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Identity-Based Motivation

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Abstract

People believe that they know who they are and that who they are matters for what they do. These core beliefs seem so inherent to conceptualizations of what it means to have a self as to require no empirical support. After all, what is the point of a concept of self if there is no stable thing to have a concept about, and who would care if that concept was stable if it was not useful in making it through the day? Yet the evidence for action-relevance and stability are surprisingly sparse. This entry outlines identity-based motivation theory which takes a new look at these assumptions and makes three core predictions termed dynamic construction, action-readiness, and interpretation of difficulty. That is, rather than being stable, which identities come to mind and what they mean are dynamically constructed in context. People interpret situations and difficulties in ways that are congruent with currently active identities and prefer identity-congruent to identity-incongruent actions. When action feels identity-congruent, experienced difficulty highlights that the behavior is important and meaningful. When action feels identity-incongruent, the same difficulty suggests that the behavior is pointless and “not for people like me.” Keywords: self; identity; motivation; situated cognition; social cognition
Identity-Based Motivation
DAPHNA OYSERMAN
Abstract
People believe that they know who they are and that who they are matters for what
they do. These core beliefs seem so inherent to conceptualizations of what it means
to have a self as to require no empirical support. After all, what is the point of a con-
cept of self if there is no stable thing to have a concept about, and who would care
if that concept was stable if it was not useful in making it through the day? Yet the
evidence for action-relevance and stability are surprisingly sparse. This entry out-
lines identity-based motivation theory which takes a new look at these assumptions
and makes three core predictions termed dynamic construction,action-readiness,and
interpretation of difculty. That is, rather than being stable, which identities come to
mind and what they mean are dynamically constructed in context. People interpret
situations and difculties in ways that are congruent with currently active identi-
ties and prefer identity-congruent to identity-incongruent actions. When action feels
identity-congruent, experienced difculty highlights that the behavior is important
and meaningful. When action feels identity-incongruent, the same difculty suggests
that the behavior is pointless and “not for people like me.”
INTRODUCTION
People believe that they know who they are (the self is stable) and that who
they are matters for what they do. These core beliefs seem so inherent to con-
ceptualizations of what it means to have a self as to require no empirical
support. After all, what is the point of a concept of self if there is no stable
thing to have a concept about, and who would care if that concept was sta-
ble if it was not useful in making it through the day? On the one hand, it
seems utterly reasonable to assert that people do know themselves. One of
the earliest forms of self is a memory trace of what one looks like (Lewis &
Brooks-Gunn, 1979) and memory itself seems to implicate the self—wherever
one is, one is always there, so the self is at least indirectly always part of
memory. People have a lot of experience with themselves and a huge store
of autobiographical memories (Fivush, 2011). On the other hand, these core
beliefs about how the self functions do require further investigation precisely
Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Edited by Robert Scott and Stephan Kosslyn.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-1-118-90077-2.
1
2EMERGING TRENDS IN THE SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
because they are so much at the core of psychological theorizing. Considered
in a different light, being able to recall examples of oneself behaving in ways
that t current self-descriptions may equally be evidence of the malleability
of self—one can come up with supporting evidence for almost any possi-
ble identity or self-description. Indeed, the empirical evidence for either the
belief that the self is stable or that it predicts behavior is surprisingly scarce
(for a review, Oyserman, Elmore, & Smith, 2012).
Identity-based motivation (IBM) theory focuses on this seeming con-
tradiction between the experienced reasonableness of a relatively strong
identity-to-behavior link and the paucity of empirical evidence for such
a link. To do so, IBM builds on modern theories of social, situated and
grounded cognition, which start with the premise that thinking is inuenced
by the context in which it occurs (e.g., Smith & Collins, 2010). People include
accessible information as part of their representation of constructs unless
they have reason to exclude it as irrelevant or to use it as a comparison
standard (Bless & Schwarz, 2010). Synthesizing across research, a situated
approach can be delineated as follows (Bless & Schwarz, 2010; Fiske, 1992;
Schwarz, Bless, Wänke, & Winkielman, 2003; Wyer & Srull, 1989). First,
people are sensitive to their immediate environment. Second, “thinking is for
doing,” people process information about their environment as it pertains to
possibilities for action in the moment. Third, people do not use all of what
they know at any moment in time. Instead, they use that subset of all their
knowledge which is accessible in the moment. Features of the environment
inuence what comes to mind—what knowledge is accessible. But the
inuence of the environment does not stop with accessibility of knowledge.
