Certainty-Oriented Persons Lack Interest In Discovering New Information About The Self Or The Environment

An Uncertainty-Oriented Person Is A “Need To Know” Type Who Is “Primarily Concerned With, And Interested In, Finding Out New Things About The Self Or The Environment.”
Prospectus Continued

Survey of Literature and Theoretical Foundation Continued

Self-Cognizing Research literature goes back to the objective self-awareness theory of Duval and Wicklund (1972) which holds that whenever a person takes himself or herself to be an object (in the form of self-focused attention) a negative affect will follow. Although I was originally drawn to the Self-Cognizing literature because I thought the negative affect discussed in the objective self-awareness theory could be directly attributed to the negated “me-self” component of the triadic self concept that I proposed, I found, after surveying the literature (Wicklund, 1975; Carver and Scheier, 1981; Gibbons, 1990,), that a negative affect, although a frequent occurrence, does not necessarily occur as a result of self-focused attention, i.e., whenever attention became fixed on a within-self dimension. The literature on Self-Cognition theory does contribute to this research project in other ways however. Self-Cognition theory tends to analyze human behavior in terms of “information processing,” and assumes that all information that is accessible to awareness originates in the environment and “in the person” (Carver and Scheier, 1981, p. 35.)

Self-focused attention may be attuned to public or private concerns. Evidence has been gathered to support the claim that a public self exists side by side with a private self (Froming and Walker,1980; Froming et al., 1981; Caver and Scheirer, 1981) and when attention is focused on the public self, – the self-presentational, public aspect of self – attention is likely to remain focused, according to Gibbons (1990, p.281), on the “feelings of group cohesion ….thereby promoting conformity with group norms and, when carried to an extreme, resulting in deindividuation. The deindividuated state, then, is characterized by a more or less constant absence of self-focus. When this happens, behavior essentially comes under control of the group” (Diener, 1979; Prentice-Dunn & Rogers, 1982). On the other hand, when attention is focused on the private aspect of self, on the feelings, opinions, motives, and behavioral tendencies of self, then self-focused attention has been found to “encourage a more careful and thoughtful consideration of the antecedents and the consequences of behavior” (Gibbons, 1983; Gibbons, 1990, p.255). The evidence gathered in these self-cognizing studies, particularly Froming and Walker (1980) and Froming et al. (1981), according to Carver, et al. (1981, p.320), “make it clear that different manipulations of self-attention can push behavior in different ways in the same situation by directing attention to different aspects of the self.” Significantly, as is demonstrated by these studies, when attention is directed inward (at the private self-consciousness dimension of self), an increase in the salience of cognitive boundaries occurs. As cognitive boundary salience increases, so to does the likelihood that a person’s attitudes and behaviors will change (alter, intensify).

More support for the claim that attention directed at the self initiates a salience generating cognitive process is accumulating in the literature of Self-Inference and Motivation. By investigating individual differences in uncertainty-oriented and certainty oriented persons Sorrentino et al. (1990, ed. Olson et al., p.242), found that an uncertainty-oriented person can be described as a “need to know” type who is “primarily concerned with, and interested in, finding out new things about the self or the environment.” Certainty-oriented persons, on the other hand, were found to ignore or avoid circumstances of fixed self-attention. Certainty-oriented persons demonstrated a lack of interest in, according to Sorrentino, “discovering new information about the self or the environment.”

While I understand that the attitudes and behaviors of uncertainty-oriented persons are not necessarily similar to the attitudes and behaviors of persons who score high on the Private Self-Consciousness Scale (Scheirer et. al., 1987), I cannot ignore the similarity that exists between the evaluative self-appraisal behavior that characterizes persons predisposed to private self-consciousness activity and the “need to know” type behavior that characterizes uncertainty-oriented persons. This similarity in behaviors seems to be, at least in part, brought on by the “need to acquire self-relevant information,” and, according to the Self-Cognizing literature, the trigger for this “need to acquire self-relevant information” gets jerked when attention becomes focused on the private aspect of self.

Investigating the implications that follow from this “need to acquire self-relevant information,” at least in those persons who demonstrate this need, is an important part of the research undertaken in this research project. Based on a careful reading of the above literature survey, there is a strong indication that the “need for self-relevant information” (in the people who develop or have this need) is as important in determining cognitive boundaries as is the heretofore mentioned principal determinants, or, socioeconomic status, linguistic expression, and cultural values.

If, in this research project, the data shows that persons who score high on the Private Self-Consciousness Scale are not as likely to hold prejudice attitudes towards racial minorities and persons with physical disabilities then persons who score low on the same scale, then another important similarity will, again, arise, between the attitudes of uncertainty-oriented persons and the attitudes of persons who score high on the Private Self-Consciousness Scale. “An uncertainty-oriented person,” according to Sorrentino et al., (ed. Olson et. al., 1990, p. 242), “is one who scores high on our projective measure of the need to resolve uncertainty, or n Uncertainty (Frederick, Sorrentino, & Hewitt, 1987), and low on a measure of authoritarianism (Byrne & Lamberth, 1971).” This result is not only important because it points out that uncertainty-oriented persons (i.e., persons who “need to acquire self-relevant information), tend not to hold prejudiced attitudes, it is also important because it seems to suggest that a reduction in the salience of cognitive boundaries (intergroup identities) facilates the likelihood of cooperative self-restrained behavior among individuals, and, this is one of the implications which I contend follows from the theory of an ambivalence shunning, salience generating triadic self.

