Striving for identity goals by self-symbolizing on Instagram

Simona Sciara, Federico Contu, Camillo Regalia, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present research applies symbolic self completion theory (SCT) to explain online behaviors and predict what users will post on Instagram. Across three experiments, we tested whether medical and law students who sense incompleteness with respect to their professional identity goals engage in compensatory self-symbolizing by increasing their online posting of respective indicators of goal attainment (e.g., medical coats, court clothes). Study 1 found that incomplete medical students post more medicine-related symbols. Study 2 replicated this effect in a sample of law students and clarified that students’ self-symbolizing posts specifically relate to their incomplete goal (law career) and not to other non-pertinent domains (university life). Finally, Study 3 demonstrated that incomplete medical students only engage in self-symbolizing when their incompleteness refers to their career goal and not to other careers they do not aspire to (a law career). Implications for understanding online behavior, preventing negative consequences of self-symbolizing on social media, and deepening the study of self-completion processes are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-989
Number of pages25
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Goal-oriented behavior
  • Identity goals
  • Motivation
  • Self completion theory
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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