ERIC Identifier: ED389962
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Strein, William
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Assessment of Self-Concept. ERIC Digest.
Self-concept is one of the most popular ideas in psychological literature.
The ERIC database includes over 6000 entries under the "self-concept"
descriptor. Unfortunately, self-concept is also an illusive and often poorly
defined construct. Reviews of literature have found at least 15 different "self"
terms used by various authors (Strein, 1993). Terms such as "self-concept,"
"self-esteem," "self-worth," "self-acceptance," and so on are often used
interchangeably and inconsistently, when they may relate to different ideas
about how people view themselves. Accordingly, definition is the first
consideration in the assessment of self-concept. Before attempting to assess
self-concept, counseling practitioners or researchers must first clarify for
themselves what they mean by "self-concept" and then choose a method or
instrument consistent with that definition.
GLOBAL VERSUS DOMAIN-SPECIFIC MODELS
Perhaps the most
important distinction that differentiates various conceptualizations is whether
self-concept is viewed as an overarching, global characteristic of the person,
or as a set of self-evaluations specific to different domains of behavior. The
global view, sometimes conceptualized as "self-esteem" or "general
self-concept," is the older and probably the more common view among counselors
and therapists (Strein, 1993). Items comprising the "Rosenberg Self-Esteem
Scale" (Rosenberg, 1965) capture the essence of the global self-concept idea,
and continue to be used frequently in research. "The Piers-Harris Children's
Self-Concept Scale" (Piers, 1984) and the "Tennessee Self Concept Scale" (Fitts,
1991), both commonly used instruments, are also rooted in the global tradition,
although each also provides domain-specific scales.
In contrast to the traditional model of global self-concept, multifaceted
models stress self-evaluations of specific competencies or attributes, for
example, academic self-concept, physical self-concept, and so on. Although some
theoretical models are hierarchical, with global self-concept at the apex, most
of these models stress the distinctiveness of various self-concept facets.
Extensive empirical research in developmental and educational psychology over
the past 15 years has strongly supported the multifaceted view. Consistent with
research findings, most published self-concept measures now emphasize
domain-specific self-concepts. The clearest example of measures based on the
multifaceted view is Marsh's (1992) set of scales ("Self-Description
Questionnaire I, II, or III") covering ages seven to young adult.
METHODS OF SELF-CONCEPT ASSESSMENT
inherently phenomenological, that is, it refers to the person's own view of him-
or herself. In fact, one leading scholar in the field (Wylie, 1974) has argued
that comparisons to external events are not particularly relevant in the
assessment of self-concept. Accordingly, self-concept is almost always assessed
through self-report. Four commonly used self-report methods are described below
"Rating scales" are the most frequently used type of instrument. Most of the
currently published instruments are of this type. Rating scales typically are
composed of a set of statements to which the respondent expresses a degree of
agreement or disagreement. Five- and seven-point Likert scales are common.
Typical items might be "I am good at math" or "On the whole, I am satisfied with
myself." Responses are then summed to form a score for a specific scale (e.g.,
math self-concept) or a measure of global self-concept.
"Checklists" involve having respondents check all of the adjectives that they
believe apply to themselves. Because the adjectives have been assigned to a
category, such as "self-favorability," based on either rational or empirical
criteria, the person's choices can be tabulated to form a self-concept measure.
Checklists provide interesting qualitative information, but have two
shortcomings. First, responses are dichotomous (yes/no); there is no way for the
respondent to indicate degree of agreement. Second, the categorization of the
adjectives is done by an external party, without knowing what exact meaning the
adjective has for the individual.
"Q-sorts" have been used extensively in self-concept research but are seldom
used by practicing counselors because they are time-consuming and require
considerable commitment from the client. In brief, the Q-sort technique involves
having the person sort cards that contain self-descriptors (e.g., "I am strong")
into a pre-defined number of piles ranging from "most like me" to "least like
me." Typically, 100 or more cards would be used and each pile can contain only a
pre-determined number of cards. Both quantitative and qualitative methods can be
used to evaluate the results of the sorting task.
In "free-response" methods respondents typically complete partial statements
(e.g., I feel best when...). Although some sets of these sentence-completion
tasks have been published formally, complete with quantitative scoring schemes,
responses more frequently are evaluated qualitatively. Free-response methods are
seldom used in self-concept research but have favor with many counselors because
the open-ended, qualitative nature of the task lends itself to facilitating
discussion with the client. The rather low reliability of such methods, however,
argues against interpreting the results as a "measure" of self-concept.
Although most of the self-concept measures compare the person's response
against some set of norms, one researcher (Brahm, 1981) successfully used a
"criterion-referenced approach" in which the child's self-efficacy beliefs were
assessed repeatedly in reference to an external criterion of accuracy. Brahm
argues that this assessment approach integrates self-concept with mastery
learning more effectively than does the traditional norm-referenced self-concept
scale. Although this is a promising idea, it remains undeveloped.
CONSIDERATIONS IN THE ASSESSMENT OF SELF-CONCEPT
or others who wish to assess self-concept must keep several considerations in
mind, including demand characteristics of self-report measure, technical
adequacy of the assessment procedure, and whether the assessment is being used
for research or clinical purposes. Self-report measures make several
requirements of the respondent (Burns, 1979). First, the person must have a
sufficient level of self-awareness. Young children may lack confidence but may
not be consciously aware of their own perceptions. Second, self-report measures
also require substantial verbal competence, a skill that can not be assumed.
Third, even children are aware that some responses are more socially acceptable
than others. The accuracy of self-reports is often decreased by this "social
desirability" response tendency.
Technical quality of self-concept instruments demands serious consideration.
Reliability and validity coefficients for personality tests are frequently
considerably lower than for performance measures, such as those for cognitive
ability. For some of the older self-concept measures internal consistency
reliabilities, especially for subscales, are only in the .70 range. Some newer
instruments, however, attain internal consistency coefficients in the .90's. To
help in choosing a test, prospective test users should consult technical manuals
and test reviews carefully before making a final choice.
Finally, most empirically scored self-concept measures were developed more
for research than for clinical use. Normative samples are seldom anywhere near
as useful as for tests of achievement or ability. Information relating test
scores to problem behavior is virtually absent. Counselors should use scores
from self-concept measures very cautiously when working with individual clients.
Brahm, N. (1981). "The assessment of self
concepts of educational achievement by a criterion referenced approach." (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 235 184)
Burns, R. B. (1979). "The self-concept in theory, measurement, development
and behaviour." London: Longman.
Fitts, W. H. (1991). "Tennessee Self Concept Scale, Manual." Los Angeles:
Western Psychological Services.
Marsh, H. W. (1992). "Self-Description Questionnaire II: Manual." Macarthur,
Australia: Publication Unit, Faculty of Education, University of Western Sydney.
Piers, E. V. (1984). "Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale: Revised
Manual." Los Angles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Rosenberg, M. (1965). "Society and adolescent self-image." Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Strein, W. (1993). Advances in research on academic self-concept:
Implications for school psychology. "School Psychology Review," 22, 273-284.
Wylie, R. C. (1974). "The self-concept, Revised edition." Volume 1. Lincoln,
NE: University of Nebraska Press.