What Is Self-Concept and How Does It Form? (2023)

Self-concept is the image we have of ourselves. It is influenced by many forces, including our interaction with important people in our lives. Learn more about self-concept, including whether it can be changed and a few theories related to self-identity and self-perception.

Self-Concept

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

Other examples of self-concept include:

  • How you view your personality traits, such as whether you are an extrovert or introvert
  • How you see your roles in life, such as whether you feel that being a parent, sibling, friend, and partner are important parts of your identity
  • The hobbies or passions that are important to your sense of identity, such as being a sports enthusiast or belonging to a certain political party
  • How you feel about your interactions with the world, such as whether you feel that you are contributing to society

Our self-perception is important because it affects our motivations, attitudes, and behaviors. It also affects how we feel about the person we think we are, including whether we are competent or have self-worth.

Self-concept tends to be more malleable when we're younger and still going through self-discovery and identity formation. As we age and learn who we are and what's important to us, these self-perceptions become much more detailed and organized.

At its most basic, self-concept is a collection of beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others. It embodies the answer to the question: "Who am I?" If you want to find your self-concept, list things that describe you as an individual. What are your traits? What do you like? How do you feel about yourself?

Rogers' Three Parts of Self-Concept

Humanist psychologistCarl Rogers believed that self-concept is made up of three different parts:

  • Ideal self: The ideal self is the person you want to be. This person has the attributes or qualities you are either working toward or want to possess. It's who you envision yourself to be if you were exactly as you wanted.
  • Self-image: Self-image refers to how you see yourself at this moment in time. Attributes like physical characteristics, personality traits, and social roles all play a role in your self-image.
  • Self-esteem: How much you like, accept, and value yourself all contribute to your self-concept. Self-esteem can be affected by a number of factors—including how others see you, how you think you compare to others, and your role in society.

Incongruence and Congruence

Self-concept is not always aligned with reality. When it is aligned, your self-concept is said to be congruent. If there is a mismatch between how you see yourself (your self-image) and who you wish you were (your ideal self), your self-concept is incongruent. This incongruence can negatively affect self-esteem.

Rogers believed that incongruence has its earliest roots in childhood. When parents place conditions on their affection for their children (only expressing love if children "earn it" through certain behaviors and living up to the parents' expectations), children begin to distort the memories of experiences that leave them feeling unworthy of their parents' love.

Unconditional love, on the other hand, helps to foster congruence. Children who experience such love—also referred to as family love—feel no need to continually distort their memories in order to believe that other people will love and accept them as they are.

Defining Personality in Psychology

How Self-Concept Develops

Self-concept develops, in part, through our interaction with others. In addition to family members and close friends, other people in our lives can contribute to our self-identity.

For instance, one study found that the more a teacher believes in a high-performing student's abilities, the higher that student's self-concept. (Interestingly, no such association was found with lower-performing students.)

Self-concept can also be developed through the stories we hear. As an example, one study found that female readers who were "deeply transported" into a story about a leading character with a traditional gender role had a more feminist self-concept than those who weren't as moved by the story.

The media plays a role in self-concept development as well—both mass media and social media. When these media promote certain ideals, we're more likely to make those ideals our own. And the more often these ideals are presented, the more they affect our self-identity and self-perception.

Can Self-Concept Be Changed?

Self-concept is not static, meaning that it can change. Our environment plays a role in this process. Places that hold a lot of meaning to us actively contribute to our future self-concept through both the way we relate these environments to ourselves and how society relates to them.

Self-concept can also change based on the people with whom we interact. This is particularly true with regard to individuals in our lives who are in leadership roles. They can impact the collective self (the self in social groups) and the relational self (the self in relationships).

In some cases, a medical diagnosis can change self-concept by helping people understand why they feel the way they do—such as someone receiving an autism diagnosis later in life, finally providing clarity as to why they feel different.

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Other Self-Concept Theories

As with many topics within psychology, a number of other theorists have proposed different ways of thinking about self-concept.

Social Identity

Social psychologist Henri Tajfel developed social identity theory, which states that self-concept is composed of two key parts:

  • Personal identity: The traits and other characteristics that make you unique
  • Social identity: Who you are based on your membership in social groups, such as sports teams, religions, political parties, or social class

This theory states that our social identity influences our self-concept, thus affecting our emotions and behaviors. If we're playing sports, for instance, and our team loses a game, we might feel sad for the team (emotion) or act out against the winning team (behavior).

