Saturday, August 03, 2013

Robin Rosenberg, "What is a Superhero" | Talks at Google

Robin Rosenberg is the author of What Is a Superhero? She recently stopped by Google to talk about the book and the nature of superheroes.

Robin Rosenberg, "What is a Superhero" | Talks at Google

Published on Aug 2, 2013

What is a superhero? Everyone knows, right? And yet everyone seems to have a different answer. If asked, most people will say that a superhero is a fictional character with "superhuman" abilities or powers — and one who uses those abilities for the common good. Some might add that superheroes wear costumes. But this is only part of the story.

In this innovative collection of essays, renowned psychologist Robin Rosenberg and comics scholar Peter Coogan explore the question "What is a superhero?" from a variety of viewpoints. What is the role of power and superpower? Heroism? The environment? How is the superhero a metaphor? Perhaps most intriguing, what are super villains and why do we need them? These and many other fascinating topics are taken up in this exciting new book. With essays from scholars and commentary by the writers and creators themselves, including exclusive material from Stan Lee, Danny Fingeroth, and their peers, What is a Superhero? is the first volume to provide a true synthesis and reflection of the state of superheroes in our culture today.

The Unwinding with George Packer - Conversations with History

George Packer recently stopped by Google to speak about his new book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Here is a synopsis of the book from Amazon:
A riveting examination of a nation in crisis, from one of the finest political journalists of our generation 
American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives. 
The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet’s significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics that capture the flow of events and their undercurrents. 
The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.
Sounds like an interesting book.

The Unwinding with George Packer - Conversations with History

Published on Aug 1, 2013

Harry Kreisler welcomes George Packer for a discussion of his new book, "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America." Packer discusses his formative experiences, including forging his own political identity and coming to terms with the legacy of his progressive grandfather and his liberal father. He then recounts the influence of his mother on his writing and his odyssey—Peace Corps, construction, working with the homeless, and membership in the socialist party-- that led him to writing as a vocation. After sketching the skills and temperament of a writer, Packer describes the origins of his new book and its architecture. He then discusses the two groups of men and women whose personal narratives his book explores and relates how their lives give insight into the unwinding of the American dream. The discussion offers a compelling portrait of the inner history of the new America defined by glaring inequality and the collapse of institutions. Series: "Conversations with History" [8/2013]

Friday, August 02, 2013

On Identity - From a Philosophical Point of View

This cool article on the philosophy of identity comes from the unlikeliest place, the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, but it is a very useful breakdown of the various ways in which we experience and construct identity.

Here is a section from the conclusion:
[P]hilosophically we are challenged in defining the complexity of different perspectives in their convergence respectively divergence and incompatibility. It is the question of how to (re-)construct a model of the self in its identity [21] that integrates the perspective of:
  • phenomenology, which is concerned about the the essence, content and feel of a mental state, and, concerning identity, the self as implicitly, tacitly, and immediately experienced in consciousness; 
  • philosophy of mind, which focuses on the logical connection and systematization of our knowledge of mind; 
  • cognitive science, which designs models of how the mind works as basis for further empirical research, in regard to identity particularly in terms of self relatedness and self-specificity; 
  • social science as well as personality psychology, which is concerned with how people regard themselves, with their different roles in society and the interaction between both. 
A philosophically reflected integration of these different perspectives in a conceptual framework will provide a basis for empirical research as well as clinical practice. Furthermore, it will help to distinguish adaptive forms of identity development that our adolescents and patients may reveal, and pathological forms in social interaction, in self related representations, intra-psychic conflicts as well as in their neurobiological correlates – perspectives that finally may provide the key anchoring point of psychotherapeutic (and other) treatments.
Some of the variations on identity mentioned here include quantitative identity, qualitative identity, and identity as self-sameness. He also mentions Paul Ricoeur's subtle differentiation of self-sameness, which he called “idem-identity,” and selfhood or self-relatedness, for which he coined the term “ipse-identity.”

Here is another, more expanded definition of Ricoeur's distinction:
In Oneself as Another, Ricoeur distinguishes between two fundamental aspects of the self, or of identity, i.e. our I. Ricoeur refers to these two aspects as ipse and idem: ipse is identity understood as selfhood, close to our individuality, that kind of inner inexpressible core that marks us out as what we really are. Idem, on the other hand, is identity understood as sameness, as a more external possibility of identifying the self as self despite loss or mutability of the attributions of that self in time. Ipse identifies “who” the self is, idem “what” the self consists of. 
In integralese (i.e., Wilberese), ipse-identity might be understood as the proximate self, the subjective sense of "who I am." On the other hand, idem-identity might be seen as the distal self, the sense of myself that I can hold as an object of awareness and share with others.

This is only a brief part of the whole essay. It's not as long as it might seem and it is certainly worth the time to read it.

[NOTE: There were a lot of typos and grammar errors in this piece, some of which I have corrected, and others I no doubt missed. Please note the disclaimer below - this is not the final text.]

This Provisional PDF corresponds to the article as it appeared upon acceptance. Fully formatted PDF and full text (HTML) versions will be made available soon.

On identity: From a philosophical point of view

Daniel Sollberger, M.D., Ph.D.
Psychiatric University Hospital Basel
Wilhelm Klein-Strasse 27
CH – 4012 Basel
Phone: + 41 61 325 55 90
Fax: + 41 61 325 55 83
Full Citation:
Sollberger, D. (2013, Jul 31). On identity: from a philosophical point of view. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 7:29. doi:10.1186/1753-2000-7-29


Background: The term “identity” has a much longer tradition in Western philosophy than in psychology. However, the philosophical discourse addresses very different meanings of the term, which should be distinguished to avoid misunderstandings, but also to sharpen the key meanings of the term in psychological contexts. These crucial points in the philosophical concepts of identity in the sense of singularity, individuality, or self-sameness may structure the ongoing discussion on identity in psychiatric diagnoses (as in DSM-5, [1]), in psychology, psychoanalysis, but also neuroscience and neurophilosophy [2]. Method: The concept of identity is subjected to a systematic philosophical analysis following some milestones in its history to provide a background for recent discussions on identity in psychiatry and psychology. Results: The article focuses first on the philosophical core distinctions of identity in the different meanings to be addressed, second, briefly on some of the diverse psychological histories of the concept in the second half of the 20th century. Finally some reflections are presented on borderline personality disorder, considered as a mental disorder with a disturbance or diffusion of identity as core feature, and briefly on a newly developed instrument assessing identity development and identity diffusion in adolescence, the AIDA that is also presented in the special issue of this journal [3]. Conclusion: As a conclusion, different points of view concerning identity are summarized in respect to treatment planning, and different levels of description of identity in phenomenology, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and social science and personality psychology are outlined.

Keywords: Identity, individuality, self, self-sameness, identity disturbance, identity diffusion, borderline personality disorder


The term “identity” has a long tradition in Western philosophy and much shorter antecedents in psychology and social psychology. In the last six decades, since E. H. Erikson made his path breaking contributions to psychoanalytic theory and character pathology, elevating the term to a theoretical concept, “identity” has been given many interpretations. Nowadays, in a late modern society we see the difficulties that are related to the ambiguity of the term “identity.” Nevertheless, we realize that it cannot be abandoned but is needed to understand both the successful and the unsuccessful processes of psychological development of children, particularly adolescents, as well as of adults in the so-called “emerging adulthood”. We are confronted with questions on identity in a world, where flexibility is seen as a virtue and accelerating change pervades society, in the vocational world, in families, relationships, and in the biographies of individuals. Thus, beside one of the fundamental questions, like “Who do I want to be, which kind of person and personality?” we are basically challenged by the question “How come that I feel like the same person in my whole life, although many and very crucial things changed and will change, like my age and life cycles, marital status, my friendships, occupation, residence, political engagement, my religious beliefs, and social values? What enables me to feel being the same ‘I’, the same ‘self’, or ‘person’ in all the different roles, that I have to play, with all my different qualities, in the changing course of world events and my biography?”


The concept of identity is subjected to a philosophical analysis in focusing some core conceptual distinction in the history of the term and its meaning throughout the history of Western philosophy. This provides a basis for a further discussion of the modern psychological and psychopathological concepts of identity and identity diffusion in psychology and psychiatry, particularly in the diagnosis of borderline personality disorders. On this background some comments on the new instrument AIDA (Assessment of Identity Development in Adolescence) are made.

