A small scale study involving two children aged 8 and 16 to recognise aspects of Rosenberg’s findings on how a child’s self-descriptions and characteristics change with age.
This study examines the theory of Rosenberg (1989) that the characteristics of a child’s self-description changes with age. Namely, the researcher investigates how a child describes themselves changes with age as a result of experience, social interaction and knowledge. A primarily qualitative analysis with some quantitative analysis was carried out on two pre-existing semi structured interviews of two children a boy aged 16, and a girl aged 8. Using Rosenberg’s (1979) categorical analysis, in part the results showed that age does play a part in how a child’s self-description changes with age and an older child is more likely to focus on emotions and inner feelings when talking about themselves as opposed to a younger child who is more likely to focus of external behaviour and characteristics.
This study aims to understand the relationship between how individual talks about themselves, and how these change with age thus creating their own identity. Identity is how a person views themselves and how others view that person. Initial work by Cooley and Mead ( 1902) found evidence that people build their own identity based on reactions of others towards them and that that children could not form a sense of self without feedback from others,” ( as cited in Meill & Ding, p. 134 ) He referred to this as the “looking glass self”. Evidence was drawn from the “feral child case” whereby, a young boy was discovered living in the wild but had limited understanding of the world around him lacking in social skills due to minimal interaction with others. (Meill & Ding, 2005)
(Lewis, 1961) found evidence to support Cooley and Meads (1902) initial findings and theorised that a true sense of self happens over a period of time and changes dependant of a child’s age. The theories of Lewis (1961) consisted of two stages, the self as an object, (the categorical self) consisting of the characteristics that define an individual – age, gender, name and the relationship that child has with others. The second stage (the existential self) refers to the self as a subject and this is gained as a result of personal development, experience and the social connections with others.
(Maccoby, 1980) suggested that “building an identity and achieving self-awareness is a long term project” (as cited in Meill et al, p.131) and that children cannot form a true sense of oneself without feedback from others, therefore could not fully develop without the two aspects working together.
Bannister and Agnew (1977) found that as children get older they become more accomplished at recognising themselves mentally from others, and additionally as they become older become better equipped at seeing themselves in a more distinctive way. Younger children have a tendency to depict and separate themselves by using physical characteristics and behaviours whereas older children rely more on mental characteristics and feelings. Following on from these ideas Rosenberg (1979) put forward his own theories.
Rosenberg (1979) noted that as a child gets older they describe themselves with more internal qualities such as personal beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, state of mind, wishes and insider facts and they were less likely to use character attributes to characterise themselves. The Younger children’s descriptions were more to do with interpersonal attributes such as external behaviours, descriptions and characteristic’s.
Harter (1983) also found that the aspects that children talk about change with age. She reviewed interviews of children talking about themselves; she found that younger children tended to focus objective facts and external behaviour whereas, as the children got older the focus shifted to internal factors such as personal beliefs, feelings, emotions and attitudes.
This study is aimed to demonstrate how a child perceives them self by self-description and how the characteristics they display change with age by using Rosenberg’s Categories of analysis. It is predicted that the differences between how Annie and Adam describe themselves should be significantly different with the younger child Annie, displaying more external characteristics and the older child Adam displaying more internal and personal characteristics within the meanings of the research question “who are you? (Meill et al 2005)
The two children a boy aged 16 and a girl aged eight who were interviewed separately were asked to write up to 10 statements about themselves. One of the children, Annie the six year old girl was only able to write six so those six were just taken into account. The data was analysed for Rosenberg’s concept of Developmental Trend of Self Awareness and Rosenberg’s categories were applied to this data. Then the “Locus of Self Knowledge” was Considered and analysed and a theme on the “self” was identified using thematic analysis.
The participants (an eight year old girl and a sixteen year old boy) from Milton Keynes were provided by the Open University which obtained consent from the participants to use the interviews for research purposes. The study involved some quantitative analysis but it is primarily a qualitative study. The participants were interviewed separately by two different interviewers who were not previously known to the participants.
Materials and apparatus
The researcher an Open University psychology student, analysed the pre-existing material (the two semi structured interviews) comprising of a DVD. (The Open University, 2005 video band 3, self-concept interviews) and a transcript provided by the OU with the time taken with responses also recorded from beginning to end. The transcript provided the conversation between the interviewer and the child from start to end.
