Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Self-concept clarity

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Self-concept clarity:
What is self-concept clarity, why does it matter, and how is it developed?


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Individuals who possess a clear sense of who they are and what they want in life, are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, the nature of their personalities and where their social views and morals stand that have maintained consistency in these views over time are people who have a strong sense of self-concept clarity. People that lack in these are have less clear self-concepts. Higher Self-concept clarity indicates a firmer and more stable self-concept, while low Self-concept clarity indicates that an individual is unclear or vague about who they really are. Those with low Self-concept clarity may struggle with low self-esteem, self-consciousness, and neuroticism. More specifically Self-concept clarity provides a clear indication of self-certainty.

The purpose of this book chapter is to help people understand what self-concept clarity is, what influences/drives the development of a person’s self-concept clarity and how it can impact a person's psychological well-being.

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Focus questions:

  • What is self-concept clarity?
  • How is it influenced?
  • Theories, frameworks, models question?
  • How is self-concept clarity related to motivation[grammar?]
  • Why is it important to the health and well-being of individuals[grammar?]
Figure 1. depicts the aspects of self-concept

What is self-concept clarity and how does it differ from self-concept?

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To understand Self-concept clarity (SCC) we first need to understand what is self-concept? Self-concept is defined as a cognitive schema – an organised knowledge structure that contains traits, values, episodic and semantic memories about themselves and controls the processing of self-relevant information (Campbell, 1996). Whereas self-concept clarity is defined by Campbell et al (1996) as a structural aspect of the self-concept highlighting it as the extent to which an individual’s specific self-beliefs are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent and temporally stable[grammar?].

What influences a person's self-concept clarity?

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[Provide more detail]

Negative and positive events in day to day life

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Just like self-concept is molded and shaped through developmental transitions in a person’s life, self-concept clarity is influenced by the environment surrounding us. We therefore assume that our SCC can change due to events that happen in our daily lives. Once we reach a level of SCC we seek to preserve this self-view and consistency by actively seeking out information consistent with our self-concept and ignoring information that contradicts this self-view (as described in the consistent self-theory, Lecky 1945). A study by Nezlek and Plesko 2001 aimed to investigate aspects of the self and self-concept  and if they changed in response to external conditions such as daily events and in response to internal states such as moods. They found that daily SCC co-varied with daily negative and positive events daily negative affect and daily self-esteem. Their results demonstrated that that the relationship between SCC and negative events was much stronger than the relationship between SCC and positive events. This suggests increases in SCC resulting from positive events such as success and acceptance are much smaller than decreases resulting from negative events such as failure and rejection. Further supporting evidence from Campbell and Lavellee (1993) found that negative events that were more goal relevant lead to greater self-concept confusion.

Self-concept clarity is a knowledge structure of traits, values, and beliefs that are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent and temporally stable (Campbell et al, 1996). As we age we go through many transitional periods of life that would be assumed to threaten this internal consistency and make us questions our values, beliefs and even our own identity (Parise et al 2019). Past empirical findings lead to the indisputable hypothesis that self-concept clarity will have a linear relationship to age from young adulthood through to midlife. People moving through the later stages of young adulthood (age 27 to 36) show a strong tendency to shift from an insecure or ill-defined identity status in a variety of life domains to a more secure and achieved identity status (Pulkkinen & Kokko, 2000). This is reiterated through the findings of Lodi-Smith and Roberts (2010) who found that SCC had a curvilinear relationship with age demonstrating that SCC was positively related to age from young adulthood through middle age and negatively related to age in later adulthood. Possibly due to identity formation, social influence (peers and family)[grammar?].

Culture and Identity

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Self-concept clarity is positively related to enactment of meaningful identity choices, whereas it is negatively related to identity crises driven by reconsidering and discarding current commitments (Crocetti and Van Djik 2016), therefore highlighting the importance of Identity development on SCC.