Results and discussion

Identity in philosophy: Some systematic distinctions

In philosophy “identity” is a predicate, which functions as an identifier, i.e. a marker that distinguishes and differentiates one object from another object. Thus, identity in this sense focuses on the uniqueness of the concerned object. Plato firstly made the distinction between “is” as a copula in a phrase and the identifying “is”; thus, Aristotle distinguished identity in its numeric meaning as equivalence from an identifier that defines an object as an individual. The problem of identity became a problem of substance throughout the history of philosophy in the efforts to define the principle of individuation. Leibniz in his Discourse on Metaphysics (Section 9) [4, p. 308] summarized this principle in a mathematical law: it states that no two distinct things exactly resemble each other; otherwise they would be “indiscernibles” and therefore one thing. In other words: two things are indistinguishable and in fact one single thing, if everything that truly can be said of the one may be said of the other as well. So, they become replaceable salva veritate (truth preserving) in any other possible context and under any other conditions.

Quantitative identity

One meaning of the term “identity” goes back to the Greek term “atomon”. However, “atomon” signifies “indivisible” in a primary etymological sense; identity in the sense of individuality is a secondary sense. Nevertheless, ‘individuality’ became first the topic of the philosophical mainstream discourse. That is where the conviction of an ineffability and unknowability of individuals is rooted herein. Nothing can be said of an individual than “this one” (‘tode ti’ in Greek), what means that we can identify an individual only by pointing at it, him or her. Leibniz’ contribution to this point in his theory of monads is an attempt to singularize individuals by a complete enumeration of their qualities [5, p. 235]. The metaphysical presuppositions of Leibniz’ theory like infinite space and time shall not be discussed here. But, as one can see, the individuality of a singular object is not easily (even principally not) describable in its empirical dimensions. The “I” as such a singular ‘object’ cannot be characterized by a complete enumerations of its characteristics but reduces us to statements about a localization in space and time. In contrast, Kant argued that individuals couldn’t be specified in terms of a concept of substance as Leibniz attempts to do: We never would come at the individuality of an individual by its complete description. Individuals primarily are objects, i.e. data in perception and as such bound to space and time. Thus, “identity”, in contrast to “existence”, is not a term of ontology but of epistemology. Anyhow, Kant wanted to attribute identity to the unity of an object in a fundamental way, i.e. a priori and incircumventable. In the transcendental ego he laid down such a principle: Being aware of ourselves as thinking subjects we know the subject as being a unified and unique whole (the ‘same’) in all of its different perceptions or thoughts: “The I think must be able to accompany all my representations“ [6, §16, B 131]. The Kantian sense of identity is exclusively part of the consciousness of the ego that can be seen as a link to the Anglo Saxon tradition of empiricism in Hobbes, Locke, and Hume.

But, a new problem arises when individuals are identified as singular entities because of their spatio-temporal localization, as it is demanded by empiricism: If we refer to an individual by his spatio-temporal localization, thus indicating the individual’s absolute uniqueness, it would be impossible to recognize individuals as the same individuals at different times. This problem becomes highly virulent when it is about personal individuals. Besides, J. Locke (1690) particularly related the human self to memory and, emphasizing this point, argued that a person can be addressed as the same person if she is able to remember previous states of consciousness: a person can “consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places [7, p. 67]. If he or she does remember nothing of his or her past her or she “literally has no identity” [8, p. 71]. However, numeric identity has to be complemented by substantially meaningful identification, particularly when it is about individual persons [9].

Qualitative identity

Thus, identity in the question “Who is it?” intending a merely numeric-quantitative, precise identification is transformed into a qualitative meaning in the question of “What kind of person or character am I and do I want to be?” Identification is then a matter of classifying something or somebody as something respectively somebody; or more technically spoken, as language philosophy does, classifying the individual token (the object as the instance of a concept) by assigning to a type (the concept). This is the usual interpretation of identity in social science. It is a form of “qualitative identity” that is specified by detailed, conceptual or substantial attributes: we describe somebody by the particular social roles, which he or she assumes or refuses to assume in his or her action orientation and life praxis, by the ideals and values that matter to him or her, by specific habits, capacities, skills, and biographical experiences [10]. Whether or not this qualitative identity is only a matter of looking at the individual from the perspective of social role, is widely discussed: whereas E. Goffman [11] for example argues that the identity of the I is only a matter of an internal, reflexive perspective of the subject, the German philosopher E. Tugendhat [9] emphasizes that the identification by social roles assumes a commitment by the individual, and depends therefore on an internal view of the individual person from his or her point of view.

Finally, it seems to depend on the epistemological interest: regarding the individual in its qualitative identity from a theoretical point of view as an objectifiable datum it is of no or only little interest in what form and to what extend that individual is committed to the attributed qualities. Whereas from a practical philosophical point of view the individual’s internal attitude to objectifiable social roles crucially matters. Since, this is a question of self-identification: “What kind of person do I want to be?”

The missing link between these two perspectives on the qualitative identity of an individual becomes apparent when we inquire whether an individual identified by social roles (whether intrinsically committed to them or not) can adopt these different roles in different social situations without losing his or her identity. This is probably not a question of identity in the sense of a qualitative identification – and much less one of a numeric one. But, it focuses on the other aspect of identity of individuals: not on the aspect of being different from others but in not being different from oneself – the aspect of “sameness” [5, p. 251] and constancy.

Identity as self-sameness 

If we focus on this aspect, identity is questioned as a structure or form of an individual’s self-relation and self-conception. Identity in this sense aims at competences and capacities of the individual to communicate, to interact, and to integrate and synthesize different emotional states, social roles, values, beliefs, group identifications etc.. It is exactly the point that Erikson has in mind differentiating role identities from “selfsameness” as the capacity to maintain an inner coherence and continuity:
“The term ‘identity’ expresses such a mutual relation in that it connotes both a persistent sameness within oneself (self-sameness) and a persistent sharing of some kind of essential character with others […] At one time, then, it will to refer to a conscious sense of individual identity; at another to an unconscious striving for a continuity of personal character; at third, as a criterion for the silent doings of ego synthesis; and, finally, as maintenance of an inner solidarity with a group’s ideals and identity. In some respects the term will appear too colloquial and naïve; in others, vaguely related to existing concepts in psychoanalysis and sociology.” [12, p. 109] 
The term “ego identity” therefore does not indicate a substance or absolute entity that is independent of interaction, but rather a capacity for an inner coherence of emotional and cognitive states and interaction in social situations as well as an inner continuity over time. Ricoeur contributed a subtle distinction to the discussion in differentiating the aspect of self-sameness, which he called “idem-identity”, and the one of selfhood or self-relatedness, for which he coined the term “ipse-identity” [13]. Identity in the sense of self-sameness is not a fixed result of a process of development, but a dynamic process of continual integration itself, creating continuity in the persistent self-consciousness over space and time. Finally, this meaning of the term “identity” is related to moral philosophical contexts of autonomy and self-determination in responsible decision-making. As the philosopher H. Frankfurt argues, an individual is autonomous and an active agent if he or she has “second order volitions”, i.e. that he or she wants certain desires to be part of his or her will [14, p. 16]: “Having an integrated, stable, and coherent identity is an essential precondition for effective second order volitions that stay the same over time” [15, p. 353]. Identity in the sense of sameness or constancy over time can be realized as the effort and performance of creating the unity of an autobiographical self (see also [2]): integrating different and sometimes conflicting role identifications means transforming them permanently to a conflict free or less conflicted entity that makes up the unique autobiographic history of our life for which we are responsible. The term “narrative self” or “narrative identity” emphasizes on this higher level identity in the sense that the self is continuous through time and under different conditions and that the person is able to construct a coherent narrative or life story to integrate his or her personal identity. Moreover, the narrative identity is always articulated through concepts (and practices) made available by cultural narratives, i.e. “by religion, society, school, and state, mediated by family, authority figures, peers, friends” [16, p. 20]. Therefore, in contrast to a paradigm of cognitive representations the narrative approach entails a shift to a paradigm of social construction, in which the self in its identity, and particularly in its moral development is focused in terms of intersubjectivity: the selves in their identity are embodied, relational, and fundamentally dialogical [17].

The numerous attempts in defining the qualitative identity of a person with sufficient or necessary criteria for personhood such as bodily identity, brain identity, memory, and psychological connectedness or continuity [18] find its limitations, particularly in Anglo Saxon debates. The search for such criteria by analytic philosophers is executed from a third person perspective (which focuses on persons as objects or as facts in the world). However, personhood in its identity is not a quality belonging to the owner like blue eyes or impulsiveness, thus, the first person perspective cannot be left out: “Who I am is not a fact about me, but should be phrased in terms of from where I come and what I am up to” [19], and this usually is answered by telling a narrative story. The emphasis on the first person perspective in the phenomenology of the self [20] has become one of the crucial topic in the recent debate on the self in neuroscience and psychiatry and in the progress in linking theories and experimental procedures from psychology to the results of neuroscience [21].

