The Self We Know and the Self We Show: Self-esteem, Self-presentation, and the Maintenance of Interpersonal Relationships

Book Section

As the capacity for self-reflection evolved among the prehistoric people from whom modern human beings descended, they presumably became aware that other individuals did not always see them the way that they saw themselves. This realization was a benchmark in human social life because it involved the emergence of a private sense of self that the individual knew was not accessible to others and created the possibility that people could purposefully convey images of themselves that were inconsistent with how they knew themselves to be. Many other animals engage in displays that, in one sense, do not jibe with how they really are (fluffing hair or feathers to appear larger, for example), and chimpanzees have been observed to deceive other chimps and their human caretakers (de Waal, 1986). But other animals' efforts at self-presentation pale in comparison to those of human beings, limited by their meager ability to self-reflect (Gallup, 1977; Gallup & Suarez, 1986). Only in human beings do we see deliberate efforts to convey a public image to other people, an image that may or may not mesh with the individual's private view of him- or herself. Following James's (1890) seminal descriptions of various public and private aspects of the self, two traditions emerged in the study of the self, one focusing primarily on the private, subjective self and the other on the social, public self. Early theorists and researchers interested in the private self explored how people develop a sense of self, the factors that determine the nature of people's self-concepts, the psychological motives that affect their self-views, and the emotional and behavioral implications of how people perceive themselves (Cooley, 1902; Lecky, 1945; Mead, 1934; Rogers, 1959; Rosenberg, 1965; Wylie, 1961). Interest in the public or social self was spurred by developments in sociology, particularly those that emerged from the symbolic interactionist and dramaturgical perspectives. Goffman (1959), for example, championed a purely public characterization of the self, proposing that the only true self was the public one. In discussing the link between the self and self-presentation, Goffman wrote: "A correctly staged and performed scene leads the audience to impute a self to a performed character, but this imputation - this self - is a product of a scene that comes off and is not a cause of it" (p. 252, italics in original). He cautioned that the self should not be regarded as an internal, organic thing but rather as the dramatic effect of a person's public presentation. When social psychologists began to explore the dynamics of self-presentation (e.g., E. E. Jones, 1964; Jones, Gergen, & Jones, 1963), they adopted a view of the self that drew from both the psychological and sociological traditions. They assumed the existence of a private psychological self, but saw as one of its functions the management of a public identity. Although early symbolic interactionists had discussed the interplay between the self as known to the individual and the self as seen by others (Cooley, 1902; Mead, 1934), psychological theory and research on the private vs. public aspects of the self were, for the most part, pursued separately for many years. Researchers who were interested in the inner workings of the self did not deny that private psychological processes affect people's public persona and vice versa, but they were interested primarily in the intrapsychic aspects of the self. In contrast, researchers interested in the public self did not ignore ways in which the public, social self was influenced by the private, psychological self, but they were interested primarily in the interpersonal factors that affect the kinds of public selves that people present to others, and the private self took a back seat. Since the 1980s, however, much has been written about the relationship between the private and public aspects of the self (e.g., Baumeister, 1982a, 1986; Carver & Scheier, 1981; Greenwald, 1982; Greenwald & Breckler, 1985; Leary & Baumeister, 2000; Schlenker, 1985, 1986), but it is not my intention to review this extensive literature here. Rather, my interest in this chapter is on one particular motivational feature of the private and public selves.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Leary, MR

Published Date

  • December 13, 2007

Book Title

  • Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Interpersonal Processes

Start / End Page

  • 457 - 477

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 0631212280

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780631212287

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/9780470998557.ch18

Citation Source

  • Scopus