The social construction of self

Social interaction builds self-awareness

The broad aim of this line of research is to explore the social construction of self. One way to achieve this is to explore cross-cultural differences in the early development of self-awareness.

In some countries early caregiver-infant interactions are characterized by high levels of proximal physical contact, whereas in others, distal contact strategies (high levels of speech and mutual eye gaze) are most commonly used.  Culturally distinct experiences such as these may scaffold collectivistic (interdependent) versus individualistic (independent) concepts of self.


The mirror mark test, to pass the child has to reach to touch the ‘surprise’ sticker

In support of this claim, we find that the quality of early caregiver-infant interaction can be used to predict infants’ pass rates on self-recognition tasks. Specifically, infants exposed to an individualistic parenting style have the advantage in a task requiring recognition of the self as a distinct individual (the mirror mark test of self-recognition), whereas infants exposed to a collectivist parenting style have the advantage in a task requiring recognition of the self as an interdependent object in the environment (the body-as-obstacle task).

Remarkably, this is among the first data to empirically substantiate the idea that social factors play a role in the early construction of self (see: Ross, J., Yilmaz, M., Dale, R., Cassidy, R., Yildirim, I. & Zeedyk, M.S. (2016). Cultural differences in self-recognition: The early development of autonomous and related selves? Developmental Science.doi: 10.1111/desc.12387). An accessible summary is also provided by the British Psychological Society Research digest (here).

It is also possible to explore the influence of social interaction within cultures. I am currently contributing to a longitudinal project in collaboration with Dr. Mandy Yilmaz, University of Chester, exploring the relationship between early experiences of autonomous parenting on the early development of self-awareness in a Scottish sample. In 2017, PhD student Yaroslava Goncharova was welcomed to the lab, working on a project which aims to explore the bidirectional links between early social interaction and developing ideas of self.