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There is no such thing as the true self, but it’s still a useful psychological concept

22 August 2017

Who are you really? Is there a “true you” beneath the masquerade?

According to a trio of psychologists and philosophers writing in Perspectives on Psychological Science, the idea that we each have a hidden true or authentic self is an incredibly common folk belief, and moreover, the way most of us think about these true selves is remarkably consistent, even across different cultures, from Westeros to Tibet.

This makes the concept of a true self useful because it helps explain many of the judgments we make about ourselves and others. Yet, from a scientific perspective, there is actually no such thing as the true self.

“The notion that there are especially authentic parts of the self, and that these parts can remain cloaked from view indefinitely, borders on the superstitious,” writes Nina Strohminger and her colleagues at Yale University.

One way that psychologists have investigated people’s views of the true self is to ask them to consider that a person has changed in various ways – either their memories, or their preferences, or their morals, or their personality, for example – and then ask them after which change has the person’s true self most been altered.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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