People use implicit demands of the immediate situation to make sense of
what comes to mind. Integrating these three features of situated reasoning,
people act in ways that make sense in light of the interface between what
comes to mind and what that seems to mean in context.
IBM theory builds on these insights to consider how features of the envi-
ronment inuence what comes to mind when people consider who they are
(the self) and the interplay of what comes to mind and features of the envi-
ronment on the inuence of accessible features of the self on motivation.
IBM theory predicts that identity-to-behavior links are difcult to discern
because which identities come to mind and what they mean are both dynam-
ically constructed in context, accessible identities only inuence behavior if
action makes sense in the moment, and people often (mis)construe difculty
working toward a possible identity as implying that it is not really possi-
ble for them. Fortunately, by articulating these three foci, termed dynamic
construction,action-readiness,andinterpretation of difculty, IBM also focuses
attention on the likely circumstances in which (“when”) and the processes
Identity-Based Motivation 3
by which (“how”) identities do matter for behavior (Oyserman, 2007, 2009a,
2009b).
Consider an identity as a “cool” person. Whether being cool comes to
mind, what it means to be cool and what actions are connected with coolness
depend on what is constrained and afforded in a particular situation. “Cool”
could be a personal trait or a social trait that is linked to group membership
(athletes, programmers, the popular crowd, all could be “cool” depending
on context). Associated “cool” behaviors could be asocial and health-risky
(e.g., drinking alcohol or abusing substances, having unprotected sex, smok-
ing cigarettes, not caring about schoolwork), pro-social and health-oriented
(e.g., volunteering, developing shareware, particular kinds of exercise
or eating habits) or anything in between (e.g., using a particular brand of
computer or no technology at all). What happens if cool actions feel difcult?
Does that mean that one is not really cool and should give up trying to be?
IBM theory predicts that contexts cue both a particular identity and what
that identity implies in this situation. Because “thinking is for doing,”
identities that come to mind make a difference, inuencing judgment,
choice, and behavior only if they are experienced as relevant to the current
situation. Because people believe that identity-congruent behavior will feel
right (easy to do), yet taking action is often difcult, requiring both focused
attention and inhibition of the impulse to do something else, interpretation
of experienced difculty matters. If an action feels identity-congruent, then
experienced difculty in engaging in it will reinforce the identity-congruent
interpretation, so that difculty will be interpreted as meaning that
the action is important and meaningful. Conversely, if an action feels
identity-incongruent, then experienced difculty in engaging in it will
reinforce the identity-incongruence interpretation, so that difculty will be
interpreted as meaning that the action is pointless and “not for me” (or if the
incongruence is with a social identity, “not for people like me”).
FOUNDATIONAL RESEARCH
Because the identity to behavior link is so foundational, early research
focused on describing content of self-concept with the assumption that
knowing how people described themselves would provide a strong pre-
diction of behavior (e.g., for conceptual models, Baumeister, 1998; Brewer,
1991; Brown, 1998; Carver & Scheier, 1990; Higgins, 1987, 1989; Markus &
Wurf, 1987; Oyserman, Elmore & Smith, 2012). Models differ somewhat
in the extent that they explicitly articulate an underlying goal of having a
sense of self and what that goal is described as being. Core self-goals include
feeling good (self-enhancement), feeling competent (self-improvement),
having control (self-regulation), and making predictions (self-knowledge).
4EMERGING TRENDS IN THE SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
No matter the particulars, conceptual models of self and identity uniformly
predict an effect on behavior: Selves and identities are predicted to inuence
what people are motivated to do, how they think and make sense of
themselves and others, the actions they take, their feelings and ability to
control or regulate themselves. Models differ in the extent that they focus
on alternative inuences including the consequences for behavior of social
norms and social contexts, with sociological and cultural theories of self
and identity putting more emphasis on the self as part of social structure
(Markus, & Oyserman, 1989; Owens, Robinson, & Smith-Lovin, 2010; Tajfel,
1981).
Although initially self and identity were treated as if there was a single
structure or coherently organized set of structures, the cognitive revolution
in psychology transformed understanding of self and identity. Current
formulations highlight the multiplicity of images, memories, experi-
ences, and sensory inputs into an online or working identity (Conway &
Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Klein & Gangi, 2010). Although not always explicitly
stated, the common assumption is that situations bring to mind from mem-
ory some, but not other aspects of all that could be self-dening. Behavior is
predicted by those “online” or “working” identities.
