Characteristics of the Self-Concept

Part of what is developing in children as they grow is the fundamental cognitive part of the self, known as the self-concept. The self-concept is a knowledge representation that contains knowledge about us, including our beliefs about our personality traits, physical characteristics, abilities, values, goals, and roles, as well as the knowledge that we exist as individuals.

The specific content of our self-concept powerfully affects the way that we process information relating to ourselves. But how can we measure that specific content? One way is by using self-report tests. One of these is a deceptively simple fill-in-the-blank measure that has been widely used by many scientists to get a picture of the self-concept (Rees & Nicholson, 1994). All of the 20 items in the measure are exactly the same, but the person is asked to fill in a different response for each statement. This self-report measure, known as the Twenty Statements Test (TST), can reveal a lot about a person because it is designed to measure the most accessible—and thus the most important—parts of a person’s self-concept.

Twenty Statements Test

Try it for yourself (at least 5 times)

I am (fill in the blank) _______________________________

I am (fill in the blank) _______________________________

I am (fill in the blank) _______________________________

I am (fill in the blank) _______________________________

I am (fill in the blank) _______________________________


Although each person has a unique self-concept, we can identify some characteristics that are common across the responses given by different people on the measure.

  • Physical characteristics
  • Personality
  • Social identity

Physical characteristics are an important component of the self-concept, and they are mentioned by many people when they describe themselves. If you’ve been concerned lately that you’ve been gaining weight, you might write, “I am overweight.” If you think you’re particularly good looking (“I am attractive”), or if you think you’re too short (“I am too short”). Those things might have been reflected in your responses. Our physical characteristics are important to our self-concept because we realize that other people use them to judge us. People often list the physical characteristics that make them different from others in either positive or negative ways (“I am blond,” “I am short”), in part because they understand that these characteristics are salient and thus likely to be used by others when judging them (McGuire, McGuire, Child, & Fujioka, 1978).

A second aspect of the self-concept relating to personal characteristics is made up of personality traits—the specific and stable personality characteristics that describe an individual (“I am friendly,” “I am shy,” “I am persistent”). These individual differences are important determinants of behavior, and this aspect of the self-concept varies among people.

Black toddler is sleeping.
Infants do not have a self-concept but they do have an identity. ]No Attribution Baby Sleeping, CC0,]

The remainder of the self-concept reflects its more external, social components; for example, memberships in the social groups that we belong to and care about. Common responses for this component may include “I am an artist,” “I am Jewish,” and “I am a mother, sister, daughter.” As we will see later in this chapter, group memberships form an important part of the self-concept because they provide us with our social identity —the sense of our self that involves our memberships in social groups.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Culture and Psychology Copyright © 2020 by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book