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Hello..this is hopefully an interesting and enlightening page!

I am currently in the third year of an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Southampton. I am part of the Self and Identity Task Force (a sub-project of WikiProject Psychology and am currently developing an article on Raison oblige theory.

The following is a copy of my wikipedia contributions;

  • Raison oblige article
  • Section on cultural differences in illusory superiority
  • Introduction to Implicit self esteem


  • The section on relationships: contributed by Sophi. M
  • The section on Depression: research example and description contributed by Tim. S
— Wikipedian  —
Name James Cross
Born October 1988
Current location Southampton, UK
Education and employment
Occupation Student
College University of Southampton

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WikiProject Psychology.


Raison Oblige Theory offers an alternate explanation of exhibited behaviors widely accepted to be caused by the motive of self-verification (SVT)(William Swann, 1983)[1]. The theory addresses instances of apparent self-view confirmation strivings and details an economical description of why these behaviors occur. Focusing on the importance of the self-view and rational thought, (see self esteem; self concept; self knowledge) Raison oblige theory (ROT) accounts for the evidence supporting SVT including the well documented seemingly maladaptive self-verifying behaviors.

  • SVT states that a person is actively motivated to confirm their existing self view regardless of the objective accuracy or valence of that view. In other words a person wants to confirm their currently held self views above and beyond wanting this information to be accurate or positive[2]. (see self verification for details).
  • ROT challenges the existence of a motive and offers a plausible explanation which can account for all instances of self-verifying behaviors[3].
  • The fundamentals of ROT are that people are obliged by reason to accept information that is congruent with their currently held self views and reject information that is not. The theory challenges a self-verification motive, stating that people do not want to self-verify, they simply convey, through behaviour, cognitions that accurately and honestly reflect their own self views.

ROT was developed by Aiden. P. Gregg (2006).


Self verification[edit]

Self-verifying behavior includes any action which ultimately coincides with and reinforces existing self-views.

  • Motivation to self-enhance causes a person with positive self-views to seek positive information: This verifies positivity.
  • People with negative self-views, including those diagnosed with depression, show a preference for negative information: This verifies negativity.

An array of empirical evidence demonstrates numerous examples of self-verification.

People with negative self-views prefer to interact with self-verifying;

  • Evaluators[4]
  • Romantic partners[5]
  • Roommates[6]
  • Group members[7]

There are a number of conditions which influence self-verification;

  • Importance of a self view (swann & Pelham 2002)
  • Extremity of a self view[8]
  • Certainty of a self view[9]
  • Perceived threat to identity; (see Swann et al., 2002)
  • Intelligence of evaluator
  • Importance of partner providing information (Swann, De La Ronde & Hixon, 1994)

The collective evidence of self-verifying processes and conditions has been interpreted as MOTIVATION to self-verify.

For example; Depressed people opt to receive negative information despite positivity striving of the self-enhancement motive. This has therefore been interpreted as the result of motivation to self verify. (Giesler et al., 1996)

Origins of ROT[edit]

The theory originated from criticism of the evidence supporting SVT.

Gregg (2007) disputed that the evidence was weak and circumstantial, and importantly could be better and more economically explained via Raison oblige theory.

Both theories acknowledged the abundance of evidence showing that people behave in a way that confirms their self-view, even when this reinforcement is seemingly maladaptive. As with most psychological theories, observation of behavior provided the most compelling evidence for self verification theory.

  • However, just because a person acts in a certain way does not necessarily dictate that the usually related motive for this behavior is responsible or indeed that the person wants to act this way. Self-defeating behavior such as drug abuse, which is clearly not in the person’s best interest, does not certify that there is a motive to self-defeat.
  • In such an instance it is suggested that the person does not want to act against their best interests, but that they want immediate relief from negative affect.[10]

ROT, unlike SVT, does not explain the observed behavior in terms of a motive. Instead it suggests that an active cognitive process obliges a person to behave in a way that honestly reflects their currently held self-views.

Underlying assumptions[edit]

Rationality is often overlooked when considering the causes of exhibited behaviors. When compared to the motives of self-enhancement, self-improvement and self-assessment the effects of rationality might be assumed to be small. However, Gregg (2007) outlines that “rationality is pervasive and motives merely qualify it”.

  • ROT draws upon the ability of ration to influence our behaviors and cognitions.
  • Evidence for the effects of rationality are easily seen yet often overlooked due to the compared power of motives.

However, if rationality did not strongly influence cognition, self-assessment would rarely be accurate and grandiose delusions would be common. As a result, self-enhancement and self-improvement would also be hindered as people would have an inaccurate self concept and thus be unaware of whether they needed to enhance or improve. Without some sort of obligation to reasonable thought it is unlikely anyone would have an accurate self-concept or strive to make something of themselves.

