Similarly, the manner and sequence of information processing and decision making changes with age as the child's cognitive skills (such as viewing the self as an object and reinforcing the self without external supports) increase.

Following this line of thought, Harter (1982) has pressed for the need to distinguish between the self as knower (active agent engaging in the processes of self-management) and the self as object (cognitive construction to which these processes are applied). Differentiating ontogenetic changes within these two realms should provide a more comprehensive understanding of self-observation, self-evaluation, and self-response and of the linkage between self-knowledge and self-management. In short, differentiation among the various dimensions (e.g., situational, perceptual, cognitive, behavioral, attitudinal, and emotional) of self-management from a development perspective is needed if meaningful and useful applications relevant to children are to be established.

In one attempt at synthesizing the relevant speculative and empirical literatures, Karoly (1977) presented a tentative four-component model that describes self-regulatory efforts. The first three steps—problem recognition and appraisal, commitment (choice), and extended self-management (self-control)—are capable of reciprocal influence; the fourth step involves habit reorganization. The model assumes some sort of novel or dramatic change recognized by the actor, which interrupts automatic chains of response or regulation and provokes a shift to "manual control."

Admittedly, models such as this one require considerably more detailed operationalization and evidence of applicability across situations and individuals. Karoly's model is exemplary, however, in its attention to skills that change during development, such as the ability to recognize a behavior management problem and to appreciate the potential value of self-management procedures. Step two, commitment, is also of particular importance for self-management by children, for the child must prefer self-management over perceived alternatives. The dimensions of perception, understanding, and motivation are often overlooked by researchers, theorists, and clinicians concerned with self-regulation in children. More recently, Karoly (in press) offered a more finely differentiated specification of the skill components requisite for acquiring and maintaining a repertoire of functional self-regulation responses. Efforts such as these, refined with regard to developmental differences and to means of utilization (e.g., assessment, prediction, intervention), have considerable promise.

Moderating Variables: Self-System And Social System

The framework outlined in the beginning of the chapter suggests a number of variables that may potentially influence the self-system and the social system as well as the resulting processes of self-understanding and self-regulation. Different social environments may be associated with very different self-concepts. Most obviously perhaps, children may differ in the ratio of social-system to self-system sources of regulation that characterize their behavior.

In some environments, children are enthusiastically encouraged to develop means for regulating their own behavior. They are also taught the importance of developing a separate, differentiated, or unique sense of self, and they soon develop strategies for protecting this unique self and for evaluating, monitoring, and presenting it to others. Children who have not been encouraged to develop autonomous selves may have proportionately more socially regulated reactions as a basis for self-understanding. When children are always surrounded by a similar set of others or have little privacy, it may be unnecessary and perhaps impossible to forge a differentiated sense of self.

Variation In The Self-System

Some societies encourage the development of a well-differentiated, autonomous self that is forcefully and willfully in control of all the important aspects of individual behavior. This self is also required to be a special or even unique self that is quite different from others, despite the obvious behavioral similarity that is required by the social environment. Such a view encourages what appears to be two selves—one that is private and one that is manipulated or presented to the public. Individuals are likely to vary, however, in how they meet these requirements.


Some people are more aware of their private selves or internal states than others. Researchers have explored differences in self-awareness of internal states under the label of self-consciousness (Buss and Scheier, 1976; Scheier and Carver, 1977). Those high in private self-consciousness are very aware of their beliefs, moods, and feelings and are highly reflective. In contrast, persons high in public self-consciousness are more aware of the self as a social object. They are highly concerned with their appearance and with the impression they are likely to make on others. To date, no investigations of this phenomenon have been conducted with children, but it is likely that marked differences in the self-consciousness of adults have their roots in strategies developed in middle childhood. One could hypothesize, for example, that those highest in public self-consciousness might have been most adept at early regulation of their behavior to meet the behavioral standards of others.

Snyder (1974, 1979) studied another aspect of self-awareness, that of self-monitoring. Self-monitoring refers to how much attention and value an individual accords to standards that are suggested by the environmental context. Snyder (1979) demonstrated significant differences in the social behavior of high and low self-monitors. Again, this phenomenon has not been explored specifically with children, but the origins of this individual difference could be examined by combining Snyder's ideas with the extensive theorizing on self-monitoring in the literature on self-regulation.


Jones and his colleagues (Jones and Berglas, 1978; Jones and Pittman, 1982) studied differences among individuals in the strategies they use to present the self to others. Self-presentation strategies involve individuals shaping their behaviors to create desired impressions of themselves in specific persons within the social environment. These strategies can be of either a self-enhancing or a self-handicapping nature. They might be aimed at maintaining a particular self-image or at changing one's own or another's image of the self. The ultimate goal is to control others' impressions or attributions of oneself.