Psychologically, identity is whether one’s role in society, social position or social description “feels right” and connects with one’s self-concept or “feels wrong” in terms of an inconsistency between self-concept and social role (Reeve 2018). Hence, we ask the question, what role does one’s culture play in the development of SCC[grammar?]. A series of 5 studies by Usborne and Taylor 2009,[grammar?] examined the extent to which beliefs about one’s cultural group were clearly and confidently defined, was positively related to a clear and confident definition of the personal self (self-concept) and to Self-esteem and markers of psychological well-being. Results demonstrated that individuals facing cultural identity challenges, along with those negotiating two cultural identities and individuals living in remote northern communities, which have had their cultural identity compromised through a destructive colonization process, cultural identity clarity predicted self-esteem and well-being via personal identity clarity. The research concluded that clarity at both a personal and a collective level of self-definition may be fundamental for positive self-esteem and well-being.

Family influence

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Individuals form their self-concept clarity during interactions with their significant others. In adolescence family represents the main social context that can influence self-concept clarity (Cicei et al, 2012)


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As self-concept clarity is concerned with our own self-view and understanding of the self and even described as “self-opinion” by Conley (1984) and how confident and consistently we hold these views. We begin to question what role our personality might play in the development of our own Self-concept clarity. Campbell et al 1996, sought to find more clarification to this question in regard to the Big Five Personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness). They found that low self-esteem and high neuroticism were associated with lower levels of internal consistency and temporal stability in short term neuroticism = self-uncertainty. Connections to conscientiousness were also found specifically that both proactive (goal directedness) and inhibitive (impulse restraint) aspects of conscientiousness may be implicated in developing and maintaining a stable, consistent ad[spelling?] clear self-image.   Further research supporting this relationship between personality traits and self-concept clarity (as quoted by Campbell et al 1996) is that of the work of Donahue et al 1993, who reported from his studies that an indirect measure of self-concept fragmentation was associated with low agreeableness, in addition to poor adjustment and low conscientiousness. They further demonstrated that low socialisation (a blend of low agreeableness and conscientiousness) at age 21 predicted self-concept fragmentation more than 30 years later.

Figure 2. Woman Looking at herself in the mirror depicting thinking about her self-concept.

The relationship between Self-Esteem and Self-Concept Clarity?

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Research on the relationship between SCC and self-esteem has indicated a strong positive relationship between the two constructs. People who have higher self-esteem possess a well articulated and precise sense of their personal characteristic than low self-esteem individuals.(Guadagno and Burger, 2007). Whilst individuals with low self-esteem possess higher levels of uncertainty, stability and consistency regarding the self instead of a basic negative self-image ( Cicei, 2012).

Theories, frameworks and models

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Self-concept Clarity Scale (Campbell et al 1996)

  • The Self-concept clarity scale (SCC-scale) was developed by Campbell and colleagues in the 90s. The scale consists of 12 items rated on a 5 point scale (1 not at all to 5 very much). Which include statements such as; “my beliefs about myself often conflict with one another” and “on one day I might have one opinion about myself, and on another day I might have another opinion.” This scale was the tool created to measure levels of self-concept clarity in individuals and to determine if self-concept clarity was a relatively stable trait that could be reliably captured in self reports. Campbell and colleagues 1996 results indicated that SCC was a relatively stable trait that can be easily captured by self-reports with excellent reliability in terms of its internal consistency and temporal stability. This model is still used currently as a measure of SCC.

Other theories of self-concept

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Carl Rogers and the Self-Concept Theory

  • Carl Rogers theorized that self-concept influences and acts as a framework for one's personality. Rogers believed that our personality is driven by our desire for self-actualization. This is the condition that emerges when we reach our full potential and our self-concept, self-worth and ideal self all overlap. Rogers proposed 3 components of the self concept 1) self image 2) self-esteem/ self-worth 3) ideal self. According to Roger's theory, we want to feel, experience and behave in ways which are consistent with our self image and which reflect what we would like to be, our ideal self. The closer our self image and ideal self are to each other, the more consistent we are and the higher our sense of self-worth (McLeod, 2014)

