Self-awareness means being mindful of various facets of our own characteristics, emotions, and behaviors. In essence, it is a mental state where the center of attention is on one’s own self.
Self-awareness is one of the main elements of the emerging self-concept journey. Although self-awareness has a key role in who we are, it is not a thing that we are intensely focused on in every moment of the day. In fact, it can become part of the foundation of who you are and begin to emerge at different stages, depending on the circumstances and your character.
People are not fully self-aware when they are born. However, studies have revealed that infants have a basic sense of awareness of themselves. Infants do have the awareness of knowing that they are not the same beings as others. That is exemplified by their behavior such as making rooting motions in which infants are trying to find a nipple. This happens when something is brushing against their face. Studies have also shown that newborns can also distinguish between the touch by themselves and others.
When Does Self-Awareness Arise?
Researchers have found that at about one year of age, a more complex idea of self-awareness starts to arise and it becomes a lot more evolved by about eighteen months of age.
Research about how self-awareness evolves was conducted by Lewis and Brooks-Gunn. They added a red dot to the nose of an infant and then placed the child in front of a mirror. Children that identified themselves in the mirror didn’t try to reach the reflection, but their own noses. Therefore, this showed that a small amount of self-awareness is still present.
Lewis and Brooks-Gunn discovered that hardly any children under the age of one year would touch their own nose, instead of the reflection in the mirror. Approximately 25 percent of the infants between fifteen and eighteen months managed to reach for their own noses. In addition, nearly 70 percent of those between twenty-one and twenty-four months did so too.
It is important to keep in mind that Lewis and Brooks-Gunn’s research only covers the visual self-awareness that an infant has. Therefore, note that children may also have other types of self-awareness, no matter the early stage of their lives. In addition, researchers Weiss, Lewis, Stranger, and Sullivan stated that the expression of emotions includes both self-awareness and the ability to think about someone in connection with others.
Self-Awareness: The Process of Developing It
Studies have indicated that a brain area, more precisely anterior cingulate cortex, is an essential part of the development of self-awareness and it is positioned in the frontal lobe. Researchers have also used neuroimaging to demonstrate that this area can become activated in self-aware adults. The experiment by Lewis and Brooks-Gunn indicates that self-awareness starts to arise in children at about 18 months of age. That is an age that corresponds with the fast development of spindle cells located in the anterior cingulate cortex.
Furthermore, one research showed that a person maintained self-awareness even after serious damage to the brain areas like the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula. This indicates that certain forms of self-awareness do not involve these brain regions; awareness might instead emerge from interactions spread between brain networks.
So how does the process of children becoming self-aware and distinguishing themselves as separate beings work? Studies report that children move through a number of self-awareness levels between birth and age of four or five. Self-awareness is discovered by how children react to their own appearance in a mirror.
Forms of Self-Awareness
Psychologists usually divide self-awareness into two main forms; public or private.
This form arises when individuals are aware of the way they portray themselves to other people. It often arises in circumstances when people have all of the attention on them; for example, when presenting or communicating to a group of people.
Therefore, public self-awareness obligates people to abide by social norms. We often want to react in ways that are socially appropriate and advisable when we are aware that a lot of people are watching and analyzing us.
This form of self-awareness can also contribute to anxiety appraisal; people become nervous, distressed, and concerned with how others perceive them.
This form emerges when individuals are aware of certain facets of themselves. However, this applies only in a private way.
For instance, when we see our faces in the mirror we experience a form of self-awareness that is private. You forget to prepare for a very important test and your stomach lurches, or you see a person that you like and you feel your heartbeat faster; these are some examples of self-awareness as well.
Reaching a Higher Level of Self-Awareness: Self-Consciousness
People may also become very self-aware and go into a state known as self-consciousness.
Have you ever got a feeling that everyone was staring at you, analyzing your actions and waiting for your next move? This is a higher form of self-awareness and it can make you feel anxious and awkward in some situations.
Most of the time, such self-conscious thoughts emerge in circumstances where we are ‘’in the spotlight’’ and they are temporary. However, for some individuals, self-consciousness can lead to a chronic condition, for example, social anxiety disorder.
Privately self-conscious people have a greater level of private self-awareness; that can be a good, but also a bad thing as well. These individuals have a tendency to be more aware of their emotions and behaviors and are therefore adhere to their own values. On the other hand, they also have a higher chance of experiencing negative effects on their health like increased anxiety and tension.
People that are publicly self-conscious have a greater degree of self-awareness that is public. They seem to care more about how other people perceive them; they can be often worried that someone may judge them based on their appearance or acts. As a consequence, these people prefer to adhere to social standards and try to escape situations in which they may feel uncomfortable or look bad.
Self-awareness has a crucial role in our comprehension of ourselves and our connection to others and the world around us. When you become self-aware, it helps in evaluating yourself between others. Some people have an incredibly high feeling of self-awareness and that can result in increased self-consciousness.
If you ever feel like you are starting to struggle with a self-consciousness that has a negative impact on your life, talk with your doctor about your symptoms. In that way, you will be able to understand how you can deal with these feelings.