Higgins self theory

Higgins self theory

Higgins has outlined a self theory complex that constitutes a more specific horizon and, at the same time, with a greater degree of commitment between the self, emotions, beliefs and behavior.

This theory of the self is based on a long tradition in psychology in which the existence of conflict or inconsistency between the different images of the self appears as the main source of human motivation and the gestation and maintenance of affections.


  • 1 Higgins Self Theory
  • 2 Empirical support for Higgins' self theory
  • 3 References

Higgins self theory

In its self theory, Higgins will stand out especially three types of self: real self, ideal self and self of duty.

  • The real self or current would constitute beliefs about who we are and about the attributes we possess and would be our self-concept
  • The ideal self It would be formed by beliefs about how we would like to be and is related to the positive feelings associated with achieving the requirements established by people important to us since childhood
  • Finally the duty itself It is composed of what we think is our sense of duty, our responsibilities and obligations and is related to the negative feelings associated with the breach of obligations and responsibilities established by people important to us since childhood

The ideal self and the self of duty would constitute the guides of the self, which act as an incentive for future behavior, for new goals and as a criterion for the evaluation and interpretation of the self-concept (for our self-assessments). These guides obtain the motivating properties of emotions.

Discrepancies in the self-concept

The theory of self proposes that the discrepancies between self-concept and guides are associated with different emotional and motivational states. When the current self is different from any of the other two people will experience a negative affective state.

The difference between who I really am and who I would like to be corresponds psychologically with a situation of absence of positive results. That is, the person in question does not reach the hopes and desires that are his own. This person will be vulnerable to feelings of discouragement, detachment and dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, the discrepancy between who I am and who should be It represents the psychological situation in which the person's point of view does not fit with the state that the person believes is his obligation.

The latter reflects the general situation of negative results from the point of view of the subject, and hence the vulnerability to emotions related to agitation and, more specifically to guilt and discomfort, because those feelings occur when people believe that they have transgressed a moral norm personally accepted.

Examples of discrepancies in the self-concept

For example, if the current self of a person appears the belief of having a "normal physical appearance" while in his ideal self would like to "look like a model" When something activates in the memory of this person who is far from achieving their goals, it will produce feelings of depression such as sadness, disappointment or dissatisfaction.

However, if in your current self there is the characteristic "does not yield in studies" and in your self of duty it appears "to become a student with honors", when this discrepancy is activated in your memory the negative affect you will experience will be different, basically consisting of emotions related to agitation such as fear, anxiety and guilt.

Empirical support for Higgins' self theory

Strauman and Higgins (1988) and Moretti and Higgins (1990) have demonstrated these assumptions experimentally, so cIt constitutes one of the theories of self with more empirical support.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, This theory does not include aspects related to me social, constituting this one of its main gaps that will have to be completed in the future.

Finally, this theory assumes that people differ in the number and type of contradictory pairings.

Thus, some people have stronger contradictory matches than others, which should make them particularly vulnerable to dejection (current / ideal contradictory matches) or anxiety (current / duty contradictory matches).

On the contrary, people with few contradictory pairings should generally be less vulnerable to negative affectivity.


  • Echterhoff, G., Higgins, E. T., & Levine, J. M. (2009). Shared reality: Experiencing commonality with others' inner states about the world.Perspectives on Psychological Science4(5), 496-521.
  • Halvorson, H. G., & Higgins, E. T. (2013). Know what really motivates you.Harvard Business Review91(3), 117-120.
  • Higgins, E.T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relationing self and affects. Psychological Review, 94, 319-340.