Self and identity research was also highly inuenced by social psycholog-
ical formulations of the importance of situations in understanding behav-
ior (for a review, Oyserman, 2001). Self and identity researchers have long
believed that the self is both a product of situations and a shaper of behavior
in situations (Markus & Wurf, 1987). Evidence that the self is a social product
is not hard to come by. A large body of research demonstrates that situa-
tions inuence which identities come to mind. Much of this research comes
from cultural, social identity and self-categorization theorists who posit and
show that whether people think of themselves in terms of personal or social
identities importantly depends on contextual cues (Abrams, 1999; Brewer,
1991; Hogg, 2003, 2006; Oyserman et al., 2012). These research traditions also
demonstrate that people led to see themselves in terms of their social iden-
tities respond differently than people led to see themselves in terms of their
personal identities, providing evidence that the self is a shaper of behavior
in situation. Evidence for working self-concept, the notion that context inu-
ences how people describe themselves also seems plentiful. For example,
just reading a paragraph and circling rst person singular versus plural pro-
nouns has small but signicant effects on the relative proportion of personal
traits and characteristics compared to social roles, relationships, and social
group identities, including gender, race-ethnicity, and social class identities
used to describe oneself (for a meta-analytic review, see Oyserman & Lee,
2008).
Identity-Based Motivation 5
A number of gaps remain to be addressed because research has not yet
demonstrated empirically how online identities are created in the moment,
when identities inuence behavior, and how online experiences of difculty
and ease inuence which identities come to mind and whether behavior is
pursued. It is not clear to what extent identities and their content are drawn
from memory and to what extent identities and identity content are dynam-
ically created in context as would be predicted by IBM theory. While the
assumption of being drawn from long-term memory implies that identities
are relatively xed, this assumption has not been tested. Moreover, modern
theorizing about how thinking works—that it is grounded in situations,
embodied (inuenced by bodily feedback), and pragmatic, implies that
online or working identities are dynamically created in context (Oyserman,
Elmore, & Smith, 2012). This prediction also requires empirical evidence.
CUTTING EDGE RESEARCH
Applying a situated cognition perspective to the specic demands of
understanding how self-concept works, IBM theory makes the follow-
ing specic predictions. First, of the many social and personal identities
a person could have, the ones that will matter are those that come to
mind in context and are experienced as relevant to the situation at hand.
Second, accessible identities that do not seem relevant to the action pos-
sibilities available in the situation will not yield behavior (even if an
outside observer could discern possibilities for action). Third, interpreta-
tion of experienced difculty inuences which identities come to mind
in the rst place. There are two ways in which experienced difculty can
matter. First, people can experience difculty while imagining a future
possible identity. Second, people can experience difculty while engaging
in tasks or behaviors relevant to the identity. If experienced difculty
is interpreted as implying impossibility, then the relevant identity is
unlikely to be accessible. If experienced difculty is interpreted as imply-
ing importance, then the relevant identity is likely to be on one’s mind.
Illustrative examples of research on dynamic construction, action-readiness,
and interpretation of difculty are provided next. As the IBM model
is relatively new, much of this research comes from Oyserman and her
students.
DYNAMIC CONSTRUCTION
To test the prediction that identities are dynamically constructed in context,
Elmore and Oyserman (2012) randomly assigned middle school students to
interpret one of four graphs. The graphs either showed (accurate) census
6EMERGING TRENDS IN THE SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
information about earnings in their state, or about high school graduation
rates in their state. For half of students, graphs broke down information by
gender. Thus, boys and girls either saw that men succeed (they earn more) or
that women succeed (they graduate high school more), or got information
without a gender comparison. As predicted, the effect of the information
depended on whether it implied that people like oneself succeed. Boys in
the men succeed condition generated more academic and career-oriented
possible identities and were more engaged in school than boys in the other
condition, implying that what being a boy meant for academics depended
on contextual cues.
A number of studies also demonstrate that how an identity is understood
depends on context. For example, British students were more likely to plan
for a healthy reduction of alcohol and salt intake when their British identity
rather than their student identity was accessible at the moment of judgment
(Tarrant & Butler, 2011). They were also more willing to plan for healthy
lifestyle choices if asked to think of themselves as British in the context of
a comparison to Americans (seen as less healthy) than in the context of a
comparison to Japanese (seen as more healthy) (Tarrant & Butler, 2011).