Identity and identity diffusion in psychological and psychopathological concepts As mentioned above the history of the concept of “identity” is relatively short in psychology and social psychology compared to its history in philosophy. Whereas the term “identity” or “identity disturbance” is hardly used by S. Freud, it became a core construct in psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories in the middle of the 20th Century.

Earlier, at the end of the 19th century the philosopher and psychologist William James [22] made a core distinction between two aspects of identity. Sociology, socio-cognitive sciences, as well as psychoanalysis in their different uses of “identity”, “self-concepts” and “mental representation”, make use of this distinction: The “me” representing the permanence and continuity of the self through the shifting variety of experience constitutes identity across time and is related to how the individual sees the story of his or her past (narrative self-reference), the self, seen as object of perception and reflection. The “I” in contrast, acting in the consciousness of experiences is addressed as an integral part of consciousness, as self-consciousness – or, as modern philosophers name the pre-reflective self-consciousness the “phenomenal” or “minimal self” (for this distinction see also [2]). G. H. Mead [23], referring to this core distinction, focused on the interactional and social aspect of the “me” as a part of the self that deals with “society”, i.e. social roles and group identifications, resulting from the experienced interaction and response from others. The term “I” in contrast is intended to represent the socially irreducible spontaneity of the self. From this interactionistical point of view, the identity of individuals is seen as being in need for social recognition, recognizing that humans are fundamentally social beings: “We infer who we are by observing how we are perceived by others and how others react to us” [24, p. 624]. Therefore, identity is strongly related on the one hand to the “need for security (the need to belong, to be part of a community and to be attached to others)”, and, on the other hand, to “the desire for freedom (the desire for separation, individuation and autonomy)” [25, p. 30; see also 26, p. 623f.].

Erikson, who initially made the term “identity” an important concept in his work on psychoanalytic theory and character pathology, referred to W. James by stressing on the importance of the “conscious sense of individual uniqueness”, the “I” in its spontaneous, self-evident acquaintance with itself matching the “unconscious striving for a continuity of experience” [25, p. 208].

The “me” in its continuity results from a developmental process, in which the adolescent at last passes through what Erikson called an “identity crisis” [27] that on the one hand might lead to ego-identity as an “integrated awareness and knowledge about oneself” [28], integrating the confirmation of the self by significant others as a core aspect of normal identity. In this conception identity effects an overall synthesis of ego functions as well as a sense of “the solidarity with a group’s ideals” [25, p. 208]. Erikson actually puts together all the distinctive philosophical meanings of identity outlined above. Identity in Erikson’s work represents therefore a developed fundamental organizing principle that provides a sense of continuity (“self-sameness”) as well as it structures the differentiation between self and others (“individuality as uniqueness”).

On the other hand, if this process of developing a normal capacity for self-definition fails, then the adolescent doesn’t just pass through a period of “crisis”, in which there is a lack of correspondence between the rapidly changing self-experience of the adolescent and the diverse experiences of him or her by others. Thus, Erikson made the distinction between “identity crisis” and “identity diffusion” [29], where the adolescent experiences an emotional breakdown and conflicts in intimate relationships, over occupational choice, and competition, and becomes increasingly dependent on an increased psychosocial support for self-definition [30].

J. F. Marcia as one of Erikson’s main follower focused in his operationalized concept of four different “identity status” on the basic dimensions of exploration and commitment. His orientation was therefore directed more to the question of social adjustment in the identity process than in the work of the other prominent successor of Erikson: O. F. Kernberg. The term “identity diffusion”, as used by Marcia and Kernberg, thus has very different meanings. In Marcia it represents one of the four identity status (achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, identity diffusion), in which both commitment and exploration of the person are at low performance level. The content of the dimensions (gender roles, vocational choice, political preferences, and religious beliefs), to which the goals, values, and beliefs of a person are directed and which the empirical measurements of identity status are based on, are actually core elements of personal identity rather than ego identity that is addressed by Kernberg (see below). In this conceptual scheme one can identify the underlying notion of identity disturbance in borderline personality disorder (BPD) characterized by the DSM-4, which emphasizes commitment and social functioning as fundamental elements of the ego identity [31, p. 651; 32]. Therefore, facing current conditions, Marcia quite rightly discussed the term of identity diffusion later in his work as no longer just a kind of cataclysmic breakdown but maybe an adaptive form of identity that has to be positively evaluated: „it is adaptive to be diffuse in a society where commitment is not valued, and, in fact, may be punished“ [33, p. 292]. In the terms of the originally proposed DSM-revision the intended content of identity diffusion in this meaning leads to the above-mentioned aspects of self-direction (instability in goals, aspirations, values etc.).

On the other hand, Kernberg on his part focused rather on a notion of identity that “provides a psychological structure determining the dynamic organization of character” [34, p. 11]. This intra-psychic structure does not contain all of the different aspects of identity but – as an ego identity – it provides to some extent the basis and precondition for at least three further levels of identity such as personal identity, social identity, and collective identity. Ego identity manifests itself “in conscious representations of the self, others, and the world in general, and in identifications with social groups, cultural norms, ideals, and values” [15, p. 346]. Kernberg concedes to Erikson’s concept of identity that it already stresses the relevance of the relationship between the self concept and the concept of a significant other. But, he himself focuses particularly on this background of object relations theory. He defines identity diffusion therefore as “a structural, pathological consolidation of the internalized world of object relations, reflected in a stable lack of integration in the concept of self and significant others” [30, p. 980].

Identity diffusion in borderline personality disorders 

Many researchers and clinicians consider identity diffusion or disturbance to be one of the core diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorders – despite of its equivocal meaning and different operationalization in empirical research [35; 15; 26; 32; 36). Kernberg even argues that identity diffusion is “the key anchoring point of the differential diagnosis of milder types of character pathology and neurotic personality organization on the one hand, and severe character pathology and borderline personality on the other” [37]. His concept of borderline personality organization (BPO) reflects the subjective and behavioral consequences of identity diffusion and is regarded as the basic psychopathological syndrome of all severe personality disorders [30].

The common thread of all these concepts is that identity diffusion indicates a lack of differentiated and integrated representations of the self and others, a negative self image, the lack of long-term goals, and the lack of a sense of continuity in self-perception over time [12; 15; 26; 30; 38-42]. As a result, patients experience rapid shifts in the way they view themselves and others, discontinuities and shifts of roles, and a sense of inner emptiness. Moreover, feelings of loss of integration and a sense of (painful) incoherence have been described [43-45]. Westen and Cohen [42] furthermore pointed out a “lack of a coherent life narrative or sense of continuity over time” and – implicitly referring to John Locke’s emphasis on memory in the concept of identity – a “loss of shared memories that help define the self over time”.

In short, following Erikson’s groundwork on identity two careers and different ways of operationalizing the construct of identity diffusion will be outlined in the sequel: the one that concentrates on sociological contexts and emphasizes the importance of commitment and social functioning that results in long-term goals, values, and beliefs; the other that focuses on intra-psychic structure that integrates the concept of self and significant other in personality organization.

Brief comments on AIDA

Philosophical distinctions 

On the basis of the considerations made above, I will end by making two remarks on the new instrument AIDA (Assessment of identity development in adolescence), which is presented and discussed in the current special issue of this journal.

What is fundamental and convincing in the theoretical model underlying AIDA is the inherited dichotomy of the construct “identity” [28]: namely, identity in its qualitative meaning answering to the question “Who am I?” and in the sense of self-sameness answering to the question: “Am I the same person (i.e. same I, self, individual) over time and in different situations (continuity) and in my different emotional and cognitive states (coherence)?”

Regarding these two dimensions of identity the one comprises more a subjective, emotional self (the “I” in Mead’s conception), which denotes the aspect of an immediate and intuitive first-person-perspective in all the subjective experiences and inner feelings. The other denotes coherence and continuity in a sense of a self-definition resulting from cognitive functions such as memories and autobiographical memories, self-reflection, but also resulting from motivational states or social role and group identification, which turn the “I” into an identifiable “Me” [23].

