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Social Cognition 101: The Self Has Varied Motivations for Self-Regulation

Foreword


The “Social Cognition 101” series serves as an exemplary model for our endeavor in the realm of social cognition within the field of experimental psychology. This series aspires to delve deeply into the cognitive mechanisms that underpin our perceptions and understanding of individuals in social contexts, encompassing the intricate dynamics of self-awareness. As we explore these mechanisms, we'll gain insights into how these cognitive processes can sometimes lead to stereotyping and, crucially, how to effectively prevent such biases from taking root. Just as the "101" collection imparts invaluable knowledge and practical strategies, our journey through social cognition promises to unlock the transformative potential of knowledge and personal growth in the context of understanding and interacting with others.


This 101 series is divided into eight articles including:

 

 

 

3.     The Self Has Varied Motivations for Self-Regulation

 

4.     The Self Serves as a Reference Point: Attribution Processes

 

5.     Attributional Biases

 

6.     Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP)

 

7.     Heuristics & Shortcuts

 

8.     Stereotyping: Cognition & Biases

 

Social Cognition 101: The Self Has Varied Motivations for Self-Regulation

 

In our previous journey through the realm of self-regulation in the second article of the Social Cognition 101 Series on a quest to understand the inner workings of the human psyche, inspired by Fiske and Taylor's illuminating insights into social cognition. The narrative unfolded with a focus on the ever-evolving nature of the self-concept, where cultural influences sculpted the contours of our identities, and self-regulation emerged as our trusted compass, in guiding behavior and achieving goals. The factors influencing self-regulation were explored, ranging from situational cues to personal values. The delicate dance between the promotion and prevention motivational systems, which dictate approaches and aversions, was uncovered during the investigation. Moreover, the self-discrepancy theory, rooted in Higgins' work, provided valuable perspectives on how disparities between one's current, ideal, and ought selves impact emotions and coping mechanisms. The exploration continued, touching on the influence of self-efficacy, personal control, and the diverse regulatory foci that shape our self-regulatory endeavors, emphasizing the role of cultural and familial factors in shaping these orientations. Additionally, the article explored the neural bases of self-regulation, elucidating the involvement of various brain regions in conscious and automatic regulatory processes.


In the transition to the new chapter, it is crucial to acknowledge that self-regulation is intimately entwined with enduring self-relevant concerns. These concerns embody the basic needs for an accurate, consistent, improving, and positive sense of self. The upcoming article will unravel the intricate interplay between these enduring self-relevant concerns and self-regulation. By understanding how individuals strive for self-enhancement through maintaining a positive self-concept, the exploration will shed light on the motivations driving self-regulation. This transition will pave the way for a comprehensive exploration of the dynamics between self-relevant concerns and the intricate process of self-regulation.



Need for Accuracy

Expanding upon the insights presented in the previous articles, the exploration into self-regulation takes a pivotal turn, focusing on the inherent human drive for accuracy in self-assessment. Fiske and Taylor's insights into the dynamic nature of the self-concept and the cultural influences shaping self-regulation serve as a backdrop to our understanding of the intricate interplay between enduring self-relevant concerns and the process of self-regulation.


Navigating the intricate landscape of human cognition and behavior, the imperative for accuracy in self-assessment is revealed as a fundamental cornerstone. Drawing from the foundational work of Trope (1975) and Trope & Bassok (1982), the pursuit of a fairly accurate understanding of our abilities, opinions, beliefs, and emotions becomes not just a cognitive endeavor but a crucial determinant in shaping our future outcomes.


