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interpret situations, and they guide our behavior. Schemas also help us understand new
events (Scheier & Carver, 1988). You may have a self-schema about how you act in an
emergency, for example. From past experience and from your ideals and expectations
about yourself, you may believe that you are a person who stays calm, acts responsi-
bly, and takes care of others, or one who panics and has to be taken care of by others.
These beliefs about yourself in¬‚uence your behavior when an emergency arises in the
future. Or perhaps you have a self-schema about being a runner. When you hear people
talking about keeping ¬t or eating the right foods, you know what they are talking about
and how it relates to you. In these ways, self-schemas contribute to our sense of control
over our social world.
Self-schemas lend order to our past experiences as well. They guide what we encode
(place) into memory and in¬‚uence how we organize and store that memory. Memories
that match our self-schemas are recalled more easily than are those that do not (Neimeyer
& Rareshide, 1991). Self-schemas also in¬‚uence how we think we will behave in the
future. A person who thinks of himself as socially awkward, for example, may behave
inappropriately in social situations. And based on his behavior in the past, he expects
to behave inappropriately in future social situations.
People tend to have elaborate schemas about areas of life that are important to their
self-concepts. Markus (1977) observed that people may be either schematic or asche-
matic with respect to various attributes that are in the self-concept. The term schematic
means that the individual has an organized self-schema in an activity that the individual
rates as important. In other areas of life, those that are not important to us or that may
not even exist for us, people are said to be aschematic. That is, they do not have an
organized self-schema in that domain.

Sexuality and Self-Schemas
Sexuality is clearly a fundamental behavior, and therefore we expect people to have
sexual self-schema sexual self-schemas of varying degrees of organization. A sexual self-schema refers
How we think about the to how we think about the sexual aspects of the self. Sexual schemas are derived from
sexual aspects of the self, past sexual knowledge and experience and, as all schemas do, they guide our future
derived from past sexual
(sexual) activity. Cyranowski and Andersen (1998) studied the sexual self-schemas of
knowledge and experience,
university women and found that four different schemas emerged. Women who were
and which guides future
schematic”that is, had well-developed schemas”displayed either positive or negative
sexual activity.
schemas. These positive and negative schemas re¬‚ected their individual past sexual
history as well as their current sexual activity. As the sexual schema graph shows,
positive-schema women had more previous sexual relationships (Figure 2.2) and scored
higher measures of passionate attachment to their partners (Figure 2.3). These women
were more likely to be in a current sexual relationship. Negative-sexual-schema women
displayed an avoidance of intimacy and passion and were much more anxious about
sexual activity.
Some women had both negative and positive aspects to their self-schemas, and they
were labeled co-schematic. Whereas co-schematic women see themselves as open, pas-
sionate, and romantic (as do the positive-schema women), they differ from the positive-
schema women in that they hold negative self-views, and this leads to anxieties about
being rejected or abandoned by their partners.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 39

Figure 2.2 The
relationship between an
individual™s sexual schema
and the number of his or
her ¬rst relationships.
Based on data from Cryanowski and
Anderson (1998).

Figure 2.3 The
relationship between an
individual™s sexual schema
and his or her passionate
love score.
Based on data from Cryanowski and
Anderson (1998).

Aschematic women, like negative-schema women, have fewer romantic attach-
ments, experience less passionate emotions about love, and avoid emotional intimacy.
Aschematic women tend to avoid sexual situations and display anxiety about sex. A
major difference between aschematic women and negative-schema women is that asche-
matic women do not have negative self-views. They are just less interested in sexual
activity. Table 2.1 summarizes these ¬ndings.
Whereas women express sexual self-schemas that ¬t roughly into categories, menʼs
sexual self-schemas appear to ¬‚ow along a continuum, ranging from highly schematic
to aschematic (Andersen, Cyranowski, & Espindle, 1999). Men who are schematic have
Social Psychology

Table 2.1 Sexual Schemas and Sexual Behaviors

Sexual Behaviors Positive Negative Co-Schematic Aschematic
Previous sex
experiences Many Few Moderate Few
Passionate High Low High Low
Intimacy High Low Low Low
Anxiety Low High High High
Self-views Positive Negative Negative Moderate

