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able (Philips & Silvia, 2005).
Having positive self-esteem does not mean that people have only positive self-
evaluations. They do not. When normal people with positive self-esteem think about
themselves, roughly 62% of their thoughts are positive and 38% are negative (Showers,
1992). What is important is how those thoughts are arranged. People with high self-
esteem blend the positive and negative aspects of their self-concept. A negative thought
tends to trigger a counterbalancing positive thought. A person who learns she is “socially
awkward,” for example, may think, “But I am a loyal friend.” This integration of posi-
tive and negative self-thoughts helps to control feelings about the self and maintain
positive self-esteem.
But some people group positive and negative thoughts separately. The thought
“I am socially awkward” triggers another negative thought, such as “I am insecure.”
This is what happens in people who are chronically depressed: A negative thought sets
off a chain reaction of other negative thoughts. There are no positive thoughts avail-
able to act as a buffer.

The Cost and Ironic Effects of Self-Control
We have seen that the self has the capacity to engage in effortful behavior to deal with
the external world. Now, it is very likely that most of the time, the part of the self
that carries out this executive function does it in an automatic, nonconscious fashion,
dealing with the world in neutral gear (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). But when the self
has to actively control and guide behavior, much effort is required. Baumeister and
his coworkers (1998) wondered whether the self had a limited amount of energy to
do its tasks. If this is so, what would be the implications of self-energy as a limited
resource?
In order to explore the possibility that expending energy on one self-related
task would diminish the individualʼs ability (energy) to do another self-related task,
Baumeister and his coworkers did a series of experiments in which people were
required to exercise self-control or to make an important personal choice or suppress
an emotion. For example, in one study, some people forced themselves to eat radishes
rather than some very tempting chocolates. This, as you might imagine, was an
exercise in self-control. Others were allowed to have the chocolates without trying
Chapter 2 The Social Self 49




Figure 2.4 Persistence
on an unsolvable puzzle
as a function of the type of
food eaten.
Based on data from Baumeister and
colleagues (1998).




to suppress their desires and without having to eat the radishes. All were then asked
to work on unsolvable puzzles. As shown in Figure 2.4, those who suppressed their
desire for the chocolate and ate the radishes quit sooner on the puzzle than those who
did not have to suppress their desire to eat the chocolate. Baumeister argued that the
ego-depletion The loss of
“radish people” depleted self-energy. Baumeister calls this ego-depletion, using the
self-energy that occurs when
Freudian term (ego) for the executive of the self.
a person has to contend
We all have had the experience of seeing a particularly distressing movie and walking
with a dif¬cult cognitive or
out of the theater exhausted. Research reveals that if people see a very emotional movie,
emotional situation.
they show a decrease in physical stamina (Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998). In a
related study, participants were given a dif¬cult cognitive task to perform and were asked
to suppress any thought of a white bear. Research shows that trying to suppress thoughts
takes much effort (Wegner, 1993). Try not thinking of a white bear for the next 5 minutes,
and you will see what we mean. After doing this task, the individuals were shown a funny
movie but were told not to show amusement. People who had expended energy earlier
on suppressing thoughts were unable to hide expressions of amusement, compared to
others who did not have to suppress thoughts before seeing the movie (Muraven et al.,
1998). All of this suggests that active control of behavior is costly. The irony of efforts to
control is that the end result may be exactly what we are trying so desperately to avoid.
We have to expend a lot of energy to regulate the self. The research shows that there are
¬nite limits to our ability to actively regulate our behavior.


Thinking about Ourselves
self-serving bias
Self-Serving Cognitions Our tendency to attribute
positive outcomes of our
In Garrison Keillorʼs mythical Minnesota town of Lake Woebegon, all the women are
own behavior to internal,
strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. In think- dispositional factors and
ing so well of themselves, the residents of Lake Woebegon are demonstrating the self- negative outcomes to
serving bias, which leads people to attribute positive outcomes to their own efforts and external, situational forces.
Social Psychology
50

negative results to situational forces beyond their control. A person typically thinks, I do
well on examinations because Iʼm smart; or I failed because it was an unfair examina-
tion. We take credit for success and deny responsibility for failure (Mullen & Riordan,
1988; Weiner, 1986).
There is a long-standing controversy about why the self-serving bias occurs in the
attribution process (Tetlock & Levi, 1982). One proposal, the motivational strategy,
assumes that people need to protect self-esteem and therefore take credit for successes
(Fiske & Taylor, 1984). We know that protecting and enhancing self-esteem is a natural
function of the self, which ¬lters and shapes information in self-serving ways.
Another way of looking at self-serving biases emphasizes information-processing
strategies. When people expect to do well, success ¬ts their expectations; when success
occurs, it makes sense, and they take credit for it. This bias, however, does not always
occur and is not always “self-serving.” Sedikides and his colleagues noted that people
in close relationships did not demonstrate the self-serving bias. The bias, according to
these researchers, takes a gracious turn for people who are close and is re¬‚ected in the
following quote: “If more than one person is responsible for a miscalculation and the
persons are close, both will be at fault” (Sedikides, Campbell, Reeder, & Eliot, 1998).
What this means is that neither you nor your partner is likely to take more credit for
success, nor will you or your partner give more blame to the other for failure. Less
close pairs, however, do show the self-serving bias (taking credit for success or giving
blame for failure). The closeness of a relationship puts a barrier in place against the
individualʼs need to self-enhance, as revealed by the self-serving bias.

