Who are you and what do you believe? Self-concept is a developing part of you that changes throughout your lifetime. You first discover a self-concept as an infant, and it undergoes constant changes as you grow and develop. Cognitive abilities related to self-concept vary in each person and contribute to the way a person reacts to situations and tasks. Self-concept consists of four main elements: perceived self, ideal self, self-esteem, and social identity.

Perceived Self

An infant able to recognize herself in a picture or mirror is in the first stage of developing a perceived self. This perception changes with development and includes traits, competencies and values. Your traits relate to patterns or demonstrations of behavior. As an individual, you learn to view your competencies in terms of your talents, skills or abilities. In time, you develop a sense of values centered around your beliefs and their relative importance. Your conception of what others believe about you is your "public self." Your "real self" is derived from the thoughts, feelings and needs you regard as being yours.

Ideal Self

When you think of the person you would like to be, you are exploring your ideal self. This is often one of the first steps in adolescence as young people develop a self-definition. In young children, ideal self is often centered around a single representation, and they may experience difficulty distinguishing between real self and ideal self. The ideal self consists of a set of traits, identities or abilities a person would like to have.


The way you view and self-evaluate, or judge, yourself forms your self-esteem. Individuals usually first articulate a sense of self-esteem at about the age of 8. When a person views his perceived self as far less than his ideal self, he has low self-esteem. If he estimates his perceived self to be equal to his ideal self, his self-esteem is high. Often, a person's self-esteem can change as a result of outside variables or capabilities in completing tasks. Social feedback can also greatly influence self-esteem.

Social Identity

Social identity embodies the numerous ways that people classify themselves: by sex, gender, religion, job occupation, political views, and many more distinguishing personal characteristics. It serves the purpose of enabling individuals to categorize themselves within a social environment so they can establish where they perceive themselves to belong.