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Developmental Psychology on Self-Description - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 114
Self-Description/Developmental psychology/Upton: lt has been suggested that sense of self follows a set developmental sequence in which younger children define themselves in terms of concrete characteristics, while adolescents increasingly come to define themselves in terms of more abstract inner or psychological characteristics. This idea is based primarily on research that has shown that children’s self-descriptions change with age from observable and physical descriptions such as ‘I am tall’ to more psychological traits such as ‘I am friendly’ as, for example, in the classic study carried out by Rosenberg (1979)(1). It has been suggested that this developmental trend reflects children’s growing ability to distinguish themselves psychologically from others as they get older (Bannister and Agnew, 1977(2); Leavitt and Hall, 2004(3)). >Self/Rosenberg.
Upton I 117
Problems/VsRosenberg: 1.[Rosenberg’s study] was a cross-sectional study, so while differences may well have been observed in terms of the self-descriptions given by children at different ages, it is difficult to be absolutely certain that these differences reflect developmental change - only a longitudinal study could really confirm this interpretation.
2. Even if these changing descriptions do reflect a developmental change, how can we be sure that the developmental change is actually about understanding of self? Self-descriptions necessarily rely on linguistic ability — perhaps the developmental change that is reflected is in terms of increasing sophistication in language ability. It is quite possible that verbal language skills limited the younger children’s ability to communicate their knowledge of self.


1. Rosenberg, M (1979) Conceiving the Self. New York: Basic Books.
2. Bannister. D and Agnew, 1(1977) The child’s construing of self, in Cole, JK (ed.) Nebraska
Symposium on Motivation 1976. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska.
3. Leavitt, LA and Hall, D (2004 Social and Moral Development: Emerging evidence on the toddler years. Princeton, NJ: Johnson and Johnson Pediatric Institute.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Developmental Psychology
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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