MaryAn Twible

University of New Hampshire



Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth A.L. Stine - Assistant Professor of Psychology 

(abstract updated 6/2003)

Adult Age Differences within the Actual and Possible Selves

The focus of this study has been to explore the concept of self as a dynamic composite of actual and possible selves (Cross & Markus, 1991) from a developmental perspective. Specifically, the challenge has been to determine whether the discrepancy between these types of selves dissipates with age. That is, does the self evolve from a dispersed array of undeveloped schema within a few domains to a more unified arrangement of well-defined schema that falls across several domains? Markus (1977) theorized that a developed self-schema should allow a person to easily access and process information about the self within a known category, while possible selves can serve to motivate an individual to change within that domain. Like Cross and Markus, Higgins (1987) states that discrepancy is psychologically uncomfortable and that one is driven to match the actual self to the hoped-for self and that discrepancy between the actual and ideal self-states will produce emotions associated with depression, such as disappointment, sadness, dissatisfaction, and

To test the idea of whether a developed schema affects one’s ability to process information about the self, subjects were tested individually in a laboratory setting designed by this researcher. They were asked to read a series of personal descriptors, which represented different domains of the self. Subjects were asked to make judgments about whether each descriptor matched their actual self and two kinds of possible selves (the ideal image of the self and the socially imposed ought self). Responses and reaction times were analyzed. As part of the investigation into the correlation between chronic unresolved discrepancy of the actual and possible selves and negative emotions such as depression and anxiety, subjects were given two questionnaires, the Beck Depression Inventory and the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. This researcher hypothesized that less discrepancy may be reflected in a more cohesive self, leading to a better state of mental well being.

Results showed that mature adults, in comparison to younger adults, expressed a greater overlap between actual and possible selves in the domain of occupation/education but less overlap in masculine and feminine characteristics. Furthermore, results supported the finding that discrepancy is correlated with depression and anxiety.

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