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Self-discrepancies and negative affect: A primer on when to look for specificity, and how to find it

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jill Francis


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Abstract There is substantial evidence that discrepancies within the self-system produce emotional distress. However, whether specific types of discrepancy are related to different types of negative affect remains contentious. At the heart of self-discrepancy theory (SDT: Higgins, 1987, 1989) is the assumption that different types of discrepancies are related to distinctive emotional states, with discrepancies between the actual and ideal selves being uniquely related to dejection-related emotion and discrepancies between the actual and ought selves being uniquely related to agitation-related emotion. Research examining this proposition has demonstrated that the magnitudes of these discrepancies are substantially correlated. As a result, some researchers have questioned whether they are functionally independent (e.g., Tangney, Niedenthal, Covert, & Barlow, 1998). In addition, other researchers have failed to support the hypothesized unique relationships (e.g., Ozgul, Heubeck, Ward, & Wilkinson, 2003). Together these two types of research finding have been interpreted as presenting a challenge to SDT. It is our contention that this interpretation is inaccurate. In this paper, we review the assumptions made when testing for these distinct relationships. Specifically, we examine the necessary conditions under which the functional independence of discrepancies is apparent, and the statistical methods appropriate to test these relationships. We also comment on the measurement of self-discrepancies, and fundamental problems in the interpretation of null findings. We conclude that studies using appropriate methodological and statistical procedures have produced ample evidence that discriminant relationships exist, and we encourage researchers to further investigate the conditions under which these relationships are most apparent.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Boldero JM, Moretti MM, Bell RC, Francis JJ

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Australian Journal of Psychology

Year: 2005

Volume: 57

Issue: 3

Pages: 139-147

ISSN (print): 0004-9530

ISSN (electronic): 1742-9536


DOI: 10.1080/00049530500048730