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Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition

The Self

The Self is the fifteenth program in the Discovering Psychology series. In this program, you'll explore how psychologists study the origins of self-identity, self-esteem, and the social determinants of self-concepts. You'll also learn about some of the emotional and motivational consequences of self-esteem.

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Experiment: How Self-Efficacy Affects Performance

In this program, psychologists study elements that influence how we view ourselves. We’ve learned from their research that our attitudes play an important role in our abilities. In program 12, Motivation and Emotion, we learned that optimists perform better than pessimists do. Similarly, people who have a better view of themselves tend to live better, healthier lives.

But what are the motivations for and obstacles to a strong self-identity? How do external signals from others or from the larger culture influence one’s view of one’s self? Psychologist Dr. Albert Bandura conducted an experiment in decision making that illustrates how self-efficacy, the belief in our ability to control situations, affects performance.

Subjects were given the hypothetical job of improving production at a model furniture factory. Before they began, the first subject was told that good decision making is based on innate intelligence and ability, and the second subject was told that good decision making is a skill that can be learned and even improved with practice and effort. The experiment involved a series of computer-generated questions.

The first subject was cautious and easily frustrated. He set low goals for himself, and with each incorrect answer, his efficacy and performance worsened. The second subject understood mistakes as part of the learning process and his performance improved with practice. He set higher goals for himself as he moved through the test, and his efficacy increased.

After testing several subjects with similar results, Dr. Bandura’s research concluded that the effectiveness of our abilities and skills depends largely on how we view ourselves and the abilities we have.

Read more about Dr. Bandura’s research on Dr. George Boeree’s Personality Theories Web site, hosted by Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.


Ego: In Freudian theory, the aspect of the personality involved in self-preservation activities, and directing instinctual drives (the id) into appropriate social channels. The moderator between the id and the superego.

Id: In Freudian theory, the primitive, unconscious part of the personality that operates irrationally and acts on impulse, passion, and animalistic urges.

Individuation: The process of separation and unique personal growth, i.e., the gradual separation and independence of a child from its mother.

Self-Concept: An individual’s awareness of his or her continuing identity as a person.

Strategic Self-Presentation: An individual’s awareness of the social aspects of self-concept; how people present themselves to others.

Superego: In Freudian theory, the aspect of the personality representing the internalization of society’s values, standards, and morals; the inner consciousness, in direct opposition to the id.

Theory of Self-Efficacy: Albert Bandura’s concept of an individual’s belief that he or she can perform adequately in a particular situation.