Trope argues that, in order to foresee and control future behaviors and understand the intricate dance between self-perception and the dynamics of human conduct, accurate self-assessments are essential. In the pursuit of knowledge about our abilities, Trope guides us to select tasks that are most informative and diagnostic. Consider a scenario where an aspiring chef is keen on accurately assessing their culinary skills to plan and control their future actions. In line with Trope's guidance, the chef faces the decision of selecting tasks that offer the most informative and diagnostic feedback about their abilities. They must choose between attempting a challenging, professional-level cooking competition, taking a basic cooking skills test designed for children, or tackling a culinary problem that has stumped seasoned chefs for decades. Opting for the professional-level competition provides a high-stakes environment, where the chef's skills will be rigorously tested. On the other hand, the children's cooking skills test offers a less challenging but still informative option.



Illustration of the children's cooking skills test from the example
Figure 2: Illustration of the children's cooking skills test from the example (Vecteezy, 2024).


The choice of task becomes pivotal in this self-assessment journey in obtaining accurate feedback about one's abilities. Each task represents a different level of challenge and complexity, and the choice made by the aspiring chef will significantly influence the insights gained from the self-assessment process. The intricate dance between self-perception and the dynamics of human conduct comes to life as the chef navigates this decision-making process, ultimately shaping their future actions based on the accurate feedback acquired.


In the chef's scenario, there were specific tasks to objectively assess the chef's skills by comparing them with established benchmarks. However, in real-life comparisons, objective tasks may not always be readily available. Social comparisons, as illuminated by Festinger (1954), emerge as a valuable avenue when objective tasks are unavailable. Consider a scenario where aspiring writers are seeking to assess their writing skills. Unlike a standardized test or a competition, there might not be a specific task that objectively measures their writing abilities. In this situation, writers may not enroll in a formal writing course or participate in a literary contest. Instead, they are likely to immerse themselves in writing communities or join online platforms where they can share their work and engage with fellow writers. By observing and comparing their writing to that of others, these individuals use social interactions as a means to evaluate their skills, highlighting the integral connection between self-assessment and external reference points. In a nutshell, during uncertain times such as our daily lives, possessing an accurate sense of self is crucial for conducting precise self-assessments (Sorrentino & Roney, 1986). The dynamic interplay between self-assessment and the certainty or uncertainty surrounding one's abilities becomes a critical determinant in shaping the trajectory of self-regulation.



Illustration of writers competition from the example
Figure 3: Illustration of writers competition from the example (Writerswrite.studio, 2022).


Furthermore, J. D. Brown's exposes the intriguing human tendency to seek accurate self-relevant information, regardless of anticipations of good or bad news (Brown, 1990). This inclination becomes especially poignant when contemplating scenarios such as assessing one's writing ability. Even in the face of an expectation of nonexistent writing ability, the pursuit of self-assessment persists, offering insight into the complex motivations driving individuals to understand themselves more fully.

In conclusion, a thorough comprehension of abilities, opinions, beliefs, and emotions becomes a crucial factor in influencing future conduct. Nonetheless, the reliability of the assessment method is crucial, underscoring the significance of carefully selecting tasks to ensure precise feedback. Subsequent chapters will explore additional factors driving self-regulation.


Need for Consistency

The need for consistency in the self-concept arises as a natural extension of the quest for accuracy. Swann (1983) posits that individuals seek to maintain a self-concept that remains relatively stable across different situations and over time. This quest for consistency prompts people to actively interpret their behavior and selectively engage with situations that align with their preexisting self-concepts—a process known as self-verification. Conversely, individuals tend to resist situations and feedback that contradict their self-concepts. For instance, consider a scenario where a new graduate school student attends a social event but remains relatively quiet. If a classmate suggests, "There's no need to be shy; these people won't bite," the student might feel offended. This reaction stems from the discrepancy between the student's self-concept as an outgoing person and the classmate's perception based on a single event. To reaffirm their self-concept, the student may intentionally become more outgoing at the next social event (Swann & Read, 1981).



Illustration of the student's example
Figure 4: Illustration of the student's example (OpenArt, 2024).


