Research program “Valuation Theory, self-confrontation and dialogical self”

Mission Statement

The research program “Valuation Theory, self-confrontation and dialogical self” has two main purposes, one scientific, the other practical. The scientific aim is to give an original theoretical and methodological contribution at the frontiers of the academic psychology of the self. The practical aim is to stimulate the cooperation between scientists and practitioners by developing methods for self-investigation which are, at the same time, theory-based and applicable in a variety of practical settings. The two aims as formulated above, are realized by a distinction between three levels: theory, method, and practice. On the theoretical level, the program has produced a motivational theory of the self, valuation theory. This theory provides a conceptual framework for the study of the self as an organized process of valuation and, in a more recent stage of theory-development, in terms of multivoicedness and dialogicality. On the methodological level, a procedure for self-investigation, called the self-confrontation method, has been developed for investigating the content and organization of the self with proper attention for its motivational base.

The program aims at a further development of the self-confrontation method in such a way that the multivoiced and dialogical nature of the human mind can be investigated with refined and extended methodological tools. On the practical level the self-confrontation method has been applied in three fields: mental health, education, and personnel management.

The purpose is to device new versions of the self-confrontation method and other methods in such a way that the guiding theoretical framework (valuation theory and its dialogical elaborations) can be applied in a broad variety of practical settings.

Historical Outline

In their present form theory, method, and practice are the results of three phases that are summarized below The first phase started with Hermans’ (1967) dissertation Motivatie en Prestatie [Motivation and Achievement]. This dissertation provided the basis of two psychological tests for measurement of the achievement motive and fear of failure, the Prestatie Motivatie Test [Achievement Motivation Test] for adults (Hermans, 1968, 1970; Hermans, Petermann, & Zielinsky, 1978), and the Prestatie Motivatie Test voor kinderen [Achievement Motivation Test for children] (Hermans, 1971, 1976, 1983; Hermans, Ter Laak, & Maes, 1972), abbreviated as PMT and PMT-k respectively. The application of the PMT is mainly in the fields of work and education; the PMT-k mainly in education.

Dissatisfaction with these tests (for reasons see Hermans, Fiddelaers, De Groot, & Nauta, 1990), and with the theoretical and methodological basis of psychological tests in general, gave the impetus to the initial development of valuation theory and the construction of a self-confrontation method (Hermans, 1974), which marked the beginning of the second phase. In the self-confrontation method the subject plays an active role as “self-investigator” and participates as “co-investigator” in psychological research (for arguments see Hermans & Bonarius, 1991; Hermans, 1992a). As a self-theory, valuation theory is developed for the study of individual experiences, their ordering into a narratively structured meaning system and their development over time (Hermans,1987a,b; 1988; Hermans & Van Gilst, 1991; Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1995; ).

The third phase was introduced by the article “The dialogical self: Beyond individualism and rationalism” in the American Psychologist (Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992). The main idea, prepared by a diversity of applications of the self-confrontation method in a diversity of samples and settings, is that the self is composed of a multitude of I positions. That is, the I can fluctuate among various, often opposed positions, and is able to tell, in terms of valuations, different stories about self and world from different positions (for the term “position” see also Harré & Van Langenhove, 1991) An important implication of this theoretical view is that it enables to investigate the contrasts and contradictions of the mind and its implications to the process of change (for empirical and practical implications see Hermans, Rijks, & Kempen, 1993, and Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1995)

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