Self-Construal and Sport

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.

Distinct 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.


  1. 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.
  2. Cross, S. E., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self-construals and gender. Psychological Bulletin,122, 5–37.
  3. Dimmock, J. A., & Grove, J. R. (2006). Identification with sport teams as a function of the search for certainty. Journal of Sport Sciences, 24, 1203–1211.
  4. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224–253.
  5. Singelis, T. M. (1994). The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 580–591.

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