ACTION-READINESS
To test the prediction that accessible identities cue readiness to act in
identity-congruent ways, researchers assigned middle school students to
either read about the cost of college or about nancial aid for college. After
reading about nancial aid, students planned to study more, were more
likely to turn in an extra-credit assignment and predicted that they would
get better grades in school (presumably because they expected to work
hard in school) (Destin & Oyserman, 2009, 2010). These studies showed that
action-readiness cued action in situations in which action seems relevant
or necessary. Other studies have shown that accessible identity does not
inuence action if none seems currently relevant or necessary, for example
when action seems relevant later, or current behavioral options are irrelevant
to accessible identity (for a review, Oyserman, 2015).
INTERPRETATION OF DIFFICULTY
IBM theory predicts that identity-to-behavior links are difcult to discern
because people (mis)interpret difculties they encounter as implying that
currently active identities are impossible to attain so action is irrelevant.
To test this prediction, researchers randomized participants to experi-
ence difculty or not and then asked them about the effectiveness of
healthy life-style habits for them. Participants misinterpreted difculty as
Identity-Based Motivation 7
implying that healthy lifestyle habits, while generally effective, were not
identity-congruent for them and so would be unlikely to work (Oyserman,
Fryberg, & Yoder, 2007). In another set of studies, middle school students
were asked to consider their difculties in school and randomly assigned
to either be provided with an interpretation of their difculties or not (for
a review, Oyserman, 2013, 2015). Students provided an interpretation of
difculty as meaning that schoolwork was important to them generated
more school-focused possible selves than other students. They also worked
harder at school tasks, writing a better quality essay and scoring better on
a difcult cognitive task. The same occurs for college students guided to
recall a time that they interpreted experienced difculty with schoolwork
as meaning that it was important to succeed then led to believe that they
had this interpretation more frequently than others (Smith & Oyserman, in
press). These students reported stronger academic identities, spent more
time and hence scored better on a test of uid intelligence than students
guided to recall a time that experienced difculty with schoolwork meant it
was impossible to succeed.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS
Assumptions about what the self is and how self and identities matter are
implicated in a broad range of social science theories and in public policies,
including policies related to education, savings and asset accrual, health,
crime and delinquency. IBM theory highlights the importance of contextual
cues in shaping how difculty is interpreted, which identities come to mind,
and whether these identities have action implications. It has been used to
improve academic outcomes among low income children (Oyserman, Bybee,
& Terry, 2006; Oyserman, Terry, & Bybee, 2002). Implications for counseling
intervention, academic attainment and health gaps have all been articulated
and the model is being used to predict how to best formulate savings and
assets policies for low income families (Elliott & Kim, 2013; Oyserman,
2013; Oyserman & Destin, 2010; Oyserman, Smith & Elmore, 2014). A
promise of this research is that IBM can be used with real world populations,
can provide specic predictions, and can be used to leverage behavior
change. The core challenge is in translating specic predictions into robust
interventions, taking seriously that the same attribute can be motivating
or demotivating depending on meaning and interpretation of difculty in
context.
Research to date has focused on the interface between particular social
(gender, race, social class) and personal (academic success, healthy) identities
for particular outcomes (academic success, healthy lifestyle). Other interfaces
are also possible. Future research focusing on other identities, other ways
8EMERGING TRENDS IN THE SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
in which tensions between the action-demands of identities are resolved,
other outcome measures, and other socio-cultural contexts is needed to
expand generalizability and test for limiting conditions and moderators of
effects.
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DAPHNA OYSERMAN SHORT BIOGRAPHY
Daphna Oyserman joined the University of Southern California January
2014 as a Dean’s Professor of Psychology, Professor of Education and
Professor of Communication. She also codirects the USC Dornsife Center
for Mind and Society. Her research examines how small changes in con-
text can shift mindsets, and so the perceived meaning of behaviors and
situations, with large downstream effects on important and consequential
outcomes, including health and academic performance. Her theoretical and
experimental work conceptualizes the underlying processes, which she
then translates into real-world interventions. One line of work focuses on
cultural differences in affect, behavior, and cognition—how people feel,
act, and think about themselves and the world around them. A related
second line of work focuses on racial, ethnic, and social class gaps in school
achievement and health. Throughout, she examines how apparently “xed”
differences between groups may in fact mask highly malleable situated
processes that can be profoundly inuenced through small interventions
that shift mindset. Select publications are available at her personal webpage
http://dornsife.usc.edu/daphna-oyserman
Dr. Oyserman received a PhD in psychology and social work from the
University of Michigan (1987) and served on the faculty of The Hebrew
University, Jerusalem before returning to the University of Michigan, where
she last held appointments as the Edwin J. Thomas Collegiate Professor of
Social Work, Professor of Psychology, and Research Professor in the Institute
for Social Research. She is the recipient of W. T. Grant Faculty Scholar Award,
the Humboldt Scientic Contribution Prize of the German Alexander von
Humboldt Foundation, and a Fellow of the American Psychological Asso-
ciation, Association for Psychological Science, Society for Personality and
Social Psychology, and Society for Experimental Social Psychology.
