ISA concepts and their meanings


The ISA definition of 'identity' locates the self in the nexus of others and emphasises the biographical continuity of the individual from past phases of events and experiences into the current period in the here and now, and towards one's aspirations for the future. Continuity rather than sameness so often attributed to 'identity' is the key feature, wherein the nature of the continuity is to be explained. Continuity of identity will at times encompass major identity transitions, through childhood and puberty, graduating from school, becoming employed, getting married and so on, including possible negative transitions of becoming chronically ill, being imprisoned, and other negative states. The formal definition of identity is:

"A person's identity is defined as the totality of one's self-construal, in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future.

This definition refers to the totality of identity with which there are significant aspects, such as ethnic, gender, occupational identity among many other aspects. These aspects are, of course, not separate identities (as they are frequently reified to be within the literature), but are interwoven in complex ways. Each aspect may be defined to emphasize key concerns associated with it, with the understanding however that each one is merely an aspect of the totality, however salient it may be in particular contexts [Definitions of aspects of identity].

'Identity structure' refers to the structural representation of the individual's existential experience, in which the relationships between self and other agents are organised in relatively stable structures over time, but which become further elaborated and changed on account of new experiences.

The Self: Rom Harré's Self 1, Self 2, Self 3
Harré distinguishes three uses of the notion of self : 'Self 1' refers to the agentic self, the agent that expresses self, appraises and interprets other's actions in relation to self, and reflects on self's thoughts and actions about others (See R. Harré: The Singular Self, London: Sage,1998). Self 1 cannot be empirically assessed, being the agent that is the doing; 'Self 2' refers to what is assessed by way of the agentic self's (Self 1's) appraisal of aspects of one's private self, that is, aspects of the person's self-concept ('me' as object of Self 1's appraisal, including one's aspirational self 'me as I would like to be'); 'Self 3' refers to the agentic self's (Self 1's) presentation of self to others in public scenarios, and features in how Self 1 interprets how this public self appears to others (metaperspectives of self - 'me as this person sees me', 'me as these people see me'). ISA adopts the distinction between Self 1, Self 2 and Self 3, such that when using an 'identity instrument' the agentic self, Self 1, appraises the social world of others and one's private self (Self 2, or self-concept in its various aspects) and the public face of self (Self 3).

Ways of talking and the person's uses of discourses when expressing self and appraising the social world: Kelly's Personal Construct
Every discourse (consisting of a word, text or verbal communication) that posits a characteristic, an action, an event, a belief, or any aspect of being-in-the-world has a contrast. Thus, to use discourses detailing the ugliness of warfare invites contrasting discourses about the virtues of negotiation and peaceful cooperation; alternatively, to use discourses insisting on the use of force to maintain one's territorial integrity against aggression suggests contrasting discourses about appeasement. Pairs of contrasting discourses used by a person in describing and appraising the social world are termed personal constructs, personal because psychological contrasts tend to vary from person to person (See G. A. Kelly, The Psychology of Personal Constructs, New York: Norton. 1955). Personal constructs are bipolar, that is, having two poles of contrasting discourses.

Identifying personal constructs that people in practice use requires penetrating sensitivity to their modes of expression and in particular their use and comprehension of discourses that are implicit without being articulated. Kelly's well-known triadic sort method (asking a person to think about three people or events, then to say in what way two of them are alike - the emergent pole, and in what way the third differs - the contrast pole) tends to result in simplistic texts. Free-flowing discussions, ethnographic observations, or clinical interviews generally yield discourses of greater significance. If not overtly given by the participant, psychological contrasts can frequently be inferred from the context provided by the person. Other discourses of interest to the investigator, known to be meaningful to the participant, are of course valid texts that have implicit significance to the person even when not spontaneously articulated.

The notion of the 'personal construct' emphasises that people's discourses about being-in-the-world are 'social constructions' (as opposed to 'objective facts') and that these constructions are personalised. In the abortion debate pro-choicers and pro-lifers can use the same discourses with contrary evaluative connotations, such that 'believes in women's right to abortion' (contrasted with 'believes women do not have any right to abortion') has negative evaluative connotations for the pro-lifers, but more positive ones for pro-choices. ISA takes this issue on board head on. Whichever is the perspective that the person aspires towards is the favoured one, which in ISA is anchored by reference to one's rating for the aspirational self (me as I would like to be), hence the concept of 'the polarity' of a construct, which the ipseus computer software ascertains for each individual. No assumption is made as to the favoured and disfavoured poles of a construct - these are always assessed individually. ISA ascertains the individual's value system, not one imposed on the discourses by the investigator.

