What is self-awareness


The theory of self-awareness, which was developed by S. Duval and R. Wicklund in the early 1970s, states above all that there is a state in which an individual sees himself as an object and puts himself in the center. This can be triggered by stimuli such as a mirror, moods or the knowledge that you belong to a minority. One speaks of a self-centering of the individual, which can also lead to discrepancies, namely when one's own values ​​and standards do not match the perceived snapshot. In the event of discrepancies, the individual tries to reduce them. Possible strategies for this are for example: building defensive attitudes, placing the focus more on the achievement of one's own goals and standards or minimizing the triggering stimuli.
“Self-awareness simply means that one makes the self the object of their attention just like any other object… .. In very general terms, self-centered attention is evoked by any stimulus that makes one focus attention on himself. Mirrors are one of them, for example… ”(West, 1985, p. 186f).
One speaks of subjective as opposed to objective self-awareness when one's attention is turned away from oneself, i.e. an individual perceives himself as a source of perceptions (of others) and actions. However, at this moment it cannot direct its attention to itself, i.e. it is not possible to be objectively and subjectively self-attentive at the same time (cf. Duval & Wicklund, 1972, p. 2f).
"Objective self-attention firstly causes an intensification and actualization of all those aspects that are in the focus of attention" eg existing moods, affects, expectations etc. and "... secondly causes people in a state of objective self-attention to see the discrepancies between their actual behavior and theirs Become more aware of intentions and aspirations (i.e. your ideal self) ”(Frey, Wicklund & Scheier, 1978, p. 192). Discrepancies are usually experienced negatively, as one's own standards and values ​​are higher than actual behavior. Subsequently, the motivation arises to reduce these discrepancies or to take a defensive position. It is also possible that the self-attentive person tries to avoid stimuli that increase self-awareness (cf. Frey, Wicklund & Scheier, 1978, p. 192ff).

In further work, researchers came to the conclusion that one can in principle differentiate between public self-awareness and private self-awareness. In private self-awareness, the focus is on personal-internal aspects such as feelings, fantasies, motives or moods. In contrast, in public self-awareness, the focus is on the type of attention directed towards the self as a social object. Aspects such as appearance, the assessment of others, and self-portrayal in public situations are paramount here (see Schiefele, 1990, p. 116 f).
In dispositional self-awareness, it is assumed that self-awareness as a characteristic of an individual is relatively stable in terms of time and situation. Individuals with dispositional self-awareness show an increased sensitivity for self-related information or tend to interpret information as self-related (cf. Hintze, 1997, p. 11).


Duval, S. & Wicklund R. (1972). A Theory of Objective Self Awareness. New York: Academic Press.

Frey, D., Wicklund, R. & Scheier, M. (1978). The theory of objective self-awareness. In Frey, D. (Ed.), Cognitive Theories of Social Psychology. Bern: Verlag Hans Huber.

Hintze, A. (1997). On the importance of dispositional and objective self-awareness in patients with bulimia nervosa. Dissertation to obtain a doctorate in natural sciences. Marburg: Department of Psychology.

Schiefele, U. (1990). Attitude, self-consistency and behavior. Göttingen: Verlag für Psychologie, Dr. C. J. Hogrefe.

West, S. & Wicklund, R. (1985). Introduction to social psychological thinking. Basel: Beltz.


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