From PsychEvos Wiki

Definition and Development

Self-awareness is the ability to perceive and understand the aspects that make up one's individuality, including personality, actions, values, beliefs, emotions, and thoughts [1]. It is an essential component in the development of empathy, ego-centric awareness, and social intelligence [2]. In developmental psychology, self-awareness represents a milestone typically occurring around the age of 2 in children [3]. Different animals may have varying levels of self-awareness, and the adaptive advantages that come with these processes continue to fuel academic debate [4].

Five Levels of Self-awareness

Self-awareness processes can be categorized into five hierarchical stages, as proposed by Rochat. These levels offer insights into the development of self-awareness in children and across different species [5]:

Level 1: Confusion

At this stage, the individual cannot distinguish between themselves and the external world. They react to stimuli but are not aware of their own existence as a separate entity.

Level 2: Differentiation

The individual begins to distinguish between their body and external objects. However, they don't yet understand that their actions may impact the surrounding environment.

Level 3: Situation

At this level, the individual recognizes that they are part of the environment and that their actions affect the surroundings. They start to understand their physical and spatial relationship to other objects and beings.

Level 4: Identification

The individual becomes aware of themselves as a separate entity with a unique identity. They can recognize themselves in a mirror, develop self-consciousness, and are aware of their own thoughts, feelings, and preferences.

Level 5: Meta Self-awareness

At the highest level of self-awareness, the individual becomes capable of reflecting on their own thoughts, cognitive processes, and motives. They can analyze and evaluate their behavior and mental state, as well as predict the behavior and emotions of others.

Adaptive Advantages of Self-awareness

Although the exact adaptive advantages of self-awareness remain debated, there are several potential benefits that might explain its emergence in different species [6]:

  • Increased problem-solving abilities: Self-aware individuals can better understand their own strengths and limitations, making them more adept at tackling novel challenges.
  • Enhanced social skills: Being aware of one's own emotions and thoughts enables empathy, allowing for better understanding of the emotions and thoughts of other beings.
  • Improved decision-making: Self-aware individuals can make informed choices by evaluating their own preferences, desires, and beliefs.
  • Enhanced self-regulation: Self-awareness allows individuals to regulate their own behavior, increasing their chances of success in various social and survival scenarios.

Implications for Human Psychology

The development of self-awareness in humans has significant implications in various disciplines:

  • Developmental psychology: Researchers study the different stages of self-awareness to understand how children's cognitive, emotional, and social abilities develop.
  • Neuropsychology: Self-awareness is thought to involve complex neural networks in the brain, providing insights into brain function and dysfunction.
  • Social psychology: Understanding the role of self-awareness in empathy and social cognition helps researchers explore the intricacies of human relationships and interactions.


Self-awareness is an essential aspect of an individual's psychological makeup, influencing cognitive, emotional, and social abilities. As a fundamental process that varies across species and evolves through different levels, self-awareness holds significant implications for understanding developmental, neural, and social aspects of human psychology. Although the exact adaptive advantages of self-awareness continue to be debated, it remains an essential component of human cognition and emotional intelligence.