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Social psychology does not seek global human behavior theories as are constituted in personality theory. Rather, social psychology makes use of a variety of explicit theories for different cognitive and social phenomena. Among the most influential social psychology theories is personality theory that, underscores that people observe themselves, in the same way, that they observe others. They thus draw conclusions about their likes and dislikes. As have been proven by a study carried out by (Ellis, 2004), extrinsic self-perceptions causes over-justification effect. Below is a detailed literature review on social psychology theory and its application in solving a real-world problem.

Self-Perception Theory

As Wade (2000) asserts, individuals get informed of their attitudes, internal states and emotions partially by deducing them from annotations of their explicit behavior and the situations surrounding the occurrence of that behavior. As asserted by Fuchs et al., (2012) self-perception theory was for the first instance partially framed to address empirically certain queries in the subjects involving the philosophy of mind. Yee and Bailenson (2009) stipulates that the issues in the philosophy of mind were some important queries such as on how people know they are hungry. At this point, the question of whether it is direct knowledge, inference or observation that informs them of their situation and might they be wrong are dominant. Earlier, psychologists have usually left such explanations to philosophers, but Skinner’s analysis of the issue inspired the creation of self-perception theory in an attempt to explain the offing of certain behaviors (Kelly, 2000).


As Kelly (2000) asserts, child must at first have someone present who will play the role of the actual word “game of pointing” and naming for him to identify and label things in his surroundings. This person must teach the child to differentiate between things and events that seem alike and to tag them with unlike descriptors. According to Crawley (2002), the skills of self-description appears to develop from the same process with respect to both unconcealed behavior and the influence of stimuli on the person. According to (Ellis, 2004), the problem with is when the stimuli or the events to be described within an individual where no one else apart from them who have access. This assertion is true because it becomes problematic for vocal community to make differential reinforcement of the proper expressive responses. These responses are openly dependent upon the manifestation or nonexistence of the stimuli that are to be given a label.

According to Yee & Bailenson (2009), there are a few exceptional cases when an appropriate descriptor can still be acquired without explicit training. As he argues, some reserved stimuli are spawned from covert behavior that was once unconcealed or which complemented corresponding overt behavior to which labels could be apportioned. Similarly, the other exceptional case is stimulus generalization, also known as a metaphor, as a source of appropriate descriptors (Crawley, 2002).

As asserted by Kelly (2000), an individual can easily identify “butterflies in the stomach” and label that situation as such to describe how they are feeling without inference from other people. As (Crawley, 2002) asserts, when someone is training a youngster to describe pain, he must impart to him the accurate response at serious time when the proper private stimuli are impacting upon him. According to Zeigler-Hill, Clark and Beckman (2011), the shortage of descriptors of private events in the community setting, the result is also habitually inadequate. Therefore, in spite of having direct and unmistaken knowledge of our inner states, we have practically no knowledge until we have been overtly trained (Crawley, 2002).

Postulates of Self-Perception

According to Wade (2000), numerous self-descriptive declarations that appear to be entirely under the regulation of reserved stimuli may still be partly controlled by the similar supplementary communal events used by the training community. In a study carried out by Schachter and Singer as stipulated by Nail, Misak and Davis (2004), emphasized on the manipulation of the peripheral cues. As they found, the situation is capable of evoking self-descriptions of emotive states after introduction of operationally identical situations of physiological arousal.

In a similar experiment, Wade (2000) was able to manipulate the assertiveness towards provocative pictures of semi-nude ladies by giving his masculine subjects incorrect auditory response that they could construe as their heartbeat. The results showed that any inner stimulus control of attitude declarations could be superseded by external cues. According to Zeigler-Hill, Clark and Beckman (2011), the exterior cues used for regulation in investigations have usually existed in the societal or physical situation. This situation is in which the individual was positioned or in verbal directions specified by the experimenter. In regard to this postulation, Yee and Bailenson (2009) asserts that an individual knows how he feels by a reflection of how he acts.

As such, individuals know their emotions, internal states and attitudes partly by deducing them from observations of their individual unconcealed behavior and the conditions in which this behavior ensues (Ellis, 2004). The second postulation proposes a partial identity between self and interpersonal perception. As Ellis (2004) asserts, an individual is in the same position functionally as an outside observer if his (the individual) external cues are uninterpretable, weak or ambiguous. The fact that self-perception theory is derived from behaviorist theory is a guarantee to emphasize on the assertion that neither the relational onlooker nor the individual is limited to inferences founded upon unconcealed actions only.

