Children's reports of the sources of self-knowledge


  • We would like to thank Tegan Blackbird, Kelly Davies, Sheri Roth, Dan Rubanowitz, Cris Scaglione, and Chris Woroniecki for their assistance in interviewing children; Renee Ewine and Cris Scaglione, who drew the stimulus pictures; Abigail Ring and Peggy Stenehjem for their help in pilot work; Thomas V. Petros and James A. Clark for technical and conceptual comments; and the principals, staff, parents, and children at Holy Family Elementary School, St. Mary's Elementary School, United Day Nursery, and University Children's Center for their assistance and cooperation. An earlier version of this report was presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, August 1981, Los Angeles. This research was supported by University of North Dakota Faculty Research Awards 1806-2001-2201 and 1813-2001-2335 to the first author.

Send reprint requests to the first author at the Department of Psychology, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR 97219.


Nursery schoolers and first- and third-graders participated in an interview which assessed recall, comprehension, and perceived importance of three sources of self-knowledge: social feedback, self-observation, and social comparison. For recall measures, these sources were embedded in stories about a child making a self-discovery. Recall of all three sources improved with grade level, and feedback was the best remembered self-validational process. Comprehension was defined as the ability to identify the sources as depicted in line drawings, and it, too, increased with grade level. All three sources were well understood by older children, but preschoolers had difficulty with the concept of social comparison. Ratings of importance, also assessed using line drawings, were independent of grade level. When selecting their own “very best” source of self-knowledge, children cited self-observation most frequently. A supplementary sample of preschoolers nominated the best source of self-knowledge for other children rather than for themselves; under these instructions, feedback from others emerged as the preferred source.