Northoff [2] in a more fundamental, philosophical way distinguishes between the “minimal self … that occurs immediately and is always already part of our experience of the world“ (rooting a phenomenal “mineness” and “belongingness”), on the one hand, and the self in its continuity across time and in its other features such as “unity, first-person perspective, and qualia“, on the other hand. He particularly argues that “any experience of the self is part of an experience of the world” as well as “any consciousness of the world goes along with an experience of the self”. Both experiences are inseparable intertwined that this might be a “principal limitation” for experimental investigations of the minimal self. {1}

Short philosophical note on neurocognitive research 

This is highly relevant in regard of the model of self and identity that underlies research in cognitive neuroscience. Since, considering that the self is not a metaphysical entity (mental substance) but has rather to be comprehended as and replaced by an inner model of self–representation (as e.g. Thomas Metzinger does [47]), this changes the methodological approach to self and identity in a fundamental way. Identity shifts from a philosophical to an empirical research topic and is subjected to cognitive psychology, finally to cognitive neuroscience. Hence, the question raises how all the information of our own body and own brain is processed, i.e. summarized, integrated and coordinated that ultimately an inner model of self-representation reasonably results. This is a matter of different and specific higher-order cognitive functions such as working memory, attention, executive function, semantic and episodic memory etc. that are underpinned by specific brain processes that can be subjected to empirical investigations [2].

However, as we might reasonably question this sceptical tendency to eliminate the notion of self and identity on reductionist grounds, the minimal self, as it is implicitly experienced in consciousness (i.e. consciousness about the world as well as the self being conscious about any world experience), remains specific “self” in contrast to any other experiences. As Legrand and Perrine argue, this self-specificity cannot be “constituted by the integration of contents that are not themselves self-specific” [48, p. 273]. In the light of these considerations, cognitive neuroscience should focus on the fundamental difference between neurocognitive processes underlying self representations (i.e. all representations that have the self as their object and finally result in higher-order cognition such as an “autobiographical self” [49]), on the one hand, and neurocognitive processes that are related to a “phenomenal” or “minimal self”, which is considered as a presupposed self-specific process underlying the former (differentiable) representations (of world and self experiences), on the other hand. Since, self-related or self-directed contents concerning a self-reference effect (SRE), i.e. the fact that stimuli that are related to one’s own self (e.g. a scalpel for a surgeon) show a superiority of memory recall in contrast to those that are not directed to the self [2], may not be confounded with the scope of self-specificity (the I as “representing self” not in its “self-representation”). Thus, neurobiological investigations of the minimal self in its pre-reflective identity should rather encompass studies “of the nonself-directed but self-specific perspective” than such of “self-directed but non-self-specific representations” [48, p. 275].

Identity of a person in terms of self-relatedness of characteristic attributes is focused on a self-as-content. Personality in this sense can be lost, what we experience, for instance, in the dramatic modifications of the identity of persons during the pathological processes of frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer disease [58]. Personal identity as a (narrative) conception of oneself and as persistence is impaired in patients with dementia insofar as there are gaps in their memory, as they have, as a result of memory loss, personality changes involving, for example, a decrease in self-control. However, can we therefore say, if the gaps in memory and the changes in personality are sufficiently serious, the person has lost his or her identity and self (s. John Locke’s argument above [8])? Or does identity incorporate growth and decline, thus, identity cannot really be lost in a fundamental sense [59]?

Basically, I argue, that Patient’s suffering from dementia at least remain subjects, i.e remain capable to differentiate themeselves from another person. Identity in the sense of self-specificity that is addressed in the sense of a phenomenal qualia-self in its first person perspective is not affected by dementia, since: despite the loss of self relatedness, the capacity to differentiate between self and non-self, i.e. to specify any representation (perception, sensation, feeling, cognition etc.) as my representation (“mineness”, s. above), remains, because self-specificity is not constituted “by the integration of contents that are not themselves self-specific” [48, p. 273].

Psychological and sociological considerations 

In regard to higher-level, i.e. psychological and social processes of identity development in adolescents and particularly in the formation of BPD the question arises: What turns our attention to identity and its diffusion? Is it the consolidation of interests, goals, and values, which develop a degree of stability in child development and adolescence that eventually give us an inner sense of identity, a kind of a self that is emotionally committed to long-term goals and identified with social groups – a kind of biographic self? Is, therefore, identity diffusion in adolescents and young adults a result of a lack of stability in behavior and attitudes, in interests, goals, values, and aspirations?

Or, on contrary, is identity diffusion a manifestation of unstable relationships, and consequently, of unstable inner representations of self- and object relations, which undermine the sense of self-sameness, which BPD patients suffer from? As mentioned above, the DSM-4 describes (implicitly according to Marcia) identity disturbance in BPD as being “characterized by shifting goals, values, and vocational aspirations” [31, p. 651], underscoring commitment and social functioning as fundamental elements of the Ego identity status. In the initially proposed revision of DSM-5, now included in a separate area of section 3 [50], identity becomes a core construct in the diagnosis of BPD. Accordingly, in the diagnostic process first-line differentiations have to be made on impairments in self-functioning as a main characteristic of personality disorders. They are conceived as impairments in “identity”, or they pertain to aspects of “self-direction” (instability in goals, aspirations, values etc.). How do these two disturbances in identity(in the sense of self-sameness, the “I”) and in self-direction (in the sense of qualitative, ‘social’ identity, “me”) interfere? Does continuity in these mentioned ‘social’ terms underscore a coherent, self-reflected, by inner motives guided self (“I”)? {2}

Focusing on the interference of “identity” and “self-direction” (as originally proposed for the DSM-5) we can ask the other way round, what can better be demonstrated in terms of identity diffusion. Wilkinson-Ryan and Westen [45] pointed out that identity diffusion seems rather to manifest itself in specific fundamental factors such as “painful incoherence” or “inconsistency” than in a “lack of commitment”, which in fact they show to be the weakest of four factors in predicting BPD: “painful incoherence”, “inconsistency of beliefs and actions”, “role absorption” and “lack of commitment” (n.b. a fundamental element of Marcia’s conception of identity). Thus, in case of identity disturbance: Is there primarily incoherence in the sense of inconsistency and particularly painful incoherence (of which BPD patients might differently be aware of and differently concerned about)?

Again the question, how do the two basic dimensions interfere?

To come to my second point: The German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel wrote in 1900 in his book “Philosophy of Money”:
“The lack of something definite in the center of the soul impels us to search for momentary satisfaction in ever-new stimulations, sensations and external activities. Thus it is that we become entangled in the instability and helplessness that manifests itself as the tumult of metropolis, as the mania for travelling, as the wild pursuit of competition and as the typically modern disloyalty with regard to taste, style, opinions and personal relationships.” [51, p. 484]
It seems that already at the beginning of the 20th century the problem of identity came up, which is considered at the end of that century to be one of the main topics of late-modern Western societies. It has widely been recognized, on the one hand, that these societies show high rates of social change in values and norms. Desynchronizing and uncoupling processes in family formation, vocational education, employment, and retirement as well as falling in love, getting married and having children have been described [52; 53]. Topoi of a lifelong learning and education process emerged. Therefore, particularly adolescents experience a lack of stability in orientation concerning these values, norms, and long-term-goals in essential dimensions of life such as family, religion, morals, vocational orientation, politics, social and national affiliation, but also sexual orientation, sexuality and gender. As a consequence, they are challenged by the task “to forge a personal identity without being able to rely on models from previous generations” [54, p. 90].

On the other hand, identity turns into a sort of “do-it-yourself-project” with a primary task for the “self-made identities” to be “ready to grasp many chances and (…) to adjust to changing necessities” [12, p. 99]. Many theoreticians argued about that, like for example Anthony Giddens [55] with his term of an “embeddedness” of the self that he describes as dissolved and dismembered, with an embedded identity; or Richard Sennett, who describes a “corrosion of character” [56] caused by a flexibility pervasive in the restless dynamics of late-modern culture.

We therefore could ask, somewhat provocatively, whether men and women of the 20th century suffer from or enjoy a kind of identity diffusion. Notably, this is what Marcia aims to describe in his conception of identity diffusion as an adaptive form of identity under postmodern conditions. Do we not have to reflect on the social changes mentioned above in defining new conceptions of individual identity and its disturbances [see 41]? Does identity diffusion, maybe even the borderline syndrome reflect “problems and discourses of late modern culture” [26, p. 636ff.]? How do psychology (regarding individual dynamics) and sociology (referring to social changes) challenge an integrated and coherent conception of identity and self – in respect to the fundamental philosophical basis? How do sociological descriptions of ‘late modern man’ impact our conception of the “psychic apparatus”, the structure of personality with its different parts and its conscious and unconscious dynamics and conflicts [57]?


 Assessing “identity”, particularly in contexts of psychopathological developments of individual persons, requires both systematically reflecting on the fundamental philosophical background of the term “identity” and a broad scope of different considerations in regard of neurocognitive research, of psychological and psychopathological phenomenology as well as of sociological developments under contemporary cultural and societal conditions.