The drive for self-verification is not limited to confirming positive attributes; individuals also seek to verify negative attributes for a realistic self-view. This need for accuracy and consistency significantly influences behavior. People tend to selectively interact with those who perceive them as they perceive themselves, seeking affirmation in familiar relationships. The comfort derived from being with individuals who know and accept both strengths and weaknesses reflects the desire for a consistent self-concept. However, generally, individuals gravitate towards those who view them positively and value them for the qualities they cherish in themselves.


Maintaining a consistent sense of self often occurs seamlessly without conscious effort. This process is deeply embedded in everyday interactions with family, friends, and coworkers in familiar settings where individuals engage in routine tasks. Discrepant feedback, which challenges the consistency of one's self-concept, triggers a heightened awareness of the threat. In response, individuals may either dismiss the incorrect view or contemplate whether to adjust their self-concept, marking a shift from automatic to controlled processing (Madon et al., 2001).



Individuals who know and accept both strengths and weaknesses
Figure 5: Illustration of Marcus Aurelius (MacRae, 2024).


The desire for a consistent self-concept, however, exhibits cultural variations. In independent cultures, where personal expression is valued, individuals seek to express their distinctive personal qualities consistently. In contrast, in interdependent contexts where situational influences or social norms guide behavior, individuals may express inconsistent beliefs about themselves across different contexts (Choi & Choi, 2002).

Consider a scenario in which a job applicant from an individualistic culture, such as the United States, prepares for an interview. In this cultural context, personal achievements and individual attributes are highly valued. Consequently, the applicant may strive to present themselves as consistently ambitious and goal-oriented across various aspects of their life, emphasizing their achievements and personal qualities during the interview.


On the other hand, imagine a job applicant from a collectivistic culture, such as Japan, preparing for the same interview. In this cultural context, social harmony and group cohesion are prioritized over individual success. As a result, the applicant may exhibit more flexibility in their self-presentation, emphasizing different aspects of their identity depending on the specific expectations of the job role and the organizational culture. They may highlight their collaborative skills and ability to work effectively within a team rather than solely focusing on personal achievements.


This cultural variation in self-presentation reflects the differing approaches to maintaining consistency in the self-concept. While individuals from individualistic cultures strive to express their distinctive personal qualities consistently across contexts, those from collectivistic cultures may adapt their self-presentation to align with situational influences and social norms, showcasing a nuanced understanding of the self-shaped by cultural dynamics.



Illustration of individualistic and collectivist cultures
Figure 6: Illustration of collectivist cultures (OpenArt, 2024).


Need for Improvement

The quest for improvement is an intrinsic motivator that propels individuals towards self-regulatory activities. Kasser and Ryan (1996) shed light on this innate desire, suggesting that alongside the needs for an accurate and consistent sense of self, people are fundamentally driven by the aspiration to enhance themselves. The pursuit of self-improvement is a dynamic journey, fueled by various sources that contribute to the establishment of goals and the subsequent charting of progress.


One influential concept shaping the path of self-improvement is that of possible selves (Markus & Wurf, 1987). Envisioning a version of oneself in the future becomes a catalyst for setting meaningful goals and making strides towards their attainment. By painting a vivid picture of a potential future self, individuals gain clarity on the direction in which they aim to evolve, establishing a framework for self-improvement endeavors.


Another significant contributor to the pursuit of self-improvement is the phenomenon of upward social comparisons (Taylor & Lobel, 1989; Wood, 1989). The presence of mentors, individuals embodying attributes or skills one aspires to possess, plays a pivotal role in motivation. Mentors not only serve as sources of inspiration but also provide specific insights and information crucial for personal growth. Learning from those who have walked a similar path fosters a sense of direction and encouragement for those striving to enhance themselves.

Criticism, whether explicit from external sources or implicit in feedback from one's own perceived shortcomings, serves as a powerful motivator for self-improvement. The awareness of falling short of personal or societal expectations may initially impact self-esteem negatively. However, this same awareness often becomes the driving force behind efforts to grow and enhance one's capabilities. Interestingly, the desire for self-improvement seems to be particularly pronounced in East Asian cultures (Heine et al., 2001), highlighting the cultural nuances that influence the pursuit of personal betterment.

