Our Selves in the Future: New Angles on Possible Selves

Detta är en avhandling från Department of Psychology, Box 213, SE-221 00 Lund

Sammanfattning: Possible selves are conceptions or images of ourselves in future states or situations. The theory about possible selves used in the present thesis was developed in a social cognitive tradition of research on the self, where the self is seen as a knowledge structure (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Possible selves are parts of this knowledge structure and possible selves are of importance for motivation and well-being. The focus of this thesis differs from the mainstream literature on possible selves, first because the thesis has an explicit focus on possible selves as experienced meaning, and second because the thesis has a broad view of possible selves, where all kinds of possible selves are of interest. Study I is theoretical, and from a discussion of how possible selves are defined in the literature, it is argued that there are some common misconceptions about possible selves. It is suggested that the reason for this is that the definitions in the original literature can be misapprehended. It is therefore argued that there is a need for a more specific definition, which is suggested to include, (1) the concept of agency, (2) an emphasis of the role of the self-concept in relation to possible selves, and (3) that possible selves, as defined in the literature, is a matter of meaning and not just information processes. It is argued that possible selves are narratives about being an agent in a future situation, and that there is interdependency between possible selves and other parts of the self-concept. This interdependency ought to be made explicit in order to understand the working of possible selves. Study II is empirical, but continues the critical discussion of the previous literature, arguing that current instruments used to investigate possible selves are at risk to include phenomena not consistent with the definitions of possible selves. A new instrument, the Possible Selves Statements Test (PSST) is presented, which allows participants to report their possible selves freely, and to rate their emotional value, probability and possibility to be influenced. In an empirical study, students completed the PSST. The results showed that half of the reported possible selves were described as having both negative and positive emotional value, strongly suggesting that it is an oversimplification to see possible selves as either positive or negative, as previously has been the case. The numerical rating scales in PSST showed that the complex individual meaning of a possible self can make two individuals' possible selves very different even if the descriptions in words is very similar. Study III takes its departure from Study II, arguing that there are several benefits with a general typology of possible selves. A general typology of nine kinds of possible selves is suggested, where seven of the categories are theoretically derived and two are suggested from the result of an empirical investigation with PSST. The typology is based on the combined function of four meaning-components: Positive valence, negative valence, controllability, and probability. It is argued that the typology, together with PSST, can be a versatile tool in investigations of possible selves, for instance in comparisons between groups.

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