Self-verification and self-concept change

  • Throughout our daily interactions we publicly display signs of who we are according to our internal self-view, these interactions are used as feedback for the self-verification process and in tern contribute to our self-concept certainty. self-concept certainty, described as an individuals[grammar?] confidence that his/hers self-schema is valid and true, is part of the self-verification process that can bring about self concept change in the form of a change in self schema. when self concept certainty is high it validates stable self-schemas and discrepant feedback rarely has any influence, however when low self-concept certainty is coupled with discrepant feedback it serves as a catalysts for self-concept change. this is described as a crisis self-verification that can bring about a change in self schema (Reeve, 2018)
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This section delves into the motivational relationships between self-concept clarity and many aspects of our lives, such as workplace motivation, motivation of goal pursuit and how self-concept clarity can motivate us in our personal relationships.


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To maintain our self-concept clarity we actively seek out feedback consistent with our established self-schemas. For example if someone sees themselves as quiet and shy they will direct future behaviour in interpersonal domains in ways that will produce feedback that will confirm they are a shy, quiet person self-view they hold. If feedback is inconsistent such as that same introverted person is told they are actually extroverted, will create a motivational tension which will see that individual actively seek out external feedback to restore consistency in their self-view (Reeve, 2018).

Workplace motivation

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Having a clear sense of who one is, such as their goals, values and self-image stimulates ones perseverance for ones[grammar?] actions and commitments they make (Wong and Vallacher, 2017). Individuals who have a clearer vision of who they are (stronger self-concept clarity) set goals that better align with the consistency of their self-concept and therefore are better motivated to reach a meaningful outcome (Fite et al, 2017).

Future goals

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Having a clearer sense of whom one is, such as one’s goals, values, and self-image galvanizes perseverance for one’s engagements. At the same time, making progress towards one’s goals and overcoming obstacles bolsters self-confidence and identity commitments. (Wong and Vallacher, 2017). Further research by Fite et al 2016, found that the positive relationship between conscientiousness and consistency of interest becomes stronger as self-concept clarity increases. Suggesting that individuals who have a clearer vision of who they are (stronger SCC) set goals that better align with the self-concept and therefore are in a better position to direct their motivation towards a meaningful end[grammar?].

Relationship quality

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Results have shown that there is a significant associations between self concept clarity and relationship satisfaction, those with high self concept clarity are more likely to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction and commitment (Lewandowski JR, Nardorne and Raines 2010). Furthermore individuals with low social concept clarity who have uncertainty about their own traits, may be unable to reliably share information about the self with their partner. Inconsistency particularly in the form of self-disclosure may inhibit relationship development and lead to lower satisfaction and commitment. We can therefore conclude that a person would be more motivated to reach, develop and maintain their self-concept clarity in order to be confident in who they are and sharing that with another person for a successful committed relationship.

How self-concept clarity affects psychological well-being

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Depression and anxiety

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Theorists have suggested that lower self-concept clarity may be related to a number of types of psychopathology including depression and various types of anxiety disorders (Cicero, 2017). Some researchers have suggested that a potential mechanism for the negatively correlated relationship between SCC and depression is that SCC is associated with coping styles. Smith et al 1996, found People with high self-concept clarity tend to engage in more active coping strategies such as taking action, planning, and positive reinterpretation of events, while people with low self-concept clarity tend to engage in dysfunctional coping strategies such as denial, behavioral disengagement, and mental disengagement.

Theorists have used the Intolerance of Uncertainty Model to explain the relationship between self-concept clarity and generalized anxiety. The Intolerance of Uncertainty model suggests that generalized anxiety disorder is a result of excessive worry, and that the excessive worry is a pathological response in an effort to deal with uncertainty (Dugas, Gagnon, Ladouceur, & Freeston, 1998). Concluding evidence suggests that individuals with low SCC find themselves constantly worrying in attempt to resolve a lack of clear self-concept (Cicero, 2017).

