Term of Art: Self-Concept

“self-concept: The way a person sees himself or herself including all the beliefs, feelings, and attitudes. Self-concept can also. affect how one feels about others.

Self-concept is a subject  that has fascinated philosophers from earliest times. In the field of psychology, self-concept has always been an important and sometimes controversial subject. William James and Mary Calkins used methods of introspection to study the self, while Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler all discussed the development of the self in their writing.

During the the 1950s and 1960s, the ‘self concept’ was a central idea in the work of both Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Maslow believed that building self-esteem, an individual’s evaluation of self-worth, was a key step in the self-actualization process. Rogers believed that if one had a positive view of the self, then one would view the world in a positive way. If the self-view were negative, one would fall short of the goals related to the ideal self. As a part of this perspective, Donald Super developed a related theory of vocational choice. He believed that career satisfaction was related to the degree to which someone could implement his self-concept in the workplace.

Social psychologists argue that an individual’s self-concept develops through association with others. Cognitive psychologists study how people think about themselves and how they think about their own thinking. Although many criticize the term and its usefulness because it is difficult to quantify or measure consistently, it remains an important concept among educators and developmental psychologists. Both groups are concerned with the effects of the educational setting, peers, and family on child’s developing self-concept.

Individuals with learning disability, not surprisingly, often rate themselves lower than typically achieving students on cognitive ability. Because academic performance is a culturally valued domain, it makes sense that individuals with learning disabilities would also place importance on academic performance.

Some research suggests that for colleges students with learning disabilities, the availability of a social support network, including clubs, disability services, and interactions with professors, is a correlate of self-esteem. Other research of successful adults with learning disabilities gives insight into how to nurture emotional health while managing the challenge that a disability entails. Researchers studied moderately successful and highly successful adults with learning disabilities to identify factors related to their success. Success was defined as high ratings in the following categories: income level, job classification, education level, career prominence and job satisfaction.

Other research focuses on resilience–the healthy adaptation in the context of severe stress. Despite the challenges and hardships that can accompany having a learning disability, some individual maintain a positive outlook, achieve success, and avoid emotional problems. Important characteristics of resilient individuals include accuracy of self-appraisal, self-determination, and help from a significant important person.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

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