 


Illustration of one's reaching out to their possible selves
Figure 7: Illustration of one's reaching out to their possible selves (OpenArt, 2024).


However, the journey towards self-improvement is not always a linear trajectory. A significant challenge lies in accurately perceiving and acknowledging one's progress. Wilson and Ross (2001) illustrate that individuals may mistakenly believe they have improved, even when objective evidence suggests otherwise. This phenomenon is attributed to people's cognitive biases and theories about stability and change, which can distort not only their current self-assessments but also their perceptions of past achievements. The tendency to view one's earlier skill level as poorer than it actually was may lead to a misguided assumption that current abilities represent substantial improvement.


This recognition of the potential for distorted self-assessments also ties into the broader theme of self-enhancement. Individuals may unconsciously engage in cognitive processes that boost their self-image, fostering a positive perception of their journey towards improvement (Libby, Eibach, & Gilovich, 2005). The intricate interplay between self-improvement and self-enhancement further underscores the complexity of the human psyche and its endeavors to evolve and grow.


In essence, the pursuit of self-improvement is fueled by envisioned possible selves, inspired by mentors, or driven by the acknowledgment of shortcomings, individuals embark on a journey marked by challenges and triumphs, with the ultimate goal of becoming the best version of themselves.



Illustration of the pursuit of self-improvement
Figure 8: Illustration of the pursuit of self-improvement (Freepik, 2024).


Self-Enhancement

One other thing that the self needs besides the need of accuracy and consistent information about self is the need to feeling good about yourself and maintaining the self-esteem. Across Western cultures, the value placed on self-esteem becomes evident, showcasing cognitive and motivational advantages associated with a positive self-image. Individuals boasting high self-esteem exhibit a clear understanding of their personal qualities. They tend to harbor positive thoughts about themselves, establish fitting goals, leverage feedback to bolster their self-esteem, relish positive experiences, and adeptly navigate challenging situations (e.g., Sommer & Baumeister, 2002; Wood et al., 2003).

Termed as self-enhancement, the collective pursuit of fostering a positive self-concept remains integral, particularly in Western cultural contexts (Sedikides, 1993). The significance of self-enhancement amplifies following threats, failures, or blows to one's self-esteem (Beauregard & Dunning, 1998; Krueger, 1998). This desire for positivity is, in part, fueled by the need for social connection and approval, as highlighted by the sociometer theory (Leary & Baumeister, 2000). Social threats morph into threats to self-esteem, triggering the imperative to regain approval and acceptance. Consequently, self-enhancement needs become intricately linked to social evaluations, shaping perceptions of oneself based on others' viewpoints.



Illustration of the hypothesized dynamics of the sociometer theory
Figure 9: Illustration of the hypothesized dynamics of the sociometer theory (Mahadevan et al., 2016).



Furthermore, one additional thing individuals employ to satisfy their self-enhancement needs is through that are overly optimistic and somewhat exaggerated concerning actual abilities, talents, and social skills (Taylor & Brown, 1988). Positive illusions manifest in several forms: individuals tend to view themselves more positively than objectively true, believe they exert more control over events than reality allows, and maintain unrealistic optimism about the future. This inclination to favorably evaluate oneself extends to comparing personal attributes with others, with most individuals rating themselves more favorably than their peers (Suls, Lemos, & Stewart, 2002).

Memory also plays a role in this self-enhancement process, with positive information about oneself being retained more effectively than negative details (Sedikides & Green, 2000). Individuals often struggle to recall past failures compared to successes (Story, 1998) and exhibit a bias toward viewing their behavior as more altruistic and generous than others (Epley & Dunning, 2000). This rosy self-view further extends to overestimating happiness levels, considering oneself less biased than others, and crediting those who flatter with credibility and insight (Klar & Giladi, 1999; Vonk, 2002). In times of threat, individuals bolster their self-perceptions across various life domains and resort to making downward social comparisons to mitigate the impact (Boney-McCoy, Gibbons, & Gerrard, 1999).


