Self completion theory

When a person attempts to define themselves whether it is a physician, footballer, mathematician, rock climber etc. they engage in behaviours which relate to the identity they are trying to cultivate and when any of these behaviours receive some sort of negative feedback they feel an incompleteness in regards to their identity  motivating them to redeem themselves by trying harder on any subsequent task related to the self identity which previously received negative feedback so they can feel that sense of completeness again.

This is because people have an innate drive to build and maintain their own self image, and when a significant part of their self image is threatened they have are driven to seek external validation or recognition of some kind to prove to themselves and to others that they are who they think they are or at least trying to portray so that significant part of their self image remains intact. For example, if a chef receives criticism for their food from a colleague they may engage in activities which compensate for their perceived failure and improve their self image such as buying more expensive cooking equipment or they may engage in behaviours which attempt to make them feel better about their recent failure such as cooking a dish they are known to be good at, even the use of verbal statements which reinforce their self image as a good chef such as ''I have made many successful dishes in the past'' helps to make them feel complete in regards to their bruised identity. What has just been described is self completion theory.

Examples of self completion theory

When someone is in a field, profession or social group that they regard as integral to their identity how they perform in regards to where they are in experience and how they perceive others to expect them to perform generally gives them a sense of duty to maintain that level of competence consistently, but negative feedback towards their work can cause them to work harder on any tasks after the negative feedback has been received so they can regain and maintain their sense of credibility.

Verbal statements
A person who's sense of identity is threatened may have the desire to verbalise their credibility to feel validated. For instance if someone questioned a mechanic's ability to fix a car properly that same mechanic may later feel the need to verbalise how much experience that he or she has with cars or they may even state who has praised them on their work in the past. Another example is if someone's ability to be helpful is threatened they may later become more verbalised on how much they are helpful in general and may also talk about who they have helped people previously.

Another way a person may find a way to validate themselves when their sense of identity is threatened or seemingly uncertain is through material positions. Similar to the last two points is when someone is questioned on an element of their identity such as how masculine they are, the person in question may acquire possessions which are typically associated with being masculine such as a watch, car, gym equipment etc. or they may be questioned on their career as musician where to compensate they may buy books, cd's, video's all which are related to music thus strengthening their sense of identity. 

Status symbols
Self completion theory suggests that when an individual feels insecure but well established regarding their status or profession they may make an effort to display symbols signalling their status. This may be because they do not feel that they are respected or at least recognized for who are so they feel the need to display these symbols to change other peoples perceptions and how they act towards them which will make them feel more respected as a result reinforcing the concept of their own status.

Social psychologists Joachim C. Brunstein and Peter M. Golwilltzer conducted an experiment in 1996 regarding how perceived failures in committed identity related goals effected subsequent performance and behaviour where they had a group of students that were learning and committed to being physicians as their profession/identity which were involved in an experiment where they were split into two groups according to two conditions: the identity relevant condition and the non-relevant condition. The experiment had two phases. The first phase was a social competence task which the students were asked to complete a series of multiple choice questions. The students were each asked to read a brief outline of social problems followed by four suggested solutions where they had to choose one solution to move on to the next question. In the identity relevant condition the participants were asked a series of problems related to which physicians typically encounter in their line of work and in the non-relevant condition the participants were asked a series of problems which people come across from day to day. Feedback was manipulated in this task to either no feedback at all or a series of predominantly negative feedback so that the researchers can measure their performance in the second phase based on the feedback initially received.


The second phase was a mental concentration test where the participants in the non-relevant test condition were told upon completing the test that it was to measure and compare the concentration between various age groups while the participants in the profession relevant test condition were told that concentration on a given task was an important characteristic in becoming a qualified physician. 

The results were that the participants that were in the identity relevant condition that received negative feedback on the first phase performed better in the second phase than the participants who completed the same test in the non-relevant condition who also received negative feedback, the participants who received no feedback at all in the identity relevant test condition and the participants in the non-relevant condition who also received no feedback. The participants in the identity relevant condition which were exposed to failure reported higher levels of motivation and felt more involved than the other participants which suggests that they felt highly motivated to compensate for their failure in their identity related task making them work harder on the second phase of the experiment to prove that they are competent physicians.

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