An Alternative Explanation through Behavioral Assimilation

Although self-perception theory has been utilized to explain how individuals describe themselves and others, the process is not fully dependent on self-perception theory. An alternative to this process is behavioral assimilation (Ellis, 2004). As studies has shown, short-lived experience to words linked to specific ideas influences social perception in terms of how we assess and judge others (Choice Reviews Online, 2007). A study carried out by Higgins, Jones and Rules as described by Nail, Misak and Davis (2004), involved the manipulation of the exhibition of the terms “reckless” and “adventurous” in a verbal task. This presentation was followed by the manipulation of unrelated tasks. Both processes of manipulation provoked the subjects’ impression towards the individual who was planning to navigate across the Atlantic using a sailboat. A research carried out by Balcetis & Dunning (2007) confirmed that priming can, in fact, alter how an individual acts and relates with other individuals. Another research that involved priming the participants with Afro-American faces showed that the participants acted in a more aggressive manner (Yee & Bailenson, 2009).

In a similar research carried out by Bargh et al., as described by Ellis (2004) showed that participants clued-up with elderly correlated words strode slowly compared to the participants primed with impartial words. In another study by Dijksterhuis and Van as discussed by Kelly (2000), showed that participants clued-up with “professor” did better compared to contestants primed with “hooligan” on a common knowledge task. Thus, the findings from the studies suggest a firm evidence that the behavior change on the participants was dictated by behavioral assimilation. This assertion leads to a conclusion that it is apart from the self-perception theory, behavioral assimilation can be used to discern the meaning of self or other people’s behaviors.

Application of Self-Perception Theory in Solving a Real-World Problem

As stipulated in self-perception theory, individuals identify themselves in the similar way they identify others. They perceive their conducts in a variety of circumstances, and then they create attributions about their conducts. As articulated by Bernard (2005), people tend to think that other people’s conduct is caused by something innate as opposed to external or situational factors. As such, self-perception theory can be applied in counseling as well as psychotherapy. In psychotherapy session, individuals learn about themselves by detecting their personal behavior (Balcetis & Dunning, 2007). Thus, with the counselor’s help, they can establish new behaviors, reflect on them, redefine their selves in accordance with the new behavior and monitor changes using feedbacks from other members.

A good example of such a case is recovering alcoholics. They do not perceive themselves as alcoholics but as reforming alcoholics (Bernard, 2005). If they relapse, they no longer perceive themselves as recovering people but as hopeless alcoholics. Thus, they have observed their relapse behavior and resolved that they will permanently be alcoholics. As asserted by Bernard (2005), the exploration of the feelings of such an individual through the assistance of a counselor leads to pronounced acceptance and a redefinition of the self. According to Rogers and Stevens as discussed by Balcetis and Dunning (2007), as individuals express their feelings and experiences and reflect on them, they get to know who they are. Therefore, the counselor takes an individual through this process of knowing oneself and thus help them in establishing a new code of conduct through the use of self-perception theory.

Works Cited

Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2007). Cognitive Dissonance and the Perception of Natural Environments. Psychological Science, 18(10), 917-921. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.02000.x

Bernard, M. (2005). Rational emotive and cognitive behavioral therapy with offenders: “Teacher is happy!” J Rational-Emotive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, 13(4), 211-213. doi:10.1007/bf02354512

Crawley, R. (2002). Self-perception of cognitive changes during pregnancy and the early postpartum: salience and attentional effects. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 16(6), 617-633. doi:10.1002/acp.818

Ellis, A. (2004). Why Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Is the Most Comprehensive and Effective Form of Behavior Therapy. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 22(2), 85-92. doi:10.1023/b:jore.0000025439.78389.52

Choice Reviews Online (2007). Feelings: the perception of self. 44(12), 44-7130-44-7130. doi:10.5860/choice.44-7130

Fuchs, T., Eschenbeck, H., Krug, S., Schlaud, M., & Kohlmann, C. (2012). Perception Makes the Difference: The Association of Actual and Perceived Weight Status with Self-Reported and Parent-Reported Personal Resources and Well-Being in Adolescents. Applied Psychology: Health And Well-Being, 4(3), 321-340. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2012.01077.x

Kelly, A. (2000). Helping construct desirable identities: A self-presentational view of psychotherapy. Psychological Bulletin, 126(4), 475-494. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.126.4.475

Nail, P., Misak, J., & Davis, R. (2004). Self-affirmation versus self-consistency: a comparison of two competing self-theories of dissonance phenomena. Personality and Individual Differences, 36(8), 1893-1905. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2003.08.019

Wade, T. (2000). Evolutionary Theory and Self-perception: Sex Differences in Body Esteem Predictors of Self-perceived Physical and Sexual Attractiveness and Self-Esteem. International Journal of Psychology, 35(1), 36-45. doi:10.1080/002075900399501

Yee, N., & Bailenson, J. (2009). The Difference between Being and Seeing: The Relative Contribution of Self-Perception and Priming to Behavioral Changes via Digital Self-Representation. Media Psychology, 12(2), 195-209. doi:10.1080/15213260902849943

Zeigler-Hill, V., Clark, C., & Beckman, T. (2011). Fragile Self-esteem and the Interpersonal Circumplex: Are Feelings of Self-worth Associated with Interpersonal Style? Self and Identity, 10(4), 509-536. doi:10.1080/15298868.2010.497376


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