Self-knowledge: its limits, value, and potential for improvement

Annu Rev Psychol. 2004:55:493-518. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141954.


Because of personal motives and the architecture of the mind, it may be difficult for people to know themselves. People often attempt to block out unwanted thoughts and feelings through conscious suppression and perhaps through unconscious repression, though whether such attempts are successful is controversial. A more common source of self-knowledge failure is the inaccessibility of much of the mind to consciousness, including mental processes involved in perception, motor learning, personality, attitudes, and self-esteem. Introspection cannot provide a direct pipeline to these mental processes, though some types of introspection may help people construct beneficial personal narratives. Other ways of increasing self-knowledge include looking at ourselves through the eyes of others and observing our own behavior. These approaches can potentially promote self-knowledge, although major obstacles exist. It is not always advantageous to hold self-perceptions that correspond perfectly with reality, but increasing awareness of nonconscious motives and personality is generally beneficial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Learning
  • Personality
  • Repression, Psychology
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Unconscious, Psychology