The 'qualitative' features of ISA
Bipolar constructs in ISA: discourses, non-verbal gestures and imagery
In ISA the notion of the bipolar construct is elaborated beyond the set of personal constructs that constitute verbal or textual discourses so as to include non-verbal modes of expression and communication, such as gestures, imageries, stances, non-verbal sounds, and any other non-verbal signs that communicate meanings and emotions between people. ISA also recognises that ostensibly similar constructs may convey across individuals quite different evaluative connotations. What constitutes a positive emotional tone for one person may be a negative one for another person [Polarity of a construct]. The qualitative aspects of these discourses and non-verbal expressions always remain explicit in assessments and interpretations within the ISA conceptual framework.

Entities in ISA: facets of self, others, institutions, agencies, emblems and icons
'Entity' is an abstract term used to refer to any feature of self and the social world that may be the subject of discourses between people in the social world. The agentic self (Self 1) may describe and reference self (Self 2) in different contexts (such as, childhood, with one or another person or group, when engaged with specific events) and mood states (such as, frightened, depressed, on top of the world), and the public characterisation of self (Self 3), these all being features of self - for convenience, 'self-entities'. Other 'entities' will include those people and agencies that are of significance to the person. Just as the qualitative aspects of bipolar constructs are always explicit in ISA, so is this the case for 'entities'.

  • Aspirational self
    A person's 'aspirational self' consists of two main features, being, on the one hand, the projected desires, orientations, and 'goals' of the person (aspirations in a positive sense) and, on the other, those potential states and characteristics that the person would rather disown (aspirations in a negative sense) as these are agentically appraised (Aspirational Self 2 - i.e., as objectified by the Agentic Self, Self 1).

    While in many respects the person may seem to be aspiring to a set of 'goals' that defines who the person wishes to be, a single 'aspirational self', there is the possibility that in one social context (such as business) the person aspires to a distinct set of aspirations that is different from another set in an alternative context (such as domestic). In such instances, the person's identity processes may differ quite radically in line with multiple 'aspirational selves' (such that aspiring to be a successful in business could conflict with aspiring to be a good parent, when the two sets of aspirations are compartmentalised and divorced from each other). The aspirational "Me as I would like to be in business" could be divorced from the aspirational "Me as I would like to be as a parent" (that is, two Aspirational Self 2's).
  • Current self
    In some respects the notion of one's current self is amorphous in that the current moment may be instantaneously 'now ', but more often this moment is elongated into a period of time during which the current event or state of affairs continues. What one feels and how one expresses oneself varies in general according to social context (being by oneself, being with one's friends, being at work, being with one's own people, being with another community) and mood state (being anxious, being depressed, feeling at one with oneself). Evidently, there are potentially numerous contextual current selves (Current Self 2's).
  • Future self
    A person may well have strong aspirations that provide direction for activities undertaken and benchmarks for the kind of person one wishes to become, but nevertheless be aware that, given everyday realities, one will be unlikely to achieve these aspirations. Appraisal of future scenarios for oneself will tend not to reach the aspirational, and could be substantially retrograde (such as being imprisoned, given the sack, being deprived of expected resources, being severely injured in an accident). A notion of oneself in the future may be perceived as a progression towards what one aspires to become, but it could be the antithesis (Future Self 2).
  • Past self
    What constitutes significant aspects of oneself in the past will be dependent on biographical events, and one's memories and reconstructions of these events. What one was as a pre-school infant, a child, an adolescent and a young adult, and one's transitions from one phase of life to another - going to college, getting married, procreating - could be significant 'past selves' (Past Self 2's).
  • Exploratory self
    The 'what if' features of self represents the agentic self contemplating alternative scenarios and their consequences, when one explores possible behaviours and reflects on whether they might have favourable or unfavourable outcomes for imagined 'exploratory selves' (Exploratory Self 2's).
  • Metaperspective of self
    The expression of the selves I am for others, the "me as others see me" as these others often perceive oneself differently, are the public manifestation of one's private self (Public Self 3's).
  • Moral imperative of self
    'How one ought to be' and 'how one ought to behave' according to powerful social agencies (such as parent to a child; one's cultural mentors) are perspectives on self that are in the public arena about which the person may feel obliged to acquiesce or rebel against (Public Self 3's). In multi-cultural contexts, alternative one may be subjected to alternative moral imperatives (such as, on the one hand behaving in accordance with 'the honour of the family', and on the other living in accordance with 'mores of independence from others' opinions'), that is, to alternative 'me as others expect me to be' - an imperative metaperspective.
  • Other features of self
    There are several other potentially important states of self, such as mood states as being depressed or anxious or euphoric, or special instances of accommodation to the world such as when experiencing a sense of spirituality and oneness, or uncharacteristic states such as an occasion when one acted out of character. The significance of such states is that one expresses oneself rather differently according to which state one is experiencing.

