Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Self-perception theory and motivation for positive change

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Self-perception theory and motivation for positive change:
What is self-perception theory and how can it be used to motivate positive change behaviour?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Picture this: You see someone walking into a grocery store holding reusable bags,[grammar?] you notice that they are ignoring food wrapped in plastic and instead buying produce free of packaging. You assume that they must be a good person and environmentally friendly. Later that day, you see another person running down the street wearing a suit looking flustered, thus you assume that they must be stressed [grammar?] running late for a meeting. When you do this, you are observing behaviour and inferring meaning to the situation. While it is common for us to create meaning as an observer [grammar?] sometimes we assume our own behaviours as an observer would, this is called self-perception.

This chapter focuses on the counterintuitive way of understanding attitudes that is self-perception theory. It will aim to explain how you can use self-perception theory to motivate positive change within your life. Thus, this book chapter hopes to guide the reader through research on about how self-perception theory motivates positive change in regards to body image, exercise, marketing, environmental changes, and psychotherapy. The chapter will also discuss the cognitive dissonance versus self-perception theory debate and their differing affects[spelling?] on attitude change. Self-perception theory is a confusing concept at first glance, however once broken down it becomes more clear on[awkward expression?] how individuals use it to make assumptions about our own behaviours and attitudes and how easily humans can be subjected to change from outside sources. Basically, self-perception theory sees that humans interpret their actions the same way that they interpret others from a observer point of view.

Self-perception theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Buying a boat to enjoy fishing, or fishing because you own the boat?

Self-perception theory is an attitude formation phenomenon that occurs when individuals infer their own external behaviour as to why they are feeling or thinking something[say what?]. This is due to their current attitudes and motivations being ambiguous or weak (Bem, 1972). Self-perception theory was originally developed by psychologist Daryl Bem as a alternate response to cognitive dissonance[add link]. He found that external judgements could be responsible for motivating attitude changes (Bem, 1967). However, this theory is counterintuitive as individuals mostly create attitudes based on internal stimuli. Bem suggested that this is not always the case and that sometimes when humans are trying to understand their own personal attitudes they infer their behaviours. For example, usually it would be perceived that an individual whom[grammar?] owns a nice boat, quality fishing gear and goes on big fishing trips must enjoy going fishing. However, self-perception theory finds that it is possible that an individual may assume that they enjoy fishing purely because they own a nice boat, quality fishing gear and go on big fishing trips.

Bem's original experiment[edit | edit source]

Daryl Bem, based his original experiment off[awkward expression?] Festinger and Carlsmith's peg turning experiment for cognitive dissonance[explain?]. To discover whether self-perception was occurring, Bem split participants into two groups and had them listen to an enthusiastic testimonial stating how fun the mundane peg turning experiment was. Participants were then told that the man in the testimonial was paid either $1 or $20 for his testimonial. The group that was under the impression that the man was paid $1 believed he enjoyed the task more than the $20 group. This suggestion correlated with how the actors felt when engaging in the testimonial. Thus is[awkward expression?] was concluded that due to the participants guessing the correct value and feeling being expressed that the actors must have created their attitudes based on observing their behaviour (Bem, 1972).[say what?]

Case Study

Laurence Raymond, 23, is attending a party. On his way there he has a minor car incident {{missing} which neither party is of fault, resulting in no damage to either vehicle and luckily both parties are uninjured. When arriving at the event he mentions the incident to a friend,[grammar?] unfortunately, his friend misunderstands and assumes that the other party was texting while driving. Laurence does not correct him and instead lies to exaggerate the story. This story then spreads throughout the rest of the party. After retelling the exaggerated story multiple times for months afterwards, Laurence finds himself believing the new story. When questioned about this, he is adamant that this story is correct and that the other driver was texting. Laurence has now believed his lies. This is a example of self-perception taking place.

How does self-perception motivate positive change?[edit | edit source]

Motivation is the internal process which is stimulated by cognitive, social and biological forces to drive humans to meet needs, wants and goals (Dhiman 2017). Research has shown a significant interaction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and self-percpetion[spelling?] theory to enhance behavioural and attitude satisfaction (Calder & Staw, 1975). Attitudes can shift as subjective norms influence how individuals think they should behave as the social pressure to conform to do what is "right" (Maio, Haddock & Verplanken 2018). However, when the stimulus is ambiguous and the individual is unsure of their motivations, self-perception may take place to form these attitudes creating positive change (Baumeister & Finkel 2010).

