What Is The Theory of Self Perception?

The theory of self-perception states that people develop attitudes by observing their behavior and deciding what attitudes may have caused the reaction. This theory is based on a situation in which there was no previous attitude about a topic due to lack of experience in that area. The theory suggests that people observe their actions just as an outside observer would observe a character and draw conclusions about why they were motivated to do what they did. A psychologist by the name of Daryl Bem developed this theory.

Self-perception can be described as the opposite of common sense / intuition, normal expectation or simply counterintuitive. One’s attitudes and personality are expected to play a role in their actions, but this theory differs. The theory holds that we become what we do and our actions originate from our self-observations and not from our free will and state of mind at a time.

Experiments that support the theory

Daryl Bem’s first experiment involved test subjects listening to an audio from a man who animatedly describes a task. One group was informed that the actor was paid $ 1 while the other group was told that the man was paid $ 20. When the group’s perceptions were compared, the group $ 1 felt as if their actor appreciated the task more than the $ 20 group felt about their actor. These results corresponded to the feelings of the individual actors, showing that even the actors had observed their behaviors just like strangers.

In the year 2006, Tiffany Ito and her colleagues tested the racial bias as influenced by the facial expressions of the test subjects. The participants were made to smile by holding a pencil in their mouth. Then they showed images of unknown black and white men. The results showed that participants made people smile for black men showed less prejudice than those who only smiled at photos of white men.


The theory of self-perception has been seen to work in scenarios of therapy and persuasion.

Application in therapy

The traditional theory was based on the actions and attitudes of people originating from inner psychological problems. The theory suggests that since people react with feelings and actions from their external behaviors, these behaviors in turn can be appropriately adjusted to influence a person’s feelings and attitudes. For example, adolescents exposed to community service had a better perception of themselves and were less likely to be involved in risky behavior.


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