To summarize, we have to keep in mind different levels of description in regard of definitions of the term “identity”, in regard of methodological approach investigating “identity” as well as in regard of the person in her identity that is addressed in psychotherapy. It depends on the point of view, which part of identity respectively identity diffusion is focused in research and (clinical) practice. Therefore, in respect of the concept and the diagnostics of emerging personality disorders in adolescence, in which the AIDA is engaged, the factors and mechanisms that lead to identity disturbance have to be considered as multifaceted, complex, and concerning different aspects of identity. Hence, these aspects of identity have to be addressed in planning accurate treatments and in deciding the focus of (psycho-)therapeutic interventions.

From a sociological point of view, that is concerned about collective or cultural, and social identity, the societal changes, conceived e.g. as individualization and globalization with an increased mobility and flexibility in professional as well as private, familial relations [56], might impact the development of identity because of the lack of stable models for the adolescents in terms of attitudes, interests, beliefs, and goals. And that might interfere with the development of role identity, e.g. the social adaption of an adolescent in his or her social behavior and moral development.

From a psychological point of view, that is concerned about social and personal identity, one might raise the question whether these processes of modernization result in increased challenges for individuals regulating intergenerational, interpersonal and intra-psychic relations: thus, the regulation of care taking and disallowance, caring and separation in parenthood, aggression and rivalry progressively rest on the psychosocial competences of individuals in regard to the lack of traditional collective guidelines. From a psychodynamic point of view, which is concerned about ego identity, on might ask whether intra-psychic conflicts that are related to the human condition (such as oedipal conflicts, experiences of privation or desire) remain “stable” despite of the mentioned cultural changes. Thus, individuals have to pass through crucial phases to develop a personality with its subjective interiority and its sense of identity. Therefore, disturbances in this development of identity concern difficulties in coping with these intersubjective as well as intra-psychic conflicts.

From a neurocognitive point of view identity is addressed in a rather basic sense by differentiating higher-order cognitive functions such as working memory or executive functions, which finally concern self-representing contents, on the one hand, and self-specificity, i.e. the acquaintance of a minimal self, which comprehends a sense of “mineness”, on the other hand. Evidently, the assumption that we can directly link concrete personality traits and underlying, neurobiological mechanisms has to be carefully evaluated. Since, subjective intentionality of behavior is assumed to function on two levels of organismic organization: “a basic neurobiological one, and a derived, secondary, symbolic or psychological one that (…) in turn may influence the functioning of the underlying neurobiological structures” [60, p. 237].

Therefore, philosophically we are challenged in defining the complexity of different perspectives in their convergence respectively divergence and incompatibility. It is the question of how to (re-)construct a model of the self in its identity [21] that integrates the perspective of:
  • phenomenology, which is concerned about the the essence, content and feel of a mental state, and, concerning identity, the self as implicitly, tacitly, and immediately experienced in consciousness; 
  • philosophy of mind, which focuses on the logical connection and systematization of our knowledge of mind; 
  • cognitive science, which designs models of how the mind works as basis for further empirical research, in regard to identity particularly in terms of self relatedness and self-specificity; 
  • social science as well as personality psychology, which is concerned with how people regard themselves, with their different roles in society and the interaction between both. 
A philosophically reflected integration of these different perspectives in a conceptual framework will provide a basis for empirical research as well as clinical practice. Furthermore, it will help to distinguish adaptive forms of identity development that our adolescents and patients may reveal, and pathological forms in social interaction, in self related representations, intra-psychic conflicts as well as in their neurobiological correlates – perspectives that finally may provide the key anchoring point of psychotherapeutic (and other) treatments.

Author’s information 

The author has a PhD in philosophy and is leading the department of psychotherapy in the Psychiatric University Hospital Basel as a MD.


The Article processing charge (APC) of this manuscript has been funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

I would like to thank Dr. Arnold Simmel, formerly Columbia University New York, for his critical comments on the argumentation and his suggestions for improvement of the content and the English editing.


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1. The question connotes Kant’s reasoning of the transcendental ego: Do I must have a sense of “mineness”, that means that I know what it means that mental states, in which I am, are mine, thus I can refer them to me? Or, must a sort of continuity first has to be developed, so that I know me as the same I as before at that time in another temporal and mental state, to be able to have a feeling of what it means, that cognitions, affective states and so one are mine? [46]

2. Probably this more sociologically accented question goes parallel to the chicken-and-egg-problem of the direction of causality in cognitive theories that assume that emotional consistency and predictability over time and across similar situations are a prerequisite for the development of a stable sense of identity; whereas, in contrary, psychoanalytic theories regard the mature personal identity as an important fundament on which cognitive, affective and interpersonal functions are based on.

This Examined Life: The Upside of Self-Knowledge for Interpersonal Relationships

The better one knows oneself, the more likely one is to rate interpersonal relationships as positive and successful. The researchers measured self-knowledge "as the congruence between people’s beliefs about how they typically behave and their actual behavior as measured with unobtrusive audio recordings from daily life." They found that self-knowledge is positively correlated with subjects perceptions of relationship quality.

In case this had never occurred to you before, this research confirms that knowing who you are makes it more likely that you will have a happy and healthy relationship.

This comes from PLoS ONE, an open access journal.

This Examined Life: The Upside of Self-Knowledge for Interpersonal Relationships

Elizabeth R. Tenney, Simine Vazire, Matthias R. Mehl

Although self-knowledge is an unquestioned good in many philosophical traditions, testing this assumption scientifically has posed a challenge because of the difficulty of measuring individual differences in self-knowledge. In this study, we used a novel, naturalistic, and objective criterion to determine individuals’ degree of self-knowledge. Specifically, self-knowledge was measured as the congruence between people’s beliefs about how they typically behave and their actual behavior as measured with unobtrusive audio recordings from daily life. We found that this measure of self-knowledge was positively correlated with informants’ perceptions of relationship quality. These results suggest that self-knowledge is interpersonally advantageous. Given the importance of relationships for our social species, self-knowledge could have great social value that has heretofore been overlooked.
Full Citation: 
Tenney ER, Vazire S, Mehl MR. (2013, Jul 31). This Examined Life: The Upside of Self-Knowledge for Interpersonal Relationships. PLoS ONE, 8(7): e69605. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069605

What good is self-knowledge? Although self-knowledge has been an unquestioned good in many philosophical traditions, empirical research on the costs and benefits of self-knowledge paints a more complicated picture. Much of this research has focused on the intrapsychic consequences of self-knowledge (e.g., for happiness or mental health) and found mixed results[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. However, another place to search for the benefits of self-knowledge is in the interpersonal domain. How does having self-knowledge affect what other people think of you? We first define self-knowledge and then discuss evidence of its interpersonal costs and benefits.

What is Self-Knowledge?
Self-knowledge is defined as accurate self-beliefs [6]. Accuracy has been a notoriously thorny phenomenon to measure in psychological research [7], but conceptually it refers to the correspondence between a judgment (in this case a self-judgment) and reality. Thus, self-knowledge is the degree to which a person’s self-views correspond to what she or he is actually like. People can have self-knowledge about momentary states or stable dispositions across a variety of constructs including emotions, attitudes, behaviors, traits, goals, motives, and autobiographical memories (see, e.g., [8]). In this paper we focus on the accuracy of self-views about stable patterns of behavior.

Another important definitional issue in the study of self-knowledge is defining its opposite. It may seem obvious that if self-knowledge is defined as accurate self-beliefs, its opposite is inaccurate self-beliefs. However, matters get complicated when thinking about all the different ways self-beliefs can be inaccurate. As the large literature on bias in social psychology shows[9], there are many ways to be inaccurate. For example, the literature on self-enhancement shows that people can have overly positive self-views. Indeed, much of the literature on self-knowledge focuses specifically on self-knowledge compared to positive self-biases (e.g., overconfidence, self-enhancement).

