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How people view themselves has a lot to do with how they view the world around them.

This lesson looks at the self, including its executive and organizational functions and gender and cultural differences in constructing a self-image.

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The Self

When someone says, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ how do you respond? When you look at a photo of you and your friends, can you pick out which one is you? What makes you different from the other people around you?All of these questions deal with the self. In psychology, the self is the idea that you are separate and different from other people. At the most basic level, recognizing that you have a self involves realizing that you inhabit a different body than other people. But of course, there’s much more involved in constructing your sense of self.

All of our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts go into determining who we are.Experiences, values, and beliefs are an important part of constructing a concept of who you are as well. Even things like what you do for a living, what music you listen to, and how you like to relax help determine what makes you, you.Considering that every part of you and your life contributes to your sense of self, you’d probably guess that it’s pretty important. But, why is it so important to have a self-concept?There are two major functions of the self. That is, there are two things that the idea of a self does for us. In psychology, these functions are called the executive function and the organizational function.

Let’s look at each one a little more closely.

The Executive Function

The executive function of the self refers to the way that our concept of self helps us regulate our behavior. In other words, the executive function of the self is to keep us on track.Think about it like this: Jane loves her friend Carrie’s necklace and really wants it for herself. But, the necklace belongs to Carrie.

There are two aspects of Jane’s idea of herself that keep Jane from taking the necklace:1. Jane realizes that she is a different person from Carrie. Without understanding this most basic element of the self, Jane might not even realize that Carrie owns the necklace and Jane doesn’t. In other words, if Jane doesn’t realize that she and Carrie are separate people, she also won’t recognize that they own separate things, like the necklace.2.

Jane has a set of values and goals for herself, and stealing her friend’s necklace is against those values and goals.Both of these things are part of the executive function of Jane’s self. That is, they help guide her behavior and decisions.

The Organizational Function

Besides the executive function, there’s also the organizational function of the self, which is basically just the way we organize information. Our knowledge of ourselves helps us interpret and find patterns in the world around us.For example, if Mitchell has a lot of success with women, then he might begin to notice a pattern that women like him. As a result, he might view himself as a stud.

He has taken knowledge of the world around him, noticed a pattern, and integrated it into his view of himself. The organizational function of his self is now working.Say that Mitchell is Irish. Since this is likely also part of his self-image, he might begin to notice things in his life that he has in common with other people from Ireland. He begins to form an opinion about what it means to be Irish. Again, this is the organizational function of Mitchell’s self.

One interesting thing about the organizational self is that when people learn new information, they are able to learn it better if they can relate it to themselves. If Mitchell is asked to learn a bunch of words, he is most likely to remember the ones that relate to Ireland than he is to remember the ones that relate to, say, Switzerland. The fact that people remember things better if they relate to a person’s self is called the self-reference effect.

Gender & Culture & the Self

As we’ve seen, our idea about who we are plays a huge role in our lives. It impacts everything from how we behave to how we learn new information. No matter who you are or where you are from, you have some sort of view of yourself.But, how people view themselves varies according to who they are and where they’re from. For example, in Western cultures where independence is a priority, most people have an independent view of the self.

That is, they define themselves by their individual thoughts, actions, and emotions.But, in non-Western societies, the focus is more on the group than the individual. As a result, most people in those countries define themselves according to their relationships with others. This is called an interdependent view of the self.

Women typically define themselves based on a few close relationships.
Female Friendships

There are some gender differences in how people view themselves, as well.

There is some overlap, but in general, women tend to define themselves more by a few close relationships, whereas men tend to define themselves by a large group they belong to, such as a fan of a specific sports team. There isn’t a clear reason why this is, though society probably has something to do with it.

Being a fan of a sports team is an example of how men often define themselves.
Male Sports Membership

Lesson Summary

The self is a person’s idea of who they are, which is impacted by their thoughts, feelings, actions, and many other factors. The self has two functions: the executive function, which helps regulate behavior, and the organizational function, which helps uncover patterns in the world.

There are also gender and cultural differences in the way that people form concepts of themselves.

Learning Outcomes

You’ll be able to complete the following after this lesson:

  • Define the self and identify factors that contribute to our sense of self
  • Explain the executive and organizational functions of the self and provide examples of each
  • Define the self-reference effect and understand how it relates to the organizational function of the self
  • Describe some broad differences in cultural and gender self-perceptions
  • Differentiate between independent and interdependent views of the self

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