Lens: Type: Core Level

People’s collected beliefs about themselves.

People have a sense of who they are—their identity. “Self-concept” sums up collected beliefs that people hold about themselves (Fiske and Taylor, 2017). Depending on the situation, a person’s concept of themself can change. A person may have a conception of themself as an expert and exude confidence when making drawings of buildings but may also perceive themself as a failure when doing math problems.

A person’s self-concept develops and shifts over time through experience. Self-concept steers a person’s thoughts and actions. A person’s self-concept can make them more likely to try things they have never tried and can also cause them to think they are not worthy or able to try those same things. People who believe they are adventurous will be more likely to take risks and to be bold. People who see themselves as creative, inventive, and a world-changer even though others may think the person is peculiar because they have wild ideas.

Designers make objects that people use. Sometimes those products, services, and systems are not quickly adopted because people perceive that the item is too hard to use or is not for people “like them.” When designers consider self-concept as an experience-level aspect for design, they endeavor to design outcomes that will align with a person’s inner-view of themself.

Researching Self-Concept

Self-concept is a stethoscope-level aspect so it can be very difficult to research. It is easy to jump to conclusions about people. Avoid making assumptions. Still, when researching self-concept, examine how people talk about themselves and their place in relation to others. Select research methods carefully to allow participants to share openly.

Questions to Ask About Self-Concept

  • What does this person believe about themselves?
  • What kind of value does this person think they add to others? To their community?
  • How does this person’s self-concept align with others’ expectations?

Look for These When Researching Self-Concept

  • Words they use
  • Endeavors they attempt
  • Self-deprecating language


References and sources that support the inclusion of this Aspects of Experiences for Design component.

Social Sciences

Apter, M. J. (2016). Understanding Reversal Theory: Six Critical Questions. 5, 1-7.

Apter, M. J. (2017). Ideology and Societal Values: A Reversal Theory Perspective. Journal of Motivation, Emotion, and Personality, 6, 1-7.

Bandura, A. (2001). Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication. Media Psychology, 3(3), 265-299. doi:Article

Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: an agentic perspective. Annual Review Of Psychology, 52, 1-26.

Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a Psychology of Human Agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), 164-180.

Bargh, J. A. (1994). The four horsemen of automaticity: awareness, intention, efficiency, and control in social cognition. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. & T. K. Srull (Eds.), Handbook of Social Cognition (Second ed., pp. 1-40). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1990). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. (Kindle ed.). New York: Open Road Media.

Brown, J. D. (1998). The self. Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill, c1998.

Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Ayduk, √., & John, O. P. (2016). Taking the long view: Implications of individual differences in temporal distancing for affect, stress reactivity, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(4), 610-635. doi:10.1037/pspp0000103

Campbell, T. (1981). Seven theories of human society. Oxford : Clarendon Press; New York : Oxford University Press, 1981.

Cantor, N. (1994). Life Task Problem Solving: Situational Affordances and Personal Needs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(3), 235-243. doi:10.1177/0146167294203001

Collins, P. H. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Crocker, J., Canevello, A., & Brown, A. A. (2017). Social Motivation: Costs and Benefits of Selfishness and Otherishness. Annual Review of Psychology, 68(1), 299-325. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010416-044145

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (2002). Self and social identity. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 161-186.

Emmons, R. A., & King, L. A. (1988). Conflict among personal strivings: Immediate and long-term implications for psychological and physical well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1040-1048. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1040

Ferguson, M. J. (2008). On becoming ready to pursue a goal you don’t know you have: Effects of nonconscious goals on evaluative readiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6), 1268-1294. doi:10.1037/a0013263

Fishbach, A., Friedman, R. S., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2003). Leading us not into temptation: Momentary allurements elicit overriding goal activation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 296-309. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.296

Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2017). Social cognition: from brains to culture. (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.

Goffman, E. (1973). The presentation of self in everyday life. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press.

Holland, R. W., Aarts, H., & Langendam, D. (2006). Breaking and creating habits on the working floor: A field-experiment on the power of implementation intentions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42(6), 776-783. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2005.11.006

Markus, H., & Kunda, Z. (1986). Stability and malleability of the self-concept. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 51(4), 858-866.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation. Psychological Review, 224-253.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2010). Cultures and Selves: A Cycle of Mutual Constitution. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 420-430. doi:10.1177/1745691610375557

Monga, A. S. B., & Williams, J. D. (2016). Cross-cultural styles of thinking and their influence on consumer behavior. Current Opinion in Psychology, 10, 65-69. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.12.003

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.68

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2004). Autonomy Is No Illusion: Self-Determination Theory and the Empirical Study of Authenticity, Awareness, and Will. In (pp. 449-479). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2008). Self-determination theory and the role of basic psychological needs in personality and the organization of behavior. In Handbook of personality: Theory and research, 3 (pp. 654-678).

Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

Turner, J. C., & Reynolds, K. J. (2012). Self-Categorization Theory. In P. A. M. V. Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, Volume 2 (pp. 399-417). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.