People believe that they know who they are and that who they are matters for what they do. These core beliefs seem so inherent to conceptualizations of what it means to have a self as to require no empirical support. After all, what is the point of a concept of self if there is no stable thing to have a concept about and who would care if that concept was stable if it was not useful in making it through the day? Yet the evidence for action-relevance and stability are surprisingly sparse.
This paper outlines the identity-based motivation theory, a theoretical approach that takes a new look at these assumptions and makes three core predictions as to when an accessible self-concept influences behavior. These are termed “dynamic construction”, “action-readiness”, and “interpretation of difficulty”. That is, rather than being stable, which identities come to mind and what they mean are dynamically constructed in context.
People interpret situations and difficulties in ways that are congruent with the currently active identities and prefer identity-congruent to identity-incongruent actions. When action feels identity-congruent, experienced difficulty highlights that the behavior is important and meaningful. When action feels identity-incongruent, the same difficulty suggests that the behavior is pointless and “not for people like me.”
Oyserman, D. (2014), "Identity-Based Motivation: Core Processes and Intervention Examples", Motivational Interventions (Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 213-242. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0749-742320140000018006
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