Multiple Dimensions

Psychologist Bruce A. Bracken had a slightly different theory and believed that self-concept was multidimensional, consisting of six independent traits:

  • Academic: Success or failure in school
  • Affect: Awareness of emotional states
  • Competence: Ability to meet basic needs
  • Family: How well you work in your family unit
  • Physical: How you feel about your looks, health, physical condition, and overall appearance
  • Social: Ability to interact with others

In 1992, Bracken developed the Multidimensional Self-Concept Scale, a comprehensive assessment that evaluates each of these six elements of self-concept in children and adolescents.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is the development of self-concept finished?

    Self-concept development is never finished. Though one's self-identity is thought to be primarily formed in childhood, your experiences as an adult can also change how you feel about yourself. If your self-esteem increases later in life, for instance, it can improve your self-concept.

  • How does self-concept affect communication?

    Our self-concept can affect the method by which we communicate. If you feel you are a good writer, for instance, you may prefer to communicate in writing versus speaking with others.

    It can also affect the way we communicate. If your social group communicates a certain way, you would likely choose to communicate that way as well. Studies on teens have connected high self-concept clarity with more open communication with parents.

    (Video) The BEST Explanation of SELF CONCEPT & How to Change It!

  • What is the difference between self-concept and self-esteem?

    Self-concept refers to a broad description of ourselves ("I am a good writer") while self-esteem includes any judgments or opinions we have of ourselves ("I feel proud to be a good writer"). Put another way, self-concept answers the question: Who am I? Self-esteem answers the question: How do I feel about who I am?

  • Why is a well-developed self-concept beneficial?

    Our self-concept impacts how we respond to life, so a well-developed self-concept helps us respond in ways that are more positive and beneficial for us. One of the ways it does this is by enabling us to recognize our worth. A well-developed self-concept also helps keep us from internalizing negative feedback from others.

  • How does culture influence self-concept?

    Different cultures have different beliefs. They have different ideas of how dependent or independent one should be, different religious beliefs, and differing views of socioeconomic development.

    All of these cultural norms influence self-concept by providing the structure of what is expected within that society and how one sees oneself in relation to others.

16 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Bailey JA 2nd. Self-image, self-concept, and self-identity revisited. J Natl Med Assoc. 2003;95(5):383-386.

  2. Mercer S. Self-concept: Situating the self. In: Mercer S, Ryan S, Williams M, eds. Psychology for Language Learning. Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137032829_2

  3. Argyle M. Social encounters: Contributions to Social Interaction. 1st ed. Routledge.

  4. Koch S. Formulations of the person and the social context. In: Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. III. McGraw-Hill:184-256.

  5. Pesu L, Viljaranta J, Aunola K. The role of parents' and teachers' beliefs in children's self-concept development. J App Develop Psychol. 2016;44:63-71. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2016.03.001

  6. Richter T, Appel M, Calio F. Stories can influence the self-concept. Social Influence. 2014;9(3):172-88. doi:10.1080/15534510.2013.799099

  7. Vandenbosch L, Eggermont S. The interrelated roles of mass media and social media in adolescents' development of an objectified self-concept: A longitudinal study. Communc Res. 2015. doi:10.1177/0093650215600488

  8. Prince D. What about place? Considering the role of physical environment on youth imagining of future possible selves. J Youth Stud. 2014;17(6):697-716. doi:10.1080/13676261.2013.836591

  9. Kark R, Shamir B. The dual effect of transformational leadership: priming relational and collective selves and further effects on followers. In: Avolio BJ, Yammarino FJ, eds.Monographs in Leadership and Management. Vol 5. Emerald Group Publishing Limited; 2013:77-101. doi:10.1108/S1479-357120130000005010

  10. Stagg SD, Belcher H. Living with autism without knowing: receiving a diagnosis in later life. Health Psychol Behav Med. 2019;7(1):348-361. doi:10.1080/21642850.2019.1684920

  11. Tajfel H, Turner J. An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In: Hogg MA, Abrams D, eds.Intergroup Relations: Essential Readings. Psychology Press:94–109.

  12. Scheepers D. Social identity theory. Social Psychol Act. 2019. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-13788-5_9

  13. Bracken BA. Multidimensional Self Concept Scale. American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/t01247-000

  14. Sampthirao P. Self-concept and interpersonal communication. Int J Indian Psychol. 2016;3(3):6. dip:18.01.115/20160303

  15. Van Dijk M, Branje S, Keijsers L, Hawk S, Hale !, Meeus W. Self-concept clarity across adolescence: Longitudinal associations with open communication with parents and internalizing symptoms. J Youth Adolesc. 2013;43:1861-76. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-0055-x

  16. Vignoles V, Owe E, Becker M, et al. Beyond the 'east-west' dichotomy: Global variation in cultural models of selfhood. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2016;145(8):966-1000. doi:10.1037/xge0000175

Additional Reading

(Video) Self concept - explained

What Is Self-Concept and How Does It Form? (2)

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Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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(Video) The Development of the Self Concept (Screencast)

FAQs

What is self-concept and how is it formed? ›

Self-concept is the image or the idea we have about ourselves. It can be thought of as our perception of our abilities, behaviors and characteristics. It helps us draw a mental picture of who we are—physically, socially and emotionally. We form and develop our self-concept over time.

