How clear is your self-picture?

Posted by: Jeffrey Landine on May 6, 2011 9:07 am

By: Jeff Landine and John Stewart

As stated in our previous blog, one significant task of career counselling involves understanding and organizing clients’ self-attributes.  A taxonomy developed by Donald Super was articulated as a useful structure for understanding the various self-concepts and the self-concept system including the dimensions of esteem, clarity, consistency, realism, complexity and efficacy.

In the context of vocational self-concepts, clarity refers to the precision with which a particular self-concept is defined and consistency refers to the congruence that exists between self-concepts.  A clear self-concept would be one that is well defined and has clearly recognized attributes.  For example, a clear vocational self-concept such as punctual would be accompanied by the ability to define punctuality and supporting evidence of the possession of this characteristic.  A consistent self-concept would be one that fits easily and appropriately with other self-concepts in the system.  For example, it is easy to see oneself as both driven and conscientious with regard to work life but it would be much harder to see how one could be driven and laid back in their approach to work.

From a cognitive information processing perspective, effective decision-making is dependent on the availability of self-concepts and specific knowledge about self.  This self-knowledge is believed to exist, initially, in the form of episodes in memory of the events in our lives.  These episodes are interpreted and reconstructed based on their similarity to previously stored episodes and eventually form a semantic, or factual, schema of the self (Klein, Sherman, & Loftus, 1996).  Klein and his colleagues conducted an interesting study that involved asking college students to engage in a “describing” task that required consideration of self.  Their results indicated that when asked to engage in a “describing” task that called for consideration of recent self (current experience in college), participants took longer to recall the relevant episode.  As they expected, when participants were asked to engage in a “describing” task that required recall from home, a context with much experience and presumably semantic self-concepts, they took significantly less time.  In the context of career decision-making, as one’s schemata become more general they become increasingly integrated and more readily comparable to other sources of information such as semantic information about occupations.

Insufficient episodes in the growth and exploration stages of development have the potential to produce fewer and poorly developed self-concepts.  As suggested in our previous blog, distinguishing between the different self-concepts that are evident in their different roles helps clients develop clarity and a sense of consistency around each of these different self-concepts.  There are a variety of activities that can assist with this process including assessments and card sorts that involve self-reflection and commitment to stated characteristics.  Writing a structured or unstructured autobiography followed by an analysis and discussion with a helper can cause clients to access episodes that may contribute to an increase in the array of available semantic concepts.  Career narratives that include an individual’s life story and tend to repeat significant episodes can be useful in developing and relating vocational self-concepts to work roles.

Klein, S. B., Sherman, J. W., & Loftus, J. (1996). The role of episodic and semantic memory in the development of trait self-knowledge. Social Cognition, 14(4), 277-291.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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