Introspection and Self-Awareness Theory in Psychology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:06 Introspection
  • 1:55 Self-Awareness Theory
  • 2:56 Effects of Self-Awareness
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

How do introspection and self-awareness affect the way we view ourselves? In this lesson, we'll look at the definition, examples, and effects of introspection and self-awareness.


Imagine this: You are standing on the porch of a vast house. You can look out over the yard and see all that's before you: trees, birds, a fence. You could walk down the steps to the front yard and explore the world beyond the house. Or, you can turn around and go into the house, walk through each room, and discover what's inside.

That's kind of the difference between introspection and outward observation. Introspection happens when people look inward and examine their thoughts, feelings, and motives. It's kind of like walking inside the house to explore.

Often, people focus more on the world around them than on what's going on inside. This makes sense. After all, there are usually things around us that demand our attention. People, weather, animals, nature, buildings, and millions of other things can take our attention.

But, introspection is focusing our attention away from all of those other things and putting it on our interior life. Introspection is one way that we construct an idea of who we are. But, there are a couple of problems with introspection. First, people don't use introspection as much as we might expect them to. As we mentioned, with so many other things to take our attention away, people just don't sit and examine their thoughts and feelings very often.

The other issue that arises with introspection is that when people do use it, they aren't always aware of why they feel the way they do or what motivates their actions.

Still, introspection can be a powerful tool to learn about yourself. It can lead to self-awareness, or understanding that you are separate from your environment and from other people and appreciating what makes you different.

Self-Awareness Theory

Think about a time when you did or said something that you aren't proud of. Maybe you were mean to your friend because you felt jealous, or you took a candy bar from a store without paying for it. Why did you feel badly about your behavior? Self-Awareness Theory has an answer.

Self-Awareness Theory is the idea that when we pay attention to ourselves, through introspection or some other way, we judge ourselves according to our values. In the example above, your behavior was out of line with your values, and, therefore, you felt guilty about it.

You might think that self-awareness happens all the time, but studies show that, like introspection, people aren't self-aware most of the time. In one classic study, scientists gave people a beeper to carry around with them. Whenever the beeper went off, the participants were asked to stop what they were doing and record their thoughts. Surprisingly, subjects were engaging in self-aware thinking only about 8% of the time!

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Additional Activities

Introspection and Self-Awareness

Activity 1:

As you learned in the lesson, introspection is looking inward. When you introspect, you examine your own beliefs, values, and feelings. Do you feel that you are an introspective person? Do you spend much time looking inward? Do you think you would benefit from being more introspective? What might you gain? How could you go about becoming more introspective in your daily life? Write a reflective journal entry describing your answers to these questions, your feelings about this issue, and how you might become more introspective.

Activity 2:

Waiting in line at a grocery store for more than ten seconds? Pull out your phone. Waiting at a stoplight in the car? Pull out your phone. Waiting for your computer to boot up? Pull out your phone. Before the advent of modern cell phones, waiting was just . . . waiting. People used to use times like this to think, to remember, to introspect, and to feel. Today, most people do not allow themselves to disengage with the outer world in this way. Do you think this is detrimental? What is being lost when every free second filled by a piece of technology? Write a three to four paragraph essay on your reflections about this issue. Now that your awareness has been heightened, go one full day without turning to your phone as a distraction. Simply wait, think, feel, and see what happens. Then add one more paragraph to your essay describing that experience.

Activity 3:

You are a middle school guidance counselor. After reading information about the importance of self-awareness, how having self-awareness aligns people's behavior with their values, and leads them to make better life choices, you decide to develop an intervention for 7th and 8th-grade students. The goal of your intervention is to help them increase their own self-awareness. Design a realistic program that middle school students could use in order to increase their self-awareness. Write down your intervention in a two to three paragraph essay.

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