  • This assumption underlies ROT and is the rationale for suggesting that there is a plausible alternative explanation for the evidence of self verifying behaviors.

Hypothetical situation[edit]

When given the option to interact with person (A) who shares my self views or person (B) who does not, I will opt for person A.

  • ROT explains that this choice is based on whether I can earnestly believe the information to be true and representative of myself. Despite the desire for positive information to be true, if can not subjectively believe it then I will ignore it.

This hypothetical preference for people who share my self view and avoidance of those who don't has been empirically replicated many times[11](see also Swann, 2002)

Importantly, this behavior in which we create a world which shares our self-views does not necessarily demonstrate a motive to do so (Gregg, 07). In fact, if rationality were removed it is likely we would not adhere to self views at all. Instead people would be able to chose a self view they liked and exhibit behaviors accordingly.

  • Every healthy person is aware of reality and adheres to an unspoken set of rules of reason permitting them to act in accordance with their physical and mental ability.
  • Perceptions of the world around us are bound by rational thought and evidence. Raison Oblige theory extends this binding to reason into the conceptions of our selves, i.e self view.

Negative and positive self views[edit]

Self esteem[edit]

Self esteem has a very strong influence on a person’s self-view. A person with high self esteem is more likely to have a positive self-view, where as a person with low self esteem is more likely to have a negative self-view. Many studies that seemingly provide evidence for a self-verifying motive use self esteem as a variable to demonstrate that people confirm a self-view that corresponds to their level of self esteem.

However, one can argue that this behavioral evidence is circumstantial and that the correlation does not demonstrate motivation.

  • If a person with low self esteem confirmed a self-view congruent to that of low self esteem, it does not necessarily provide evidence for motivation to confirm a self-view.
  • ROT claims that people are aware of their self-views and believe them to be accurate. As a result, they answer questionnaires honestly, and report their self-views as they truly see them due to an obligation to reason.

People may not want self-verifying information to be true of them and may want others to view them positively rather than negatively.

Further research needs to be undertaken to fully investigate the relationship between self views and self esteem. (see. Gregg, 2007)

  • Do people with low self esteem want critical feedback to be true; are they motivated?
  • Do people with low self esteem actually want their self view to be accurate, or would they prefer a more positive self view?

ROT predicts that people with low self esteem are bound by reason to confirm their existing self view but that they don’t necessarily like it (Gregg & De Waal-Anderws, 2007)[12].. If a motivation to self-verify were present then people with low self esteem would not care about what their self-view was, they would instead focus on actively trying to confirm it.


Depression is accompanied by very low self esteem and has therefore been a topic of strong interest for those investigating self verifying behaviors. Depression is always accompanied by low self esteem but having low self esteem does not necessarily mean you are depressed.

It argued that those suffering with depression, or with generally low negative self-views, will actively seek negative feedback in order to confirm their self-view; they find it more favourable. Giesler et al (1996)[13] tested this prediction by classifying participants into three separate groups; high self esteem, low self esteem an depressed individuals. When offered a choice of positive or negative feedback, depressed individuals chose to receive negative feedback 82% of the time, suggesting a strong desire to negatively re-affirm their self view. The seeking of negative feedback in order to self-verify has thus been argued to maintain a depressive state.

ROT challenges this interpretation and suggests that the observed behavior and maintenance of depressive state is caused by an obligation to confirm a depressive self concept. This particular study, and many others like it can be reinterpreted using ROT. The choice of negative feedback reflects the obligation to chose information consistent with an honestly held self view.

Correlations do not equal causation; The evidence for SVT assumptions of motivation drawn from studies on depression could be circumstantial and therefore do not provide explicit proof of a motive to self-verify.

Depression, Motivation and Desire[edit]

Motivation is interlinked with desire. I am hungry therefore I am motivated to eat food; I want to eat.

In SVT studies of depressed persons they are asked whether they would like to receive favorable or unfavorable feedback on their personality. In concurrence with SVT and ROT predictions they chose the unfavorable feedback due to a negative self-view[14]. These studies demonstrate that self-enhancement striving has been overridden by a separate cognitive process.

If a person with high self esteem confirms their self-view this may not be self-verification as this is more likely to be due to the self-enhancement motive. Therefore SVT and ROT studies tend to focus on depressive participants who's verification of negative information can not be attributed to self-enhancement.

  • However, Recent findings show that people with depression and high self esteem both want to receive favorable feedback more than critical feedback.[15]
  • This suggests that people do not want to receive feedback that confirms their self-view. A lack of desire implies that motivation is not responsible for self-verification.
  • Gregg & De Waal-Andrews (2007) also show that the lower a participants self esteem, the less they anticipated liking critical feedback, and the less keen they were for it to be true, supporting ROT predictions.