What can the literature on positive self-biases tell us about self-knowledge? In some ways, a great deal. If we interpret the absence of positive self-biases to be an indication of self-knowledge, then the consequences of self-enhancement can be interpreted as the consequences of self-knowledge (with the direction of the associations reversed). Indeed, many researchers interpret their findings this way (e.g., [10]). On the other hand, there is the worry that people scoring low on individual difference measures of self-enhancement may be just as self-deluded as those scoring high, but in the opposite direction. They may have self-views that are more negative than reality. In that case, the consequences of self-enhancement cannot be assumed to apply (in reverse) to self-knowledge [11]. There is little evidence about whether people scoring low in self-enhancement are accurate or are self-diminishing. Thus, the literature on positive self-biases must be interpreted with caution when drawing conclusions about self-knowledge. Nevertheless, it is the largest body of research relevant to the costs and benefits of self-knowledge, so we now review what conclusions can, cautiously, be drawn from this literature.
The Costs and Benefits of Self-Knowledge 
There is reason to believe that self-enhancement may be associated with better interpersonal outcomes than self-knowledge. Specifically, several researchers have argued that self-deception helps people deceive others. The claim is that if a person truly believes that she is better than she really is, then when she presents herself to others, she will act in ways (e.g., confident about her abilities) that make others likely to believe she is better than she really is, too [12] [13] [14]. Thus, people with overly positive self-views will make more positive impressions on others than will people with accurate self-views. In line with this hypothesis, one recent set of studies found that overconfident people were perceived by others as more capable and higher status than people with accurate self-views [15]. In these studies, perceivers likely could not tell when a person was justified or unjustified in holding positive self-views because people with unjustified positive self-views exhibited behavioral cues that made them seem highly competent (e.g., a calm and relaxed demeanor, a confident and factual tone of voice). They did not make bold claims (e.g., “I am good at this task!”) that could easily be refuted. Thus, self-enhancement may have positive interpersonal consequences because others are likely to buy into a person’s self-delusions. 
Many of the findings supporting the social benefits of self-enhancement, however, suffer from a methodological difficulty. Specifically, the operationalization of interpersonal outcomes (such as relationship quality) affects conclusions about whether self-enhancement is advantageous. While positive interpersonal consequences of self-enhancement were found when interpersonal outcomes were measured with self-ratings, these findings have been found not to replicate (and to reverse) when interpersonal outcomes were measured with peer- or observer-reports (e.g.,[16] [3]). The reason for the different findings using self- vs. other-reports could be that self-reports of self-enhancement share method variance with self-reports of interpersonal adjustment, and without proper controls, the correlations observed are therefore inflated [4] [17][18]. People who report being better than they really are in terms of their abilities or personality might also report having better relationships with others than they really do. 
Indeed, there are a number of studies suggesting that self-enhancement carries important interpersonal costs. Although overconfidence is beneficial when indistinguishable from confidence, overconfidence can be damaging to people’s reputations if discovered [19] [20] [21]. In a set of studies, confident job applicants vying for a position initially fared better than less confident job applicants. However, the confident applicants lost ground in the application process after it was revealed that they had been too confident about their abilities. In contrast, applicants did not lose ground if they had exhibited self-knowledge, rather than excessive confidence, about their strengths and weaknesses [20]
Studies also show that self-enhancement can lead to deteriorating interpersonal relationships over time. For example, self-enhancers make a positive first impression, but they come to be seen negatively after repeated interactions [22] [23]. Self-enhancers also tend to have poor social skills [24] and are disliked by others [25] [26]. Furthermore, people who overestimate their status in a group are disliked by their group members [27] [28]. These results suggest that self-deception may be detrimental to maintaining good relationships.
What’s so good about Self-Knowledge? 
One aim of this paper is to provide a rigorous test of the relationship between self-knowledge and the quality of close relationships. Based on the literature reviewed above, we predict that self-knowledge will be associated with good relationships. A secondary aim of this paper is to shed light on potential explanations for this predicted association. Given that we know relatively little about the interpersonal consequences of self-knowledge, discussion of the mechanisms underlying these consequences is necessarily speculative at this point. Nevertheless, we propose one potential explanation: that self-knowledge is valuable for its own sake in close relationships.

Certainly, self-knowledge is likely to have instrumental value–there are probably some practical benefits of having self-knowledge. For example, self-knowledge is likely associated with making better (or better-fitting) life decisions that likely make a person more pleasant to be around [29][30]. However, we propose that self-knowledge also has intrinsic value, an idea that goes back at least to Aristotle, who postulated that self-knowledge of one’s personality or character is a virtue in itself, apart from its ability to lead to virtuous actions [31]. That is, independent of the practical benefits of self-knowledge, people value self-knowledge in themselves and others. Specifically, we predict that the link between self-knowledge and good relationships is direct and not fully explained by the practical benefits of self-knowledge.