The 'quantitative' parametric features of ISA
All of the quantitative parameters of identity that are listed below incorporate the qualitative aspects of identity, either in respect of 'entities' as indicated above, or by way of 'bipolar constructs' of discourses and non-verbal expressions. The apparently irreconcilability of qualitatively differing features of identity from person to person with quantitative parameters that are comparable across features is resolved by a 'standardisation' procedure that is referenced to the individual's own unique value and belief system. Irrespective of qualitative content, standardisation procedures, which take into account the idiosyncrasies of the qualitative, provide scalar parameters of identity that are well-defined and readily understood.

The polarity of bipolar constructs anchored in the person's aspirational self

The evaluative connotations, with which the person imbues the discourses and non-verbal expressions used from moment to moment to express self, appraise the social world, and describe and respond to events, are fundamental to their emotional significance for the person. Together with their cognitive counterparts they represent the person's value system, wherein at a first approximation favoured connotations are defined as being in line with the person's positive aspirations and negative connotations with negative aspirations. Thus, discourses and non-verbal expressions that are associated with the positive aspirational self, 'me as I would like to be', represent the person's positively endorsed values and beliefs (contrariwise, the contrasts to these represent the disfavoured values and beliefs). The manner by which one uses such discourses and non-verbal expressions (or bipolar constructs) in reference to one's aspirational self therefore provides the evidence for the favoured or disfavoured connotation associated with a particular discourse or non-verbal expression. Evaluative connotations with which the individual imbues bipolar constructs are 'anchored' in the person's aspirational self, those associated positively with 'me as I would like to be' being the favoured connotations, and the contrasts being disfavoured, that is, the 'polarity' of a bipolar construct is thereby designated [Polarity of a construct].

Of course, one's value and belief system may not be so neatly well-defined, as when one vacillates, using like discourses with at times favourable or at other time disagreeable connotations. Such vacillations are assessed by the parameter 'structural pressure' on a construct [Structural pressure on a construct], which together with 'polarity', gives a more moderated assessment of the complexities of a person's value and belief system. Furthermore, instances of compartmentalised 'aspirational selves', would signify a potentially contradictory usage of discourses according to which set of aspirations the person might have in ascendance.

Ego-involvement with another; ego-involvement with self

"One's ego-involvement with another is defined as one's overall responsiveness to the other in terms of the extensiveness both in quantity and strength of the attributes one construes the other as possessing."

This parameter ranges from zero to maximum ego-involvement with the entities included in the identity instrument (that is, 0.00 to 5.00 max). [Ego-involvement with another algorithm]

One's ego-involvement with self encompasses the following: 'aspirational self/selves', 'selves in context present, past and future', 'selves in psychological states', 'metaperspectives of self', 'moral imperative of self'.

Evaluation of another; evaluation of self

One's evaluation of another is defined as one's overall assessment of the other in terms of the positive and negative evaluative connotations of the attributes one construes in that other, in accordance with one's value system.

The index of standardised evaluation can range from -1.00 to 1.00, from a wholly unfavourable to a wholly favourable evaluation. [Evaluation of another algorithm]

Evaluation of self encompasses the component aspects of self, as indicated above for ego-involvement with self, that is, 'aspirational self/selves', 'selves in context present, past and future', 'selves in psychological states', 'metaperspectives of self', 'moral imperative of self'.


One's self-esteem is defined as one's overall self-assessment in evaluative terms of the continuing relationship between one's past and current self-images, in accordance with one's value system.

The parameter of self-esteem ranges from -1.00 to 1.00, from wholly negative to wholly positive, the reference point again being the ideal self. [Self-esteem algorithm]

Ambivalence towards an entity and entity dissonance

A person's ambivalence towards an entity when evaluated on balance in positive terms is defined as the ratio of negative to positive attributions, and conversely when negatively evaluated as the ratio of positive to negative attributions.