This sometimes may take maladaptive forms. Research regarding self-handicapping, for example, suggests that some people regulate their behavior by selecting those circumstances for action that are most likely to render performance feedback ambiguous, which protects their private views of themselves from unequivocal negative feedback. Such stages may have their origins in middle childhood and may be particularly important in explaining scholastic underachievement. Children who are concerned about their own competence but whose view of their competence is uncertain or low may be more likely to deliberately underachieve than are their self-assured peers. The outcome is a less-than-best effort that invites failure but that also provides an attributional ''out'' ("I didn't try hard enough") regarding the question of competence. Again, however, both the theoretical and the empirical support undergirding these notions are adult based and devoid of developmental specification.

Variations In The Social System

With respect to potential variation in the nature of the social system, a number of factors have received empirical attention. For the most part, variables that influence the nature of the social environment experienced by the child (including social status, gender, family configuration, and child-rearing practices) have been analyzed primarily with respect to their influences on self-esteem. Their influence on all other aspects of the self-concept is yet to be investigated.

Social Class

Researchers who have focused on the relationship between social class and self-concept have been uniformly impressed with the potential for this variable to have a powerful influence on the self. Social class is a critical determinant of experiences and expectations. Social class can moderate the content of one's self-understanding; the nature of one's knowledge about the social world; and the content and nature of the particular rules, standards, and strategies that an individual develops in the course of socialization. This is due in part to the tendency of children to base their self-concepts on comparisons with others in terms of possessions, skills, and accomplishments. Lower-income children have fewer possessions. They also have less opportunity to develop their abilities (Berger, 1980); are less likely to feel that they are efficacious or have control over their futures (Bartel, 1971); and may be less likely to try hard, thus accomplishing less (Maehr, 1974).

Despite its origin in the social system, the meaning and importance of social class to a child must be assessed from the perspective of the child. Rosenberg (1979:147) provides one of the most compelling statements of this view:

One cannot understand the significance of a social structural variable for the individual without learning how this variable enters his experiences and is processed within his own phenomenal field. . .. If we hope to appreciate the meaning of social class (or, for that matter, the meaning of any social identity element, such as race, gender, or religion) for the child, it is essential to see social class from his viewpoint, to adopt the child's eye view of stratification, to understand how it enters his experiences and is internally processed. To the sociologist, social class means differential prestige, respect, possessions, and power, with obvious self-esteem implications. But from the viewpoint of the child, the matter appears entirely different.

Unfortunately, virtually all the research on the effects of social class has been concerned not with the child's view of stratification but almost exclusively with self-esteem. The vast majority of the research has focused on the relationship between academic achievement and self-esteem (see Epps and Smith, in this volume). Purkey (1970), for example, has shown a consistent relationship between these two variables as well as a relationship between social class and academic achievement.

In one of the most systematic studies of social class and the self (conducted in Baltimore and Chicago), Rosenberg (1979) explored the relationship between socioeconomic status and global self-esteem and attempted to see if children actually perceived their social-class standing. No association was found between social class and self-esteem among 8- to 11-year olds, a modest association was found among adolescents, and a somewhat stronger one was seen among adults. The lack of relationship between social status and self-esteem in middle childhood is probably explained by the fact that children at this age are seldom exposed to class-related social experiences, such as occupational discrimination (Kohn, 1969).

Issues surrounding social class may not be as important in middle childhood as they are later in life. This view holds that children of this age are relatively protected from categorizations and judgments based on social-class standing, particularly if the child grows up in a relatively homogeneous social environment. As Rosenberg (1979) pointed out, the individuals in the environment of the school-age child and the ones most likely to affect the child's self-esteem are usually of the same social standing as the child. Under most conditions these individuals do not stress social class in their interactions with the child. In contrast, the reflected appraisals received by adults position them squarely in social space.


What happens when a child's social world includes both a minority and a majority group, thereby increasing the salience of ethnicity and social class for the child? Viewing oneself as different from the majority group could conceivably lead to low self-esteem, especially when the minority group is the object of intense discrimination within the larger society. This notion was taken as self-evident by early investigators of the problem and received some support (Clark, 1965; Clark and Clark, 1947; Proshansky and Newton, 1968). Yet many recent investigations of the relationship between minority-group status and self-esteem, including a comprehensive review by Wylie (1979), do not support this conclusion.

