Coherence of conduct and the self-image

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The need for coherence of conduct has been viewed, more or less implicitly, as one of the fundamental human needs, in association with one’s social image and self-image. Actually it appears to accomplish a variety of possible functions: identity negotiation, as a condition for smooth and predictable social interactions; the maintenance or enhancement of self-esteem; and the maintenance of one’s self-view regardless of either self-esteem or social identity concerns. In the present work, while acknowledging the plausibility and appeal of such general functions, we will proceed in a more “bottom-up” fashion, trying to single out and analyze in greater detail the possible “uses” of coherence of conduct. We will first specify our notion of coherence of conduct, as well as of its underlying need. Then, we will address its impact on the individual’s behavior, with reference to its relationships with persistence in goal pursuit, the need to show a stable social identity, perceived self-efficacy, general self-esteem, and personal identity or self-image. We will discuss how the need for coherence comes into play in one’s self-image, which includes not only one’s self-evaluations but also, more generally, one’s self-beliefs, especially those about one’s own goals and the kind of person one believes or wants to be. We will focus on the crucial impact of the individual’s values on his or her coherence of conduct. Finally, we will address the issue of self-coherence and change of conduct, pointing to some mechanisms which favor self-coherence without granting actual coherence of conduct. Keywords: coherence of conduct; self-image; persistence; values; defense mechanisms


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