Symbolic Self-completion, Attempted Influence, and Self-Deprecation

Robert A. Wicklund, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A concept of symbolic self-comp1etion states that people define themselves as musicians, athletes, etc. by use of indicators of attainment in those activity realms, such as possessing a prestige job, having extensive education, or whatever is recognized by others as indicating progress toward completing the self-definition. The self-completion idea postulates that when important symbols-indicators of self-definition-are lacking, the person will strive after further, alternative symbols of the self-definition. In the present research two modes of symbolizing completeness were studied: (1) attempting to influence others directly within the self-definitional area; or (2) simple self-descriptions of one's own performance, such that others would be exposed to those self-descriptions. Two correlational studies showed that the less education (Study 1) or on-the-job experience (Study 2) subjects had, the more they desired to influence others. Experimental subjects (Study 3) who were interrupted while writing a positive, self-descriptive statement manifested stronger influence attempts than did subjects who were allowed to finish. Finally, Study 4 examined self-descriptions as a self-symbolizing effort. Incompleteness was varied by means of a salience-of-past-teacher manipulation. When pressure was placed on subjects to characterize themselves negatively within their respective areas, those for whom a positive teacher was salient were the most willing to be negative. The interpretation of these findings assumes that influencing others, as well as positive self-descriptions, can further the individual's sense of having a complete self-definition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-114
Number of pages26
JournalBasic and Applied Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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