Self-Perception Theory, Radical Behaviourism,
and the Publicity/Privacy Issue
Giuseppe Lo Dico
Published online: 30 December 2017
Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017
Abstract According to Bem’s self-perception theory, people know their own minds in
the same way that they know those of others: they infer their own minds by observing
their own behavior and the circumstances in which this behavior takes place. Although
Bem’s theory seems anti-introspectionistic, it claims that people infer their minds by
observing their own behavior only when internal cues are weak, ambiguous, or un-
interpretable. This has led some to argue that Bem does not rule out aprioriintrospec-
tive access to the mind and thus introspection as a research method. This paper will
discuss self-perception theory and its influence over recent research and will argue that
introspection is not an autonomous research method. This is so because of its radical
behavioristic outlook, according to which all methods and data of psychology must be
public and not private. Then, the paper will discuss the epistemological implications of
this behavioristic attitude on psychology. Finally, it will argue in favor of introspection
as an autonomous research method and an independent source of data for psychology.
One may wonder why we should be interested in Bem’s self-perception theory today.
After all, this theory received much attention throughout the years and the debate
around it appears to be concluded.
Because this is an old and much-discussed topic, it
is important to note that the aim of this paper is not to consider anew the matter of
interpreting the dissonance phenomena that characterized the debate about Bem’s
position; rather, the aim of this paper is to focus on some controversial features of
Rev.Phil.Psych. (2018) 9:429–445
In spite of this, it is worth noting that self-perception theory has recently reappeared in the field of media
psychology. A clear example is the Proteus effect, which postulates that individuals in virtual environments
tend to conform their behavior on the basis of their digital self-representations (for examples, avatars)
independent of how others perceive them (Yee and Bailenson 2007, 271, 273, 274–275 and 285–287 and
2009, 195, 196–197 and 206).
* Giuseppe Lo Dico
Department of Psychology, Catholic University, Milan, Italy