One example that is well explained by Raison Oblige Theory is why people stay in abusive relationships. According to Rusbult and Martz (1995) more than 40% of women who seek help from a shelter when being abused by their partner then return to living with their partner and remain in the abusive relationship.[16]

Self-verification theory would explain this by the abused partner’s need to self-verify that the way they are being treated is deserved, in order to establish an accurate self-concept (Swann & Ely, 1984).[17]

However the alternative explanation from Raison Oblige Theory is that an abused individual will rationalise the situation they are in and come to the conclusion that they themselves are in some way causing the abuse. This leads to the honest belief that they deserve the abuse and causes feelings of worthlessness. This results in the abused individual remaining loyal to their partner and failing to seek help, as they believe the abuse is their fault and that they need to improve in some way in order that the abuse will stop. Raison Oblige Theory also explains that the abused partner feels that they will gain no benefit from leaving an abusive relationship, as they see the abuse as their fault. This also explains why the abused individual may defend their partner should anyone outside the relationship become aware of the abuse.


The mind is difficult to study, often multiple theories can explain a single phenomenon. A theory which explains said phenomenon more efficiently or can explain additional behaviors is considered the more plausible theory.

  • There is no explicit evidence that proves the existence of a motive to self-verify. However, there is a vast expanse of evidence to show that people are obligated to reason in their thoughts.

Motivation and affect[edit]

Behavior does not always reflect motivation;

  • we do things we don't want to do but are obliged to do (e.g. giving up leisure time to do work)
  • we voluntarily refrain from doing things that we want to do (e.g. making up qualifications to secure a job we want)
  • These examples demonstrate that behavior does not always reflect motivation. However, they do demonstrate a cognitive overruling of desire/motive.

  • Motivation incurs negative affect when conditions are not met; I want to improve, I fail; I feel bad.
  • Striving to self verify should have an influence on affect.
  • A person with a negative self view should therefore be less disturbed by critical feedback than a person with high self esteem.
  • Depressed: Critical feedback negatively influences their self enhancing motive but bolsters their self verification motive.
  • High self esteem :critical feedback negatively influences their self enhancing motive(ego) and their self verification motive.
  • High self esteemed people should be more emotionally disturbed by critical feedback than depressed people. However, research suggests that this is not the case.[18][19]

Obligation to ration[edit]

  • Day to day examples of obligation to reason; Grandiose delusions are rare.
  • We accept new self views after a change in appearance or capabilities; we rationalize changes and challenges.
  • People are reasonable in thought, without reason grandiose delusions would have prevented the existence of our species; I cant be killed; I can fight this mammoth alone; I can attack this man without consequence; I am the best person in the world.
The effect of Ration on motivation[edit]

Self-assessment is bound to rational perception;

  • I believe what is subjectively possible.
  • Assessment is based on accurate perception, not subjective desire: Grandiose delusions are rare

Self-enhancement is bound to rational perception;

  • The above-average effect is bound to the limits of subjective plausibility (Gregg, 2007).
  • specific compared traits succumb to the effect much less because people are aware of their ability compared to others. Commonly held traits can be exaggerated due to a larger latitude of comparison.

Related articles[edit]


