Behavioural Science Blog

The Science of Human Behaviour

Posts Tagged ‘implicit self

Are We Strangers to Ourselves?

leave a comment »

Who are you?

Okay…easy enough question, but get this one:
How do you know who you are?
Do you get it right?

So many times I meet people that tell me all about them and how they are and when I finally get to know them, they seem to do quite the opposite of what they honestly believe about themselves (me included). So let’s take one step back and look at some ways that you can learn about yourself:

  • Feedback by others
  • Reflecting on appraisal
  • Introspection (emotions / preferences)
  • Self-perception (à la Bem)
  • Social comparison
  • …(probably a hundred more)…

Looking at the points above I propose two dimensions for categorization:

  • Information required by others / by ourselves
  • Information about behavior / about feelings and thoughts

For example I always thought of myself as being very sensitive to other people. Which is (kindly spoken) rubbish. But how did I come to think that way in the first place and why did I stop believing in it? It all started when I started seeing this girl, more precisely when she started telling me what I was actually (not) doing. I was taken my motivation for granted and did not really look at my behavior. In fact in inferred from my thought hoe I should be like…well I was not.

To cut a long story short Roos Vonk explained to me last week, why we think all sorts of things about ourselves that don’t have anything to do with what we seem to be doing (from someones else’s perspective). Roos Vonk is teacher at the Radboud University and has her own coaching company, but unless you inherited a fortune you probably cannot pay her anyway…

Recent theories indicate that there is an implicit self and an explicit self. While the explicit self is related to what we consciously think about ourselves, the implicit self is more strongly related to actual behavior. You could compared those two self-concepts to the implicit and the reflective system of Strack & Deutsch.

When asking WHY-questions we are talking about the explicit self in a conscious way. But it is questionable if we can understand the ways of the implicit self (and behavior) by asking these kinds of conscious, reflective questions. Instead it would be much smarter to ask WHAT-questions and to look at our own behaviour as if we would be another person. This way we can possibly negate some misleading thought and interpretations (and motivations on how we want to be).

So in the end…are we we strangers to ourselves. I would answer with a nes: We most probably cannot get insights about our own behavior by thinking about ourselves, yet if we train to think in a different we have the chance to observe ourselves 14 hours (probably more for the hard working scientists) a day. Several tools can also help us keep track of our behavior in an unbiased way. But for the lazy ones: Asking your girlfriend / boyfriend might actually be much more effective.

Written by Martin Metzmacher

May 13, 2008 at 8:46 pm