The Tripartite Model of Self-construal theory indicated that self contains three aspects: individual self, relational self, and collective self. The individual self is a representation of self as a unique and independent social agent. It reflects cognitions that are related to traits, characteristics, experiences, interests, and goals that promote a sense of distinctiveness and individuality. The relational self reflects cognitions that are related to one’s relationships. It consists of traits, characteristics, experiences, interests and goals shared with intimate others that promote a sense of connection and closeness. The collective self is a representation of self as an undifferentiated and interchangeable group member (e.g., as when fans paint themselves in their team colors). It consists of traits, characteristics, experiences, interest, and goals derived from shared group memberships that promote a sense of assimilation and belongingness. These three aspects coexist in one’s self, but situational factors will affect which kind of self-construal would be activated and become the primary of that current situation.
Reviewing the differences in the neural mechanisms of the Tripartite Model of Self-construal, we found that comparing with other information, self-related information(including individual self, relational self and collective self) all induced stronger N2 (familiarity index) and P300 (advanced cognitive processing index) components. A larger N2 amplitudes may indicate that personally familiar information elicit stronger responses than other information. And P3 component was associated with the controlled processing phenomena triggered by previous automatic processes; its generation has been shown to require top-down attention mechanisms initiated by frontal lobe functions. This result indicating that self has a stronger biological importance and psychological prominence, easier to be identified and keep attention. FMRI results showed that processing the information of individual self, relational self and collective self also activated more medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), which is the important region to characterize the self.
However, the individual self uniquely induced stronger P2 components than relational self and collective self. P2 activity may reflect the detection of typical stimulus features, and recruitment of attention resources. This result indicated the individual self-information elicited early attention and was rapidly differentiated from other self-information in the brain in the absence of top-bottom cognitive and controlled resources. Furthermore, the individual self activated more right-brain region, however relational and collective self activated more left-brain region. The results of the comparison between the three kinds of self under Chinese cultural background showed that which self is primary one depended on the stage of processing. Specifically, at the early stage of processing, collective self was the primary one and at the late stage of processing, individual self became the primary one. As to the activated region, the three components neither were almost the same and nor differed at the degree of activation.
However, some problems still remain unsolved. Future research should emphasize on the specific brain areas representing these three kinds of selves as well as their functions.It should also aim to find if the tripartite model of self-construal has its unique characteristics in Chinese cultural context. In the end it is still under discussion whether relational self and collective self can be further subdivided by relationship types and in different groups.