Resolving Incompleteness on Social Media: Online Self-Symbolizing Reduces the Orienting Effects of Incomplete Identity Goals

Simona Sciara, Camillo Regalia, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Based on self-completion theory (SCT), the present experiment broadens previous research on the effects of incompleteness on social media posting by testing 2 complementary hypotheses. First, identity goal incompleteness— as a goal-oriented state—should induce orienting effects, including impulsiveness in online posting, uninterest in others’ posted contents, feelings of irritation, and narrowing of attention. Second, all these orienting effects should be resolved through the publishing of a self-symbolizing post on Instagram which entails indicators of goal attainment. In a 2-factorial experiment (N = 264), we varied the sense of identity goal incompleteness versus completeness in a sample of committed medical students and then provided an opportunity to restore completeness or not through a self-symbolizing versus neutral Instagram post. Finally, we assessed participants’ levels of impulsiveness, uninterest in others, feelings of irritation, and narrowed attention in solving a visual game. Results confirmed that identity goal incompleteness—as any goaloriented state—causes specific orienting effects intended to facilitate goal achievement. Further, we demonstrated that posting self-symbolizing content on social media manages to restore completeness making these orienting effects disappear. Theoretical and practical implications of our results for a better understanding of social media behaviors and deepening the study of self-completion processes are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-275
Number of pages8
JournalMotivation Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022


  • Identity goals
  • Motivation
  • Self-completion
  • Self-symbolizing
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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