Self-discrepancies and negative affect: A primer on when to look for specificity, and how to find it

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Final version published as: 

Boldero, J. M., Moretti, M. M., Bell, R. C., & Francis, J. J. (2005). Self-discrepancies and negative affect: A primer on when to look for specificity, and how to find it. Australian Journal of Psychology, 57(3), 139-147.


Initailly published by Taylor & Francis in the Australia Journal of Psychology:

Date created: 
negative affect
relationship specificity

There is substantial evidence that discrepancies within the self-system produce emotional distress. However, whether specific types of discrepancy are related to different types of negative affect remains contentious. At the heart of self-discrepancy theory (SDT: Higgins, 1987, 1989) is the assumption that different types of discrepancies are related to distinctive emotional states, with discrepancies between the actual and ideal selves being uniquely related to dejection-related emotion and discrepancies between the actual and ought selves being uniquely related to agitation-related emotion. Research examining this proposition has demonstrated that the magnitudes of these discrepancies are substantially correlated. As a result, some researchers have questioned whether they are functionally independent (e.g., Tangney, Niedenthal, Covert, & Barlow, 1998). In addition, other researchers have failed to support the hypothesized unique relationships (e.g., Ozgul, Heubeck, Ward, & Wilkinson, 2003). Together these two types of research finding have been interpreted as presenting a challenge to SDT. It is our contention that this interpretation is inaccurate. In this paper, we review the assumptions made when testing for these distinct relationships. Specifically, we examine the necessary conditions under which the functional independence of discrepancies is apparent, and the statistical methods appropriate to test these relationships. We also comment on the measurement of self-discrepancies, and fundamental problems in the interpretation of null findings. We conclude that studies using appropriate methodological and statistical procedures have produced ample evidence that discriminant relationships exist, and we encourage researchers to further investigate the conditions under which these relationships are most apparent.

Document type: 
You are free to copy, distribute and transmit this work under the following conditions: You must give attribution to the work (but not in any way that suggests that the author endorses you or your use of the work); You may not use this work for commercial purposes; You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work. Any further uses require the permission of the rights holder (or author if no rights holder is listed). These rights are based on the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License.