Nonetheless, ethnicity remains a controversial and contested area of research (see McCall and Simmons, 1978; St. John, 1975; Cohen, 1972). Rosenberg (1979), for example, concluded that the self-esteem of blacks will suffer only in those circumstances in which blacks actually use whites as comparison groups. His study indicates that black students who interacted primarily with whites and compared themselves unfavorably with whites experienced reduced self-esteem. Most black children, however, interact primarily with other black children, and their self-evaluations, based on comparisons with their relevant social group, do not create in them a minority or low-status view of themselves.

Research in this area, as in that on the effects of social class, needs to focus on the child's perceptions of his or her social environment and go beyond studies that center on self-esteem. While self-esteem may not be influenced by either ethnicity or social class, it is indeed plausible that these factors will be reflected in the content of self-knowledge and in the nature of children's motives, goals, plans, and strategies.

Other Social System Variables

A number of studies have investigated the relationships between a variety of other aspects of the social system and the content and function of the self-concept during middle childhood but, again, not in any systematic or comprehensive fashion. Little is known, for example, about the relationship between styles of parenting and the nature of self-concept. The work on understanding contingencies and acquiring behavioral rules stresses the importance of consistency in the behavior of others in the social environment and the clarity with which the goals are modeled or presented (Mischel et al., 1978; Patterson, in press; Yates and Mischel, 1979). Unpredictability and inconsistency appear to cause some anxiety and confusion in the child, but the mediating links have not been specified. Similarly, poor supervision and parenting have been related to behavior problems in middle childhood. Specifying the relationship between these types of variables and compliance as well as the internalization of behavior standards creates a number of intriguing problems for researchers.

The relationship between other social-system variables, such as gender and family configuration, and self-concept could be further examined. Family configuration (birth order, family size, and sex composition) provides the child's most meaningful social environment for a substantial period of his or her life. Many aspects of the self-system, particularly those regarding strategies for managing one's own behavior in relationship to others and modes of social comparison, may be influenced by whether one is the first-born or a later-born child or whether one lives in a small or a large family. Zajonc (1976) emphasized the potential importance of family configuration as a social-environmental variable, but he explored it only in relation to intellectual performance.


Many of the methodological and measurement issues involved in studying self-understanding and self-regulation have been interwoven throughout our discussion of substantive concerns. In many cases, what appears as deficient and inadequate methodology is a direct function of ill-defined constructs and the lack of a comprehensive theoretical context.

The use of more delimited, more precise constructs is necessary. The grand theories that have undergirded previous research are no longer sufficient. More integrated and comprehensive theories must clearly define each structure and process in terms of patterns of development. One proposed framework for cognitive development focuses on (1) sequence (What is the order in which developments occur?); (2) synchrony (Which developments occur at the same time as others?); and (3) constraint (Of all the possible developments, which are most likely to occur?) (Fischer and Bullock, 1981).

Efforts to formulate theoretical paradigms that reflect the dynamic interdependence between self-system and social system also would be particularly useful. Karoly's (1977) four-stage model and her more recent efforts (in press) at further discrimination among the various influences and skill components constituting self-management represent noteworthy examples.

A further point follows from one general limitation of many self-concept theories that have stressed the importance of the individual's internal processes while neglecting other objectively measurable variables. Such variables include the individual's previous experience, his or her objective characteristics/individual differences, and differences in significant features of the social environment (e.g., family configuration). While the effect of environmental factors on cognitive development has received considerable attention, developmental theorists must now specify how these effects contribute to change in the organization of behavior (Fischer, 1980).

We reiterate the case for more innovative study design emphasized throughout this volume. To adequately chart developmental progress, longitudinal designs are useful. This necessitates, among other things, developmental models and measures that are appropriate to the abilities children of different ages possess. Closely related to this is the need for designs that can better accommodate the dynamic interaction between the self-system and the social system. Admittedly, this is a major dilemma for psychology in general and one that requires considerable ingenuity as well as methodological sophistication. Studies conducted within the natural contexts of middle childhood that more closely approximate the child's natural life experience would be a potentially useful addition to the research. More detailed methodological suggestions and guidelines can be found in the work of Karoly (1977), which addresses the measurement needs of research on children's self-management, and in research by Wylie (1979), which explores difficulties in assessing self-concept.


This chapter reviews the major efforts concerned with the content and function of self-concept in children ages 6-12. We have combined two previously disparate literatures—one on self-understanding and self-knowledge and one on self-regulation and have tried to demonstrate that the study of what children know about themselves becomes most useful when it is linked with past behavior and perceptions and its role in ongoing and future behavioral regulation. Conversely, we have stressed that a complete understanding of the processes of behavioral regulation will require an understanding of what children know about themselves—what rules, standards, values, or goals they have for themselves—and how this knowledge is used to control behavior. An interweaving of these two areas—self-understanding and self-regulation—will result in a richer, more dynamic, and more interactive formulation of self-concept, one in which self-concept can be analyzed as both a social consequence and as a social force.