sexual schemas that re¬‚ect strong emotions of passion and love, attributes shared with
positive-schematic women. However, these men see themselves as strong and aggres-
sive, with liberal sexual attitudes (Andersen et al., 1999). Schematic men lead varied
sexual lives, may engage in quite casual sex, but are also capable of strong attachments.
On the other end of the scale, we ¬nd aschematic men, who lead quite narrow sexual
lives and have few if any sexual partners.
The more varied and complex our self is, the more self-schemas we will have. We
can see that men and women have sexual self-schemas of varying degrees of organi-
zation, and these schemas re¬‚ect their sexual past and guide their current (and future)
sexual behavior. These cognitive representations or self-schemas re¬‚ect both the impor-
tance of the behavior represented and the emotional tone of the behavior.
People differ in the number of attributes, memories, and self-schemas that are part of
their self-concept. Some people have highly complex selves, others much less complex.
Self-complexity is important in in¬‚uencing how people react to the good and bad events
in life. Someone who is, say, an engineer, an opera lover, a mother, and an artist can
absorb a blow to one of her selves without much damage to her overall self-concept
(Linville, 1985, 1987). If her latest artistic endeavors meet unfavorable reviews, this
womanʼs sense of self is buffered by the fact that there is much more to her than being
an artist. She is still a mother, an engineer, an opera lover, and much more. People who
are low in self-complexity may be devastated by negative events, because there is little
else to act as a buffer.

Self-Esteem: Evaluating the Self
The self is more than a knowledge structure. The self also has a larger sense of our
overall worth, a component that consists of both positive and negative self-evaluations.
self-esteem An individual™s This is known as self-esteem. We evaluate, judge, and have feelings about ourselves.
evaluation of the self, which Some people possess high self-esteem: They regard themselves highly and are gener-
can be positive or negative. ally pleased with who they are. Others have low self-esteem, feel less worthy and good,
and may even feel that they are failures and incompetent.
Self-esteem is affected both by our ideas about how we are measuring up to our own
standards and by our ability to control our sense of self in interactions with others. Both
these processes”one primarily internal, the other primarily external”have important
repercussions on our feelings about ourselves.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 41

Internal In¬‚uences on Self-Esteem
Our feelings about ourselves come from many sources. Some, perhaps most, we carry
forward from childhood, when our basic self-concepts were formed from interactions
with our parents and other adults. Research in child development indicates that people
develop basic feelings of trust, security, and self-worth or mistrust, insecurity, and
worthlessness from these early relationships and experiences.

Self-Esteem and Emotional Intelligence
Our emotions are important sources of information. Emotions are a kind of early
warning system, bells and whistles that tell us that important things are happening in
our environment.
Social psychologists have recently started to take a close scienti¬c look at the concept
emotional intelligence
of emotional intelligence, a personʼs ability to perceive, use, understand, and manage
A person™s ability to perceive,
emotions (Salovey & Grewal, 2005). It appears that individuals who are emotionally
use, understand, and manage
intelligent are more successful in personal and work relationships.
According Salovey and Grewal (2005), emotionally intelligent people are able to
monitor their own emotions and those of the people with whom they interact. They
are able to use that information to guide the way they think and behave. So, the emo-
tionally intelligent person knows when to express anger and when not to do so. Such
individuals are also good at manipulating their moods. Certain tasks and interactions
may, for example, be better accomplished when in a sad mood than a good mood, and
these people seem to know how to manipulate their own moods to reach their goals.
They also read the emotions of other people rather well. In other words, some people
trust their emotions and use them as information. Others “do not take counsel” of their
emotions because they think that emotions are untrustworthy.
Lopes, Salovey, Cote, and Beers (2005) investigated the relationship of individu-
alsʼ emotional intelligence, their ability to regulate their emotions, to choose good
interaction strategies, and to accurately read othersʼ emotions, and the quality of their
friendships and social interactions. Those people who were high on emotion regula-
tion abilities (high emotional intelligence) were more favorably rated by their friends
and acquaintances, and were more likely to be nominated by their peers as people who
were sensitive and helpful to others.
What does this have to do with self-esteem? The connection may be the discovery
that individuals with high self-esteem take greater account of their emotions than people
with lesser self-esteem. Emotions seem to be very useful in a variety of areas, includ-
ing understanding other people, creative thinking, and even good health (Harber, 2005;
Salovey & Mayer, 1990). It appears that emotional intelligence is strongly related to
self-esteem (Harber, 2005). The research showing that self-esteem is positively related
to effective processing of emotional information suggests that for those high in self-
esteem, emotions serve as important point of information. It is certainly true that a lot
of the time we do not have the facts of the situation, and all we have to go on is our
“gut” feelings.
Okay, so high-self-esteem people use their emotions. Is that good? Well, it depends.
The evidence suggests that high-self-esteem individuals are much more likely to act on
their anger (Harber, 2005). In other words, sometimes they may pay too much attention
to internal emotional cues and not enough to what is going on in the environment. As
Kent Harber neatly puts it, “How we feel about our emotions may be shaped by how
we feel about ourselves” (p. 287).
Social Psychology