The index for ambivalence ranges from 0.00 to 1.00, from no ambivalence to maximum. [Ambivalence and entity dissonance algorithm]

'Entity dissonance' takes into account the overall significance of the entity in question for the individual, that is, one's ego-involvement with the entity.

The parameter of entity dissonance ranges from 0.00 to 5.00, from no dissonance to the maximum possible. [Ambivalence and entity dissonance algorithm]

Elemental identification

A person's identification with another is generally to a degree only, though one may identify totally with another on occasion, and sometimes not all. In practice, one's degree of identification with the other arises from the recognition of qualities in or attributes to the other that one recognises in oneself. What such qualities and attributes might be will vary according to biographical experiences and socio-cultural values and beliefs, evidently differing according to ethnicity (e.g., Chinese, African, Japanese, European, etc.). Each element of a quality or attribute shared between self and the other is an elemental identification, the nature of which will vary from one culture to another (e.g., as an element with mother or father in rural China, in an African tribe, in urban Japan, and in France or Germany). Several elemental identifications will form the extent of identification with another, the more elemental identifications there are, the greater the extent of identification.

An elemental identification is defined as being an identity of a characteristic attributed to the other and experienced in oneself.

All instances of identification in degree, ranging from little to considerable, can be readily conceptualised as comprising differing configurations of elemental identifications.

Idealistic-identification with another (emulative aspirational identification)

The extent of one's idealistic identification with another is defined as the similarity between the qualities one attributes to the other and those one would like to possess as part of one's ideal self-image.

The range of values for a person's idealistic-identification with another is zero (0.00) to unity (1.00), that is, from an absence of to complete identification with the other in question. [Idealistic-identification with another algorithm]

Contra-identification with another (contrariwise aspirational identification)

The extent of one's contra-identification with another is defined as the similarity between the qualities one attributes to the other and those from which one would wish to dissociate.

The range of values for a person's contra-identification with another is zero (0.00) to unity (1.00), that is, from an absence of to complete identification with the other in question. [Contra-identification with another algorithm]

Empathetic identification with another

The extent of one's current empathetic identification with another is defined as the degree of similarity between the qualities one attributes to the other, whether 'good' or 'bad', and those of one's current self-image.

The range of values for a person's current empathetic identification with another is zero (0.00) to unity (1.00), that is, from an absence of to complete identification with the other in question. [Empathetic identification with another algorithm]

Conflicted identification with another

In terms of one's current self-image the extent of one's identification conflict with another is defined as a multiplicative function of one's current empathetic identification and contra-identification with that other.

The range of values for a person's conflict in identification with another is zero (0.00) to unity (1.00), that is, from no conflicted identification with that other to the maximum theoretically possible, though psychologically unlikely. [Identification conflict with another algorithm]

Identity diffusion

The degree of one's identity diffusion is defined as the overall dispersion and magnitude of one's identification conflicts with others.

Identity diffusion can theoretically range from zero (0.00) to unity (1.00), though in practice the upper limit is psychologically not a viable state of affairs. [Overall identity diffusion algorithm]

Structural pressure on a construct

The structural pressure on a person's construct is defined as the overall strength of the excess of compatibilities over incompatibilities between the evaluative connotations of attributions one makes to each entity by way of the one construct and one's overall evaluation of each entity.

Structural pressure on a construct ranges from 100 to -100, where 100 represents the case when the evaluative connotation of the construct in question is consonant with the person's overall evaluation of each entity in turn. The positive contribution structural pressure for construct arises from consonances between that construct and entities, and the negative contribution from dissonances. [Structural pressure on a construct algorithm]

Emotional significance of a construct

The emotional significance of a construct used by one during appraisal of one's social world is defined as the strength of affect associated with the expression of the construct.

The index of standardised emotional significance can range from 0.00 to 10.00, from a construct being of no emotional significance to maximally significant for the individual. [Emotional significance of a construct algorithm]

Splitting in the appraisal of entities

The extent of splitting in a person's construal of two entities is defined as the ratio of the deficiency in actual overlap possible between their attributed characteristics to the total possible overlap, given the set of constructs one uses to construe them both.

The split index may range from zero (no split) to unity (total split) [Splitting in appraisal of entities algorithm].

Identity variants
The ISA classification of identity variants provides a global overview of a person's macro identity states situated in specified social contexts. The rationale for the identity variant classification arises from consideration of two fundamental global identity processes. The first is self's process of striving to implement one's identity aspirations by pursuit of various activities. The second is self's process of attempting to resynthesise one's identifications with others to date that have resulted in incompatible elemental identifications. [Identity variant classification]

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