Construals are the way in which individuals perceive, understand, and interpret their worlds. When these construals are focused on the perceptions of the self rather than the social environment, they are defined as self-construals.
Self-construals have been distinguished as independent (also referred to as personal) and interdependent (also referred to as social). Independent self-construal involves a focus on the individual as being separate from others and on the individual’s unique traits, abilities, preferences, interests, goals, and experiences. Independent self-construals serve to maintain autonomy, and the focus is on the self. Furthermore, the motivation of independent self-construal is in distinguishing oneself from others, whereas the social self-construal involves an inclusion or integration mind-set. In this way, social comparisons may be activated and emphasize differentiation or differences (in the case of independents) or assimilation and similarity (for interdependents). Interdependent self-construal serves to focus on the social environment, group memberships, and interpersonal relationships. Individuals holding interdependent self-construals think and behave in ways that emphasize their connectedness to others. Their sense of self is dependent on the stability, importance, and usefulness of their relationships compared to individuals with independent self-construals whose sense of self is dependent on the extent to which they experience a sense of agency.
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Interdependent self-construal has been further differentiated as relational self-construal, whereby individuals predominantly define themselves by their roles in social relationships (e.g., being a member of their sport team), and collective self-construal, in which individuals define themselves within a broader collective (e.g., being a basketball player).
While originally conceptualized as a dichotomous self-representation, researchers have identified that individuals tend to have both independent and interdependent self-construals, with one dominating more than the other.
Gender and Cultural Differences in Self-Construal
Women are more likely to develop interdependent self-construals compared with males. However, gender-related differences in self-construal and related cognition, affect, and motivation may become less pronounced with the changing dynamics around roles and responsibilities, opportunities, power, and competition.
Most of the studies on self-construal have been focused on cultural differences. Broadly, collectivist cultures such as those endorsed in Asian countries tend to be more interdependent compared with those of European and North American countries. Independent selves value being unique, promoting their own goals, and overtly expressing themselves compared to interdependent selves who highlight the importance of belonging, connectedness, and promoting others’ goals. This being said, interdependent selves are focused on the goals and needs of others with whom they relate or desire involvement with (i.e., “in-group” members). Based on these more general cultural differences in self-construals, researchers are beginning to examine the role of acculturation and multiple cultural identities in the formation and maintenance of independent and interdependent self-construals.
Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Outcomes of Self-Construal
An individual’s type or level of self-construal affects his or her thoughts and perceptions, sense of self, affective experiences, and motivation. Interdependents are more sensitive and attentive to others and have heightened cognitive representations of the self in relation to others. They are also less likely to display several of the basic emotions (i.e., joy and anger) and generally report fewer episodes of positive affect compared with independents.
It has been suggested that individuals who endorse interdependent self-construals are less likely to achieve personal health goals such as weight loss or reducing sedentary time since their personal goals are not always in line with, or perceived as important as, the goals of the collective. This said, it is also suggested that interdependents may be less likely to be impulsive and more likely to engage in behaviors considered socially desirable or aligning with social norms. Independents are more likely to engage in behavior that aligns with their personal goals or emotions.
The study of self-construal has been limited in sport and exercise contexts, in spite of the obvious links to pertinent topics such as physical self-concept, group cohesion, collective self-efficacy, exercise and sport motivation, and sport type. Some studies of self-construal use sport-specific analogies to make the independent (e.g., individual sport such as boxing) versus interdependent (e.g., team sport like football) distinctions. In one study, there was some evidence that adolescent athletes’ preferences for their sport teams were consistent with their preferences for family and friends. Also, some qualitative studies focused on understanding sport practices and preferences have alluded to self-construals as defining cultural distinctions.
- Brewer, M. B., & Gardner, W. (1996). Who is this “we”? Levels of collective identity and self representations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 83–93.
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