Self-Concept Clarity and Social Role Transitions



Major transitions in people’s lives often disrupt people’s understanding of who they are. This chapter reviews how people’s social role transitions affect their self-concept clarity. We begin with an overview of these role transitions broadly defined, reviewing literature showing that both entering into a new social role and exiting a social role can undermine self-concept clarity. We then focus specifically on social role transition within romantic relationship contexts. In particular, we review the literature on relationship dissolution and self-concept clarity. Although, in general, the end of a relationship tends to undermine self-concept clarity, we highlight several moderators that can attenuate this effect. We then turn to the consequences of experiencing low self-concept clarity after the end of a relationship for well-being. Finally, we highlight six unresolved issues in this literature and identify directions for future research on social role transitions and self-concept clarity.


Self-concept clarity Self-concept Social roles Well-being Romantic relationships Breakup Divorce Relationship dissolution 


  1. Agnew, C. R. (2000). Cognitive interdependence and the experience of relationship loss. In J. H. Harvey & E. D. Miller (Eds.), Loss and trauma: General and close relationship perspectives (pp. 385–398). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Agnew, C. R., & Etcheverry, P. E. (2006). Cognitive interdependence: Considering self-in relationship. In K. D. Vohs & E. J. Finkel (Eds.), Self and relationships: Connecting intrapersonal and interpersonal processes (pp. 274–293). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  3. Agnew, C. R., Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., & Langston, C. A. (1998). Cognitive interdependence: Commitment and the mental representation of close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(4), 939–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andersen, S. M., & Chen, S. (2002). The relational self: An interpersonal social-cognitive theory. Psychological Review, 109(4), 619–645.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aron, A. (2003). The self and relationships. In M. R. Leary & J. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 442–461). New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
  6. Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Tudor, M., & Nelson, G. (1991). Close relationships as including other in the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(2), 241–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Aron, A., Paris, M., & Aron, E. N. (1995). Falling in love: Prospective studies of self-concept change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(6), 1102–1112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barber, L. L., & Cooper, M. L. (2014). Rebound sex: Sexual motives and behaviors following a relationship breakup. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 251–265.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Barbery, M. (2008). The elegance of the hedgehog. New York, NY: Europa Editions.Google Scholar
  10. Baumeister, R. F. (2010). The self. In R. F. Baumeister & E. Finkel (Eds.), Advanced social psychology (pp. 139–176). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boals, A., & Klein, K. (2005). Word use in emotional narratives about failed romantic relationships and subsequent mental health. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 24(3), 252–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol 1. Attachment. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  14. Brumbaugh, C. C., & Fraley, R. C. (2015). Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(1), 99–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cacioppo, J. T., Petty, R. E., Losch, M. E., & Kim, H. S. (1986). Electromyographic activity over facial muscle regions can differentiate the valence and intensity of affective reactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 260–268.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell, J. D. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(3), 538–549.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Campbell, J. D., Assanand, S., & Di Paula, A. (2003). The structure of the self-concept and its relation to psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality, 71(1), 115–140.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Campbell, J. D., Trapnell, P. D., Heine, S. J., Katz, I. M., Lavallee, L. F., & Lehman, D. R. (1996). Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates, and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 141–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human nature and the social order. New York, NY: Scribner.Google Scholar
  20. Davis, D., Shaver, P. R., & Vernon, M. L. (2003). Physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions to breaking up: The roles of gender, age, emotional involvement, and attachment style. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(7), 871–884.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Demo, D. H. (1992). The self-concept over time: Research issues and directions. Annual Review of Sociology, 18, 303–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Drew, S. S., Heesacker, M., Frost, H. M., & Oelke, L. E. (2004). The role of relationship loss and self-loss in women’s and men’s dysphoria. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(3), 381–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Emery, L. F., Walsh, C., & Slotter, E. B. (2015). Knowing who you are and adding to it: Reduced self-concept clarity predicts reduced self-expansion. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(3), 259–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Epstein, S. (1977). Traits are alive and well. In S. Magnusson & N. S. Endler (Eds.), Personality at the crossroads: Current issues in interactional psychology (pp. 83–98). Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  25. Ethier, K. A., & Deaux, K. (1994). Negotiating social identity when contexts change: Maintaining identification and responding to threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(2), 243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fagundes, C. P., Diamond, L. M., & Allen, K. (2012). Adolescent attachment insecurity and parasympathetic functioning predict future loss adjustment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 821–832.