Marketing and persuasion[edit | edit source]

Self-perception theory can be utilised within marketing strategies to target individuals with weak attitudes, as they are more likely to comply with suggestions. The foot in the door technique[add link to Wikipedia article] is a persuasion style in which a small request is asked, followed by a larger request (Rodafinos, Vucevic & Sideridis 2005). By initiating this compliance with the initial request, an attitude formation is manifested which counterbalances the cost of the request making individuals more vulnerable to accepting the larger request (Arnold & Kaiser 2018). This strategy can be used by companies or the government to create positive behavioural and cognitive changes within people susceptible to self-perception. Studies have shown that pro-enviornmental[spelling?] behaviours can be influenced by the foot in the door technique.

Using self-perception theory and the foot in the door technique, Parant et al (2015) conducted a study to raise students[grammar?] climate change awareness. They used the assumption that students whom could not explain their environmental behaviours would be more likely to comply with larger requests of participation. To attain the students initial environmental attitudes, all participants were to answer questionnaires. Students were split into 3 control groups and 3 experimental, all groups were shown and participated in a range of persuasive resources presenting the effects of climate change. The experimental groups were then asked to write down pro environmental actions that they would be willing to undertake. Results showed a significant increase across all students educational awareness, with the experimental group more likely to practically engage in pro environmental behaviours.

A study conducted in a hotel by Terrier and Marfaing (2015) created a quasi-experimental design to create four communication strategies which ranged in level of environmental compliance request. These consisted of simple in-room messages asking guests to reuse towels and linen and a further message promoting a statistic of guests reusing towels and linen. The in-room messages were then also combined at random with larger requests for the guests to follow. It was discovered that the combined messages which used the foot in the door technique decreased guests towel and linen usage. By suggesting the pro-environmental social norms, individuals with low to no attitude surrounding towel/linen and water usage could be persuaded to decrease their original behaviour creating positive change (Schwarzer 2014).

Self-perception theory has been used positively as a framework for tourism contributions and development. This framework showed that individuals who had previously travelled were more supportive of embracing tourism than those that had not. This practical use of self-perception theory shows the potential it can have on marketing and persuasion for communities and economy (Woosnam, Draper, Jiang, Aleshinloye & Erul 2018)

Figure 2. FIFA, a marketing sensation. FIFA re-realses[spelling?] the game on each platform yearly with "new" features. Consumers are likely to continue to buy the yearly release.

Self-perception theory was used to analyse online gaming habits, the gamer-game relationship and the gamer loyalty[factual?]. By evaluating the cognitive formulation of the consumers[grammar?] evaluations of the game, predictions could be made on how the user rated the game and behavioural outcomes associated. A history of self-perception theory and gaming shows that if consumers find themselves constantly playing the game, the consumer will begin to infer that it must be a habitual part of their self-concept. Using this information, creators can effectively use marketing strategies to influence consumers to purchase new release games (Teng 2018).

Psychotherapy[edit | edit source]

"Fake it, until you make it" is a common phrase used when needing extra confidence, however what if using this mentality could actually induce positive change within an individual? Self-perception theory shows that if an individual creates a belief or attitude surrounding a behaviour that they will in turn begin to believe it[factual?]. Clinical research in psychotherapy assumes that maladjusted behaviours or attitudes stem from internal psychological motivations (Carkhuff 2017). However, what if that's not always true? Self-perception theory shows that individuals may interpret themselves in a way that is not valid and that their external behaviours could have lead to an attitude adjustment which in turn can create psychological issues. For example, if an individual keeps finding themselves in negative situations, they may assume that they are a negative person. Using this ideology, psychotherapy approaches allow for the behaviour to be treated first to see positive psychological change.

Haemmerlie & Montgomery (1984) conducted a study using self-perception theory which attempted to treat hetrosocial[spelling?] anxiety. The study involved a control group which received no treatment, a group receiving imaginal therapy technique and the experimental group whom unknowingly participated pre arranging biased meetings with the opposite sex. All participants underwent a anxiety questionnaire after they were subjected to their groups conditions. Haemmerlie & Montgomery wanted to discover whether the act of speaking to women would lower the males[grammar?] anxiety expectancy rates, and induce "fake" confidence. They found that the biased meetings caused significant changes within the participants sustaining reduced anxiety for six months. They concluded that this was due to the participants observing their successful behaviour in an area that they normally had difficulty.


Get up and walk across the room,[grammar?] firstly walk normally as you feel in this moment. Now, walk across the room with slumped shoulders, crossed arms and a frown on your face. Quick, change it up and walk across again but this time, smile, stand tall and laugh - feel the difference? Exactly, thats[grammar?] self-percpetion[spelling?] theory in action.

