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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The domain specific nature of children's self-perceptions of competence : an exploratory paradigm for understanding the social construction of self-knowledge in children Dillabough, Jo-Anne


In recent years we have witnessed a burgeoning interest in the role socializing agents' play in the development of children's self-perceptions of competence. Outlined extensively by Harter (1981, 1982, 1985), the basic assumption underlying this work is that the self-concept is a multidimensional construct reflecting cognitive representations of individuals' socialization experiences across achievement contexts. These multiple dimensions are subsumed under the guise of self-perceptions and are thought to reflect distinct cognitive structures within the phenomenological world of the child. To date, however, the majority of research stemming from Harter's original theoretical conceptualizations has been limited to examining the impact of socializing agents' expectations on children's self-perceptions of academic competence. The differential contributions made by socializing agents to the prediction of children's self-perceptions of competence across achievement domains, however, has not been assessed. In the present study, an attempt was made to fill this research gap. In accordance with the recognition of the multidimensional nature of perceived competence, the purposes of this study were: (1) to compare the contributions made by different socializing agents' expectations to the prediction of children's self-perceived academic, social, behavioral and athletic competence; (2) to assess the extent to which socializers' expectations contribute differentially to children's perceived competence when examined in conjunction with additional variables instrumental in the development of self-concept in children; (3) to extend Harter's (1981) original conceptualization of the self by testing a uniform perceived competence model across achievement domains; and (4) to identify the primary references children utilize to define themselves. Data were collected from 87 fourth and fifth grade children. The children completed questionnaires that assessed their self-perceived academic, social, behavioral and athletic competence. Teachers' and parents' actual expectations, children's perceptions of these expectations and children's academic and social performance were also measured. Four stepwise hierarchical regression analyses were conducted (i.e., one for self-perceived academic, social, behavioral and athletic competence, respectively) to identify those variables which best predict children's domain-specific self-perceptions. Results revealed that: (a) the relative contributions made by socializers' expectations to the prediction of children's perceived competence across achievement contexts vary as a function of the domain assessed; (b) children's perceptions of significant others' expectations and performance factors also play a significant role in the prediction of domain-specific perceived competence; and (c) the social references children utilize when making self-evaluations can be conceptualized within a domain and context specific framework. Issues related to the development of self-concept theory, empirical research and counselling practices are discussed in relation to the acquisition of self-knowledge in children.

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