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Influences of Self-Discrepancies on Perception and Body Dissatisfaction

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2059 words Published: 18th May 2020

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 Self-discrepancy theory is a multifaceted psychological framework that provides insight into how an individual’s values, beliefs and ideals translate to behaviours, specifically aiming to articulate how discrepancies between beliefs and self-ideals relate to emotional dejection (Higgins, 1987). In this essay, I will be exploring how self-discrepancies influence an individual’s perception of body ideals in relation to body dissatisfaction, critically evaluating the strengths and limitations this model holds in helping people understand the significance in their own body ideals. This essay will conclude with an outline of the key aspects needed to help build an intervention aimed at improving body image values and how this can be actively applied.

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The concept of the self is manifold and surmises various concepts that can be used to define the self (LR Vartanian, 2012). After realising its theoretical potential, former researcher Higgins REFERENCE explored the notion of ‘self’ in greater detail. His work explored how different types of self-beliefs and/or self-state representations produce emotional vulnerabilities. These emotional vulnerabilities form cognitive processes that influence our perception, resulting in the proposed self-discrepancy theory (SDT) (E. ToryHiggins, 1989). This theory posits two factors: basic domains of self-beliefs and standpoints on the self. The three domains of the self are; the actual self, the ideal self and the ought self. The actual self reflects the individual’s perception of the attributes that they possess, the ideal self includes attributes that one ideally wishes to possess, and the ought self includes attributes that one believes should possess as a sense of duty or moral obligation REFERNCE. 

Within the domain of one’s self, SDT further suggests there is distinction in the values created to satisfy the individual’s own personal ideals they may hold for themselves, versus the perspective they may hold for a significant other (Higgins, 1987). These cognitive dimensions are referred to as standpoints; your own personal standpoints and the standpoint of a significant other (mother, partner). Mixing each of these perspective domains of the self can result in several different combinations of self-states (i.e., actual/own, actual/other, ideal/own, ideal/other, ought/own, and ought/other), each associated with different forms of discomfort. Such negative emotions can arise when there is a difference between how individuals may view themselves in comparison to how they wish they viewed themselves or how others viewed them. For instance, the actual/own self-state and ideal self-state signify the absence of positive outcomes, an example of this would be.. The conflict between an individual’s wishes verses what they’ve settled for (I don’t understand this so I can’t try to fix it haha. How does the actual state equal absence of positive outcomes? Context would be good here). Failure to resolve such discrepancies can lead to dejection-related emotions such as unhappiness, disappointment, anxiety, guilt and shame REFERENCE. In contrast, actual/ought discrepancies to occur when a person does not live up to their ‘obligations’, signifying the presence of negative outcomes. Resulting in agitation-related feelings such as anxiety, fear, and edginess (Higgins, 1987).

Although SDT was developed to understand discrepant self-beliefs more broadly, its significance in understanding body discrepancies has proven extremely useful. As it allows us to understand how each self; actual, ought and ideal, can impact different psychological situations that an individual indures???REFERENCE. Just as discrepancies can exist in general characteristics, body image discrepancies stem from inconsistencies between people’s perceptions of their actual and ideal physical attributes. Research has found that the unrealistic images that society portrays through various advertisements, is highly associated with body image self-discrepancy (e.g., Lavine et al., 1999). In most cultures, it is common that the stereotype of a women is a thin body and for men is a muscular body. Notably, these stereotypes are unrealistic and unattainable for the average person. Showing to be most common in adolescent females, as they are faced with the most pressure to compare themselves to these unrealistic figures, e.g. models in magazines (Thompson, 1990). Comparing these societal promptedideal perspectives of the perfect figure with one’s actual perspectives of their own bodies, they are likely to fall short. Motivating individuals to engage in unhealthy behaviours and in some cases take extreme measures, resulting in a number of serious health problems such as various eating disorders, the use of steroids, cosmetic surgery and self-starvation REFERENCE. To target body image self-discrepancies and body dissatisfaction, we must first look at the core of the ‘self’ and how each domain effects such discrepancies.

Consecutive research has shown there to be a close link between the cognitive processes explored in self-discrepancy theory and negative body image. Due to this it is important to draw knowledge from the theory when designing interventions that aim to help improve body image. Based on the literature, discrepancies in self-image occur when individuals hold conflicting beliefs about personal characteristics and attributes that one would ideally like to have (actual: ideal) or believes one should possess (actual: ought) REFERENCE. Thus, to try and elicit positive behaviour change we must first explore the relationship between these two concepts; the person’s perception of their actual self and the perception of their ideal self (LR Vartanian, 2012). Targeting someone’s perception of their actual self and ideal self will help to change the way they view their body and how they wish they viewed their body, transforming such bias negative views into positive ones. Body discrepancies are assessed by comparing an individual’s actual body with societal standards. By targeting the relationship between the actual self and the ideal self would help break the idea that an individual is meant to look a certain way. Introducing positive and real expectations especially at a younger age

Another big contributor to an individual’s discrepancies are the beliefs concerning the attributes that a significant other would like you to ideally possess.

Adding pressure from an external source such as a partner or parent can double the

Overall, the results supported the application of Higgins’ self-discrepancy theory to body dissatisfaction. Self-discrepancies has shown to play an important role in understanding body image discrepancies and how they correlate to negative outcomes. Through critically evaluating the strengths and weakness the high level of negative impacts that SDT can have on an individual’s body satisfaction has become evident. However, to help improve the negative discrepancies we must first improve the way we view ourselves. As noted previously the pressure that western societies place on the importance of being thin and attractive is a sole contributor to such high negative discrepancies within individuals especially young females. In a better world it would be ideal to change this unrealistic stereotype. Further research in this area would be extremely beneficial, starting to target adolescents before they develop this cultural ideal physic. 

self-discrepancy theory has two key elements; the individual perception of one’s current self and the individuals self-guide or ideal self

The theory has been remarkably consistent across all groups; culture, age, and sexual orientation. Due to the consistency the theory can be applied to both males and females; however, majority of research is focused around adolescent females. As body image dissatisfaction is relatively common for college women in the United States). Due to this the intervention strategy is targeted more so at adolescent females but is not limited to.

The literature based around self-discrepancy has been generally supportive of the theory. As research suggests ..

The literature supported the theory of SDT, studies suggest that the acutal/ideal and the actual/ought discrepancies altered an individual’s levels of depression and anxiety through their everyday lives.

Self-discrepancies play an important role in understanding body image.

– Have all aspects of the theory been tested?  Does the literature support all of them? Are there some aspects that haven’t received much research attention?



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