However, a pertinent question arises: how do individuals balance positive illusions with a realistic understanding of themselves and the world around them? While absolute accuracy may be compromised, relative accuracy remains surprisingly high. When comparing a person's self-assessments with those made by a friend across a range of traits, a notable correlation exists, despite individuals viewing themselves more positively than their peers perceive them (Taylor, Lerner, Sherman, Sage, & McDowell, 2003).


Illustration of balancing positive illusions with a realistic understanding of themselves and the world around them
Figure 10: Illustration of balancing positive illusions with a realistic understanding of themselves and the world around them (Del Vecchio, n.d.).

Certain circumstances can predict when self-assessments become more realistic. Feedback situations prompt individuals to adopt a more realistic, even pessimistic, outlook on anticipated news (Taylor & Shepperd, 1998). When faced with decision-making or goal-setting, individuals exhibit greater accuracy and honesty with themselves (Taylor & Gollwitzer, 1995). Modesty in self-appraisals is more pronounced when individuals anticipate that others possess accurate information about them, when self-descriptions are easily verifiable, when self-relevant feedback is expected (Armor & Taylor, 2003), or when self-assessments can be potentially disproven (Dunning, Meyerowitz, & Holzberg, 1989), such as anticipating a task that tests a specific ability (Armor & Sackett, 2006). In essence, as accountability rises, self-perceptions become more accurate in an absolute sense, with self-enhancement being more pronounced at the project's outset, motivating effort, and waning toward the end when potential shortfalls may prove disheartening (Shepperd, Ouellette, & Fernandez, 1996).


The prevalence of self-enhancing perceptions prompts an intriguing inquiry: why do individuals persist in cultivating positive illusions, even when they deviate from reality? The answer lies in the adaptive nature of self-enhancing positive illusions for mental health (Taylor & Brown, 1988). These illusions, encompassing positive self-perceptions, unrealistic optimism about the future, and a false sense of personal control, serve to foster an improved emotional state, motivation for goal pursuit, and resilience in the face of challenges (Regan, Snyder, & Kassin, 1995; Taylor & Gollwitzer, 1995; Armor & Taylor, 2003). The dividends of self-enhancing perceptions extend to successful life adjustment, evident in personal well-being, persistent goal pursuit, and the ability to engage in creative, productive work (Brown & Dutton, 1995). Additionally, positive self-regard contributes to fostering healthy social relationships (Taylor & Brown, 1988), although an upper limit exists, where excessive self-enhancement in public settings can lead to alienation (Bonano et al., 2002; Robins & Beer, 2001).

However, it is crucial to recognize that under threat to self, individuals with excessively high self-esteem may exhibit negative behaviors, including meanness, nastiness, and self-importance (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). Defensive high self-esteem, in particular, is associated with self-regulation failures, such as increased stereotyping, disparagement of others, and downward social comparisons (Heatherton & Vohs, 2000; Baumeister et al., 2003). Notably, these self-regulation failures are more prevalent in individuals defensively high in self-esteem, as opposed to those with a more secure sense of high self-esteem (Lambird & Mann, 2006).


Despite these potential downsides, self-enhancement often yields an unexpected benefit. When individuals feel positively about themselves and are not besieged by doubts about their self-worth, they become more receptive to negative feedback (Trope & Neter, 1994). Naturally optimistic individuals also process personally relevant risk-related information less defensively than their less optimistic counterparts (Aspinwall & Brunhart, 1996). Positivity toward oneself extends to a positive outlook on others, with social validation—being accepted for who we are—reducing defensiveness. After contemplating being liked for intrinsic aspects of themselves, individuals become more open to potentially threatening information (Schimel, Arndt, Pyszczynski, & Greenberg, 2001).



