One important question is "What does it mean for me to have a self?" It is a question that has been given treatment in a number of theories.
- Philosophical approaches. Philosopher David Hume regarded the Self as the feeling of continuity of one's experiences, roughly akin to the conscious mind. His theories can be seen as an early prelude to postmodern identity theories (Gergen, Harré) for they both speak of the notion of the Self in very minimal terms. The common rejection of essentialism relies upon the idea that the self is something that is in a state of constant change rather than a fixed trait.
- Psychodynamic approach. Psychologist Erik Erikson understood the Self to be composed of a number of different selves, each of which was tailored to fit their own unique demands of social life. These "selves" were sometimes conscious, sometimes not.
- Social behaviorism. This is a theory developed by George Herbert Mead that emphasizes the relevant social context of the learning environment.
- Social behaviorism is influenced by Darwin's theories, Wilhelm Wundt and the pragmatic philosophy of the Chicago school (James, Dewey, Peirce, Shibutani, etc.). Yet social behaviorism contrasts with cognitive psychology and Darwinian theories in one important aspect. Social behaviorism doesn't consider mind as something that is pre-existing to interaction.
...We find no evidence for the prior existence of consciousness as something which brings about behavior on the part of one organism that is of such a sort as to call forth an adjustive response on the part of another organism, without itself being dependent on such behavior. We are rather forced to conclude that consciousness is an emergent from such behavior; that so far from being a precondition of the social act, the social act is the precondition of it. (Mead, 1934)
- Although this theory carries within it the word behaviorism, it has very little if anything to do with the behaviorism of John B. Watson or B.F. Skinner.
Behaviorism in this wider sense is simply an approach to the study of the experience of the individual from the point of view of his conduct, particularly, but not exclusively, the conduct as it is observable by others. (Mead, 1934)
- Other sociocultural theories. The social behaviorist's perspective resembles the work of Lev Vygotsky, which places learning in the context of social interaction.
Personality and personal identity
One of the areas of research in social psychology is personality psychology. It is a subfield that engages in the study of people and the meanings they associate with themselves. Of interest to this area are questions like, "What is my personal identity?" and "What are the factors and influences that make me who I am?". In this article, and by the standards of current research, one's personality is their personal identity, both self-perceived and perceived by others (Cote and Levine). It is a kind of meaning.
- Meaning and self-concept. Some researchers use tools borrowed from the symbolic interactionist tradition, such as the notions of self-concept, the looking-glass self and the ideal self. The "self-concept" is the idea that people actually have of a person, while the looking-glass self is the ideas and judgments that the actor thinks others have of them. The ideal self is the standard to which people aspire to be like, often influenced by role models.
- Applications. One topic of concern is the manner in which people are susceptible towards becoming dominators or victims because of aspects of their personalities. In order to help explain the effects that personality might have in acts of coercion and violence, social psychologists created the notions of Social Dominance Orientation. This concept has also been used to facilitate critical-political tools, such as that of Right Wing Authoritarianism.
- Implicit personality judgments. Another question of earnest importance is, "Why do other people see me the ways that they do?". One answer comes from 'Implicit personality theories. This set of theories postulates that people have abstract ideas about personality traits that they cluster into positive and negative sets, and which are used implicitly to evaluate others. For instance, a person (Bob) may receive some cues from another person (Joe) which reflect a positive or negative trait about them (Joe). If the judger, Bob, makes a judgment about the other (Joe) without reflecting upon their reasons for the judgment, it will often lead to assumptions and true inferences about other unseen personality traits. For example, a person who is wasteful might also be seen as clumsy, unintelligent, or irresponsible; while a person who is skillful might be assumed to be determined, industrious, and intelligent. In effect, then, this model predicts that Bob will implicitly assume that any person who has one negative trait, also has a number of other negative traits.
Identity and identity formation
- The sense of community. Involves the subjectively perceived sense of the traits of members of a social group. Is the conceptual center of Community psychology.
- Social identity. A person's social identity is their position within a particular social structure. One explanatory attempt in this field has been Social identity theory, which argues that people will cluster themselves and others into meaningful groups. Related notions include roles, which denotes a person's concrete place in a particular organization, and stereotypes, which are a collection of traits that is attributed to members of a certain social set.
- Place attachment. An actor feels a bond to a certain place, usually through extensive interaction with it. Through enough exposure to a certain environment, the actor may begin to associate their social and personal identity with that place.
- Identity formation strategies. How do people develop their identities? What kinds of identities are there? When will an identity be more resilient across a life-span? These are all questions worth considering.
- Writing in a quantitative branch of the psychodynamic tradition is James Marcia, author of the identity status paradigm. He argued that identity across the lifespan of a person could be attributed to two elements: their commitment to an identity, and their conscious choice (involving exploration of alternatives). From these two variables, four identity statuses can be established, which describe actors in varying states of identity consolidation:
- Identity Diffusion, when a person has neither chosen nor committed to any identity;
- Identity Foreclosures, when a person has committed to an identity to which they never chose;
- Identity Moratorium, when a person entertains a number of identity choices, but expresses no commitment; and
- Identity Achievement, when a person has committed to an identity of their own choosing.
- The formation and development of personal and social identity depends both on biological and environmental conditions. Sometimes, these conditions are not ideal; people grow up with certain functional handicaps and dispositions, or they grow up in poor social environments. In these cases, what results is a malformation of identity. There are three kinds of persons who hold malformed identity strategies:
- Refusers, who outright refuse to enter adulthood, and shun any behavior that would place them within a social system;
- Drifters, who similarly fail to integrate into a social system, and do not place emphasis upon particular identity traits, but seem to pick up and harness their skills in a discontinuous way; and
- Searchers, who are willing to integrate into social systems, but either cannot find an appropriate community, or suffer from low self-esteem which blinds them to the available communities.
- There are also two other identity-formation strategies which seem at least overtly functional:
- Guardians, who have succeeded at integrating into a social system, but without their personal reflection or consent;
- Resolvers, who have both succeeded at integration into a social system and have done so of their own will and cognition. (Cote and Levine)
- A different set of identity strategies have been postulated by postmodernist Kenneth Gergen. He identifies:
- The strategic manipulator, who feels alienated from previous sources of their identity, and who suffers a burden of having to maintain inauthentic, false impressions with others;
- The pastiche personality, who disregards identity altogether, sees identity as a mere tool, and lives instead upon continuous experience in the world; and
- The relational self, where the actor is seen as merely a part of a greater social whole.