Maintaining Self-Consistency
Another driving motive of the self in social interactions is to maintain high
self-consistency”agreement between our self-concept and the views others have of
us. We all have a great investment in our self-concepts, and we make a strong effort to
support and con¬rm them. Motivated by a need for self-veri¬cation”con¬rmation of
self-veri¬cation A method
of supporting and con¬rming our self-concept from others”we tend to behave in ways that lead others to see us as we
your self-identity. see ourselves (Swann, Hixon, & De La Ronde, 1992). The need for self-veri¬cation is
more than just a simple preference for consistency over inconsistency. Self-veri¬cation
lends orderliness and predictability to the social world and allows us to feel that we
have control (Swann, Stein-Seroussi, & Giesler, 1992).
People seek to con¬rm their self-concepts regardless of whether othersʼ ideas are
positive or negative. One study showed that people with unfavorable self-concepts
tended to pick roommates who had negative impressions of them (Swann, Pelham, &
Krull, 1989). In other words, people with negative self-concepts preferred to be with
people who had formed negative impressions of them that were consistent with their
own views of themselves.
Another study tested the idea that people search for partners who will help them
self-verify (Swann, Hixon, & De La Ronde, 1992). Half the participants in this experi-
ment had positive self-concepts, and half had negative self-concepts. All participants
were told that they would soon have the chance to converse with one of two people (an
“evaluator”) and could choose one of the two. Every participant saw comments that
these two people had made about the participant. One set of comments was positive;
the other set was negative (all comments were ¬ctitious).
People with negative self-concepts preferred to interact with an evaluator who
had made negative comments, whereas people with positive self-concepts preferred
someone who had made positive comments. Why would someone prefer a negative
Chapter 2 The Social Self 51

evaluator? Here is one participantʼs explanation: “I like the (favorable) evaluation, but
I am not sure that is, ah, correct, maybe. It sounds good, but the (unfavorable evalua-
tor)¦seems to know more about me. So Iʼll choose the (unfavorable evaluator)” (Swann
et al., 1992, p. 16).
In another study, spouses with positive self-concepts were found to be more com-
mitted to their marriage when their mates thought well of them. No surprise there. But in
keeping with self-veri¬cation theory, spouses with negative self-concepts were more com-
mitted to their partners if their mates thought poorly of them (Swann et al., 1992).
People with low self-esteem do appreciate positive evaluations, but in the end, they
prefer to interact with people who see them as they see themselves (Jones, 1990). It is
easier and less complicated to be yourself than to live up to someoneʼs impression of
you that, although ¬‚attering, is inaccurate.
Individuals tend to seek self-veri¬cation in fairly narrow areas of the self-concept
(Jones, 1990). You donʼt seek out information to con¬rm that you are a good or bad
person, but you may seek out information to con¬rm that your voice is not very good
or that you really are not a top-notch speaker. If your self-concept is complex, such
negative feedback gives you accurate information about yourself but doesnʼt seriously
damage your self-esteem.
People not only choose to interact with others who will verify their self-concepts
but also search for situations that will serve that purpose. If, for example, you think of
yourself as a storehouse of general knowledge, you may be the ¬rst to jump into a game
of Trivial Pursuit. You have control over that kind of situation. But if you are the kind of
person who canʼt remember a lot of trivial information or who doesnʼt care that FDR had
a dog name Fala, then being forced to play Trivial Pursuit represents a loss of control.
Finally, keep in mind that most people have a positive self-concept. Therefore, when
they self-verify, they are in essence enhancing their self-image, because they generally
get positive feedback. So for most of us, self-veri¬cation does not contradict the need for
self-enhancement. But as Swannʼs research shows, people also need to live in predict-
able and stable worlds. This last requirement is met by our need for self-veri¬cation.



