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definition - Self-image

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A person's self-image is the mental picture, generally of a kind that is quite resistant to change, that depicts not only details that are potentially available to objective investigation by others (height, weight, hair color, gender, I.Q. score, etc.), but also items that have been learned by that person about himself or herself, either from personal experiences or by internalizing the judgments of others. A simple definition of a person's self-image is their answer to this question - "What do you believe people think about you?".

Self-image may consist of three types:

  1. Self-image resulting from how the individual sees himself or herself.
  2. Self-image resulting from how others see the individual.
  3. Self-image resulting from how the individual perceives others see him or her.

These three types may or may not be an accurate representation of the person. All, some or none of them may be true.

A more technical term for self-image that is commonly used by social and cognitive psychologists is self-schema. Like any schema, self-schemas store information and influence the way we think and remember. For example, research indicates that information which refers to the self is preferentially encoded and recalled in memory tests, a phenomenon known as "Self-referential encoding".[1]


  Poor self-image

Poor self-image may be the result of accumulated criticisms that the person collected as a child which have led to damaging their own view of themselves. Children in particular are vulnerable to accepting negative judgments from authority figures because they have yet to develop competency in evaluating such reports.

Poor self-image is not always caused by other people. The person may be often told he or she is beautiful/pretty/handsome but cannot personally see it. Poor judgement on her or himself can be disastrous if not controlled properly.

Negative self-images can arise from a variety of factors. A prominent factor, however, is personality type. Perfectionists, high achievers, and those with "type A" personalities seem to be prone to having negative self-images.[2]This is because such people constantly set the standard for success high above a reasonable, attainable level. Thus, they are constantly disappointed in this "failure."

  Self-image maintenance

When people are in the position of evaluating others, self-image maintenance processes can lead to a more negative evaluation depending on the self-image of the evaluator. That is to say stereotyping and prejudice may be the way individuals maintain their self-image. When individuals evaluate a member of a stereotyped group, they are less likely to evaluate that person negatively if their self-images had been bolstered through a self-affirmation procedure, and they are more likely to evaluate that person stereotypically if their self-images have been threatened by negative feedback.[3] Individuals may restore their self-esteem by derogating the member of a stereotyped group.[4]

  Residual self-image

Residual self-image is the concept that individuals tend to think of themselves as projecting a certain physical appearance,[5][6] or certain position of social entitlement, or lack thereof.[7] The term was used at least as early as 1968,[8] but was popularized in fiction by the Matrix series, where persons who existed in a digitally created world would subconsciously maintain the physical appearance that they had become accustomed to projecting.[9]

  Self-image of victimisation

Victims of abuse and manipulation often get trapped into a self-image of victimisation. The psychological profile of victimisation includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair.[10]

  Children’s self-image disparity

Self-image disparity was found to be positively related to chronological age (CA) and intelligence, two factors thought to increase concomitantly with maturity: Capacity for guilt and ability for cognitive differentiation.[11] However, males had larger self-image disparities than females, whites had larger disparities and higher ideal self images than blacks, and SES (socioeconomic status) affected self-images differentially for the 2nd and 5th graders.[12]

  See also


  1. ^ Rogers et al. 1977
  2. ^ Adler, Ronald B., Lawrence B. Rosenfeld, and Russell F. Proctor, II. Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication, 25.
  3. ^ Fein, S., & Spencer, S.J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73(1), 31-44.
  4. ^ Florack, A., Scarabis, M., & Gosejohann, S. (2005). The Effects of Self-Image Threat on the Judgment of Out-Group Targets. Swiss Journal of Psychology 64(2), 87-101.
  5. ^ Literature and Psychology No. 4, Vol. 49; Pg. 43; ISSN 0024-4759.
  6. ^ Stephen R. Lankton, Carol H. Lankton, Enchantment and Intervention in Family Therapy (1986), p. 57.
  7. ^ Kum-Kum Bhavnani, Ann Phoenix, Shifting Identities, Shifting Racisms: A Feminism & Psychology Reader (1994), p. 31.
  8. ^ Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association: Volume 16, Issues 3-4 (1968), p. 594. (stating "Women remain 'depriving competitors,' and the residual self image is 'I don't have the equipment to attract men.'")
  9. ^ Matt Lawrence, Like a Splinter in Your Mind: The Philosophy Behind the Matrix (2004), p. 212.
  10. ^ Braiker, Harriet B., Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation (2006)
  11. ^ Katz, P., & Zigler, E. (1967). Self-image Disparity: A Developmental Approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 5(2), 186-195.
  12. ^ Phillips, D.A., & Zigler, E.F. (1980). Children's self-image disparity: Effects of age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39(4), 689-700.
  • Rogers, T.B., Kuiper, N.A., Kirker, W.S. (1977) Self-Reference and the Encoding of Personal Information, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 677-688.


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