Uncertainty-Oriented Persons Have A Tendency Not To Be Prejudiced, Bigoted, Opinionated, Or Sexist

Uncertainty-Oriented Persons Have A Tendency To Feel Helpless, Guilt, Discontent, And Loneliness

Prospectus Concluded

Summarizing, in this research project I will attempt to produce data that is consistent with and supportive of, the claim that cognitive boundaries are determined and shaped by the “need to acquire self-relevant information.” It is my contention that the “need to acquire self-relevant information” plays a significant role in the cognitive boundary formation process, perhaps, a role as significant as the more recognizable cognitive boundary determinants of socioeconomic status, linguistic expression and cultural values. In conjunction with producing relevant data to support this contention, I will also provide a theory of self, a salience generating triadic self (ambivalence/self), that offers a unique perspective upon which to base an explanation for: 1) why “rational conduct always involves a reflexive reference to self, that is, an indication to the individual of the significances which his actions or gestures have for other individuals” (Mead, 1936, p.122); 2) why “sensing ones individuality is thus connected with a self critical attitude, a sense of uncertainty or insufficiency” (Wicklund and Eckert, 1992, p.108)

[Footnote. With the answer to the second question I will also be able to answer why uncertainty-oriented persons have a tendency not to be prejudiced, bigoted, opinionated, or sexist (Sorrentino et al., 1986, p399); while, they also have a tendency to “feel helpless, guilt, discontent, and loneliness” (Sorrentino et al., ed. Olson et al., 1990, p. 248)]

And, 3) why the public, presentational aspect of self, – the Mead (1936), Cooley (1902), Goffman, (1963) variety of selves,- is not able to account for why “self-awareness occurs when aspects of the self [the private self] are more salient than environmental stimuli” (Gibbons, 1990, p.252).

Hypotheses And Methods

Towards a Toleration of Differences: Derivation of Hypotheses and Empirical Data.

Ambivalences are motivationally affective in directing the person to remove ambivalences. Emotional (parent child relations), voluntary (conflicting wishes), and cognitive (contradictory wishes) ambivalences can be neutralized by reactive behavior, e.g., repression, education, denial. Confronting ambivalence generating cognized conditions initiates a cognitive search for a counter proposal in order to neutralize the ambivalence. For instance, I would rather continue to work on this paper, but I have been invited over to a friend’s house. What should I do? The due date of the paper is not tomorrow, so I will choose to visit with my friend. This is an easy case, but, when the focus of attention is directed toward the self’s more ambivalence-prone covert nature, such as privately held beliefs, aspirations, values, and feelings, then neutralizing counter proposals are not so readily available. And further, if the ambivalence generating cognized condition becomes the self itself, i.e., self-identity, then no (satisfactory) ambivalence neutralizing counter proposal will be found. Self-identity centered ambivalence informs all other ambivalences. It is, according to Thom (1984, p. x.), “the most primitive of oppositions.”

Thus, a person encountering ambivalence will be motivated to escape
ambivalence by seeking a neutralizing counter proposal to ambivalence generating
cognized conditions. A prolonged search for ambivalence-reducing counter proposals will entail encounters with numerous unsatisfactory counter proposals. In this way ambivalence-generating cognized conditions stimulate self-awareness and self-conscious inquiry, and, depending on the nature of the ambivalence-generating cognized condition, e.g., life/death, egalitarian values/greed, to invest in the market/when to invest in the market, this inquiry may or may not succeed in producing a satisfactory counter proposal. The longer the search continues, however, the more likely cognitive boundaries will shift and cognitive horizons expand. Therefore, I hypothesize that the persons who engage in persistent private self-consciousness activity – evaluative self-appraisals, will be the same persons who are able and willing to deal with self-inflicted cognitive tensions, discords, variances, contrarieties, and uncertainties, and, these same persons will be the persons most likely to hold tolerant attitudes towards racial and ethnic minorities as well as maintain a respectful sensitivity toward persons with physical disabilities.

[Footnote. Billig (1987, p.250), in his inquiry concerning thought and the spirit of contradiction, expresses the significance of evaluative self-appraisals: “The switching of a stance, whether from criticism to justification or vice versa, can represent a process of self-discovery for the individual. Having been placed in a new rhetorical context, individuals may experience an unforeseen rising of the spirit of contradiction, and in this way they may encounter a new side to their attitudes and maybe to their own selves.”]

In order to test this hypothesis, a population of university students will be surveyed for their attitudes on prejudice and self-consciousness activity. The data gathered from this survey will be evaluated. If a large number of affirmative responses indicating prejudiced attitudes towards racial minorities and prejudiced attitudes towards persons with physical disabilities is recorded on the survey then those responses would indicate a highly prejudiced person. Data that supports the above mentioned hypothesis would result in respondents indicating a high score on questions indicating prejudiced attitudes and a low score on questions indicating private self-consciousness activity. Conversely, respondents who score high on the Private Self-Consciousness Scale would be expected to score low on the scales measuring prejudiced attitudes toward racial minorities and persons with physical disabilities.

The Instruments and Procedure

The sample for this study will be taken from university students who volunteer to fill out a questionnaire. With the aid of one or more of my sociology professors, I will distribute questionnaires to students enrolled in Sociology classes on the campus of Central Michigan University. Results from this survey will be obtained from a non-random sample of students. Although this more or less homogenious group of students does restrict the generalizability of this study to other populations, this non-generalizability does not threaten the internal consistency of the hypothesis. In order to get a more significant test of the hypothesis in question, future studies will have to be undertaken to replicate the results of this present study. If significant results are obtained from this particular study then I suggest that future studies be carried out on large, randomly selected populations.


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