Maintaining Self-Esteem in Interactions with Others
When interacting with others, human beings have two primary self-related motives: to
enhance self-esteem and to maintain self-consistency (Berkowitz, 1988). Obviously,
people have a powerful need to feel good about themselves. They prefer positive
responses from the social world. They become anxious when their self-esteem is threat-
ened. What steps do they take to maintain and enhance self-esteem?

self-evaluation Enhancing the Self According to Abraham Tesserʼs self-evaluation maintenance
maintenance (SEM) (SEM) theory (1988), the behavior of other people, both friends and strangers, affects
theory A theory explaining
how we feel about ourselves, especially when the behavior is in an area that is important
how the behavior of other
to our own self-concept. The self carefully manages emotional responses to events in the
people affects how you feel
social world, depending on how threatening it perceives those events to be. Tesser gave
about yourself, especially
this example to illustrate his theory: Suppose, for example, that Jill thinks of herself as a
when they perform some
behavior that is important to math whiz. Jill and Joan are close friends; Joan receives a 99 and Jill a 90 on a math test.
your self-conception. Because math is relevant to Jill, the comparison is important. Therefore, Joanʼs better
performance is a threat, particularly since Joan is a close other. There are a variety of things
that Jill can do about this threat. She can reduce the relevance of Joanʼs performance.
If math were not important to Jillʼs own self-de¬nition, she could bask in the re¬‚ection
of Joanʼs performance. Jill could also reduce her closeness to Joan, thus making Joanʼs
performance less consequential. Finally, Jill could try to affect their relative performance
by working harder or doing something to handicap Joan (Tesser & Collins, 1988).
This story neatly captures the basic elements of SEM theory. The essential ques-
tion that Jill asks about Joanʼs performance is, What effect does Joanʼs behavior have
on my evaluation of myself? Notice that Jill compares herself to Joan on a behavior
that is important to her own self-concept. If Joan excelled at bowling, and Jill cared
not a ¬g about knocking down pins with a large ball, she would not be threatened by
Joanʼs rolling a 300 game or winning a bowling championship. In fact, she would bask
in the re¬‚ected glory (BIRG) of her friendʼs performance; Jillʼs self-esteem would be
enhanced because her friend did so well.
The comparison process is activated when you are dealing with someone who is
close to you. If you found out that 10% of high school students who took the math
SAT did better than you, it would have less emotional impact on your self-esteem than
if you learned that your best friend scored a perfect 800, putting her at the top of all
people who took the exam (provided, that is, that math ability was important to your
SEM theory is concerned with the selfʼs response to threat, the kinds of social threats
encountered in everyday life. Tesser formulated SEM theory by investigating peopleʼs
responses to social threats in terms of the two dimensions just described”relevance
of the behavior to the participantʼs self-concept and closeness of the participant to the
other person (Tesser & Collins, 1988). Participants were asked to remember and describe
social situations in which a close or distant other performed better or worse than they
did. Half the time the task was important to the participantʼs self-concept, and half the
time the task was unimportant. The participants also reported the emotions they felt
during those episodes.
Results indicate that when the behavior was judged relevant to the self, emotions
were heightened. When participants did better than the other, distant or close, they felt
happier, and when they did worse, they felt more personal disgust, anger, and frustration.
When the behavior was not particularly relevant to the self, emotions varied, depend-
ing on the closeness of the relationship. When a close friend performed better than the
Chapter 2 The Social Self 43

participant, the participant felt pride in that performance. As you would expect, partici-
pants felt less pride in the performance of a distant person, and, of course, they felt less
pride in the friendʼs performance when the behavior was self-relevant.
One conclusion we can draw from this research and from SEM theory is that
people are willing to make some sacri¬ces to accuracy if it means a gain in self-esteem.
People undoubtedly want and need accurate information about themselves and how they
compare to signi¬cant others, but they also display an equally powerful need to feel
positive about themselves. This need for self-enhancement suggests that in appraising
our own performances and in presenting ourselves to others, we tend to exaggerate our
positive attributes.
In sum, then, one way the self maintains esteem is to adjust its responses to social
threats. If a friend does better than we do at something on which we pride ourselves,
we experience a threat to that part of our self-concept. Our friendʼs achievement sug-
gests that we may not be as good in an important area as we thought we were. To pre-
serve the integrity and consistency of the self-concept and to maintain high self-esteem,
we can try to downplay the otherʼs achievement, put more distance between ourselves
and the other so that we feel less threatened by the performance, or try to handicap our


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