Exercise and body image[edit | edit source]

In the modern day world, self objectification has become a huge negative phenomena[spelling?] due to the frequent use of technology. Self objectification theory, much like self-perception theory is a cognitive process which occurs when an individual internalises their self-worth and takes an "observer" point of view to evaluate worth solely off[awkward expression?] bodily appearance (Riva, Gaudio & Dakanalis 2015). How an individual pictures themselves physically can be a positive or negative experience. If an individuals[grammar?] view on exercise and body image is weak or unclear self-perception theory can be used to motivate creating a more positive body image.

  • Figure 3. A consumer using Wii Sports. A common exergame that uses physical activity to control the movement within the game.

A study conducted by Peña, Khan & Alexopoulos (2016) showed that online avatars[grammar?] appearance influenced their male controllers[grammar?] attitudes on physical activity while participating within an exergame. The study found that males operating avatars within a more normal weight range had higher levels of physical activity while in game play than those controlling perceived obese avatars. The also found that participants decreased in physical activity if they perceived their opponent to be more obese than their own avatar. Studies such as this show the potential for using self-perception theory and technology to create positive attitude changes surrounding body image.

Similarly, Joo & Jim (2017) conducted [missing something?] using avatars to modify players behaviours and attitudes surrounding healthy habits. The study assigned half the experimental group to an obese avatar which engaged in unhealthy behaviours including no physical activity, and unhealthy eating and the other half to normal weight avatars which engaged in healthy behaviours. Both groups were asked to play the game for 20 minutes, and then were give the option to use a exercise machine or eat a box of cookies. The study revealed that those that engaged in healthy behaviours within the game used the exercise machine after game play, whereas those that played as perceived obese characters opted for the cookies. However, while this study did not correlate any base rates of behavioural attitudes surrounding healthy or non-healthy life habits, it still shows the promise that self-perception theory could have on individuals[grammar?] positivley[spelling?] changing their attitudes.

Environmental[edit | edit source]

By observing others making a conscious effort to make pro-environmental choices an attitude change can occur within the observer. Self-perception theory has the ability to be integrated into environmental policy, interventions and educational programs. As children are more susceptible to self-perception theory due to their attitudes being weaker and less formed than adults, integrating pro-environmental attitudes interventions into early education could see a beneficial change for the greater population.

Self-perception theory has been used to advertise energy saving programs. The University of Leeds found that individuals were most motivated by the need to save money rather than reducing carbon footprint. By using self-perception theory they proceeded to have individuals engage in pro-environmental behaviours by offering extrinsic rewards such as monetary gain so that individuals will attribute behaviour accordantly[spelling?][awkward expression?], even though the motivation was intrinsic (Schwartz, Bruine de Bruin, Fischhoff & Lave 2015).

Researchers[grammar?] reports that self-perception theory shows evidence to create pro-environmental attitudes by implementing new behaviours using intrinsic motivations[awkward expression?]. It is suggested that by changing individuals[grammar?] self concepts than pro-envornmental[spelling?] behaviours may become part of their self-identity. Using this research and self-perception framework, the authors hope to encourage a change within environmental government policy. (Whitmarsh & O'Neill 2010).

Cognitive dissonance debate[edit | edit source]

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by an individual that[grammar?] has two conflicting or contradicting views, values or attitudes. It occurs when the individual experiences new information or evidence which contradicts with[awkward expression?] their perceived attitudes, values or views (Festinger, 1962). Cognitive dissonance was evaluated by Festinger and Carlsmith using their infamous 'peg turning' experiment which encouraged individuals to persuade others to participate in a dull task they had just experienced. They offered participants either $1 or $20 to lie, and discovered that those that were paid $1 rated the task as more fun than those receiving $20 (McLeod 2008). A simple example of cognitive dissonance is that an adult may continue smoking even though they understand that it causes cancer and other harmful affects[grammar?].

Studies have investigated whether cognitive dissonance can facilitate attitude change and have thus evaluated that when situational pressure is high explicit attitudes may change however implicit attitudes remain stable. However, both explicit and implicit attitudes may not change if the conflict is not due to cognitive inconsistency whereas, self-perception can change attitudes in this situation due to evaluative associations[explain?][for example?]. Self-percpetion[spelling?] theory attains[awkward expression?] that attitudes can change in low situational pressure and can demonstrate change needed when dissonance cannot (Gawronski & Strack 2004).

Much literature has been devoted to the cognitive dissonance versus self-perception theory debate as both theories are seen to compete as they evaluate the meaning involved in attitude change. However, it has been found that the two theories are more likely to be complimentary to each other as both are applicable to different situations.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Self-percpetion[spelling?] theory is a counterintuitive phenomena which occurs when an individual interprets their own behaviours the same way an observer would due to their attitudes being weak or unclear. This theory demonstrates[how?] its potential usage for motivating positive change within personal lives as well as the greater population by implementing frameworks, intervention schemes and behavioural changes to social normalities.

