Self-Concept Clarity Definition
Some individuals possess a clear sense of who they are and where they are going in life. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, the nature of their personalities, and where they stand on important attitudes and values. Other individuals have less clear self-concepts. These individuals may not be confident in who they are, may not really know where they stand on important issues, and may not be certain about their abilities. Self-concept clarity refers to the extent to which people with a clear self-concept know who they are, do not have beliefs that conflict with each other, and have viewpoints that are consistent over time. Whereas self-esteem is seen as an overall evaluation of the self as good or bad, self-concept clarity is seen as the way in which people’s knowledge about themselves is cognitively organized. One would hypothesize that self-concept clarity is a good thing, providing individuals with a greater sense of understanding and meaning and allowing them to make life decisions that result in greater well-being.
Self-Concept Clarity Measurement
The initial measurement of self-concept clarity was somewhat indirect. For example, the variable was first measured by such factors as the confidence with which individuals reported holding various self-beliefs (e.g., “I am confident,” “I am extraverted”), the stability of self-ratings over time (e.g., the consistency between the same self-reports taken 9 weeks apart), and how fast individuals were able to respond to questions about themselves (with a faster reaction time seen as indicating higher self-concept clarity). However, researchers later developed a self-report measure to assess self-concept clarity, whereby individuals are asked to rate the extent to which they have clear self-beliefs that do not conflict with each other. A 12-item scale was ultimately created that asks individuals the extent to which they agree with such items as “In general I know who I am and where I’m headed in life,” and “I spend a lot of time wondering what kind of person I really am” (reverse-scored). This scale has been used in many different studies to assess the relationships between self-concept clarity and a number of additional variables (e.g., self-esteem, psychological adjustment, self-focus).
Self-Concept Clarity Outcomes
One of the earliest and consistent correlates of self-concept clarity was self-esteem. Individuals with high levels of self-esteem are more likely to have positive, well-articulated views of the self, whereas individuals with low self-esteem report inconsistent, uncertain, and unstable views of themselves. Research has also shown that individuals with high levels of self-concept clarity also report lower levels of depression, anxiety, neuroticism, and perceived stress and report higher levels of perceived social support and psychological adjustment than do individuals with low levels of self-concept clarity.
In addition to examining the relationships between self-concept clarity and psychological health, researchers have also assessed whether people high versus low in clarity use different types of coping strategies when dealing with life’s challenges. Individuals with clearer self-concepts are more likely to take action, plan, and use positive reinterpretation (trying to view the situation in a more positive, less stressful way) to deal with stressful situations. However, those with a less clear self-concept are more likely to use denial, mental disengagement (e.g., try not to think about the stressful situation), behavioral disengagement (e.g., physically leave the stressful situation), and drugs or alcohol. These relationships are seen even when controlling for the effects of gender, perceived social support, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.
Relationships of self-concept clarity with motivational factors have also been found. For example, self-concept clarity has been found to be related to the degree of personal engagement an individual feels for his or her occupation. Individuals higher in self-concept clarity are more likely to report a high level of connection with their jobs than are individuals low in self-concept clarity. This could be a result of individuals high in self-concept clarity choosing occupations that are more consistent with their self-views.
Finally, self-concept clarity has also been found to influence how people respond to others. The concept was first linked to a phenomenon known as the foot-in-the-door-technique, whereby individuals who agree to a small favor (e.g., to donate $1 to a charity) are more likely to agree to a larger favor when asked later (e.g., to donate $50 to a charity) than if the smaller favor had not been asked. Interestingly, individuals higher in self-concept clarity were more likely than those low in clarity to comply with a second, larger request. This effect likely stems from those high in clarity wanting to ensure consistency between their behaviors so that agreeing to the small request creates a greater need to agree to the second, larger request. Although individuals high in self-concept clarity are more likely to fall victim to the foot-in-the-door technique, individuals low in self-concept clarity are more likely to have difficulties in conflict resolution because of a need to take ownership over arguments in a dispute. This effect is most likely due to the need that low-clarity individuals have for connecting reality to their self-concept.
Future Research on Self-Concept Clarity
Self-concept clarity is a useful variable in understanding psychological health, coping, and reactions to one’s interpersonal world. One of the biggest areas in need of future research is how self-concept clarity develops, and what contributes to low versus high clarity. Can someone have high self-concept clarity and then experience life events that lead to lower clarity? Do certain parental behaviors contribute to high versus low self-concept clarity? The answers to these questions await future research.
- Burger, J. M., & Guadagno, R. E. (2003). Self-concept clarity and the foot-in-the-door procedure. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 25, 79-86.
- Campbell, J. D. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 538-549.
- Campbell, J. D., Assanand, S., & Di Paula, A. (2003). The structure of the self-concept and its relation to psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality,71, 115-140.
- Campbell, J. D., Trapnell, P. D., Heine, S. J., Katz, I. M., Lavellee, L. F., & Lehman, D. R. (1996). Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 141-156.