Professor Emeritus, Developmental
Dr. Harter's research in the area of socio-emotional development focuses
on the self-system, broadly defined. One focus has been the development
of a theoretically derived model of the causes and consequences of self-esteem.
This work builds upon the conceptual formulations of James (1893) who
postulated that self-esteem reflected competence in areas where success
was deemed important, and of Cooley (1902), for whom self-esteem was the
incorporation of the attitudes that significant others held toward the
self. The findings reveal that self-esteem is a direct function of competence
in domains of importance as well as the approval of significant others.
Important consequences of self-esteem have also been identified, for example,
affect along a dimension of cheerful to depressed. Those with low self-esteem
are invariably depressed, and among many adolescents, such depression,
in turn, leads to thoughts of suicide, an issue of clinical significance.
Most recently, this work has demonstrated that there are multiple pathways
to depression, representing different combinations of feelings of inadequacy
and lack of support (e.g., from peers versus parents).
A subsidiary goal of this research has been the development of psychometrically
sound self-report instruments to tap the constructs in the model. These
measures include a life-span battery of Self-Perception Profiles (for
Children, Adolescents, Learning Disabled Students, College Students, Adults
in the world of work and family, and the Elderly). Other measures include
The Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents and the Dimensions
of Depression Profile.
Recently, Dr. Harter has turned her attention to the multiple selves
that are created as individuals move into adolescence. This greater differentiation
brings with it the potential liability that the attributes that define
one's multiple selves may lead to opposing characteristics (e.g., outgoing
with friends but inhibited in romantic relationships; cheerful with peers
but depressed with parents). Seemingly contradictory attributes can and
do cause perceived conflicts within the adolescent's self-portrait, particularly
for females. The presence of opposing attributes also ushers in concern
over which such attributes reflect the true self versus false self behavior.
In another series of study, Dr. Harter has studied false self-behavior
directly, identifying a model in which false self behavior with peers
and parents is predicted by low levels of perceived support, conditional
support, and hopelessness about obtaining support. In the face of this
constellation of factors, adolescents don a false self, compromising their
true self, in an effort to obtain the desired support that has not been
forthcoming. Since a primary manifestation of false self behavior involves
not saying what you think, other studies have examined this form more
explicitly, namely, what Gilligan labels "lack of voice". It
is Gilligan's contention that adolescent girls lose their voices as they
identify with the role of the "good" woman in our society, see
that female voices are not as respected, and fear that relationships will
be threatened if they speak their mind. Our own research has revealed
this to be an overgeneralization about female adolescents. We find no
gender differences, per se. Rather, certain girls, namely, those with
a feminine gender orientation, lack voice. Moreover, both male and female
adolescents who lack voice also report low levels of support for voice.
Just as adolescents create multiple selves in different relational contexts,
they also report differing levels of voice in different contexts. In addition,
self-esteem varies as a function of context. Those reporting low levels
of voice in a given context also report low self-esteem.
A related project examines issues involving autonomy and connectedness
in adult relationships. In the literature to date, this dichotomy has
been rather rigid applied to men and women, respectively. In this research,
three (rather than two) styles have now been identified, the overly autonomous,
the overly connected, and those displaying a balance of autonomy plus
connectedness. Those reporting the two extreme styles report less validation
from partners and less true self behavior.
Other projects involve children's emotional understanding and motivational
orientation. The work on emotional understanding emanates from the investigator's
clinical work with children, where it has been observed that young children
have difficulty acknowledging more than one emotion at the same time.
Adopting a cognitive-developmental framework, a five-stage normative sequence
has now been demonstrated, culminating with older children's ability to
acknowledge two feelings of opposite valence (e.g., happy and mad), at
the same time, directed toward one event or person. Such a sequence provides
a developmental backdrop against which deficits in emotional understanding
among clinical populations can be evaluated. With regard to children's
motivational orientation for classroom learning, Dr. Harter has focused
on the degree to which such learning is intrinsically or extrinsically
motivated. This particular work is of educational relevance in documenting
developmental shifts toward extrinsic motivation, as well as individual
differences in motivational orientation and their correlates. Moreover,
changes in motivational orientation have been observed as a function of
educational transitions such as the shift to junior high school.
Harter, S. (In press). The cognitive and social construction
of the developing self. New York: Guilford Press.
Harter, S., Bresnick, S., Bouchey, H., & Whitesell,
N.R. The development of multiple role-related selves in adolescence. Development
and Psychopathology, 9, 835-854.
Harter, S., Waters, P., & Whitesell, N. R. (1997).
Lack of voice as a manifestation of false self behavior: The school setting
as a stage upon which the drama of authenticity is enacted. Educational
Psychologist, 32, 153-173.
Harter, S. (1997). The personal self in social context:
Barriers to authenticity. In R. Ashmore & L. Jussim (Eds.), Self and
identity: Fundamental issues. New York: Oxford University Press.
Harter, S. (1998). The development of self-representations.
In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & Nancy Eisenberg (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of
child psychology, Vol. 3, Social, emotional, and personality development
(5th edition), New York: Wiley.
Ph.D. Yale University, 1966
Professor Emeritus, Developmental