We test this hypothesis by demonstrating that the relationship between self-knowledge and relationship quality is independent of other potential benefits of self-knowledge. If self-knowledge is valued for its own sake, self-knowledge should predict relationship quality, and this effect should persist after controlling for positive personality traits (e.g., agreeableness, emotional stability). These findings would show that the relationship between self-knowledge and better relationships is not due to people with greater self-knowledge having more positive qualities.
The Current Study 
The purpose of the current study was to examine whether self-knowledge is associated with better interpersonal relationships and whether this effect holds when controlling for positive qualities that may be confounded with self-knowledge. We examined the interpersonal consequences of self-knowledge using a novel, objective measure of self-knowledge and a peer-report-based measure of interpersonal adjustment. Nearly all studies examining individual differences in self-knowledge face tricky definitional issues with the operationalization of self-knowledge. Both of the two most commonly used methods for calculating individual differences in self-enhancement have important confounds (as noted by [32] [4] [24]). The social comparison approach (asking participants to rate themselves relative to others) confounds self-enhancement with actually possessing positive traits, because people who rate themselves more positively than they rate others may not be self-enhancers if they in fact have exceptional personalities. Conversely, the self-insight approach (comparing self-reports to observer-reports of the target) confounds self-enhancement with the tendency to see everyone (including the self) positively, because people who rate themselves more positively than others rate them may not be self-enhancers if they simply have an especially rosy view of all people (including themselves). 
Kwan et al. (2004) proposed an alternative measure of self-enhancement based on the social relations model (SRM) to get around these confounds [4]. Although their proposed SRM-based measure of self-enhancement is a great improvement over the two traditional approaches and is ideal for many purposes, it is potentially ill-suited for examining the interpersonal consequences of self-knowledge. While the SRM-based measure is ideally suited for measuring discrepancies between self-views and others’ views of a person, we were interested in measuring the accuracy of self-views against a criterion that did not include others’ perceptions. Because the goal of the current study is to examine whether self-knowledge is associated with better interpersonal relationships, it is important that the measure of self-knowledge not be based on the interpersonal perceptions from the same people who are also rating the quality of the relationship. If both the self-knowledge measure and the relationship quality measure involve ratings by the same peers, the shared method variance could inflate the correlation between the two variables. Thus, to examine the interpersonal consequences of self-knowledge, a different approach is needed. 
To do so, we chose to assess the accuracy of people’s self-views about their typical daily behavior. Knowledge of how one behaves in everyday life is, admittedly, only one form of self-knowledge. However, daily behaviors are the ingredients of personality [33] and, as such, knowing one’s daily behavior is an important component of self-knowledge [34] [35]. For example, a person who believes that she is exceptionally sociable (spends a lot of time with others, talks a lot, laughs a lot), but actually spends much more time alone and silent than other people, could be exhibiting important blind spots in her self-knowledge. 
In order to obtain a criterion measure that was both objective (i.e., independent from self-views, but also independent from peer-reports), and ecologically valid (i.e., reflects what people are actually like in their everyday lives; see [36], and [37], on the benefits of measuring behavior in natural contexts), we collected audio recordings of people’s actual daily behavior using the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR; [38]). Thus, we operationalized self-knowledge by comparing people’s beliefs about how they typically behave to their actual daily behaviors observed in natural contexts via unobtrusive sampling of audio recordings. We then used an idiographic, profile correlation approach to compute individual-level self-knowledge scores. Our design overcomes many of the obstacles that have hampered past efforts to study self-knowledge empirically by 1) using an objective, ecologically valid criterion against which to compare self-views, 2) avoiding the “social comparison” and “self-insight” indices of self-knowledge that have important confounds, and 3) using an outcome measure (informants’ ratings of relationship quality) that does not share method variance with the self-knowledge measure. 
In this study, we had three main objectives. First, we aimed to introduce a methodology for measuring self-knowledge using an objective, ecologically valid criterion. Second, we aimed to show that, compared to people with poor self-knowledge, people with greater self-knowledge have close others who report having better relationships with them. Finally, we aimed to provide preliminary evidence that the association between self-knowledge and better relationships stems from the fact that people value self-knowledge for its own sake, not because of desirable personality traits that might be associated with self-knowledge. We expected that, if self-knowledge has intrinsic value, then self-knowledge would be positively correlated with relationship quality and that personality desirability would not mediate this link.
Eighty undergraduates (43 women, 37 men; Mdn age = 18) recruited mainly from Introductory Psychology courses completed self-ratings and nominated three informants: one parent, their closest friend, and one romantic partner if possible. One-hundred-eighty-two informants responded (106 women, 73 men, 3 no gender reported). Participants received $50 for participating. Informants were not compensated. Three participants had to be excluded from analyses due to missing data. The study was approved by the University of Texas, Austin Institutional Review Board. Participants provided written informed consent. This study was part of a larger study on self and other perceptions of personality and behavior. Portions of these data were published in [39] [40] [41] [42]. The analyses of the current research questions do not overlap with any of those published elsewhere. 
Materials and Procedure 
During a lab session, participants nominated three informants, and informants were contacted via email. Participants were told that they would never see the ratings that informants made about them. Participants and informants rated participants’ behavior on the ACT questionnaire[42]. The ACT assesses self- and other-perceptions of the frequency of daily behaviors (e.g., laughing, talking, typing, commuting, watching TV). All items on the ACT refer to overt, observable behavior (See Appendix S1 for a list of the items used in our analyses). On the participant-version of the ACT, participants were asked, “Compared to other people, how much do you do the following activities?” whereas on the informant-version of the ACT, informants were asked “Compared to other people, how much does X do the following activities?” with X representing the target participant. Aside from this wording in the instructions and changing the second-person pronoun to the third-person (e.g., “you” became “he/she”) in the item wording, the participant and informant versions of the ACT were identical. Ratings of how much participants engaged in the daily activities specified on the ACT were made on Likert-type scales from (1) much less than the average person to (7) much more than the average person.It is worth noting that, by design, these items asked participants and informants to make comparative judgments, wherein accuracy depended on both accurate assessments of a participant’s behavior and participant’s standing relative to others (see [43] and [44] for related discussions). The comparative approach is appropriate here because personality is inherently relative–to be a warm, friendly person means to be more warm and friendly than the average person. Knowing the absolute frequency of behavior (e.g., “I spend 9.4 hours per day with others”) without accurate awareness of where this puts someone relative to others (e.g., “I am more sociable than the average person”) is arguably a less useful or relevant type of self-knowledge (see [15] and [45] for examples of others using a comparative approach to study self-knowledge). We also could have used non-comparative Likert scales asking people how often they engaged in certain behaviors from, for example, never to very often, or how much they believed certain traits characterized their behavior from not at all to definitely. But then it would have been virtually impossible to determine objectively whether participants were accurate in their self-assessments or not. There would be no clear appropriate benchmark to which their judgments could be compared. 
Participants then wore an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR; [38]) for four days, which was a small digital audio recorder that automatically and periodically (every 12.5 min) sampled 30 seconds of ambient sounds around participants. Participants had no way of telling when the device was and was not recording. Compliance with instructions to wear the EAR during all waking hours save when the device could be harmed (e.g., when showering) was high. Participants reported having it on them for an average of 72% (SD = 16%) of their time awake, yielding an average of 300 (SD = 104) valid audio recordings per participant. Participants were given the opportunity to listen to their sound files and delete any of the recordings before turning them over to the experimenter. Only very few recordings were deleted (<0.01%). A team of ten coders listened to participants’ EAR recordings and coded them for acoustically detectible signs of each ACT item (for detailed coding instructions, see [38] and [46]). Coders used acoustic cues such as the noise of a running engine, the voice of someone lecturing, or sounds of typing to code participants’ activities. In addition, coders used contextual information from previous and consecutive intervals to increase their accuracy (e.g., the noise of a large engine followed by someone lecturing would indicate that a student rode a bus to get to class). Each participant’s sound files were coded by one coder. As in previous studies (e.g., [42]), we included only the 17 items on the ACT that could be detected and coded reliably using the EAR. Intercoder reliabilities were determined from a set of training EAR recordings (221 sound files) that was independently coded by all 10 research assistants. ICC[2,k] exceeded.70 for all categories (See Appendix S1 for a list of the items). For each participant, the binary EAR codings (i.e., behavior present or absent) were aggregated across all sound files into a relative frequency measure (i.e., the percentage of sound files in which a behavior was displayed; see [38] for more information on coding procedures). We then converted these relative behavior frequencies into z-scores across the sample (individually for each behavior). These data, coded from the EAR sound files, formed the criterion measure of how participants actually behaved in daily life. 
Informants, in addition to rating participants’ behavior on the ACT questionnaire, also gave their impression of participants’ personality, attractiveness, and intelligence, and they rated their relationship with the participant. Specifically, informants assessed participants’ personality using the Big Five Inventory [47] and rated participants’ attractiveness and intelligence on scales from 1 to 7. The measure of relationship quality asked informants to rate closeness, relationship quality, and liking on scales from 1 to 7. As might be expected, most informants reported having good relationships with participants, creating a distribution with a negative skew (–2.1). Transformation to the fourth power successfully reduced the skew to within two standard errors of skewness (–.42) and did not meaningfully change any effects reported here. 
Like informants, participants also rated relationship quality. They rated “How close are you and [the informant]” and “How would you rate the quality of your relationship with [the informant]?” but unlike the informants, participants did not rate liking. We report the main analyses both with (α = .82) and without (α = .88) the participants’ ratings included in the relationship quality index. The indices yield the same conclusions, but we made the informant-only index the primary dependent variable because it does not share any method variance with the independent variable (self-knowledge).
Results and Discussion 
Does Self-Knowledge Predict Relationship Quality? 
Our aim was to test whether self-knowledge of daily behavior was associated with good relationships. We predicted that, compared to people with poor self-knowledge, people with greater self-knowledge would have close others who report having better relationships with them. Self-knowledge was operationalized as how well participants knew the relative frequency of various behaviors they performed in daily life. In order to compute a self-knowledge score for each participant, we calculated each participant’s profile correlation between self-ratings of daily behavior (on the ACT) and behavioral codings of actual daily behavior (from the EAR sound recordings) across 17 items. Profile correlations are straightforward ways of quantifying agreement between sets of items or behaviors by comparing the pattern of highs and lows in each set of items; that is, the shape of the profiles [44]. We computed a self-knowledge profile correlation for each participant and these correlations, converted to Fisher z values, ranged from –.52 to.72 (M = .17, SD = .22). (We did not compute distinctive profile correlations [44]because one variable (actual behavior) was standardized, so the profile correlations could not be driven by agreement with a “typical” or normative profile (cf. [48])). Higher profile correlations indicate greater self-knowledge. For example, if behaviors participants viewed as relatively descriptive of how they spent their time (as compared to other behaviors) were the same behaviors that the EAR recordings also revealed were relatively descriptive of how they spent their time, participants would have high self-knowledge. Individual differences in self-knowledge were positively associated with informant-rated relationship quality (r = .33, p = .003; Figure 1), showing that more self-knowledge was in fact associated with better relationships.