Self-Awareness
Self-veri¬cation suggests that at least some of the time, we are quite aware of how we
are behaving and how other people are evaluating us. In fact, in some situations we are
acutely aware of ourselves, monitoring, evaluating, and perhaps adjusting what we say
and do. Although sometimes our behavior is mindless and unre¬‚ective, we probably
spend a surprising amount of time monitoring our own thoughts and actions. Of course,
there are some situations that force us to become more self-aware than others. When
we are in a minority position in a group, for example, we become focused on how we
self-focus The extent to
respond (Mullen, 1986). Other situations that increase self-focus include looking in a
which one has a heightened
mirror, being in front of an audience, and seeing a camera (Scheier & Carver, 1988;
awareness of oneself in
Wicklund, 1975).
certain situations (e.g., when
When people become more aware of themselves, they are more likely to try to a minority within a group).
match their behavior to their beliefs and internal standards. In one study, two groups
of participants”one in favor of the death penalty, the other opposed”had to punish
another participant, a confederate of the experimenter (Carver, 1975). Some participants
held a small mirror up to their faces as they administered an electric shock (no shock
was actually transmitted).
Social Psychology
52

When participants self-focused (looked into the mirror), they were truer to their
beliefs: Their attitudes and their actions were more in harmony. Highly punitive indi-
viduals (those who favored capital punishment) gave much more shock when the con-
federate made errors than did the less punitive, anti-death-penalty individuals. No such
differences existed when participants did not self-focus.
Self-focus means that the individual tends to be more careful in assessing his or her
own behavior and is more concerned with the self than with others (Gibbons, 1990).
Self-focused individuals are concerned with what is proper and appropriate, given their
self-guides. Self-focused individuals probably have an increased need for accuracy and
try to match their behavior to their self-guides. That is, they try to be more honest or
moral.
Self-focusing may lead to positive or negative outcomes, depending on how dif-
¬cult it is to match performance with the selfʼs standards and with the expectations of
others. Sometimes, for example, sports teams perform better on the road, especially in
important games, than they do on their home ¬eld or arena. There is a de¬nite home-
¬eld advantage”that is, teams generally win more games at home than on the road.
However, baseball teams win fewer ¬nal games of the World Series than expected when
they play on their home ¬elds (Baumeister, 1984). Their performance declines due to
the pressure of the home fansʼ expectations (“choking”).
Does audience pressure always lead to choking? It depends on whether the per-
former is more concerned with controlling the audienceʼs perceptions or with living up
to internal standards. If concern centers on pleasing the audience, the pressure may have
a negative effect on performance. If concern centers on meeting personal standards,
then audience pressure will have less impact (Heaton & Sigall, 1991).

Self-Knowledge and Self-Awareness
Accurate information about ourselves as we actually are is essential to effective
self-regulation (Pelham & Swann, 1989). Such knowledge may lead us to adjust our
self-guides, to lower our expectations or standards, for instance, in order to close the
gap between what we are and what we want to be or think we ought to be. Although it
is effortful to adjust our standards, it is important to minimize discrepancies between
the actual and the other selves. Small discrepancies”that is, good matches between the
actual self and self-guides”promote a strong sense of who we really are (Baumgardner,
1990). This knowledge is satisfying, because it helps us predict accurately how we will
react to other people and situations. It is therefore in our best interest to obtain accurate
information about ourselves (Pelham & Swann, 1989).
Research con¬rms that people want to have accurate information about themselves,
even if that information is negative (Baumgardner, 1990). It helps them know which
situations to avoid and which to seek out. If you know that you are lazy, for example,
you probably will avoid a course that promises to ¬ll your days and nights with library
research. There is evidence, however, that people prefer some sugar with medicine of
negative evaluation; they want others to evaluate their negative attributes a little more
positively then they themselves do (Pelham, 1991).
People who are not certain about their attributes can make serious social blunders.
If you are unaware that your singing voice has the same effect on people as someone
scratching a ¬ngernail on a chalkboard, then you might one day ¬nd yourself trying
out for the choir, thereby making a fool of yourself. Greater knowledge of your vocal
limitations would have saved you considerable humiliation and loss of face.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 53


Managing Self-Presentations
Eventually, we all try to manage, to some degree, the impressions others have of us.
Some of us are very concerned about putting on a good front, others less so. Several
factors, both situational and personal, in¬‚uence how and when people try to manage the
impressions they make on others. Situational factors include such variables as the social
context, the “stakes” in the situation, and the supportiveness of the audience. Personal
factors include such variables as whether the person has high or low self-esteem and
whether the person has a greater or lesser tendency to self-monitor, to be very aware of
how he or she appears to other people.

Self-Esteem and Impression Management
One research study looked at how people with high and low self-esteem differed in their
approaches to making a good impression (Schlenker, Weigold, & Hallam, 1990). People
with low self-esteem were found to be very cautious in trying to create a positive impres-
sion. In general, they simply are not con¬dent of their ability to pull it off. When present-
ing themselves, they focus on minimizing their bad points. On the other hand, people
with high self-esteem tend to focus on their good points when presenting themselves.
As might be expected, people with low self-esteem present themselves in a less
egotistical manner than those with high self-esteem. When describing a success, they
tend to share the credit with others. People with high self-esteem take credit for success
even when other people may have given them help (Schlenker, Soraci, & McCarthy,
1976). Interestingly, all people seem to have an egotistical bias; that is, they present egotistical bias
The tendency to present
themselves as responsible for success whether they are or are not.
yourself as responsible for

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