April 4, 2009

the implicit self

This past week’s readings on the self concerned the implicit or automatic self. The implicit/automatic self are those self-evaluations and goals that are most practiced and evaluated. Those representations are activated so often that they eventually become ingrained into the unconscious and become automated. This idea of the implicit self is related to the concept of the adaptive unconscious. We do not have the cognitive resources to deal with all the stimuli that we are presented with in our environment. Instead the unconscious takes on much of the workload.

It seems that much of our behavior is guided by goals that are outside of our conscious awareness. Once non-conscious goals are activated by the outside world, we are motivated to pursue those goals. Take the above picture for example. Cats are predatory animals and often like to attack birds among other things. This goal is activated so often that it's unconscious (and in the cat's case, probably instinctual). Nonetheless, when the cat's goal of attacking birds is activated, it strikes, even though the chicken (or rooster or whatever) is so much bigger. This is just an example that I'm using, but that's pretty much how non-conscious goals work for humans. Activation of non-conscious goals even help us persist in the face of obstacles. Such evidence seems to support the prior argument for forming implementation intentions.
For implementation intentions, one would form and practice a self-regulation goal until it is automated. Then once that goal is activated, he/she would be guided to pursue that goal (self-regulate). This idea is even more interesting, after reading up on non-conscious goal pursuit. If non-conscious goals are formed when one does not have the cognitive resources to pursue the goal consciously, and they make you persist in the face of obstacles, then perhaps implementation intentions really do have a minimal effect on regulatory resources. Though, I still think that it would take some energy to complete the goal and am not convinced that non-conscious goal pursuit would not deplete self-regulatory resources at all.

On another note, our implicit associations seem to have a strong effect on our behavior. For instance, for the most part, we like ourselves, so much so that we hold positive implicit self-associations. These associations make us favor things that resemble the self. People are more likely to live in cities that resemble their names. We’re more likely to favor people who have the same birthday as us. We’re even more likely to prefer teas, crackers, chocolates, etc. that share letters with our names. Additionally, when our self-worth is threatened, we compensate by having higher implicit self-esteem.

The implicit self is separate from the explicit self. In fact, Rudman et al. explained that “the picture that emerges is not of a unitary self, but of one composed of multiple subsystems that can operate in tandem or apart.” This is very interesting to me. It is remarkably similar to the Social Cognitive Interface theory of the self, which states that the self is a collection of cognitive modules that help us navigate the social world, but their actions are outside of our conscious awareness. I think the evidence from the research on implicit egotism and self-esteem are congruent with predictions from the SCI perspective. It would make sense that we would unconsciously seek out, and prefer things that are similar to us. People who are similar to us are probably more likely to accept us. Also, often times when we are threatened, we unconsciously compensate by gaining in implicit self-esteem. This compensation leads to an increased intergroup bias. Essentially, we’ll be more likely to favor groups that we are a part of. This, again, makes sense from the SCI perspective. In the evolutionary past, if we were threatened, it would be better to seek out the groups that we belonged to for protection. Of course, this increased intergroup bias has negative social side-effects for groups we are not a part of. This is more of a problem in modern times because different groups live in such close proximity to each other now. I think this issue would be good to explore further.

Citations for further reading:

Bargh, J. A., Gollwitzer, P. M., Lee-Chai, A., Barndollar, K., Trotschel, R. (2001). The automated will: Nonconscious activation and pursuit of behavioral goals. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 81, 1014 – 1027.

Fitzsimons, G. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2003). Thinking of you: Nonconscious pursuit of interpersonal goals associated with relationship partners. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84, 148 – 164.

Koole, S. L., Dijksterhuis, A., & Knippenberg, A. (2001). What’s in a name: Implicit self-esteem and the automatic self. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 80, 669 – 685.

Pelham, B. W., Carvallo, M., & Jones, J. T. (2005). Implicit egotism. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 106 – 110.

Rudman, L., Dohn, M. C., & Fairchild, K. (2007). Implicit self-esteem compensation: Automatic threat defense. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 798 – 813.


Adam said...

Very interesting stuff. I always knew there was a reason I was drawn to the Price is Right game "Plinko" and the movie "Sgt. Bilko":)

Adam Blincoe

pr1ttyricky said...

haha. nice dude.