Self-Affirmation

Self-affirmation, as proposed by Steele (1988), serves as a way for individuals to uphold their need for self-enhancement and navigate challenges to their self-worth by validating unrelated facets of themselves, as highlighted by Sherman and Cohen (2006). When individuals can affirm aspects of the self that hold personal value, they are less inclined to react defensively in the face of threats. In an experiment conducted by Sherman, Nelson, and Steele (2000), participants were divided into two groups—one reflecting on a personally significant value, the other on a less significant one. Both groups then viewed an AIDS education video. Interestingly, those who engaged in the value-affirmation task not only recognized their vulnerability to HIV but also exhibited more positive health behaviors, such as purchasing condoms and taking educational brochures, compared to those who reflected on a relatively unimportant value. This underscores the idea that self-affirmation reduces defensive responses to threatening health information, aligning with previous evidence indicating that individuals who feel good about themselves are more open to potentially negative information.


The impact of affirming personal values extends beyond threat reduction. Sherman and Cohen (2002) found that such affirmation can lessen perceptions of threat, while Koole, Smeets, van Knippenberg, and Dijksterhuis (1999) observed a decrease in the inclination to ruminate after experiencing failure. Additionally, Creswell et al. (2005) noted that self-affirmation can mitigate physiological reactions to stress.


One key implication derived from the principles of self-affirmation theory is the recognition that self-enhancement serves as a maintenance motive. The pursuit is not necessarily aimed at achieving the most positive self-assessment conceivable; rather, individuals strive to uphold a satisfactory level of self-regard. In fact, once individuals reach a certain threshold of self-esteem, they may actively avoid activities that could potentially further boost it, as highlighted by Tesser, Crepaz, Collins, Cornell, and Beach (2000), and Zuckerman and O’Loughlin (2006). This notion challenges the conventional idea that individuals perpetually seek maximum self-esteem and introduces the concept of a balanced and self-sustaining level of self-regard.



Self-Evaluation Maintenance

Consider Tesser's (1988) insight into a distinct social mechanism that individuals employ to uphold their positive self-regard—particularly when confronted with the achievements of close associates with whom they might make comparisons. Consider Alessia, a talented artist who has just won a prestigious award for her latest painting. Now, imagine her friend, Emily, who shares a passion for art but hasn't achieved the same level of recognition. The dynamics between Alessia’s success and Emily's emotional response exemplify Tesser's self-evaluation maintenance theory.


In the realm of psychology, the actions of close associates carry considerable weight. When a close associate excels, as in Alessia’s case, Emily's emotional reaction depends on the significance of art in her self-concept. If Emily is also an aspiring artist, working hard to showcase her pieces in galleries, Alessia’s success might trigger a sense of personal threat, leading to feelings of envy and a potential desire to distance herself from Alessia (the comparison effect). On the other hand, if Emily is a scientist with no artistic aspirations, she might genuinely rejoice in Alessia’s achievement, taking pride in her friend's artistic prowess (the reflection effect). The interplay of personal closeness and the associate's outstanding performance can elicit opposing emotional reactions, contingent on whether the associate's success is relevant to one's self-definition.



