In psychology, the concept of objective self-awareness is complex and significantly contributes to how we live our lives. Through this lesson, you will learn how to define objective self-awareness and explore how the theory was developed.
What Is Self-Awareness?
When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? Obviously, you see the reflection of your own face, but what do you think about that face? Do you think it's attractive? Are all the features proportional? Perhaps you notice some scars or discoloration, which you might cover with makeup. Pausing for a moment, do you think that when other people look at you, they think and feel all the things that you feel when they look at you?
This act of looking at your image in an analytical way is what is known as objective self-awareness, and it is a critical part of our human development. From a psychological perspective, objective self-awareness means that you are focusing attention on you and your behavior, which allows you to evaluate what you see based on the standards and expectations that you have developed throughout your life.
Say, for example, you watched a video from a friend's wedding, and you noticed that you are a terrible dancer. You probably didn't think that at the time of the wedding, but now that you're looking at yourself, presumably as everyone else saw you, you might start to think that you need to take some lessons in order to become what you consider to be a good dancer. This is an act of self-awareness because you are looking at yourself as an individual, separate from everything else in the video, and evaluating what you see based on your internal standards of how you think a person is supposed to look and behave.
Even though the concept of self-awareness has likely existed for a very long time, the first major studies on the theory of self-awareness emerged during the early 1970s from psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund.
Although their study—like all scholarly research—was fairly complicated, Duval and Wicklund primarily wanted to analyze the effects of focusing attention exclusively on the self in an objective evaluation. To do this, the researchers asked participants to view themselves in a mirror, showed them video of their behavior, and had them listen to audio recordings of their own voice, which they were then asked to evaluate.
What they discovered was that when people viewed themselves objectively, they evaluated their image, behavior, and voice using the values and standards that they had developed over the course of their lives, which caused them to see themselves from an objective perspective. Based on their research, Duval and Wicklund concluded that such evaluations were a positive experience because the objective analysis helped participants identify what improvements they needed to make in order for their appearance and behavior to align with their internal standards.
Duval and Wicklund's research was groundbreaking in many ways and has since inspired many other studies on the subject of self-awareness. Nevertheless, from time to time it has been criticized by later researchers who feel that it has overlooked certain variables. Most notably, some researchers have argued that a person's sense of self is complex and contextual rather than a static entity, and therefore, evaluations may change as a person's perspective or internal standards evolve or become more conservative.
Additionally, while Duval and Wicklund may have found the results of self-awareness to be generally positive, some have since pointed out that such evaluations can also be influenced by irrational standards or beliefs, which can lead to negative outcomes. For example, if a person who is suffering from depression engages in this type of evaluation, they are unlikely to be successful because they already suffer from distorted thinking. In this case, their analysis of themselves could lead to self-consciousness, which is a hyper-awareness of the self as an individual being that can easily slip into feelings of paranoia.
In the field of psychology, objective self-awareness is a person's ability to recognize themselves as an independent being and evaluate that being based on internal standards that they have developed about how a person should look or act. Early theories emerged from the research of Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund in the early 1970s, through a series of experiments wherein people were asked to evaluate their image in a mirror, on video, or through audio recordings.
Although Duval and Wicklund's theory was widely accepted and built upon by later researchers, some have criticized the study for viewing the sense of self as a static entity rather than an evolving concept. Additionally, some researchers have pointed out the potentially negative outcomes of objective self-awareness, such as an exacerbated self-consciousness, which can easily develop into paranoia.