Figure 1. Relationship quality as a function of participants’ degree of self-knowledge (N = 77).  
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Figure 1 shows the association between individual differences in self-knowledge and informant-rated relationship quality. Self-knowledge was operationalized as how well participants knew how they typically behaved in daily life compared to others. In order to compute a self-knowledge score for each participant, we calculated each participant’s profile correlation between self-ratings of daily behavior (on the ACT questionnaire) and behavioral codings of actual daily behavior (from the EAR sound recordings) across 17 items. Relationship quality was the mean of informants’ ratings of relationship quality, closeness, and liking. 
We also explored whether self-knowledge was correlated with each of the three items in the relationship quality index separately (the items measured closeness, liking, and relationship quality, α = .88). Self-knowledge was significantly positively correlated with each item, all rs >.28, all ps ≤.013. To explore the potential effect of outliers, we excluded participants who scored at least 1.5 times the interquartile range on either self-knowledge or relationship quality (n = 7). The size and significance of the relation between self-knowledge and relationship quality did not meaningfully change (r = .25, p = .039) suggesting that outliers exerted little impact on the effect. 
Because relationships are dyadic, we also created a version of the relationship quality index that, in addition to informants’ ratings, included participants’ ratings of closeness and quality of relationship. This index shared some method variance with self-knowledge because the same participants rated both their self-perceptions of their behavior (one half of the self-knowledge profile correlation) and relationship quality. This index was positively correlated with self-knowledge (r = .23, p = .048) and corroborated the effects found with the informant-only measure of relationship quality. 
Potential Indirect Effects 
We tested whether people with greater self-knowledge had better relationships independent of the desirability of their personalities. Recall that we predicted that self-knowledge has intrinsic value, and thus self-knowledge should remain a significant predictor of relationship quality even after controlling for other positive characteristics. Consistent with this hypothesis, individual differences in self-knowledge were not significantly correlated with informant-ratings of personality, attractiveness, or intelligence (see Table 1). Furthermore, the relationship between self-knowledge and relationship quality remained significant and positive after controlling for these variables in a single multiple regression (β = .206, p = .001) suggesting that the relationship between self-knowledge and relationship quality is robust and independent of other characteristics. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that self-knowledge has value on its own.
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations (SD), and Correlations (r) with Self-knowledge and Relationship Quality.  
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We next tested the possibility that people with greater self-knowledge were more predictable, and that predictability, rather than self-knowledge, accounted for their better relationships. Perhaps the typical behavior of people who had greater self-knowledge was actually easier for anyone to know, not just the self. In other words, we wanted to explore if people liked others with self-knowledge simply because people with self-knowledge acted in typical or predictable ways. We were also concerned that what looked like self-knowledge could simply be an artifact of being predictable (i.e., anyone could predict this person’s behavior) rather than the result of insight unique to the self. Therefore, it was important to examine potential effects of predictability (or “knowability”) on relationship quality. If our effect is actually due to predictable people having better relationships, then informants who had more accurate perceptions of participants’ daily behavior on the ACT (e.g., time spent talking, laughing, or attending class) would report higher relationship quality with participants. To test the predictability explanation, we computed an informant-knowledge score that was exactly analogous to the self-knowledge score for each participant. In other words, the informant-knowledge score was computed as the profile correlation between informant-ratings of behavior (on the ACT) and behavioral codings of actual daily behavior (from the EAR recordings) across 17 items, then converted to Fisher z values. This informant-knowledge score represents how predictable participants were to the informants. We examined whether informant knowledge was associated with relationship quality. The fact that it was not (r = –.12, p = .283) provides evidence against the explanation that the results were driven by predictability rather than self-knowledge. Furthermore, self-knowledge remained a significant predictor of relationship quality when controlling for informant-knowledge in a regression (β = .391, p = .001), which suggests that predictability did not drive the effect of self-knowledge on relationship quality. 
Another consideration is whether participants knowingly changed their behavior to be consistent with their ACT answers, which would suggest that our measure of self-knowledge actually measured individual differences in the extent to which participants were intentionally acting in line with their self-views while wearing the EAR. This prospect is unlikely for several reasons. First, participants did not know that their answers would be compared to their actual behavior recorded with the EAR, mitigating the demand to appear consistent. Second, participants completed other questionnaires unrelated to the current analyses during the session in which they completed the ACT, making it unlikely that they could monitor their behavior to act in accord with the answers they provided on all questionnaires. Third, some items were not entirely under participants’ control (e.g., time spent commuting). Fourth, because participants did not know when the recorder was on, they would have had to monitor their behavior constantly for four days. Therefore, we are confident that participants who accurately reported how they typically behave possessed self-knowledge rather than a proclivity to change their behaviors to fit their answers. 
Thus, our findings show that self-knowledge of behavior is associated with better relationships. Furthermore, by ruling out several potential alternative explanations for this association, we have presented evidence supporting the notion that self-knowledge may have an independent, direct effect on relationship quality. That is, self-knowledge may have intrinsic value for interpersonal relationships. 
General Discussion 
This study showed that people have good relationships with others who possess self-knowledge of their daily behavior. This effect existed even when controlling for the fundamental tendency to rate people with desirable personality traits as good relationship partners [49]. We measured self-knowledge by comparing people’s self-reports to an objective, ecologically valid criterion. Perceivers reported having better relationships with people who possessed self-knowledge, measured objectively, than with people who lacked self-knowledge. Thus, knowing oneself is a marker of good relationships. 
Potential Mechanisms 
Why do self-knowledgeable people have better relationships? One possibility that we sought to provide support for is that self-knowledge has intrinsic value–or, in Aristotle’s words, is a virtue–and people prefer others who possess this virtue. In other words, we proposed that there is a direct relationship between self-knowledge and liking because self-knowledge is itself a desirable quality. The results are consistent with this explanation. When someone had self-knowledge, informants reported having better relationships with her or him. This effect held even after controlling for other positive characteristics like informants’ ratings of intelligence, emotional stability, and agreeableness. Self-knowledge continued to predict relationship quality after controlling for perceptions of people’s other positive qualities. 
Of course, ruling out one potential set of instrumental benefits does not prove that self-knowledge has intrinsic value. There are other potential practical benefits of self-knowledge that may account for its link to relationship quality. For example, self-knowledge may confer a diffuse set of skills, not captured by broad traits, that are conducive to good relationships. For example, people with self-knowledge might be in a better position to make appropriate decisions for themselves or recognize and utilize their strengths and weaknesses. Our findings show that the link between self-knowledge and relationship quality cannot be accounted for by Big Five traits, attractiveness, or intelligence (informant-rated), but perhaps these constructs do not capture some of the practical advantages of self-knowledge. Discovering precisely which aspects of personality or behavior self-knowledge bolsters or enables to create better relationships, if any, is worthy of further empirical inquiries. 
Finally, the causal arrow may go in the other direction–people with strong relationships may have greater self-knowledge because their strong relationships help them learn about themselves (e.g., through direct or indirect feedback; [50] [51] [52]). We suspect that all three of these processes (intrinsic value, instrumental value, and reverse causation) play some role in explaining why self-ignorant people are less well-liked–self-knowledge likely has both intrinsic and instrumental value, and it may lead to a “virtuous cycle” whereby good relationships help to foster even better self-knowledge. 
Conclusions and Future Directions 
Is self-knowledge good? Although this study cannot speak to its intrapsychic costs or benefits, our results show that self-knowledge seems to be related to important interpersonal benefits. This study cannot and should not end the debate about the benefits of self-knowledge versus various types of self-deception, but the findings presented here raise several important and new possibilities. First, as researchers and theorists are beginning to demonstrate (e.g., [15] [20][14]), the consequences of self-knowledge and self-deception are likely not limited to the self. People’s traits and behaviors form the foundation of their interpersonal interactions and relationships, and the consequences of people’s awareness (or lack thereof) of these traits and behaviors also likely extend to their social worlds. Thus, although the study of self-knowledge is inherently self-focused, it is likely a fruitful avenue for examining the antecedents of interpersonal outcomes such as relationship stability and satisfaction, social network dynamics, and occupational outcomes. We hope future research will examine whether self-knowledge is associated with positive or negative outcomes across a wide range of interpersonal domains. 
Second, as is often the case, obtaining ecological validity comes at the price of increased effort for participants, coders, and experimenters, but for certain questions, is a worthwhile endeavor[36]. Given the challenges inherent to measuring self-knowledge (e.g., finding an accurate, appropriate benchmark against which self-views can be compared), the approach used here could serve as a blueprint for other operationalizations of self-knowledge. Specifically, profile correlations between a set of self-views and a set of objective, naturalistic criterion measures are a promising way to measure individual differences in self-knowledge while avoiding many of the confounds inherent to the social comparison and self-insight approaches. The EAR is a powerful tool for obtaining objective and naturalistic criterion measures and can be used to study a diverse range of behaviors and populations. Future research should examine the convergence between this and other operationalizations of self-knowledge (e.g., Kwan et al.’s SRM-based approach [4]). 
The results presented here also point to the need for more comprehensive examinations of self-knowledge and interpersonal processes. For example, a longitudinal approach would shed light on the development of self-knowledge over time and the causal relationships between self-knowledge and interpersonal adjustment. Does self-knowledge increase throughout adulthood? Do increases in self-knowledge lead to improvements in social connectedness? What kinds of self-knowledge are important and across what domains? We do not know if self-knowledge functions similarly in all situations. 
Finally, the results presented here also highlight the need for more controlled investigations into the causes and consequences of self-knowledge. What interventions or experimental manipulations might increase self-knowledge and affect subsequent social interactions? Inquiries about the consequences of self-knowledge can be traced back to Socrates, Freud, and other classic philosophical thinkers, but a unified investigation of self-knowledge in social and personality psychology is new, and many questions remain [8] [35]. Given the extraordinary importance of interpersonal relationships for our social species [53] [54], self-knowledge could have great social value that has heretofore been overlooked.
Supporting Information 
Appendix S1.ACT items in analyses.
Author Contributions 
Performed the experiments: SV MRM. Analyzed the data: ERT SV. Wrote the paper: ERT SV MRM. 
Funding: The preparation of this manuscript was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. 
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. 
Acknowledgments: Thanks to John Doris, Don A. Moore, and Timothy D. Wilson for their valuable comments.