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fraley, R. C., & Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Attachment and loss: A test of three competing models on the association between attachment-related avoidance and adaptation to bereavement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(7), 878–890.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gabriel, S., & Gardner, W. L. (1999). Are there “his” and “hers” types of interdependence? The implications of gender differences in collective versus relational interdependence for affect, behavior, and cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(3), 642–655.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hagemann, D., Waldstein, S. R., & Thayer, J. F. (2003). Central and autonomic nervous system integration in emotion. Brain and Cognition, 52(1), 79–87.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2), 213–221.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jetten, J., O’Brien, A., & Trindall, N. (2002). Changing identity: Predicting adjustment to organizational restructure as a function of subgroup and superordinate identification. British Journal of Social Psychology, 41(2), 281–297.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kiecolt, K. J. (1994). Stress and the decision to change oneself: A theoretical model. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57(1), 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kumashiro, M., Rusbult, C. E., Wolf, S. T., & Estrada, M.-J. (2006). The Michelangelo phenomenon: Partner affirmation and self-movement toward one’s ideal. In K. D. Vohs & E. J. Finkel (Eds.), Self and relationships: Connecting intrapersonal and interpersonal processes (pp. 317–341). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  35. Larson, G., & Sbarra, D. (2015). Participating in research on romantic breakups promotes emotional recovery via changes in self-concept clarity. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 399–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lee, L. A., & Sbarra, D. A. (2013). Divorce and relationships dissolution: Causes, context and consequences. In C. Hazan & M. I. Campa (Eds.), Human bonding (pp. 308–343). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  37. Lewandowski, G. W., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. (2006). Losing a self-expanding relationship: Implications for the self-concept. Personal Relationships, 13, 317–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lewandowski, G. W., & Bizzoco, N. M. (2007). Addition through subtraction: Growth following the dissolution of a low quality relationship. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(1), 40–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lewandowski, G. W., Nardone, N., & Raines, A. J. (2010). The role of SCC in relationship quality. Self and Identity, 9, 416–433.Google Scholar
  40. Light, A. E., & Visser, P. S. (2013). The ins and outs of the self: Contrasting role exits and role entries as predictors of self-concept clarity. Self and Identity, 12(3), 291–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Linville, P. W. (1987). Self-complexity as a cognitive buffer against stress-related illness and depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(4), 663–676.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lodi-Smith, J., & Roberts, B. W. (2010). Getting to know me: Social role experiences and age differences in self-concept clarity during adulthood. Journal of Personality, 78(5), 1383–1410.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lodi-Smith, J., Cologgi, K., Spain, S. M., & Roberts, B. W. (2017). Development of identity clarity and content in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112, 755–768.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lue, N. (2011, May 18). Rebound relationships in a nutshell: Transitionals, buffers, and why you should step away from the light when they’re not over their ex. Retrieved from
  45. MacDonald, T. K., & Zanna, M. P. (1998). Cross-dimension ambivalence toward social groups: Can ambivalence affect intentions to hire feminists? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(4), 427–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, J. G. W. (2013). The power of one: Benefits of individual self-expansion. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(1), 12–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mattingly, B. A., Lewandowski, G. W., & McIntyre, K. P. (2014). “You make me a better/worse person”: A two-dimensional model of relationship self-change. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 176–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Markus, H. (1977). Self-schemata and processing information about the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(2), 63–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Markus, H., & Wurf, E. (1987). The dynamic self-concept: A social psychological perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 38, 299–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mason, A. E., Law, R. W., Bryan, A. E., Portley, R. M., & Sbarra, D. A. (2012). Facing a breakup: Electromyographic responses moderate self-concept recovery following a romantic separation. Personal Relationships, 19(3), 551–568.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McConnell, A. R. (2011). The multiple self-aspects framework: Self-concept representation and its implications. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(1), 3–27.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McIntyre, K. P., Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, G. W. (2014). When “we” changes “me”: The two-dimensional model of relational self-change and relationship outcomes. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(7), 857–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  54. Meyer, C. (2012). What is a rebound relationship?. Retrieved from
