Physical self-concepts are usually acquired before psychological self-concepts. The child thus has an image of his physical characteristics before he is aware of his abilities and disabilities, his wants and needs, his roles in life, and his aspirations. In building up his physical self-concepts, however, the child is not emotionally uninvolved. In discussing the physical self-concept, Jersild has stressed that “the body image is not just a photographic impression: in common with all other aspects of the way in which a person views himself, it is likely to be colored by feelings and attitudes”. Emotions also intrude on the development of psychological and self-concepts. In fact, this explains why physical and psychological self-concepts are so persistent and so difficult to change.
Gradually, the physical and psychological self-images fuse. When this happens, usually during late childhood, the feelings and attitudes accompanying the self-images will be fused also. Before the fusion, the young child perceives the physical and psychological aspects of him as quit distinct. Each year, as his intellectual capacities develop and as his experiences broaden, new qualities and new potentials are added to his gradually fusing physical and psychological self-concepts. By late childhood, when the fusion is completed he thinks of himself as one whole and single unit.
The physical self-concept begins to develop when the baby discovers the difference between himself and others. A fairly predictable pattern has been reported for the baby’s self-discovery from looking at himself in a mirror. At the age of 18 weeks, the baby notices himself in the mirror. Between 22 and 23 weeks, he plays with his image as if it were someone else. This has been called the playmate stage of self-discovery. Between the sixth and seventh months, the baby tries to relate his mirror image to himself. This he does by repetitive activity, such as opening and closing his mouth or by moving his hand or foot while observing his mirror image to see if there is a relationship between what he is doing and what he sees. The final stag, called the coy stage. Occurs around the ninth month when the baby seems to derive great pleasure from making faces and then laughing at them. By the time the child is a year old; his behavior shows true self-recognition. This is the basis from which his physical self-concept develops.
That a baby can distinguish himself from others even before he recognizes himself as a person is even before he recognizes himself as a person is apparent in the shyness he shows in the presence of others. Shyness appears first around the age of 6 months and may be accompanied by crying if some one frowns or speaks harshly to the child’s awareness of the difference between himself and others is expressed in negativism and in many other ways.
By comparing the size and shape of his own body with the bodies of other children and by hearing comments about his looks, the young child adds new meaning to his developing physical self-concept. Awareness of sex differences and of the clothing and hair styles associated with members of the two sexes comes around the age of 3 or 4 year. Also at this time, the child begins to identify himself as belonging to a certain ethnic or racial group, basing his identification on such physical characteristics as skin color and hair. By the age of 5 year, he expresses his self-concept in ethnic terms, such as white, black, Italian, or Jewish. When a child has parents of different ethnic backgrounds, he may not be able to identify himself as belonging to specific group.
Physical self-concepts change as bodily changes occur. When bodily changes are slow and relatively minor, as in later childhood ads early adulthood however the individual’s attention is focused in his rapidly changing appearance, and his physical self-concept changes from that of a child to that of an adult or near-adult. The person approaching old age likewise changes his physical self-concept. He may reluctantly give up thinking of himself as an adult in the prime of life and come to see himself as elderly and unattractive.
The psychological self-concept includes the person’s attitudes toward his abilities and disabilities, his special aptitudes, his roles in life, his responsibilities, and his hopes and aspirations. This self-concept develops later than the physical self-concept. Before it can develop, the person must have sufficient reasoning ability to be able to assess his capacities and abilities in terms of socially approved standards and compare him with others.
Social contacts with siblings provide the basis for the individual’s first assessment of his abilities. The child compares himself what he can do and how well he can do it with both younger older siblings. Later, he compares himself with children outside the home. Still later, as an adolescent and as an adult, he compares his abilities with those of his classmates in high school and college, of his coworkers in the business world, and of members of the community with whom he comes in contact in social activities.
Concepts of the roles one is expected to play, of responsibilities, and of aspirations follow much the same pattern of development. They originate in the individual’s relationships with his parents and teachers, and are later molded by contacts with peers, by reading, movies, television, and other forms of mass communication, and by members of the opposite sex for whom the individual has a romantic attachment. As was pointed out earlier, a girl who thinks scientists make bad husbands will encourage her boyfriend not to enter a scientific career. Similarly, men’s aspirations are often influence by the aspirations of their wives.