What is self-concept answer? ›

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.

What is self-concept and why is it important? ›

Our self-concept is an important guiding principle that helps us navigate the world and understand our role in it. Parts of our self-concept may be good or not-so-good for our well-being. That's why learning more about our own self-concept may be beneficial.

What exactly is a self-concept and how does it impact your life? ›

Self-concept is how someone sees themselves and the perception that they hold about their abilities. There are various factors that can affect self-concept, these include: age, sexual orientation, gender and religion. The self-concept is also made up of a combination of self-esteem and self-image.

What are three ways self-concept is formed? ›

There are three main components of self-concept:
  • Self-image- How we see ourselves including physical and cognitive evaluations.
  • Ideal-self- The person we would like to be or become.
  • Self-worth- This is also known as self-esteem which is formed by social interactions and feedback from others.
Sep 29, 2021

What develops your self-concept? ›

Factors That Shape Self-Concept

Temperament, context, cultural heritage, gender, life experiences, and the media can also shape who a person thinks he/she is, and even how they feel about themselves. According to self-comparison theory, comparisons to other people have a major influence on self-concept.

What is your self-concept quizlet? ›

Self-concept. An individual's view of self; subjective; mixture of unconscious and conscious thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Identity. The internal sense of individuality, wholeness, and consistency of a person over time and in different situations. Being distinct and separate from others.

What does self-concept mean in a sentence? ›

Britannica Dictionary definition of SELF–CONCEPT. [count] formal. : the idea that you have about the kind of person you are. Children need to develop a positive self-concept.

How does self-concept work? ›

Self-concept is the ability to reflect on one's own traits, skills and behavior. Traits, competencies and values are the three factors that are part of the self-concept theory. Traits are specific patterns of behavior that exist within an individual.

Why is self-concept important how does it affect a person? ›

A healthy self-concept impacts the questions you typically ask yourself each day, and it affects how you interact with people, how you think about yourself, others, and circumstances. Putting all this together, your self-concept effectively determines what you will do or choose not to do at any given moment in time.

What are the most important aspects of self-concept? ›

The self-concept is a knowledge representation that contains knowledge about us, including our beliefs about our personality traits, physical characteristics, abilities, values, goals, and roles, as well as the knowledge that we exist as individuals.

What is self-concept and example? ›

Turner suggested self-concept was a combination of personal and social identities, and that people could define themselves on multiple levels based on their intrapersonal comparisons. For example, as an individual, you may identify yourself as a strong athlete.

What are the 4 types of self-concept? ›

Second, we distinguish the four main conceptual units that constitute the various selves of self-presentation. These are the public self, the self-concept, the actual or behavioral self, and the ideal self.

What are the four 4 parts of self-concept? ›

There are 4 components that define the esteem you might feel for yourself: self-confidence, identity, feeling of belonging, and feeling of competence.

What is your reflection about self-concept? ›

A Self-Reflection Definition. Simply put, self-reflection (also known as “personal reflection”) is taking the time to think about, meditate on, evaluate, and give serious thought to your behaviors, thoughts, attitudes, motivations, and desires.

What are self-concept questions? ›

Questions to ask yourself to build self-confidence
  • What actions and activities make you feel purposeful? ...
  • What do you do well? ...
  • What does feeling self-assured mean to you? ...
  • How can you contribute to others feeling confident and capable? ...
  • What do you value and what are your fundamental beliefs?
Sep 29, 2021

How do you explain a concept example? ›

Illustrate with examples

Analogies, anecdotes, and other details may help your audience better understand your concept. Feathers and swans: one helpful, the other unhelpful because of the existing knowledge of the listener. An analogy involves explaining an unfamiliar concept in terms of a familiar one.

Can you give me an example of concept? ›

Concepts can be based on real phenomena and are a generalized idea of something of meaning. Examples of concepts include common demographic measures: Income, Age, Eduction Level, Number of SIblings.

What is self-concept and how is it studied? ›

To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself. Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition: "The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is". The self-concept is an important term for both social and humanistic psychology.

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