Self-Awareness and Self-Knowledge
- Mark Alicke, Mark AlickeOhio University
- Yiyue ZhangYiyue ZhangOhio University
- and Nicole StephensonNicole StephensonOhio University
Research has explored the relationship between self-knowledge and self-awareness. Specifically, psychologists see self-awareness as a step on the path toward self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is not a monolithic concept. For instance, the working self-concept is the self that is most relevant and accessible at a given time, while the global self-concept is an enduring, stored version of oneself. Implicit self-views are normally unconscious, whereas explicit self-views are generally conscious. The discrepancy between implicit and explicit self-knowledge sometimes results in inaccurate evaluations of attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. Other types of self-knowledge are context-dependent. Established theories such as social identity theory state that people have distinct self-views in different situations. For example, self-complexity refers to the number of self-aspects a person possesses. Finally, there are also distinctions between accurate (i.e., self-assessment theory) and positive self-knowledge (i.e., self-enhancement theory). Self-assessment theory posits that people are information seekers who desire accurate self-views. On the contrary, self-enhancement theory says that people seek to maintain positive self-views and are averse to negative self-information. Depending on the context and the concerns for self-presentation, individuals have preferences to pursue accurate or enhancing self-information.
Increased self-knowledge can manifest in three major ways: via biological, interpersonal, and intrapsychic origins. Biological explanations of the origins of self-knowledge are mostly concerned with genetic expressions and brain activities. Interpersonal paths also help individuals develop self-knowledge. For instance, social comparison facilitates people’s formation of self-views by comparing themselves with similar others. Reflected appraisals increase people’s awareness of their own abilities, qualities, and identities through others’ lens. Intrapsychic self-knowledge can be obtained through self-perception, in which people learn about themselves by observing and analyzing their behaviors in relevant situations. Introspection—focusing on the self—helps people ascertain the reasons behind their feelings and behaviors, which contributes to self-views. However, introspection can sometimes lead to flawed self-knowledge, or result in negative feelings induced by the feelings of inadequacy.
Building on introspection, self-awareness provides another avenue for self-knowledge. The capacity to be aware of one’s existence, or reflexive self-consciousness, is a fundamental component of human cognition. Experimentally induced self-awareness has been shown to have positive effects (e.g., greater compliance with internal standards). Sometimes, however, awareness can have aversive consequences (e.g., suicide) because it reveals that one has fallen short of one’s goals. One way to reduce this discomfort is to avoid self-awareness, such as by cognitive deconstruction—an induction of a cognitive state that lacks emotion, a sense of the future, or concentration on the present. Another way to avoid self-awareness is through deindividuation, which is characterized by a temporary loss of personal identity, especially in a large group. Because self-awareness is associated with both life- and death-related thoughts, researchers argue the nature of this awareness is existential.