Perceptual Focusing and the Sources of Self-Knowledge


David L. Nash

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The present study, a replication and extension of Schoeneman (1981), investigated college students* reports of the sources of self-knowledge as a function of a perceptual focusing-salience hypothesis. Self-awareness manipulations (exposure to a video camera, a mirror, or a no stimulus control condition) were used in an attempt to change the perceptual salience of the sources, hence changing subjects’ self-reports, to test the hypothesis that subjects were responding because of the perceptual salience or availability of sources. Across all three conditions half the subjects completed personally worded questionnaires and half completed impersonally worded ones in order to see if questionnaire wording would interact with the salience manipulations. Examination of a second hypothesis, that the self-focusing attention manipulations would support Buss' (1980) self-consciousness theory and not Duval and Wicklund's (1972) theory of objective self-awareness, was attempted. Subjects used self-descriptive adjectives and wrote short paragraphs about how they learn things about themselves, which were subsequently scored for mentions of self-observation, feedback and social comparison. Subjects also ranked the order of importance of these three sources for each self-descriptor.

Results from this study replicated Schoeneman (1981) quite closely. Replication of a sex difference for percent mentions of social comparison (males = 12.9%, females = 6.1%, F (2,63) = 5.35, p < .025) was discussed at length and several interpretations of this were offered. No significant and theoretically consistent differences were found between experimental conditions or wording conditions. Thus, the salience hypothesis was not supported. Because no differences were found between experimental groups, it was not possible to test the Buss and Duval and Wicklund theories. The possibility that the questionnaire produced a non-specific self-focus was tested; however, this was not supported by the present data. Implications for future investigations, such as possible questionnaire effects, improved self-awareness inductions and alternate explanations for the sources of self-knowledge phenomena were discussed.

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