You probably think this song is about you

The scholars of the week here at Soho the Dog HQ are psychologists Brian P. O’Connor and Jamie Dyce, of Lakehead University and Concordia University, respectively. Back when both were at Lakehead, they wanted to test a particular model of self-perception called the looking-glass self chain. Previous tests of the model had focused on the role of the opinions and perceived opinions of peers and colleagues; O’Connor and Dyce were looking to build on more recent work that had factored in the opinions of significant others. What they needed was a situation in which both sets of opinions would be in play.

Felson (1989) found that the actual and reflected appraisals of parents affected childrens’ self-appraisals of academic and athletic ability, and to a lesser degree self-appraisals of physical attractiveness and popularity. Edwards and Klockars (1981) and Schafer and Keith (1985) exmined the perceptions of marriage partners and found significant relationships among actual, reflected, and self-appraisals. One purpose of our study was to replicate these findings using a very different sample of subjects: musicians in bar bands.

As they reported in their 1993 study “Appraisals of Musical Ability in Bar Bands: Identifying the Weak Link in the Looking-Glass Self Chain” (published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology), O’Connor and Dyce surveyed 171 bar band musicians, having them rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, their own perceptions of all five steps in the looking-glass self chain:

  • Actual appraisals: what other people really think of you.
  • Feedback given: what other people tell you they think of you.
  • Feedback received: what you hear when other people tell you what they think of you.
  • Reflected appraisals: what you think other people really think of you.
  • Self-appraisal: what you think of yourself.

  • Two particular criticisms of the looking-glass self chain could then be evaluated. O’Connor and Dyce again:

    The communication-barriers hypothesis suggests that the weakest link is between actual appraisals and feedback given by significant others. People do not communicate their true perceptions to self-appraisers. In contrast, the cognitive-processes hypothesis suggests that the weak link is between feedback given by significant others and individuals’ perception of that feedback. Information is lost on the way from sender to receiver.

    Any wagers? The researchers found that musicians, in fact, say what they think—but only hear what they want to.

    Of particular interest in this study is the finding that the correlation between actual appraisals and feedback given (r =.62) and the correlation between feedback given and feedback received (r =.38) were both significant, but the actual appraisals-feedback given correlation was significantly stronger according to the formula for comparing dependent correlations recommended by Cohen and Cohen (1983, p. 56), t =3.61, p <.01, two-tailed. This indicates that the weakest link in the looking-glass self chain is between feedback given and feedback received, and not between actual appraisals and feedback given.

    Brutally blunt to others, stubbornly pleased with ourselves—sounds like most musicians.

    O’Connor and Dyce took the opportunity to have the same 171 musicians complete Inter-personal Adjective Scale-Big Five (IASR-B5) measures of personality. Their findings?

    The results suggest that [popular] musicians tend to be more arrogant, dominant, extroverted, open to experience and neurotic than university males. However, no significant differences were found among singers, guitarists, bass players and drummers.

    Just remember, if you argue with the results, you’re further undermining the weak link in the looking-glass self chain. Those scientists—always thinking two moves ahead.

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