Psychological adjustment in adolescence

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Adolescence is a critical period of transition, involving deep changes affecting one's self-representation. Research has shown that, in general, people holding a stable and consistent view of themselves report higher levels of adjustment and well-being (Campbell, Assanand, & Di Paula, 2003). Results demonstrated that the more adolescents had a clear idea of themselves the more they were effective in emotion regulation when dealing with both positive and negative emotions and the more they were psychologically adjusted. Adolescents with a clearer self-concept showed lower levels of internalizing and externalizing problems, suggesting the critical role of identity clarity and stability for positively adjusting to the developmental challenges related to this transitional period of life. Furthermore, the higher the adolescents SCC was the more they were able to manage negative emotional states in response to stressful situations.

Self-concept clarity and it's relationship with stress and well-being

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Successful coping with stressful life events is crucial to the maintenance of subjective well-being. Ritchie et al (2011) hypothesized that psychological stress may adversely influence well-being by negatively impacting on self-concept clarity. Their results showed self-concept clarity either fully or partially mediated the relation between stress and subjective wellbeing and this effect was statistically independent of neuroticism, stress was negatively related to self-concept clarity and life satisfaction and positively related to neuroticism. Stressful life events tend to be unexpected, disrupts one’s daily routine and stability, challenge one’s assumptions about social relationships and dent one’s world view (Ritchie et al, 2011)

Body dissatisfaction and eating disorders

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Since self-concept clarity is classified as having a clearly defined sense of self it begs to question if those who suffer from low self-concept clarity seek out external sources to provide consistency to their identity. There is much media coverage on what the “perfect body” should be these days, its[grammar?] on every media platform and almost impossible to ignore. It is also well known that this media coverage can influence body dissatisfaction and eating disorders but why? According to Vartanain 2009, his study examining self-concept clarity, internalisation and body dissatisfaction demonstrated that women with lower self-concept clarity levels had a greater degree of internalisation of societal standards. Therefore, he concluded that women who have low SCC might internalise societal standards of attractiveness as a means of defining themselves and a consequence of this internalisation is body dissatisfaction and dieting concerns.

Please select your answers and press submit.

1 Self-concept clarity is defined as a structural aspect of the self-concept highlighting it as the extent to which an individual’s specific self-beliefs are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent and temporally stable.


2 Age is a factor that can influence a persons self-concept clarity?


3 Culture and identity play no role defining a persons self-concept clarity?



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Self concept clarity is a structural aspect of the self-concept highlighting it as the extent to which an individual's specific self-beliefs are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent and temporally stable. It develops from the theory of self-concept which is comprised of self-schemas which are cognitive generalizations of the self that are learned from past experiences and the one's[grammar?] that are most important to us make up our understanding of who we are. self-concept clarity is influenced and challenged by many aspect of our life such as, day-to-day life events, age, personality, culture and identity. Having a clearly defined, confident and stable self-concept can also motivate us in many aspects of our life, unconsciously we are motivated to seek our situations/feedback that are consistent with our internal view of the self. we are motivated in terms of goal pursuit, clarity of the self-concept means we set goals we know we can achieve and strive towards. Self-concept clarity also motivates us in our personal relationships, we strive to find self-concept clarity so we are able to fully disclose our wants and needs to create a successful and committed relationship.

Self-concept clarity has also been shown to impact on psychological well-being both positively and negatively. Aspects such as depression, anxiety and body dissatisfaction have all been linked to levels of self-concept clarity. These findings have important implications for future research and clinical treatment.

Gaps within the literature includedː population samples we consistent mostly of young adults to middle age and future research should really focus on aspects of SCC through all developmental stages. clear and concise evidence to demonstrate the developmental process of self-concept clarity was hard to come by, much research provided influence, however left us to the assumption of it being a developmental factor.

