How well do self-report self-concept ratings by self agree with inferred self-concept ratings based on responses by significant others (e.g., teacher, family member, friend)? This long-standing debate in self-concept research has important theoretical, substantive, and practical implications. Following Shavelson et al. (1976), Marsh (e.g., Marsh, 1990c, 1993a; Marsh & Craven, 1997) stressed that inferred self-concept is a separate construct and should not be confused with self-concept ratings that are necessarily based on some form of self-report. Thus, for example, even if young children have inflated self-perceptions of their competence in relation to perceptions by significant others and objective measures, their self-reports are a valid representation of their self-concept, and inferred self-concepts by significant others that disagree with the self-reports are not. Inferred self-concepts are, however, useful to (a) determine how accurately self-concept can be inferred by external observers, (b) validate interpretations of responses to self-concept instruments, and (c) test theoretical hypotheses. The MTMM design in which the multiple methods are different respondents has been highly effective in addressing this critical issue, as illustrated by the three studies summarized in this section.
A study using teacher and student responses. When multiple dimensions of self-concept are represented by both self-ratings and inferred-ratings,
MTMM analysis provides an important analytical tool for testing the construct validity of the responses (Marsh, 1990b). Summarizing results from 8 MTMM studies, Marsh reported significant agreement between multiple self-concepts inferred by primary school teachers and student responses. Across 7 self-concept scales and 8 studies, the mean convergent validity (self-other agreement on matching scales) was .30. Student-teacher agreement was strongest where the teachers could most easily make relevant observations (math, .37; reading, .37; school, .33; physical ability, .38; and, perhaps, peer relations, .29). Student-teacher agreement was reasonably specific to each area of self-concept. These studies demonstrated that external observers can infer self-concepts in many areas with modest accuracy and support the construct validity of self-concept responses.
A study using teachers and parent responses about student self-concepts. Marsh and Craven (1991) extended this research in a comparison of the abilities of elementary school teachers, mothers, and fathers to infer multiple self-concepts of preadolescent children. Responses by mothers and by fathers were slightly more accurate than those by teachers, but the relative accuracy of teachers, mothers, and fathers in assessing different components of self-concept did not vary much with the specific component of self. All three groups were more accurate in their inferences about physical ability, reading, mathematics, and general school self-concepts than other specific scales or self-esteem self-concept. Self-other agreement in this study tended to be better than had been found in other research, but this was apparently because children and significant others all completed the complete SDQI instrument, whereas earlier studies typically relied on single-item ratings by teachers to represent each self-concept scale.
A study with responses from university students and their significant others. Much stronger results were found in MTMM studies of SDQ1II responses in a small Australian study (N = 151; Marsh & O'Niell, 1984) and in a large Canadian study (N = 941; Marsh & Byrne, 1993). In both studies, university students completed the SDQIII and asked the "person in the world who knew them best" to complete the SDQIII as if they were that person (significant others typically were family members, boy/girlfriends). Self-other agreement was very high (mean r = .57), and four of the scales had self-other correlations over .75. Both the traditional Campbell-Fiske guidelines and CFA models of MTMM data provided strong support for the convergent and discriminant validity of the ratings. Both the size of self-other correlations and the pattern of results across the 13 SDQIII scales were remarkably similar in the two studies. Apparently, self-other agreement was so good in both studies because the participants were older and thus knew themselves better and based their self-responses on more objective, observable criteria; both participants and significant others made their responses on the same well-developed instrument; self-other agreement was for specific characteristics rather than for broad, ambiguous characteristics or an overall self-concept; responses to these specific characteristics were based on multi-item scales rather than single-item responses used in many studies; and the significant others in these studies knew the participants better and in a wider range of contexts than the observers in most research. These results imply that external observers are best able to infer self-concepts when participants are older and responses are based on psychometrically strong instruments designed to measure multiple dimensions of self-concept.
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