Student Research in Psychology at
Southeast Missouri State University

Chapter 15:
The Impact of Measured Intelligence and
Intellectual Self Perceptions on
Affective Symptoms and Self-Esteem

Georgette Johnson
Forest Institute
William E. Snell, Jr.
Southeast Missouri State University

Acknowledgments.  Portions of this research were presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association, April xxxx, Chicago IL.  Also, gratitude is extended to XXX-Editor (xxx) and two anonymous reviewers for their peer-review commentary (this chapter was previously published in the xxxxxxx).

Proper citation:   Johnson, G., & Snell, W. E., Jr.  (2002).  Chapte
r 15:  The impact of measured intelligence and intellectual self perceptions on affective symptoms and self-esteem.  In W. E. Snell, Jr. (Ed.).  (2002).  Student research in psychology at Southeast Missouri State University. Cape Girardeau, MO: Snell Publications. WEB:



          The purpose of the investigation presented in Chapter 15 was to examine whether people’s intellectual self-discrepancies (between both their measured and self-perceived intelligence and their respective ought and ideal intellectual self-perceptions) would be related to their affect and self-esteem.  The results indicated that intellectual self-discrepancies based on people’s self-perceived rather than their actual measured intelligence were more strongly related to their affect.


Chapter 15:
The Impact of Measured Intelligence and
Intellectual Self Perceptions on
Affective Symptoms and Self-Esteem

         Self discrepancy theory (Higgins, 1989) is concerned with the relations among different types of self-beliefs or self-state representations-- self-perceptions that can produce emotional vulnerabilities in people.  Higgins (1987) outlined three types of self-domains:  (1) the actual self, which is one's representation of the attributes that are believed (by oneself or another) to be possessed by an individual; (2) the ideal self, which is one's representation of the attributes that someone (either oneself or another) would like one to possess; and (3) the ought self, which refers to the attributes that someone (oneself or another) believes one should possess.  Two types of standpoints on the individual self were also outlined by Higgins:  (1) one's own personal standpoint and (2) the standpoint of a significant other (e. g., mother, father, close friend).  According to Higgins, when discrepancies involve the domains of the self and standpoints on the self, emotional vulnerabilities can be heightened (i. e., anxiety, stress, clinical anger).  Self discrepancies vary between individuals.  Some people do not have a large discrepancy between their actual self conception and their ideal self.  These people are presumed to be more motivated and to have greater self esteem. 

         Higgins states that there are two major motivational tendencies associated with self discrepancy theory.  First, self-discrepancy theory assumes that people are motivated to reach a condition in which their self-concept matches their personally relevant self-guides, and second, relations between and among different types of self-state representations represent different kinds of psychological situations, which in turn are associated with distinct emotional-motivational states (Higgins, 1989).  Along these lines, Higgins (1990) has examined the relationship between self-discrepancies and self esteem.  His findings suggest that discrepancy scores derived from idiographic measures of the actual-self and the ideal-self, respectively, are significant predictors of global self esteem.  Strauman and Higgins (1987) have also researched self discrepancies as predictors of chronic emotional distress.  They found that people characterized by an actual-ideal discrepancy reported considerable depressive (i. e., dejection oriented) symptoms, but fewer anxiety/paranoid (i. e., agitation-related ) symptoms.

         Previous self-discrepancy studies have focused mainly on how self discrepancy theory addresses some of the emotional and motivational problems that people have.  The purpose of the present investigation was to examine the relationship between people’s intellectual discrepancies (between people’s actual measured and their self-perceived intelligence and both their ideal and ought intellectual self-perceptions) and measures of their affect and self-esteem.  It was hypothesized that intellectual self-discrepancies based on people’s self-perceived rather than their actual measured intelligence would be more strongly related to their affect and self esteem.  It was also predicted that a larger discrepancy between the “ideal” self-perceptions of intelligence and actual measured intelligence will be positively associated with greater depression and lower self-esteem.

