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How different people tend to descibe themselves

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2210 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This research paper aims to research further into the self-descriptions of two participants relating to the findings of Morris Rosenberg (1979). Rosenberg stated that younger children generally describe themselves in physical conditions, i.e. activity and characteristics, whereas older children and adults more often use character traits and relationship references.

Two participants were interviewed using a semi-structured style and the information collected was then divided into four categories cited by Rosenberg, which are; physical, character, relationships and inner. The information from the two participants was then compared to the findings of Rosenberg. Then self-evaluation, self and others, ideal self and locus of self-knowledge was also discussed, as Rosenberg said that these also change as we get older.

My findings do ascent with Rosenberg’s results that as we get older we do not use physical descriptions as much, and my findings also agree that there does seem to be a shift from locus of self-knowledge from parents to the self with age.




This study researches into the self-descriptions of two people relating to the findings this covered by Morris Rosenberg (1979), who worked off the results from Bannister and Agnew (1977). They originally noted that “children gradually become better able to distinguish themselves psychologically from others as they get older and also become more capable of thinking about themselves in different ways”. (1) Rosenberg expands on this by advocating that young children depict themselves in terms of physicality, activities and behaviour, whilst older children and adults use character and relationships more psychologically.

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Rosenberg interviewed a sample of 8 to 18 year olds randomly from 25 schools. He asked the participants questions “Who am I?” and then classified the answers given into four categories. These are; Physical – descriptions of physical features or physical activities; Character – descriptions of personality, emotional characteristics and emotional control; Relationships – descriptions of relationships with others and interpersonal traits; and, Inner – descriptions of emotions, attitudes, wishes, beliefs and secrets, such as self-knowledge. (2)

Rosenberg’s study found that the descriptions from younger children were placed on physical exertions and characteristics, while older children used more character descriptions about themselves, thus supporting that older children refer more to relationships and inner qualities.

Rosenberg additionally looked at the “locus of self-knowledge”. This refers to how children develop an independent, self-reflective sense of self, separate from others, i.e. parents. Rosenberg asked questions to try to ascertain who knew the children best, themselves or their parents. He found that younger children were more likely to rely on another person as a reference point to who they are, with only 15% placing the locus of self-knowledge within themselves, compared with nearly 50% of the older children. (2). So, as the children get older there is a shift that we know ourselves more than others, for example, parents, teachers, etcetera.

To investigate further into Rosenberg’s findings a semi-structured interview was carried out to attain information from participants. The answers are then put into the four categories, which has proven difficult to do, especially as some answers could go into several of the categories, i.e. what I have placed into one category could have gone into a different one quite easily. Moreover, another person may also interpret the answers differently and put them into a contrasting category as well. Furthermore, older children may give a false answer to a question so that it might make them look better, and they may deduce the answer that they feel the interviewee is looking for. The hypothesis is to establish if a younger child will use more physical self-descriptions and have a locus of self-knowledge from others, compared to older children who will describe themselves using inner qualities and have more of their own locus of self-knowledge.





The study is aimed at showing how self-descriptions can modify as we get older. The questions asked were designed by The Open University to duplicate that of Rosenberg’s. Firstly, the two participants were asked “Who am I?” so that they could make a hand written list of at least ten self-descriptions about themselves. The answers were then divided into one of the four of Rosenberg’s categories of either; Physical (P), Character (C), Relationships (R) or Inner (I). (See Appendix A and B) A semi-structured interview was then carried out to get more information from the two participants of their locus of self-knowledge.


Two people took part in the study, one female and one male. The researcher did not know either of them. The female is 8 years old and the male is 16 years old. The interviews were carried out on an individual and confidential basis.


Both participants were given the same sheets to write on for “Who am I?” questions and provided with pens and spare paper if needed. Also, a tape recorded was used to record the interviews with both participants.


The participants were informed that the answers must be as honest as possible, and that there were no right or wrong answers. The participants were made to feel at ease and as comfortable as could be throughout the interview, which is why writing the answers down at the beginning of the interview was a good idea and an ice-breaker, than going straight for the semi-structured style of interview immediately. The semi-structured interview was recorded and brief notes were also made by the interviewee.


The interviews were carried out in accordance with The British Psychological Society’s code of conduct for psychologists. Consent was obtained from the child’s parents and they were debriefed before the interviews took place. All the information maintains confidential and other than their first names used, no further personal information is used. The interview was conducted in a professional manner.