Terror Management Theory

The fear of death is a powerful force that often prompts individuals to seek ways to boost their sense of self-worth. Terror Management Theory, as explored by researchers like Greenberg, Pyszczynski, and Solomon, taps into this understanding (1986). At its core, the theory suggests that the inherent drive for self-preservation compels people to confront the threat of death on both cultural and individual levels. On the cultural front, individuals construct worldviews that imbue their lives with enduring meaning and purpose. These belief systems act as a buffer against the awareness of mortality, alleviating the associated anxiety (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986). At the individual level, the pursuit of a positive self-image serves a similar purpose, mitigating the anxieties linked to the inevitability of death. Neurologically, this fear of death engages a network of brain regions, including the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and ventral PFC (Quirin & Klackl, 2016). The cultivation of a positive self-image at the individual level yields a myriad of effects on human well-being. Psychologically, it contributes to enhanced mental health by reducing existential anxieties and fostering an optimistic outlook. This positive self-perception extends to emotional stability, providing individuals with the resilience to navigate stressors with confidence and composure. Socially, a positive self-image influences the quality of relationships, encouraging active engagement and fostering fulfilling connections. Moreover, individuals with a positive self-image exhibit adaptive coping mechanisms, approaching challenges with resilience and a constructive mindset. Neurologically, the pursuit of a positive self-image engages specific brain regions associated with the fear of death, highlighting the intricate interplay between self-perception and the neural mechanisms underlying human behavior. In essence, cultivating a positive self-image emerges as a holistic approach with far-reaching implications for the intricate landscape of human cognition and behavior.


Terror Management Theory generates specific expectations regarding how cultural worldviews and self-esteem function as defenses against the looming specter of death. A well-supported prediction is that individuals tend to suppress thoughts related to death when its inevitability becomes salient (Greenberg et al., 2001). The significance of cultural worldviews in coping with mortality suggests that, in the face of death awareness, people are more likely to adhere to culturally endorsed norms. This adherence serves as a protective mechanism, shielding individuals from the anxiety induced by their vulnerability to death (Greenberg et al., 1995; McGregor et al., 1998). When confronted with mortality, a heightened commitment to social norms translates into harsher judgments of those who deviate from these norms. For instance, following an exposure to thoughts of mortality, individuals might be more inclined to blame severely injured innocent victims – a behavior seemingly driven by a subconscious effort to restore a semblance of order in a frightening environment (Hirschberger, 2006).


Additionally, activities that promote self-esteem become vital tools for individuals in managing the terror associated with mortality. By reaffirming their intrinsic value, these activities actively contribute to self-regulation, offering a means to counteract distressing thoughts related to death (Gailliot et al., 2006). In essence, the quest for self-worth becomes a coping mechanism in the face of the existential threat posed by the inevitability of death.



To conclude, each of the motivations outlined—the need for accuracy, consistency, self-improvement, and self-enhancement—influences behavior in distinct circumstances. The pursuit of accurate feedback about oneself becomes paramount when uncertainty or ambiguity clouds one's position (Sorrentino & Roney, 1986; Trope, 1975). Similarly, the quest for consistency in information intensifies when individuals are certain about their status, but external factors challenge their self-perceptions (Pelham, 1990). Moreover, individuals who adopt a prevention focus in life tend to exhibit a more stable and consistent sense of self (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007).


The desire for self-enhancement takes precedence, particularly in Western cultures and in the face of perceived threats. Additionally, the need to present oneself favorably can drive behaviors aimed at enhancing one's self-image (Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989). While cognitions about the self tend to veer towards consistency, emotional responses lean towards enhancement. People derive satisfaction from feeling certain about their attributes, whether positive or negative, yet they experience the greatest contentment when receiving positive feedback (Swann, Pelham, & Krull, 1989). Individuals primarily motivated by a promotion focus, emphasizing growth and advancement, place greater emphasis on self-esteem compared to those with a prevention focus (Leonardelli et al., 2007).

Much of the self-regulatory activity geared towards self-enhancement, particularly in Western cultures, and potentially self-improvement, often occurs automatically, without conscious awareness. However, the search for accurate or consistent feedback typically involves controlled processing, as automatic processes may be disrupted by challenges to or uncertainties about one's self-perceptions. Moreover, the human mind demonstrates remarkable flexibility in interpreting information to align with various motivations. People strive to maintain a sense of consistency, sometimes distorting reality to achieve this goal (Wells & Iyengar, 2005). Similarly, individuals seek to uphold a positive self-image by critiquing their past selves, creating an illusion of personal growth (Wilson & Ross, 2001).

 

 


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