From the editors' preface: "One of the most notable things about
human beings that distinguishes them from all other animals is their ability to
self-reflect, to form images and ideas of what they are like, to ponder
important questions about themselves, to seek outcomes that are congenial to
their sense of self, to exert deliberate control over themselves, and to engage
on other acts of selfhood. Although our
understanding of these processes will undoubtedly advance in the coming years,
researchers and theorists have made enormous strides in illuminating these
quintessential human processes related to the self. This volume represents an attempt to integrate and summarize
state-of-the-art knowledge about self and identity in a simple, comprehensive
The book is no lightweight -- 703
pages, 32 chapters covering seven parts, with 5 overlapping domains/sections,
and includes author and subject indexes.
Fifty-four authors were invited to provide the content. The editors sought to capture the full
flavor and excitement about 'self research and theory' that has emerged over
the last 30 years, but more than a century since William James' classic 1890 text,
Principles of Psychology, and his
chapter therein -- the 'consciousness of self.' They point out that there now exists a thriving international,
interdisciplinary society for scholars who study the self and identity as well
as a new journal called Self and Identity
that started publication in 2002.
Part I. (2 introductory
The Self as an Organizing
Construct in the Behavioral and Social Sciences.
The Self as a Psychosocial
Dynamic Processing System: a
meta-perspective on a century of the self in psychology.
Part II. (6
chapters) Content, Structure, and Organization of the Self
Examines the content, structure and organization of the
self. "A great deal of theory and
research has been devoted to cognitive aspects of the self -- not only the content
of people's thoughts about themselves but how the self-relevant information is
organized, stored, and retrieved. The
six chapters herein cover topics such as identity, self-concept, self-memory,
self-organization, the implicit self, and the stability of self-thought."
Part III. (5 chapters) Agency, Regulation, &
These five chapters focus on the processes by which people
regulate themselves -- processes involving self-awareness, self-control, the
use of self-standards, and self-efficacy.
"Although researchers still do not understand precisely how people
turn self-generated intentions into deliberate self-directed behavior, the
chapters in this section show how far our understanding has progressed in the
past 20 years.
Part IV. (7 chapters) Evaluation, Motivation,
"The topics covered in Parts II and III involve largely
"cold" self processes, focusing on how people develop, process,
store, and use information about themselves.
The chapters in Part IV, in contrast, deal with "hot"
processes that involve motivation and emotion.
A great deal of research has studied self-motives such as
self-enhancement and self-verification, as well as how self-thought and
self-evaluation are related to emotions such as pride, shame, and guilt. The chapters in Part III share a common
focus on self-processes involving evaluation, motivation, and emotion."
Part V. (7 chapters) Interpersonal Aspects of
"One criticism that has been leveled at some research
on self and identity is that it has treated the self in a disembodied,
decontextualized manner, thereby losing much of its inherently interpersonal
nature. The seven chapters in Part V
redress this complaint as they focus on interpersonal aspects of the self. Clearly much of what happens when people
interact -- in relationships, groups, or casual interactions -- is influenced
by how the individuals construe themselves.
In turn, these self-construals are greatly affected by interpersonal and
Part VI. (4 chapters) Phylogenetic and Ontological
This section deals with the 'development of the self', among
non-human animals, over evolutionary time, and during childhood and
adolescence. The editors comment that
"Most psychologists would agree that newborn babies, like most non-human
animals, have at most a rudimentary bodily or ecological self but no capacity
for true self-awareness or self-relevant thought." This section addresses many interesting
questions about the selves of other animals, how the human self evolved from
presumably self-less hominids, ways in which self-thoughts and self-evaluations
change with age, and why the development of the self sometimes goes awry,
resulting in emotional and behavioral problems.
Part VII. Epilogue
The last section provides a single
chapter where the editors reflect on common themes that have emerged across the
five areas of self-functioning (Parts II-VI above) and speculate on what the
future holds for the next generation of research on the self. They point out that the "first
generation" of empirical research on the self emerged in the middle of the
20th century and focused primarily on self-esteem, which was
conceptualized as a fairly stable attribute and was seen largely in the
province of personality psychology. The
"second generation" of self research, in turn, is seen as starting in
the 1980's, where researchers conceptualizations of the self became markedly
more rich and differentiated, as a range of subdisciplines began to investigate
properties and mechanisms of the self.
Examples given are social psychology, developmental psychology, and
Four continuing themes of this
volume are seen by the editors to still dominate most of the ongoing research,
and hence future of self research. These are--evolutionary processes, self
esteem, development of self, and culture-self relationships. The editors provide a fairly rich discussion
as to what questions researchers will ask in each of these areas. They conclude this section, and the book,
with the expectation that rapid growth and progress in the self-research and
theory field will occur as integration of current 'midlevel theories',
presented in this volume, gets raised to the next theoretical level. As this occurs, they feel this marks the
third generation of research on the self.
Reviewer's Comments: I recommend this very fine volume to anyone
needing core reference material on the latest research and theory on self and
identity. It will surely remain as the
technical standard in the field probably for the next five years. Three areas I would have liked to have seen
more of are work/occupational aspects of self, the role of religious belief in
identity, and the cognitive neuroscience of self. But all of these do have their individual research sources for
consideration. The Annual Review of
Psychology for 2003 has a fine chapter on the religion-self issue, and the
Annual Review of Neuroscience probably considers self factors, as well. I confess that despite my own research on
self and work, I cannot readily point to a reference work in that area.
2003 William A. Buchanan
William A. Buchanan, PhD, is an
experimental psychologist practicing in Palo Alto, California. He is the
founder and president of WABA, Inc., an industrial-organizational consulting
firm established in 1980. See his work
on the web at home.earthlink.net/~waba.