Differential Self-awareness Theory

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Differential Self-Awareness Theory created by Prentice Rogers and Dunn takes a further look into self-awareness (Baron, & Richardson, 1994). Self-Awareness is an individual’s condition in which their attitudes, values, and other characteristics are brought to their attention (Baron, et al., 1994). Explaining how self-awareness leads to behavior such as aggressio, Baron and Richardson believed that there are two variables that lessen self-awareness. These variables are accountability cues and attention modifiers (Baron, et al., 1994).

Accountability cues are condtions in a situation that make an individual less identifiable, making them more anonymous, thus effecting public self-awareness (Baron, et al., 1994). Public self-awareness is the perception one has of others. An unidentifiable individual that is involved in criminal behavior becomes less concerned with the outcome because although they are aware of their actions they feel there well be no reprecusions (Baron, et al., 1994) also known as expectancy value theory (Spivey, & Dunn, 1990). For example, if an individual is a part of a large group it is hard for that individual to be the only one punished because the whole group is acting similarly, thus this individual begins to be less concerned what others are thinking of them in terms of reprisals, censure, or embarrassment for their actions (Spivey, et al., 1990) allowing them to conform to the group norms and fulfill their group role (Dunn, & Rogers, 1982).

Attention modifiers alter ones focus on their private self-awareness,when an individual concentrates on their own internal thoughts and feelings (Baron, et al., 1994). For example being so caught up in group activities and forgetting your inner being (Baron, et al., 1994). Process then leads to deindividuation, this occurs when a person is in a group and no longer recognize themselves as an individual, they no longer monitor their own behavior giving up on personal norms (Paulus, 1980). Deindividuation differs from public self-awareness because instead of being anonymous and disinhibited the individual then constructs an extreme response through decreased cognitive mediation of behavior (Dunn, & Spivey, 1986) (Baron, et al., 1994).

Both variables have been tested and proven that these accountability cues and attetntion modifiers lead to aggressive behavior. Effects of Public and Private Self-Awareness on Deindividuation and Aggression by Steven Prentice-Dunn and Ronald W. Rogers discovered that attentional cues also know as attention modifiers do affect private self-awareness however have no affect on public self-awareness. Dunn and Richardson also suggested that external attentional and low accountability cues do in fact cause aggression comparative to internal attentional cues and high accountability cue. Study suggest that these two variables take part in the differential self -awareness theory therefore having an effect on aggressive behavior. In addition it was found that decreased private self-awareness did have an influence on the deindividuation process (Dunn, et al., 1982). The deindividuation process lessen self- awareness and the cognitive mediation of behavior that can cause aggression. Such factors that may contribute to aggressive behaviors are the influence of a group becoming unidetifiable to authority figures (Dunn, et al., 1982).

Although attention modifiers and accountability cues influence aggressive behavior they can also prevent this behavior. Accountability cues aid in the process of averting future aggressive behavior, if the individuals exhibiting criminal behavior gets caught. Attention modifiers serve as a purpose of influencing one to express less aggressive behavior. For example; if a large group is practicing less aggressive behavior cahnces are that will too. In addition if the dissatisfaction with the individual’s aggressive behavior it is likely won’t that the behavior will not become repetative due to the perception and judgement of the group (Baron, et al., 1994).

Example / Application - Real-life

“The Lost Girls”, an article about four teenage girls who come from a prominent area and good families all commit a series of robberies (Jerome, 1999). These girls were young and engaged in school activities; one was even was going to receive a volleyball scholarship (Jerome, 1999). Lisa Warzeka was the lead the groupin four series of robberies. Their motive was to purchase food from a local sonic however they were short cash. (Jerome, 1999). Differential self-awareness theory applies to this case by both variables accountability cues and attention modifiers. Accountability cues take part in this article because the teenagers where not your typical criminal so their fear of being caught was minimal. The girls would brag at parties how they got away with these robberies (Jerome, 1999). They never trulyanticipated any consequences which decreased there public self-awareness. Attention modifiers incoporate into this article because an attempt to fit in the girls exhinbited impression management, and engaged thmeselves in criminal avtivites. (Jerome, 1999). In an attempt to impress they forgot about their own beliefs and values and decreased their private self-awareness, eventually deindividuationalized themselves. Lisa Warzeka later mentions that she truly was not thinking about the pain she was causing she, said she completely lost herself in this rush of robberies, and the fact that they hadn’t been caught for the first robbery made it even more exciting to continue (Jerome, 1999).

Many truly think that the typical criminal would never be someone who is from a good area and involved in school activities, however this incidence proves even individuals with these characterirstcis can be involved in criminal activities. Also mentions, based on reputations in school the girls were classified as trouble makers using drugs and alcohol and possesing an attitude at times (Jerome, 1999). There actions were never corrected by their parents, school, or authorities therefore they had no fear of getting caught. Also at the time Lisa Warzeka was an extremely bad influence on the other girls whom parents said they noticed a change in the others once they started hanging out with her (Jerome, 1999). The parents should have split up the group whom all displayed aggressive behavior. This lead them to get caught up in their group activities which in this case was robbery.

Example / Application - Columbine

Columbine school shooting is one of the most tragic events to occur. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed a total of 12 student’s, one teacher, and injuring many others. There has been much controversy over this case saying it was caused by the media, parents, bullying, gun laws, and much more. I do not believe that differential self-awareness theory is an example of the columbine shooting because the facts from the columbine shooting do not add up with the variables that apply to the differential self-awareness theory. Taking a look at accountability cues the boys both knew they would be held accountable; they wanted to be known for this horrific event. The news even reported that the boys wanted this to be bigger than the Oklahoma City bombing. The boys even expressed anti social behavior which makes it hard to instill the fear of punishment. They eventually committed suicide so the thought of getting away with the massacre never did truly apply to them.

The second variable, attention modifiers also did not apply to Columbine because the boys were social outcast. They never were influenced by a group to commit these crimes. A huge controversy about this shooting was some believe that they did this because of the fact they never belonged to any group.

Differential self-awareness theory may have been able to prevent the massacre if the boy’s disorder was correctly under control and they could have a sense of fear for the negative consequences also if one of the individuals either Eric or Dylan or any large group would have stepped in judging their destructive behavior making them more self-aware of their actions.

Eric and Dylan both wrote about the importance of self-awareness in their journals.

Dylan once said on a video, "We actually have self-awareness."


Baron, R.A., & Richardson, D.R. (1994).

Human aggression . Spring Street, NY: Plenum Press.

Dunn, S.P., & Rogers, R.W. (1982).Effects of public and private self-awareness on deindividuation and aggression.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(3), 503-513.

Dunn, S.P., & Spivey, C.B. (1986).Extreme deindividuation in the laboratory: its magnitude and subjective components. Personality and Social Psychology , 12(2), 206-215.

Jerome, R. (1999, September 13). The Lost girls. People , 52(10), Retrieved from http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20129198,00.html

Paulus, P.B. (1980).Psychology of group influence. Hillsdale, New Jersey : Lawrenece Erlbaum Associates.

Spively, C.B., & Dunn, S.P. (1990).Assesing the directionality of deindividuated behavior: effects of deindividuation, modeling, and private self-consciousness on aggressive and prosocial responses. Basics and applied social psychology, 387-403.

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