Method and Procedure

         The sample consisted of undergraduate psychology students from several lower level classes who signed up for the study as one way to partially fulfill course requirements.  About 48%  of the sample were freshman, 22% were sophomores, and the other 30% consisted of juniors, seniors, and other academic classifications.  The vast majority of the subjects in the study had never been married.  The entire sample reported that they had no children.  The income demographic was spread out among the subjects; 40% of those surveyed reported a family income of over $50,000 per year, while 30% reported a family income of under $15,000 a year, with the rest scattered in between.  The majority of the sample in this study were Caucasian American, and others were African American, Hispanic American, and Oriental.  About 88% of the sample consisted of students between the ages of 16 and 25, and the others were older.  Sixty-six percent of the sample consisted of students who were raised in a town of 50,000 people or less, and the other 34% were raised in larger cities.

         The participants completed the following measures and instruments:  (1) A measure of intelligence (Shipley, 1967); (2) an ad-hoc demographic survey, (3) a measure of ideal self perceptions of intelligence and a measure of ought self perceptions of intelligence; (4) the Rosenberg  measure of self esteem (Rosenberg, 1965); (5) The Beck measure of depression (Beck et al., 1987); (6) the Snell measure of clinical anger (Snell et al., 1993); and (7) the Symptom Checklist 90 Revised (Derogatis, 1983).


         In order to examine the relationship between the affect (including self-esteem) measures and the intellectual self-discrepancy measures, a series of Pearson correlations were computed.  The results indicated that intellectual self-discrepancy measures based on the actual measure of intelligence (i.e., the Shipley) were unrelated to the affect measures.  By contrast, intellectual self-discrepancy measures based on people’s self-perceptions of intelligence were found to be significantly related to the affect measures.

Conclusions and Implications

         This investigation was concerned with Higgins’ (1987) Self Discrepancy Theory.  The present study showed that there are positive associations between negative affect and people’s intellectual self-discrepancies that involve their self-perceptions of their “ideal” intellectual self and their self-perceived intelligence.  Perhaps individuals who suffer from depression and other mood-related disorders could benefit from therapeutic interventions which focus on changing and modifying their extreme and perhaps perfectionistic ideals of intelligence, particularly since dysphoric symptoms are probably associated with such exaggerated self perceptions.

         An important implication of the present investigation may involve other aspects of people’s mental health.  For example, the present research found that symptoms of somatization, obsession, interpersonal insensitivity, phobia, and paranoia, as measured by the SCL-90-R, were related to intellectual self-discrepancies associated with ideal intelligence.  Perhaps therapists working with clients who have these symptoms should examine whether the clients are experiencing any discrepancy between their perceived intelligence and their ideal intelligence.  Moreover, these symptoms may be associated with overall self discrepancies versus intellectual self discrepancies.  Thus, the use of Higgins’ Self-Discrepancy Theory in clinical settings may provide greater insight into the nature of psychopathology.

         A variety of suggestions can be made for future research involving Self-Discrepancy Theory (Higgins, 1987).  Similar to the present investigation, future researchers may need to consider incorporating objective measures of the particular aspects of the self that they are investigating.  All of the previous work based on Self-Discrepancy Theory has been based entirely on people’s self-perceptions of their self-concept (e.g., how sociable they perceive themselves to be) versus being based on more objective measures (cf. Alexander & Higgins, 1993; Brendl, Higgins, & Lemm, 1995; Higgins, 1987, 1988, 1989a, 1989b, 1990a,, 1990b; Higgins & Bargh, 1987; Higgins, Bond, Klein, & Strauman, 1986; Higgins, Klein, & Strauman, 1985; Higgins & Tykocinski, 1992; Higgins, Tykocinski, & Vookles, 1990; Higgins, Van Hook, & Dorfman, 1988; Higgins, Vookles, & Tykocinski, s, & Tykocinski, 1992; Houston, 1990; Moretti & Higgins, 1990; Newman, Higgins, & Vookles, 1992; Scott & O’Hara, 1993; Strauman, 1989, 1990, 1992; Strauman & Higgins, 1987,1988; Strauman, Vookles, Berenstein, Chaiken, & Higgins, 1991).



Copyright  © 2002
 William E. Snell, Jr., Ph.D.
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