Committed Professionals Who Are Also Engaged Parents: Can They Self-Symbolize Across Identity Goals?

Johannes T. Doerflinger, Katarzyna Byrka, Hanna Spychalska-Waszek, Sadia Zaman, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to symbolic self completion theory, individuals strive for their aspired-to identity goals by accumulating symbols that indicate the possession of that very identity. If individuals lack such symbols, lose them, or fail to acquire them, a state of identity goal incompleteness is triggered that motivates identity goal-directed behavior (i.e., acquiring new identity symbols). We add to this framework an empirical investigation of the interplay between two identity goals, addressing the question: Will individuals who are incomplete regarding one identity goal be more or less likely to engage in symbolization behavior toward a second identity goal if no opportunity to strive for the first (incomplete) identity goal is at hand? We identify in two experiments the overlap between the two identity goals as a moderator variable determining to what degree individuals who are incomplete in one identity goal engage in behavior related to the other identity goal. Two experiments with working parents were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. In both experiments, incompleteness (vs. a control condition) regarding the participants’ professional identity goal was induced, and overlap between the professional and parent identity goals was measured. We found that overlap regarding moral values (Study 1) and basic motives (Study 2) between the parent and professional identity goals was a positive predictor of parenting-related behavior in the incomplete, but not the control, condition. Incomplete participants with relatively low overlap were less likely, while incomplete participants with relatively high overlap were more likely, to engage in parenting-related behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-474
Number of pages24
JournalMotivation Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 25 2021


  • identity goal overlap
  • identity goals
  • multiple goals
  • symbolic self completion theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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