Overview | People | Support & Awards | Photos

Self-concept and its implications

Our research on the self explores the implications of self-concept organization and how its structure mediates responses to everyday events, which is based on our Multiple Self-aspects Framework (McConnell, 2011). In particular, we have focused on how individuals lower in self-complexity (i.e., people with fewer and more similar self-identites) deal with stress and life events and achieve their goals. For example, those lower in self-complexity experience stronger responses to self-relevant feedback (e.g., mood swings, changed evaluations of other self-aspect appraisals) because of the structure of their self-concepts (McConnell, Rydell, & Brown, 2009). One result of these intensified feelings is that those lower in self-complexity show greater attitude change following acknowledging past undesirable actions (i.e., changing their attitudes to be more in line with their hypocrisy) while those greater in self-complexity showed attitude bolstering (McConnell & Brown, 2010). In addition, they rely more heavily on their feelings in guiding their behaviors and in deciding whether to engage or avoid challenging situations (Brown & McConnell, 2009). Also, they have greater difficulty in focusing their thinking (i.e., mental regulation) than people who are greater self-complexity (Renaud & McConnell, 2002). Our more recent work has examined how people's emotion serves to guide their behavior. For example, we have found that (contrary to classic theories such as objective self-awareness theory), that people who experience more intense negative emotions do not self-regulation more strongly -- that is, although their current emotion does not predict self-regulation, their anticipated emotions do predict self-regulatory behavior with current emotions shaping their expectations of the future (Brown & McConnell, in press).

Yet, low self-complexity can be beneficial as well. For example, one can enjoy the benefits of "the good life" (e.g., having greater social support, more desirable personality characteristics, fewer traumatic life experiences) more than people greater in self-complexity, revealing fewer physical illnesses, less depression, and more self-esteem (McConnell, Strain, Brown, & Rydell, 2009). Also, our work has shown that having many different self-aspects may leave people feeling “stretched too thin,” especially when they do not possess a great degree of control over their self-aspects, resulting in greater depression and more stress-related illnesses (McConnell et al., 2005).

More generally, our research has focused on how understanding human behavior is improved by conceiving of "the self" as a collection of context-dependent self-aspects (instead of one monolithic structure). For instance, we see that outcomes such as chronic attributes (i.e., core traits that are "always on") are more limited in scope because such attributes are context specific instead of global in nature (Brown & McConnell, 2009). Our work has also reconceptualized representing and measuring the self by focusing on a novel approach dervived from Associated Systems Theory (Schleicher & McConnell, 2005). Further, work in our lab has focused on how we sometimes use the self as a template to understand others. For example, our research has shown that as people become increasingly more included in the self, our cognitive representations of them become more similar to our own, suggesting that we project the structure of self-knowledge on close others (Brown, Young, & McConnell, 2009).

Finally, we have investigated how meta-beliefs about the self, such as one's implicit theories about the nature of personality (i.e., whether it's fixed or changable) moderate the link between not meeting one's goals and lower self-esteem (Renaud & McConnell, 2007) and how beliefs of one's own entitativity (i.e., consistency of one's own behavior) affect how one forms and represents self-concepts (McConnell et al., 2002).

Relevant publications

Brown, C. M., & McConnell, A. R. (in press). Discrepancy-based and anticipated emotions in behavioral self-regulation. Emotion.

McConnell, A. R. (2011). The Multiple Self-aspects Framework: Self-concept representation and its implications. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 3-27.

McConnell, A. R., & Brown, C. M. (2010). Dissonance averted: Self-concept organization moderates the effect of hypocrisy on attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 361-366.

Brown, C. M., & McConnell, A. R. (2009). Effort or escape: Self-concept structure determines self-regulatory behavior. Self and Identity, 8, 365-377.

McConnell, A. R., Rydell, R. J., & Brown, C. M. (2009). On the experience of self-relevant feedback: How self-concept organization influences affective responses and self-evaluations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 695-707.

McConnell, A. R., Strain, L. M., Brown, C. M., & Rydell, R. J. (2009). The simple life: On the benefits of low self-complexity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 823-835.

Brown, C. M., Young, S. G., & McConnell, A. R. (2009). Seeing close others as we see ourselves: One's own self-complexity is reflected in perceptions of meaningful others. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 515-523.

Brown, C. M., & McConnell, A. R. (2009). When chronic isn't chronic: The moderating role of active self-aspects. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 3-15.

McConnell, A. R., & Strain, L. M. (2007). Content and structure of the self-concept. In C. Sedikides & S. Spencer (Eds.) The self in social psychology (pp. 51-73). New York: Psychology Press.

Renaud, J. M., & McConnell, A. R. (2007). Wanting to be better but thinking you can't: Implicit theories of personality moderate the impact of self-discrepancies on self-esteem. Self and Identity, 6, 41-50

McConnell, A. R., Renaud, J. M., Dean, K. K., Green, S. P., Lamoreaux, M. J., Hall, C. E., & Rydell, R. J. (2005). Whose self is it anyway? Self-aspect control moderates the relation between self-complexity and well-being. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 1-18.

Schleicher, D. J., & McConnell, A. R. (2005). The complexity of self-complexity: An Associated Systems Theory approach. Social Cognition, 23, 387-416.

McConnell, A. R., Rydell, R. J., & Leibold, J. M. (2002). Expectations of consistency about the self: Consequences for self-concept formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 569-585.

Renaud, J. M., & McConnell, A. R. (2002). Organization of the self-concept and the suppression of self-relevant thoughts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 79-86.


updated 6 january 2011 • © mmxi allen r. mcconnell