  1. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr. (1983). Self-verification: Bringing social reality into harmony with the self. In J. Suls & A. G. Greenwald (Eds.), Social psychological perspectives on the self (Vol. 2, pp. 33-66). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  2. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., Rentfrow, P. J., & Guinn, J. (2002). Self-verification: The search for coherence. In M. Leary and J. Tagney, Handbook of self and identity: Guilford, New York.
  3. ^ Gregg, A. P.(2007). Is identity per se irrelevant? A contrarian view of self-verification effects. Depression and Anxiety, 0, 1-11
  4. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., & Read, S. J. (1981b). Acquiring self-knowledge: The search for feedback that fits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41,1119-1128.
  5. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., De La Ronde, C. & Hixon, J. G. (1994). Authenticity and positivity strivings in marriage and courtship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 857-869.
  6. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr. & Pelham, B. W. (2002). Who wants out when the going gets good? Psychological investment and preference for self-verifying college roommates. Journal of Self and Identity, 1, 219-233.
  7. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., Milton, L. P., & Polzer, J.T. (2000). Should we create a niche or fall in line? Identity negotiation and small group effectiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 238-250.
  8. ^ Giesler, R. B., Josephs, R. A. & Swann, W. B., Jr. (1996). Self-verification in clinical depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 358-368.
  9. ^ Pelham, B. W., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (1994). The juncture of intrapersonal and interpersonal knowledge: Self-certainty and interpersonal congruence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 349-357.
  10. ^ Baumeister, R. F., Scher, S. J. (1988). Self-defeating behavior patterns among normal individuals: review and analysis of common self destructive tendencies. Psychology Bulletin, 104, 3–22.
  11. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., Wenzlaff, R. M., Krull, D. S., & Pelham, B. W. (1992). The allure of negative feedback: Self-verification strivings among depressed persons. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101, 293-306
  12. ^ Gregg, A. P., & De Waal-Andrews W. (2007). Choices for, and perceptions of, global and specific hypothetical feedback of differential valence. Unpublished raw data, School of Psychology, University of Southampton, UK.
  13. ^ Giesler, R. B., Josephs, R. A., & Swann, W. B. Jr. (1996). Self-verification in clinical depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 358–368.
  14. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., Pelham, B. W., & Krull, D. S. (1989). Agreeable fancy or disagreeable truth? How people reconcile their self-enhancement and self-verification needs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 782-791
  15. ^ Gregg, A. P., & De Waal-Andrews, W. (2007). Choices for, and perceptions of, global and specific hypothetical feedback of differential valence. Unpublished raw data, School of Psychology, University of Southampton, UK.
  16. ^ Rusbult, C. E., & Martz, J. M. (1995). Remaining in an abusive relationship: An investment model analysis of nonvoluntary dependence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21(6), 558-571.
  17. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., & Ely, R. J. (1984). A battle of wills: Self-verification versus behavioral confirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1287-1302.
  18. ^ Caplan, R. D., & Jones, K. W. (1975). Effects of work load, role ambiguity and Type A personality on anxiety, depression and heart rate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60, 713-719.
  19. ^ Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and Well-Being - a Social Psychological Perspective On Mental-Health. Psychological Bulletin, 103(2), 193-210.

Further Reading[edit]

For a full list of Swann's extensive work please see:

External links[edit]

                                                     Implicit Self esteem

Implicit self esteem

Implicit self-esteem refers to a person's disposition to evaluate themselves in a spontaneous, automatic, or unconscious manner. It contrasts with explicit self-esteem, which entails more conscious and reflective self-evaluation.

  • Both explicit and implicit self-esteem are constituents of self-esteem.

Self-esteem was first described as a self-feeling that is determined by comparison between the actual self and the ideal self (William James, 1890). However, following research demonstrated that James' definition was inaccurate.

  • self esteem does not reflect an honest evaluation of one's traits and abilities[1] nor social identity [2].

Greenwald and Banaji (1995)[3] defined implicit selfesteem as "the introspectively unidentified (or inaccurately identified) effect of the self-attitude on evaluation of self-associated and self-dissociated objects".

  • The overestimation of one's traits and abilities is argued to be a spillover of positive affect from the self to objects associated with the self.[4]
  • This "spillover" is automatic and unconscious
  • Implicit self esteem therefore offers an explanation of positivity bias for things related to the self. Positive affect spills over to things related to the self; they are also viewed positively.

References for implicit S.E[edit]

  1. ^ Rosenberg, M. (1979). Conceiving the Self. New York: Basic Books.
  2. ^ Crocker, J., & Major, B. (1989). Social stigma and self-esteem. The self-protective properties of stigma. Psychological Review, 96, 608-30.
  3. ^ Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (1995). Implicit social cognition: Attitudes, selfesteem, and stereotypes. Psychologicnl Review, 102, 4-27.
  4. ^ Farnham, D. S., Greenwald, G. A., & Banaji, M. N. (1999. Implicit selfesteem. In D. Abrams & M. Hogg(Eds.), Social identity and social cognition (pp. 230-248). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

                                                    Illusory superiority

Cultural differences[edit]

A vast majority of the literature on self-esteem originates from studies on participants in the United States. However, research that only investigates the effects in one specific population is severely limited as this may not be a true representation of human psychology as a whole. As a result, more recent research has focused on investigating quantities and qualities of self-esteem around the globe. The findings of such studies suggest that illusory superiority varies between cultures.

A study by Brown (2007) on Japanese students showed that their self-esteem was unaffected by feelings of interpersonal or inter-group superiority or inferiority. The study also found that the Japanese students were able to maintain self-esteem without derogating outgroups or holding better than average beliefs. Interestingly, the participants rated themselves higher than Japanese students in general but lower when compared to their own class mates (in-group). This demonstrates a self-effacing bias when comparing the self to an in-group.[1]

  • In the United States and western cultures illusory superiority is commonplace, but it seems that in Japan there is no need to perceive one's self as above average amongst one's in-group.
  • It appears that self-effacement in East Asian, collectivist, cultures does not negatively affect self-esteem.

References for Illusory superiority[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, R. A. (2007). The Influence of Personal and Collective Self-Esteem on the Interpersonal and Inter-group Evaluations of Japanese University Students: