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How do introspection and self-awareness affect the way we view ourselves? In this lesson, we’ll look at the definition, examples, and effects of introspection and self-awareness.

Introspection

Imagine this: You are standing on the porch of a vast house. You can look out over the yard and see all that’s before you: trees, birds, a fence. You could walk down the steps to the front yard and explore the world beyond the house. Or, you can turn around and go into the house, walk through each room, and discover what’s inside.

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That’s kind of the difference between introspection and outward observation. Introspection happens when people look inward and examine their thoughts, feelings, and motives. It’s kind of like walking inside the house to explore.Often, people focus more on the world around them than on what’s going on inside. This makes sense.

After all, there are usually things around us that demand our attention. People, weather, animals, nature, buildings, and millions of other things can take our attention.But, introspection is focusing our attention away from all of those other things and putting it on our interior life. Introspection is one way that we construct an idea of who we are. But, there are a couple of problems with introspection.

First, people don’t use introspection as much as we might expect them to. As we mentioned, with so many other things to take our attention away, people just don’t sit and examine their thoughts and feelings very often.The other issue that arises with introspection is that when people do use it, they aren’t always aware of why they feel the way they do or what motivates their actions.Still, introspection can be a powerful tool to learn about yourself. It can lead to self-awareness, or understanding that you are separate from your environment and from other people and appreciating what makes you different.

Self-Awareness Theory

Think about a time when you did or said something that you aren’t proud of.

Maybe you were mean to your friend because you felt jealous, or you took a candy bar from a store without paying for it. Why did you feel badly about your behavior? Self-Awareness Theory has an answer.Self-Awareness Theory is the idea that when we pay attention to ourselves, through introspection or some other way, we judge ourselves according to our values. In the example above, your behavior was out of line with your values, and, therefore, you felt guilty about it.

You might think that self-awareness happens all the time, but studies show that, like introspection, people aren’t self-aware most of the time. In one classic study, scientists gave people a beeper to carry around with them. Whenever the beeper went off, the participants were asked to stop what they were doing and record their thoughts. Surprisingly, subjects were engaging in self-aware thinking only about 8% of the time!

Effects

So, why should people engage in introspection and self-awareness? There are several benefits to being aware of yourself and your internal processes. Studies have shown that when people are engaged in introspection, they are more likely to make decisions based on their values. And, the more self-aware people are, the more likely they are to stay out of trouble and engage in prosocial behavior.

This makes sense; after all, if you are thinking about and aware of what your values are, you are much more likely to match your behavior to them.Remember that Self-Awareness Theory says that when we focus our attention on ourselves, we will evaluate our behavior against our internal standards and values. As we just said, this can result in positive feelings if our behavior matches up or surpasses our standards and values. However, if we notice that we are not acting according to our values or our standards, we will feel uncomfortable.Think back to the example we used above, of a time when you said something that was out of line with your standards and values.

If it’s something relatively small or a relatively unusual occurrence, then we are likely to feel guilt but move beyond it.However, if we notice behavior on our part that is grossly out of sync with our values, or behavior that happens on a regular basis that is against our values, we will have a harder time relinquishing the negative feelings associated with self-awareness. To escape, some people engage in destructive behaviors, like drinking or drugs, to cope with the discomfort brought about by self-awareness.

Lesson Summary

Introspection is the process of examining our thoughts, feelings, and motives. It can lead to self-awareness, or having our attention focused on ourselves. Self-Awareness Theory states that noticing ourselves and our behavior leads us to judging our behavior according to our internal standards.

If our behavior matches up to our values, there can be positive benefits to self-awareness. However, if our behavior goes against our values, people will experience negative feelings and may engage in destructive behaviors as a result.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Define introspection and self-awareness
  • Describe the two problems with introspection
  • Summarize Self-Awareness Theory
  • Discuss some of the positive and negative effects of self-awareness and introspection

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