Primary author: Dannielle Grayer

Self concept is defined as “a person’s perception about him or herself,” (Shavelson & Bolus, 1982) or more in depth as “the accumulation of knowledge about the self, such as beliefs regarding personality traits, physical characteristics, abilities, values, goals, and roles” (Alvarez 2009). This construct “can be separated and observed in different categories, such as personal self-concept, social self-concept, and self ideals” (Gale Group, 2001). Self-concept is a system made of schemes “some of which reflect individual aspects of the self, such as personality”, while others “reflect relationships with family, friends, and social groups” (Crisp & Turner, 2010). The theory of self-concept looks at how a person’s beliefs about themselves and their environment affect their perception of others, and their own behaviors and mannerisms (Shavelson & Bolus, 1982).

Self-concept maintenance involves one’s own perception and definition of self, and consequently how this perception affects their actions and interactions with others. This is to say that “how we define ourselves…subsequently affects our behavior depend[ing] largely upon how the self compares to a particular point of comparison” (Crisp & Turner, 2010). This point of comparison could be another individual, or a person’s own ideas of their ideal self. An example of this type of comparison can be found in the study “The dishonesty of honest people: a theory of self-concept maintenance” by Nina Mazar. The author finds that to maintain their ideas about their perceived self, people often find a “balance or equilibrium between two motivating forces” (Mazar, 2010), in this case honesty and dishonesty. The study found that participants were willing to define a “…range of dishonesty in which people can cheat, but their behavior does not bear negatively on their self-concept” (Mazar, 2010). Another example would be students comparing themselves to other students in a course to determine if they are “hard-working” (Crisp & Turner, 2010).

The perception of self, social environment, and relationships are all integral components of self-concept maintenance. Each component adds a level of reflection, or acts as a mirror in which an individual sees themselves. The idea a person has of themselves, or their “ideal self”, may conflict with the way that society, and friends or family view them. However, this perception affects the way that they see everyone else, and they use their perception of themselves to judge the actions of others (Crisp & Turner, 2010). The notion of maintaining self-concept then is a balance between all of these views. The discordance between these views however may cause problems in that the difference between “a person’s self-concept and his or her actual experiences [can be] a chronic source of anxiety” (Gale Group, 2010). This can occur as the result of someone trying to “maintain a self-concept that is at odds with the true feelings…to ‘fit in’” (Gale Group, 2010).

When thinking about self-concept maintenance from a public health point of view, it becomes evident that this construct interweaves with the construct of self-efficacy, or one’s belief in their ability to accomplish a goal or task (Glanz, 2008). This is to say that “one’s self-concept influences how one regards both oneself and one’s environment.” (Gale Group, 2010). Therefore if a student compares themselves to others in an effort to gauge their own intelligence or success they may feel inferior. This is the case in many students who use prescription ADHD drugs as study aids (DeSantis, Webb, Noar, 2008). The point of comparison that a person chooses when comparing their abilities to others directly affects the way they view their ability to achieve. This in turn affects their actions, and may lead them to choose one behavior over another. This demonstrates that “how we explain the cause of our own and other people’s behavior is influenced by self-concept” (Gale Group, 2010). This becomes very important when conducting studies, because even though participants may be asked the same questions or to complete the same task, their perception of themselves and their ability will affect the outcome, and this needs to be accounted for.


Alvarez, J.M. (2009). Self-Concept. Social issues refernce. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from Self-Concept

Gale Group. (2001). Self-Concept. Gale encyclopedia of psychology. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from

Shavelson, R.J., & Bolus, R. (1982). Self-concept: the interplay of theory and methods. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(1), 3-17.

Crisp, R.J. , & Turner, R. (2010). Essential social psychology. London: SAGE Publication Ltd.

Mazar, N. “The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of self-concept maintenance”.

DeSantis, A,, Webb, E., & Noar, S. . (2008). Illicit use of prescription adhd. JOURNAL OF AMERICAN COLLEGE HEALTH, 57(3), 315-323.

Glanz, K., Rimer, B.K., & Viswanath,K. (2008). Health behavior and health education: Theory, research and practice. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco CA.