The results of the questions sheets “Who am I?” were put into the Rosenberg’s four categories (see Appendix A and B), then the proportion of the total coded responses that fall into each of the four categories was carried out. This can be shown more clearly in the pie charts (see Appendix C and D). There is only an 8 year age gap between both participants, but the scores for physical traits were both high. The scores for inner and character traits are both higher by half for the older participant, and only the older child shows signs of being more involved in relationships with others than the younger child.

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Referring to development trends in locus of self-knowledge the answers to “Who am I?” do show a trend towards the older participant (Appendix B) having a locus of self-knowledge relating to themselves, as these questions were all answered as the “self”, compared to the younger child, other answers related to others, mainly parents. So, these results do substantiate Rosenberg’s results that “there is a shift with age in the locus of self-knowledge from important others, especially the parent, to the self”. (2)

There is also a few differences in self-evaluation, the younger child focuses mainly on their own physical strengths and weaknesses, for example, ears and legs, whereas the older child focuses on inner traits, for example, being approachable and friendly. The ideal self is manifested in the younger child about what job they would like to do when they are older and is not looked at in terms of personality, character or inner traits, and the older child in contrast wants to do a particular job as it would be enjoyable and interesting.




The investigation shows that both participants chose descriptions more towards the physical traits of Rosenberg’s categories, it decreased slightly with age as Rosenberg postulated. Although this is a very over-generalised and simplistic set of findings, as only two participants were studied. Also, like Rosenberg’s results, mine also agreed with the locus of self-knowledge that as people get older the locus of self-knowledge comes more from within us psychologically, than from others. The younger child accepts that others, for example, their own parents, have knowledge about themselves, but not necessarily from other people they know. Therefore, when asked “Who knows you better?” the correct answer, although there is no specific right or wrong answers, should have geared towards their teacher as a response given that at the time the child was in school, but when out of school, the child’s parents would know them better. In saying this, the younger child is aware that an appropriate adult knows about them like they do. This makes sense as it is through parents that children get to know themselves.

The main concern I associated with this study is categorising the children’s descriptions of “Who am I?” into the four categories Rosenberg suggested, more so as the interviewee and researcher were two different people who did not converge at any time to discuss the study. It might have been more productive and valid if the categorisation had been done by two different people, and then got together to see what was put where and the reasoning behind the chosen categories. This procedure may well have diminished the margin of error and biased results from the researcher, as the researcher can influence the result by trying to place self-descriptions into certain categories to achieve a desired and more favourable result. A bonus is that the interviewee did not know what results were expected, and also the researcher and interviewee did not know either of the participants, so there was no prejudice in that respect. But, the results cannot be completely deemed to be realistic given these circumstances.

Erik Erikson (1904-1994) regarded adolescence as an important stage in the development of identity and so physical descriptions about ourselves is where we start to identify who we are and then we build ourselves, i.e. our personality traits from there. (3) Cultural differences also need to be considered, as in Western societies/cultures “Who am I?” may be based on life experiences, education and social activities, these all vary for each country to the next. Also, time differences need to be taken into consideration, as we all change as we get older and invariably wiser, so a longitudinal study may be a valid thought.

The first participant, the younger child referred to mainly physical traits, whereas the second participant, the older child was equally concerned with both physical and inner traits, so life experiences and personality traits may play a vital role. This is agreed by Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (4), which states that at approximately 12 years old there is a displacement from the “concrete operations” stage for development into the final stage of “formal operations”. This later stage is where older children start to compose their own identity and therefore are able to put into context erudition and social ideas about what it is to become an adult and manifest on their own self.




To conclude, the results from this particular piece of research show that Rosenberg’s initial hypothesis of locus of self-knowledge has been deemed to be acceptable, even though it has been shown on a very small scale from only two participants. I concur that younger children do have a tendency to describe themselves physically while older children and adults rely on relationships with others and on their own inner thoughts and feelings, so this supports Rosenberg’s theory about a shift from physical self-descriptions when we are younger to more detailed character and inner behaviours of when we are older. Therefore, in retrospect Rosenberg’s 1979 study is still relevant over 30 years later for these results. But, it is still onerous to measure and explore the concept of self-image and locus of self-knowledge just from these results. Inner feelings and thoughts are abstruse to assess on individuals, especially trying to find out how individuals think about themselves and others, and when using only four categories.



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