Developmental trends and gender differences in the subjective experience of self
The vast outpouring of self-concept research carefully reviewed by Wylie (1974, 1979) and by Rosenberg (1979) has focused so heavily on the single dimension of evaluation that the whole field could be adequately included under the much narrower rubric of ‘self-esteem’. The research programme described in this chapter broadens the scope of enquiry by going beyond evaluation to investigate additional dimensions of self-conceptualisation that are spontaneously salient in the phenomenal sense of self. Our spontaneous self-concept approach gives the participants the choice of dimensions on which to describe themselves in response to a general ‘Tell us about yourself probe, thus providing information on the content and processes in the natural as-is experience of self. In contrast, the usual reactive approach to the self-concept limits participants to describing themselves on some researcher-chosen dimension, typically self-esteem, and so yields only hypothetical as-if information on where the person would place the self on the researcher’s dimension if he or she ever thought of it, without providing information on the extent to which the person ever does think of it. We shall first describe briefly the purposes and procedures of our more permissive approach and then summarise four areas of findings that have come out of this research programme.