  55. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2003). The attachment behavioral system in adulthood: Activation, psychodynamics, and interpersonal processes. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 53–152). New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  56. Monroe, S. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Lewinsohn, P. M. (1999). Life events and depression in adolescence: Relationship loss as a prospective risk factor for first onset of major depressive disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 606–614.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nezlek, J. B., & Plesko, R. M. (2001). Day-to-day relationships among self-concept clarity, self-esteem, daily events, and mood. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(2), 201–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Otnes, C., Lowrey, T. M., & Shrum, L. J. (1997). Toward an understanding of consumer ambivalence. Journal of Consumer Research, 24(1), 80–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Reis, H. T., & Collins, W. A. (2004). Relationships, human behavior, and psychological science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(6), 233–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ritchie, T. D., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Gidron, Y. (2011). Self-concept clarity mediates the relation between stress and subjective well-being. Self and Identity, 10(4), 493–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rook, K. S., & Zettel, L. A. (2005). The purported benefits of marriage viewed through the lens of physical health. Psychological Inquiry, 16(2/3), 116–121.Google Scholar
  62. Sbarra, D. A. (2006). Predicting the onset of emotional recovery following nonmarital relationship dissolution: Survival analyses of sadness and anger. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(3), 298–312.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sbarra, D. A., & Borelli, J. L. (2013). Heart rate variability moderates the association between attachment avoidance and self-concept reorganization following marital separation. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 88(3), 253–260Google Scholar
  64. Sbarra, D., Boals, A., Mason, A., Larson, G., & Mehl, M. (2013). Expressive writing can impede emotional recovery following marital separation. Clinical Psychological Science, 1, 120–134.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sbarra, D. A., & Ferrer, E. (2006). The structure and process of emotional experience following nonmarital relationship dissolution: Dynamic factor analyses of love, anger, and sadness. Emotion, 6(2), 224–238.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Slotter, E. B., & Emery, L. F. (2017). On the rebound: Self-concept malleability and the tendency to engage in rebound relationships predict self-concept clarity. Unpublished manuscript, Villanova University.Google Scholar
  67. Slotter, E. B., Emery, L. F., & Luchies, L. B. (2014). Me after you: Partner influence and individual effort predict rejection of self-aspects and self-concept clarity after relationship dissolution. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 831–844.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Slotter, E. B., & Gardner, W. L. (2009). Where do you end and I begin? Evidence for anticipatory, motivated self-other integration between relationship partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(6), 1137–1151.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Slotter, E. B., & Gardner, W. L. (2012a). The dangers of dating the “bad boy” (or girl): When does romantic desire encourage us to take on the negative qualities of potential partners? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(5), 1173–1178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Slotter, E. B., & Gardner, W. L. (2012b). How needing you changes me: The influence of attachment anxiety on self-concept malleability in romantic relationships. Self and Identity, 11(3), 386–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Slotter, E. B., Gardner, W. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2010). Who am I without you? The influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(2), 147–160.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Slotter, E. B., & Lucas, G. M. (2013). Validating a measure of self and partner change in romantic relationships: The perceived change in relationships scale. Self and Identity, 12(2), 177–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Slotter, E. B., Lucas, G. M., Jakubiak, B., & Lasslett, H. (2013). Changing me to keep you: State jealousy promotes perceiving similarity between the self and a romantic rival. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(10), 1280–1292.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Slotter, E. B., Soto, N., & Winger, L. (2015). Lost without each other: The influence of group identity loss on the self-concept. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 19(1), 15–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Slotter, E. B., & Walsh, C. (2017). All life events are not experienced equally: The associations between self-change and emotional reactions predicting self-concept clarity in the wake of role transitions. Self and Identity, 16, 531–556.Google Scholar
  76. Smith, H. S., & Cohen, L. H. (1993). Self-complexity and reactions to a relationship breakup. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12(4), 367–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Spielmann, S. S., Joel, S., Macdonald, G., & Kogan, A. (2012). Ex appeal: Current relationship quality and emotional attachment to ex-partners. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(2), 175–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., & Wilson, A. E. (2009). On the rebound: Focusing on someone new helps anxiously attached individuals let go of ex-partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(10), 1382–1394.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sprecher, S., Felmlee, D., Metts, S., Fehr, B., & Vanni, D. (1998). Factors associated with distress following the breakup of a close relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15(6), 791–809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tejada-Vera, B., & Sutton, P. D. (2010). Births, marriages, divorces, and deaths: Provisional data for 2009. In National vital statistics reports; vol. 58, no. 25. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  81. Treadgold, R. (1999). Transcendent vocations: Their relationship to stress, depression, and clarity of self-concept. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 39(1), 81–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Trinke, S. J., & Bartholomew, K. (1997). Hierarchies of attachment relationships in young adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 14(5), 603–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Williams, K., & Umberson, D. (2004). Marital status, marital transitions, and health: A gendered life course perspective. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45(1), 81–98.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Wolfinger, N. H. (2007). Does the rebound effect exist? Time to remarriage and subsequent union stability. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46, 9–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations