Self and identity: a brief overview of what they are, what they do, and how they work

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Oct;1234:48-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06224.x.


The human self exists at the interface between the animal body and the social system. Solitary beings would hardly need or have selves, but social and cultural systems define identities, and the human animal acquires selfhood in order to function in these systems. Self begins with the physical body, with acting and choosing as a unity, and as a point of reference distinct from others, and it acquires meaningful content by participating in the social system. The self is not contained in the brain, but rather the human brain learns to operate a self.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Culture
  • Ego*
  • Humans
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Identification*