Self-perception theory can be implemented through many different approaches which makes it a versatile theory for creating attitude change[vague]. Studies have shown that cognitive dissonance and self-perception theory are complementary can both be used to demonstrate explicit attitude change in different situations depending on the situational pressure.

It would be beneficial for further longitudinal studies to be conducted on the long-term affects[spelling?] of self-perception theory to evaluate the future implications of these interventions and behavioural changes[vague]. These studies would be especially advantageous in demonstrating the affects[spelling?] of environmental and physical activity interventions in children and the long-term effects of attitudes as they age. More current research also needs to be conducted into the use of self-percpetion[spelling?] theory and psychotherapy to integrate new techniques into therapeutic practice.

Overall, self-perception theory has been shown to be a useful technique to motivate positive behavioural and attitude changes in individuals, the community and the greater population.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Arnold, O., & Kaiser, F. G. (2018). Understanding the foot‐in‐the‐door effect as a pseudo‐effect from the perspective of the Campbell paradigm. International Journal of Psychology, 53, 157-165.

Baumeister, R. F., & Finkel, E. J. (Eds.). (2010). Advanced social psychology: The state of the science. OUP USA.

Bem, D. J. (1972). Self-perception theory. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 6, pp. 1-62). Academic Press.

Bem, D. J. (1967). Self-perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological review, 74(3), 183.

Calder, B. J., & Staw, B. M. (1975). Self-perception of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 31, 599.

Carkhuff, R. (2017). Toward effective counseling and psychotherapy: Training and practice. Routledge.

Teng, C. I. (2018). Managing gamer relationships to enhance online gamer loyalty: The perspectives of social capital theory and self-perception theory. Computers in Human Behavior, 79, 59-67.

Dhiman, S. (2017). Holistic Leadership: A New Paradigm for Today's Leaders. Springer.

Fazio, R. H., Zanna, M. P., & Cooper, J. (1977). Dissonance and self-perception: An integrative view of each theory's proper domain of application. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13(5), 464-479.

Festinger, L. (1962). A theory of cognitive dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford university press.

Gawronski, B., & Strack, F. (2004). On the propositional nature of cognitive consistency: Dissonance changes explicit, but not implicit attitudes. Journal of experimental social psychology, 40, 535-542.

Joo, Y. K., & Kim, K. (2017). When You Exercise Your Avatar in a Virtual Game: The Role of Avatars’ Body Shape and Behavior in Users’ Health Behavior. Interacting with Computers, 29, 455-466.

McLeod, S. (2008). Cognitive dissonance. Simply psychology, 31(1), 2-7.

Maio, G. R., Haddock, G., & Verplanken, B. (2018). The psychology of attitudes and attitude change. Sage Publications Limited.

Parant, A., Pascual, A., Jugel, M., Kerroume, M., Felonneau, M. L., & Guéguen, N. (2017). Raising students awareness to climate change: An illustration with binding communication. Environment and Behavior, 49, 339-353.

Peña, J., Khan, S., & Alexopoulos, C. (2016). I am what I see: How avatar and opponent agent body size affects physical activity among men playing exergames. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 21, 195-209.

Rodafinos, A., Vucevic, A., & Sideridis, G. D. (2005). The effectiveness of compliance techniques: Foot in the door versus door in the face. The Journal of social psychology, 145, 237-240.

Riva, G., Gaudio, S., & Dakanalis, A. (2015). The neuropsychology of self-objectification. European Psychologist.

Schwartz, D., Bruine de Bruin, W., Fischhoff, B., & Lave, L. (2015). Advertising energy saving programs: The potential environmental cost of emphasizing monetary savings. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 21, 158.

Schwarzer, R. (2014). Self-efficacy: Thought control of action. Taylor & Francis.

Terrier, L., & Marfaing, B. (2015). Using social norms and commitment to promote pro-environmental behavior among hotel guests. Journal of environmental psychology, 44, 10-15.

Whitmarsh, L., & O'Neill, S. (2010). Green identity, green living? The role of pro-environmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 305-314.

Woosnam, K. M., Draper, J., Jiang, J. K., Aleshinloye, K. D., & Erul, E. (2018). Applying self-perception theory to explain residents' attitudes about tourism development through travel histories. Tourism Management, 64, 357-368.

Fazio, R. H., Zanna, M. P., & Cooper, J. (1977). Dissonance and self-perception: An integrative view of each theory's proper domain of application. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13(5), 464-479.

External links[edit | edit source]