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Self Discrepancy Theory: A Closer Look

Self Discrepancy Theory: A Closer Look



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Published by Karyn N. Lewis
Research paper in association with 0535-445-01 Theories of Communication - Professor T. Worrell Rochester Institute of Technology Fall 2008
Research paper in association with 0535-445-01 Theories of Communication - Professor T. Worrell Rochester Institute of Technology Fall 2008

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Published by: Karyn N. Lewis on Jan 03, 2009
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Self-Discrepancy Theory: A Closer Look 1Self-Discrepancy Theory:A Closer Look Karyn N. LewisTheories of Communication 0535-445-01 Fall 20081Professor T. WorrellNovember 2, 2008
Self-Discrepancy Theory: A Closer Look 2Self-Discrepancy Theory: A Closer Look 
Simply put, self-
concept is a person’s individual percepti
on of oneself. This perception iscomposed of multidimensional characteristics that include physical as well as psychologicalattributes, which interact with the various roles a person must take on (Mehta, 1999). The systemof thoughts and feelings that ma
ke up one’s self 
-concept work to organize and guide the
individual’s processing of information, which acts as the driving force for much of human
behavior. People are strongly motivated to maintain a sense of consistency among their variousbeliefs and self-perceptions, and problems occur when there are differences between theirindividual aspirations and actual behaviors (ChangingMinds.org, 2008). When an actualexperience is somewhat less than an individual thinks he or she is or should be capable of, he orshe tends to feel a pattern of negative emotions such as sadness, dissatisfaction, fear or anxiety.The levels of discrepancies between the actual self-conception and the ideal self are different foreach individual, and can be explained using the self-discrepancy theory.Definition/ExplanationDeveloped by E. Tory Higgins in 1987, the self-discrepancy theory proposes thatdifferent types of chronic discrepancies between the self-concept and different self-guides areassociated with different motivational predispositions (Higgins, 1987). The theory also assumesthat people are motivated to reach a condition in which their self-concept matches theirpersonally relevant self-guides. The degree of discrepancy between different cognitive domainspossessed by an individual
referred to as self-state representations
characterize particularemotional outcomes with a variety of psychological affects. The theory identifies three domainsof the self: the actual self, which includes the attributes that people believe they actually possess;the ideal self, which contains the attributes that people would like to possess, and the ought self,
Self-Discrepancy Theory: A Closer Look 3which contains the attributes that people believe they ought to possess (Bizman & Yinon, 2004).The ideal-self typically represents
an individual’s hopes, aspirations and wishes for oneself,
whereas the ought-self represents beliefs about the duties, obligations, and responsibilities of theself. Each of these domains can be viewed from a personal standpoint or as perceived by others(Higgins, 1987). The ideal self and the ought self 
as viewed from either standpoint
serve asself-guides against which individuals tend to compare their actual self (Bizman & Yinon, 2004).Individuals possessing a body image self-discrepancy between their actual self and theideal and ought selves are likely to associate failure to reach their model self-concept (Higgins,1987). However, not all self-discrepancies produce negative emotions (Boldero, et al., 2005).Rather, these occur only when the self-guide has self-regulatory significance, which is moderatedby the extent to which self-discrepancies are accessible and depends on recency and frequency of its activation as well as relevance to the situation at hand. Ultimately, the self-discrepancy theoryproposes that inconsistencies in self-states lead to psychological discomfort and negativeemotions. This proposition is central to many psychological models, including those of Adler,Freud, James, and Rogers, and research examining this proposition has demonstrated that themagnitudes of these discrepancies are substantially correlated (Boldero, et al., 2005).Social Significance/Personal InterestThe discrepancy-affect relationship in the self-discrepancy theory was a major theoreticaldevelopment designed to explain the circumstances of negative emotional states (Boldero, et al.,2005). According to the theory, self-discrepancies represent negative psychological situationsincluding a variety of cognitive, affective, and behavioral characteristics. Discrepancies betweenhow one actually is and how one would ideally like to be or feels he/she ought to be represent thenegative emotions felt
such as depression, sadness, guilt, shame, embarrassment, self-

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