Who am I?
I think we’ve all asked this question at some point in our lives. I’m sure that many of us explored the idea of the “self-concept” when we first entered college (or at least the college age). The problem that psychologists are finding with the self-concept is that it is conveniently self-shifting.
“All brains contain an enormous database of personal memories that bear on that perennially fascinating question, Who am I?…If the self-concept you are wearing no longer suits your motives, the brain simply slips into something more comfortable. The willing assistant in this process is memory” (Cordelia Fine, A Mind Of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006), 12 ).
We evaluate and define ourselves through the filter of our memories; however, when a change is needed, our brains bring to the forefront memories that help justify whichever self-concept is best suited for our circumstances. This is what happened when two researchers from Princeton gave their students the opportunity to tweak their self-concepts. The researchers gave a group of students one of two scientific articles. One article said that an extroverted personality helps people achieve academic success, the other said that an introverted personality helps achieve academic success. Here’s what was happening: these students from Princeton, who were desperately trying to prove their quality were being offered a self-concept (albeit a false one, but they didn’t know that) that would ensure them success. The result was that the students rated themselves higher in whatever personality trait they read was the key to success. (Fine, 12).
How could they do this? For those who read that outgoing extroverts were more likely to be successful than shy introverts, their brains brought to the forefront all the different memories that would “prove” that they were extroverts (memories that showed their “sociable and outgoing” nature). The inverse happened for those who read that introverts were more likely to be successful.