Rosenberg’s categories were used in the analysis of the interviews referring to the DVD and transcripts noting the researchers own perception the themes of Rosenberg (1989) they were physical, the character, relationships and inner. These were identified on a category analysis form (see appendix 2 & 3) which were used to mark and record the different themes identified. The second part of the analysis involved the locus of knowledge and analysing the results separately then to conclude thematic analysis was applied to see if there were any reoccurring themes within the data. The interviewers examined the same subject theme of “who are you?” ( Miell et al, 2005)
The data collection complied with the BPS of code of ethics. Informed consent was obtained from the participant and their parents (for children under 16) The Interviewer made sure that the participants did not suffer from any physical or psychological harm as a result of their research. The children were fully briefed on the procedure and reminded of their right to withdraw at any time. The participants were debriefed at the end and thanked for their participation. No ethical issues were raised.
Table 1. A comparison of Annie and Adam‘s Categories of self-description (see appendix 1)
Percentages for Annie.
Percentages for Adam.
The aim of this study was to see if the content of Annie (8) and Adam (16) interviews’ reflected a difference in the descriptions of one’s self (see table 1.) Adam as predicted, made 100 % more Inner statements compared to Annie, which supports Rosenberg’s theories that an older child would focus more on descriptions of Inner feelings than a younger child. It was also predicted that Annie (the younger child would have scored higher in the Physical category. 67% of her answers fell into the physical category compared to Adams 40 %. It was expected that as an older child the physical category would have had a lower score, but Adam enjoys the physical side of his life and is very active with sport etc. Surprisingly, Adam also scored 100 % higher than Annie in the Character category. According to Rosenberg’s theories, it was to be expected that the younger child Annie would have scored higher in this category. If the participant pool had been on a larger scale this may well have been the case.
Locus of self-Knowledge
Despite the difference in age and gender both children agreed, (when questioned who would know best, themselves or their respective mothers) that it would be their mothers who would know best. There was consistency in the way the questions were asked to both children but the answers were for different reasons. Adam showed displays of inner concepts in his answer that his mother probably would know best and gave emotional justifications for this “she always seemed to be in control of situations particularly his schooling.” He gave another example of this when he described his mother at parents evening and “how they could predict what the other was thinking.” (Theory of mind) Annie of the other hand laughs and gives a more simplistic explanation of her mother claiming she just “knows best” as if that is what was to be expected as she was the parent. However, how close a family is bonded or a sense of a more established sense of inner self could also explain both their reasoning in their answers.
Two themes that were identified using thematic analysis were gender differences, although both sexes enjoyed football, it was viewed by both the participants as a traditionally male sport. The second theme that was identified was self-awareness of one’s self and both participants described how they thought they would be described by others.
The aim of this study was to see if the content of Adam and Annie’s interviews reflected a difference in the descriptions of themselves, to identify the locus of knowledge and in addition any of themes.
Adam said “when he’s older, he would like to be a leader, or something with power, and I’d been really strong as a leader.” (Referring to When he was football captain (25.33) which suggests that he still regards himself as developing and growing. This provides evidence for Harter (1983) theory that as a child gets older the focus shifts to more internal factors such as personal beliefs, feelings, emotions and attitudes. However Annie said “I love rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs” (3.36) which is a simple external statement and can be linked back to Rosenberg (1979) theory that Younger children were more likely to describe interpersonal attributes
Although it appears that both children are able to express themselves Adam wrote ten “I am “statements whereas Annie only wrote six. This may suggest that a younger child may be more limited to expression of themselves.
Both Annie and Adam acknowledge when asked “who would know best, themselves or their mothers? “That indeed, their mothers would probably know better than themselves and they both trust their respective parental judgement. This is referred to as the locus of knowledge.
The two themes that were identified were gender and self-awareness. Adam refers to his passion about football (2.18) “ if I am just walking with my friends and see a football match I will stop and watch it, if it’s on TV I’ll watch it, and I will stop what I am doing if someone asks me to play” He pinpoints when his passion started (2.57) when his” father first gave him his very own ball “ There is a sense of pride in the way he speaks about his father giving him this ball , as if it is a male bonding between them. Annie has also identified that football is traditionally a male hobby. She refers to herself ( 11.24) As “ being the same as Georgina because we are both tomboys and we love football “ Even at six years old Annie has come to forma belief about the notion of masculiNIty and feminINity. Evidence from (Maccoby, 1980) suggested that “building an identity and achieving self-awareness is a long term project” (as cited in the early development of identity, p.131) and those children cannot form a true sense of oneself without feedback from others.