In outlining the theoretical and empirical work on self-concept, we have emphasized the importance of viewing self-concept as being determined by both individual and social-system needs and goals. At any point in the individual's life, the current self-concept reflects an organization and integration of the salient self-perceptions. Many of these self-perceptions are determined by the reactions of others. The result is that the content of self-knowledge and the way this knowledge is invoked to regulate behavior are likely to be continually changing as children mature and their social environments change or expand. In middle childhood the development of self-concept requires that children develop a relatively stable and comprehensive understanding of themselves, that they refine their understanding of how the social world works, that they develop standards and expectations for their own behavior, and that they develop strategies for controlling or managing their behavior. Changes in the child (e.g., cognitive development) and changes in the social environment (e.g., going to school) can be analyzed for their likely impact on these various components of self-concept.

As indicated by our review of the literature on self-understanding, much is known about the content of self-concept. What is missing, however, is a broader perspective on self-understanding, one that includes an examination of children's knowledge of their motives, goals, standards, and strategies for self-regulation. The role of emotional content in self-concept and the relationship between knowledge of affective states and behavioral regulation are also in need of greater specification. Understanding these additional aspects of self-knowledge will enable us to specify more fully the role of self-concept in the regulation of behavior and to understand how self-concept changes in response to the social environment.

With respect to behavioral regulation, a number of theoretical perspectives, many quite similar, attempt to explain how children gain control of their behavior. These general approaches to self-management have been quite global in their analysis of self-control. More detailed empirical work on particular self-management tasks is clearly needed. Moreover, research on self-management should be more closely tied to the research on self-knowledge. Finally, the research on self-regulation should be expanded beyond studies concerned solely with achievement and performance.

Despite some significant gaps, our understanding of the role of the individual in regulating his or her own behavior is considerable compared with our understanding of the role of the social system. Research that has implicated the social system in behavior has seldom been systematic. In part this is due to the lack of good conceptual models relevant to the problem. From the work of behaviorists and cognitive behaviorists on self-control, we have some knowledge of how minor changes in a very constrained environment influence behavior. With respect to the larger social environment, much less exists. Rosenberg's (1979) work involving social-class differences is an exception, but it has been confined to self-esteem. In developing better models of social-system influence on behavior, the range of links between cognitive developments in the child and social developments should be extensively explored. For example, it is often asserted that children will not engage in social comparison or self-criticism before they are cognitively able to take the perspective of another. The configuration of the social environment, however, may markedly facilitate or impair this cognitive development. For example, a child in a family with three other children may be required to take the perspective of another much sooner than an only child.

In general, the social environment should not be construed as a monolithic external factor that impinges on a fairly stable self. Instead it can be more productively viewed as shaping or creating the social self and, in turn, as being structured by the individual. More models of the mutual and reciprocal influences between the self-system and the social system should provide an understanding of how coregulation between the two systems is achieved and of how individuals become members of society or social beings. While we have some understanding of how the school-age child gains a coherent and stable view of self, we know much less about how the child gains social knowledge and develops interpersonal standards and individual strategies for the control of behavior.

Above all, we have stressed in this chapter the need to locate children within their broader social contexts regardless of the particular phenomenon being analyzed and the value of studying self-concept in relation to the regulation of behavior. Quite simply, our review suggests that the nature or content of self-concept should not be studied apart from its social origins or its specific behavioral functions for the individual.


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What refers to the perceptions we have of who we are or our self

Self-concept is how we perceive our behaviors, abilities, and unique characteristics. 1 For example, beliefs such as "I am a good friend" or "I am a kind person" are part of an overall self-concept.

Which of the following is defined as the kind of person you believe yourself to be?

The perceived self is the person you believe yourself to be in the moments of honesty self-examination. The presenting self is a public-image the way we want to appear to others. Describe the (2) types of self-fulfilling prophecy? Self-Imposed prophecy: Occurs when your own expectations influence your behavior.

What are the four aspects of self perception quizlet?

Note that self-concept includes four components: personal identity, body image, self-esteem, and role performance.

Which term refers to a person whose opinion is important enough to affect one's self

Significant Other. a person whose opinion is important enough to affect one's self-concept strongly. Social Comparison. evaluating ourselves in terms of how we compare with others.