See also

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Campbell, J., Trapnell, P., Heine, S., Katz, I., Lavallee, L., & Lehman, D. (1996). Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 141-156. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.1.141

Campbell, J., & Lavallee, L. (1993). Who am I? The Role of Self-Concept Confusion in Understanding the Behavior of People with Low Self-Esteem. Self-Esteem, 3-20. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4684-8956-9_1

Campbell, J., Assanand, S., & Paula, A. (2003). The Structure of the Self-Concept and Its Relation to Psychological Adjustment. Journal Of Personality, 71(1), 115-140. doi: 10.1111/1467-6494.t01-1-00002

Conley, J. (1984). The hierarchy of consistency: A review and model of longitudinal findings on adult individual differences in intelligence, personality and self-opinion. Personality And Individual Differences, 5(1), 11-25. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(84)90133-8

Crocetti, E., & Van Dijk, M. (2016). Self-concept clarity. Encyclopedia of Adolescence, 1-5. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-32132-5_808-1

Cicei, C. (2012). Examining the association between self-concept clarity and self-Esteem on a sample of Romanian students. Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 46, 4345-4348. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.252

Cicero, D. (2017). Self-Concept Clarity and Psychopathology. Self-Concept Clarity, 219-242. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-71547-6_12

Dugas, M. J., Gagnon, F., Ladouceur, R., & Freeston, M. H. (1998). Generalized anxiety disorder: a preliminary test of a conceptual model. Behav Res Ther, 36(2), 215-226

Fite, R., Lindeman, M., Rogers, A., Voyles, E., & Durik, A. (2017). Knowing oneself and long-term goal pursuit: Relations among self-concept clarity, conscientiousness, and grit. Personality And Individual Differences, 108, 191-194. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2016.12.008

Guadagno, R., & Burger, J. (2007). Self‐concept clarity and responsiveness to false feedback. Social Influence, 2(3), 159-177. doi: 10.1080/15534510701357270

Lecky, P. Self-consistency: A theory of personality. New York: Island Press, 1945, pp. 154. (1946). Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 2(3), 303-304. doi: 10.1002/1097-4679(194607)2:3<303::aid-jclp2270020323>;2-i

Lewandowski, G., Nardone, N., & Raines, A. (2010). The Role of Self-concept Clarity in Relationship Quality. Self And Identity, 9(4), 416-433. doi: 10.1080/15298860903332191

Lodi-Smith, J., & Roberts, B. (2010). Getting to Know Me: Social Role Experiences and Age Differences in Self-Concept Clarity During Adulthood. Journal Of Personality, 78(5), 1383-1410. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00655.x

McIntyre, K., Mattingly, B., & Lewandowski, G. (2017). Self-concept clarity and romantic relationships. Self-Concept Clarity, 107-124. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-71547-6_6

Mcleod, S. (2019). Carl Rogers | Simply Psychology. Retrieved 17 October 2019, from

Nezlek, J., & Plesko, R. (2001). Day-to-Day Relationships among Self-Concept Clarity, Self-Esteem, Daily Events, and Mood. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(2), 201-211. doi: 10.1177/0146167201272006

Smith, M., Wethington, E., & Zhan, G. (1996). Self-concept clarity and preferred coping styles. Journal of Personality, 64(2), 407-434.

Parise, M., Canzi, E., Olivari, M., & Ferrari, L. (2019). Self-concept clarity and psychological adjustment in adolescence: The mediating role of emotion regulation. Personality And Individual Differences, 138, 363-365. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2018.10.023

Pulkkinen, L., & Kokko, K. (2000). Identity Development in Adulthood: A Longitudinal Study. Journal Of Research In Personality, 34(4), 445-470. doi: 10.1006/jrpe.2000.2296\

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding motivation and emotion, seventh edit ion (7th ed., pp. 251-281). [Place of publication not identified]: JOHN WILEY & Sons.

Ritchie, T., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Gidron, Y. (2011). Self-concept Clarity Mediates the Relation between Stress and Subjective Well-being. Self And Identity, 10(4), 493-508. doi: 10.1080/15298868.2010.493066

Usborne, E., & Taylor, D. (2010). The Role of Cultural Identity Clarity for Self-Concept Clarity, Self-Esteem, and Subjective Well-Being. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(7), 883-897. doi: 10.1177/0146167210372215

Vartanian, L. (2009). When the Body Defines the Self: Self-Concept Clarity, Internalization, and Body Image. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology, 28(1), 94-126. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2009.28.1.94

Wong, A., & Vallacher, R. (2017). Reciprocal feedback between self-concept and goal pursuit in daily life. Journal Of Personality, 86(3), 543-554. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12334

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