The second theme that was identified was self-awareness. Annie identifies herself as being “ a kind person, and if you got to know me you like me” ( 18.32) and Adam describes his interest in clothes and how his friends perceive him for working in the shop “ they are always impressed with me “ ( 8.53) These statements link to that of Lewis ( 1961) who found that “ a true sense of self happens over a period of time and changes dependant of a child’s age Which consisted of two stages, the self as an object, (the categorical self) and the later second stage (the existential self) which was gained as a result of personal development.
There are limitations when using discourse analysis as it is problematic when trying to evaluate the findings of research as the interpreter may not have correctly interpreted the meanings of the participants which raise the issue of intercoder reliability or another interpreter may have coded the answers differently.
One of the problems that did arise within this study is validity as the comparison is it a not like for like comparison as Adam gave ten “ I am “ statements but Annie only gave six so there was a methodical flaw to begin.
In order to improve on the methodology of this study, the participant number in each age group could be increased to take into consideration individual differences between children. Also it would be interesting to interview children from different cultures to see if that made a difference in the findings.
This study shows partial support for Rosenberg (1979) findings as Adam (16) focussed on Inner feeling, Physical characteristics whereas Annie (6) focussed more on physical characteristics and relationships. It was to be expected that Adam would have scored higher than Annie in the relationship category although this study did not allow for individual and developmental differences, what had been learnt socially and the closeness of the individuals family unit. The younger child did use more self-descriptions than the older child in the relationship catagory which offers partial support Rosenberg’s findings.
To conclude, the findings show partial support for Rosenberg (1979) theories with evidence that self descriptions change in stages as a child matures with different aspects of identity being more significant at different ages and stages with the focus shifting from external characteristics of a younger child to the inner feelings and beliefs of an older child as a result of knowledge and experience. There is room for more research to be done in this area by using a larger participant pool and children from other cultures.
Bannister, D. and Agnew, J. (1977) (as cited in The Open University, 2013, ED209, Tam 04 practical available from: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=345577§ion=1.2.1 (Accessed Feb 2014)
Cooley, C.H & Mead, G.H. (1902) as cited in Ding, S and Meill, D (2005) p.134.
Ding, S & Meill, D, (2005) “ The early development of identity” in Ding, S and Littleton, K. (eds) Childrens Personal and Social Development, Oxford, Blackwell, The Open University.
George, R., Oates, J. and Wood, C. (Eds) (2006) Methods and Skills Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Harter, S. (1983) as cited in Ding, S and Miell, D (2005) p.129
Lewis, M. (1961) as cited in Ding, S and Meill, D (2005) p.132.
Maccoby, E. (1980) as cited in Ding, S and Meill, D (2005) p.130.
Rosenberg (1979) (as cited in The Open University, 2013, ED209, Tma 04 practical available from: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=345577§ion=1.2.1 (Accessed Feb 2014)
The Open University (2006) ED209 Child Development, Media Kit Part 2, Audio Band 3: Self Concept Interviews.
Appendix 1. A comparison of Annie and Adam’s categories of self-description.
Percentages for Annie.
Percentages for Adam.
Appendix 2. Category Analysis form for Annie.
I like doing Harry Potter Lego.
I love rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs.
I think one of my hobbies is using the TV remote control.
I’m really good at maths but get stuck on telling the time.
I’m not very good at remembering.
I like doing things out of my own free will.
Overall total = 6
(Column total / Overall Total x 100)
Appendix 3 Category Analysis form for Adam.
I’m a sporty person and love playing and watching football.
I have high ambitions for my life.
I work part time in a shop called Base.
I like to go shopping with my friends.
I support Newcastle United.
I have five dogs which compete at shows.
I enjoy P.E and Humanities at school.
I’d like to think I am smart.
I am worried about my G.C.S.E s .
I’d like to be a leader.
Overall Total = 10
(column total / Overall total x 100