Identity-Based Motivation 11
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Memory Gaps and Memory Errors (Psychology), Jeffrey S. Neuschatz et al.
Culture as Situated Cognition (Psychology), Daphna Oyserman
Born This Way: Thinking Sociologically about Essentialism (Sociology),
Kristen Schilt
Effortful Control (Psychology), Tracy L. Spinrad and Nancy Eisenberg
Temporal Identity Integration as a Core Developmental Process (Psychology),
Moin Syed and Lauren L. Mitchell
Taking Personality to the Next Level: What Does It Mean to Know a Person?
(Psychology), Simine Vazire and Robert Wilson
... Not only are identities created, but they also are not stable over time, in contrast to common beliefs (Quoidbach, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2013). Instead, how people understand who they are and what that means for what they should do and how they should interpret experienced difficulty trying to do it changes dramatically from context to context (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2015bOyserman et al., 2012). This is what identity-based motivation theory describes as the dynamic construction of identity (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2015b. ...
... Instead, how people understand who they are and what that means for what they should do and how they should interpret experienced difficulty trying to do it changes dramatically from context to context (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2015bOyserman et al., 2012). This is what identity-based motivation theory describes as the dynamic construction of identity (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2015b. ...
... stigmatized identities in light of identity-based motivation theory (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2015b, detailing the specific process by which identity mediates the relationship between stigma and health disparities. We reviewed the research literature, documenting that each component of identity-based motivation theory-dynamic construction, actionreadiness, and procedural-readiness-predicted healthy choices in the moment and repeated choices (habits) over time. ...
... That is the focus of our current article. To make sense of how culture shapes people's normative understanding of difficulty, we start with culture-as-situated cognition theory (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2017 which operationalizes culture at three connected levels. ...
Article
Difficulty can signal low odds (impossibility) and high value (importance). We build on culture-as-situated cognition theory’s description of culture-based fluency and disfluency to predict that the culturally fluent meaning of difficulty is culture-bound. For Americans, the culturally fluent understanding of ability is success-with-ease-not-effort, hence difficulty implies low odds of ability. This may disadvantage American institutions and practices—learning requires gaining competence and proficiency through effortful engagement. Indeed, Americans (Studies 1, 3–8; N = 4,141; Study 2, the corpus of English language) associate difficulty with impossibility more than importance. This tendency is not universal. Indian and Chinese cultures imply that difficulty can equally signal low odds and value. Indeed, people from India and China (Studies 9–11, N = 762) are as likely to understand difficulty as being about both. Effects are culture-based; how much people endorse difficulty-as-importance and difficulty-as-impossibility in their own lives did not affect results.
... One suggestion could be the insights from a rich line of research in Identity-Based Motivation theory. It posits that people's self-concepts of who they want to be will motivate and trigger them to take action towards how that identity is socially perceived (Oyserman, 2015). Literature on identity (re)construction is also abundant. ...
Article
Full-text available
In Walk’n’Talk: Effects of a communicative strategy Heiner Böttger and Deborah Költzsch focus on the synergy effects of walking and talking simultaneously and the resulting conclusions on didactical practices regarding foreign language teaching. Taken together, the results of the cross science analysis show that linking walking and communication seems to be beneficial in many ways. Positive side effects include neuronal metabolism, activation of specific networks in the brain, promotion of creativity and resourcefulness, and neuronal synchrony and joint attention as just a few examples. Regarding the didactic implementation and the developed task formats it seems to be relevant to classify the corresponding situation accurately to define it as purely communicative, professional or educational situation. However, it also appears that in all three areas the use of Walk’n’Talk formats is valuable, considering a communicative setting that strives for a common consensus or a common goal. Furthermore, the article could offer important indications for the language learning context in terms of individual and task formats and shows that the methodology presented can be used regardless of age. Finally, the outline of a possible Walk’n’Talk track provides a starting point for both future research and practical applications.
... One suggestion could be the insights from a rich line of research in Identity-Based Motivation theory. It posits that people's self-concepts of who they want to be will motivate and trigger them to take action towards how that identity is socially perceived (Oyserman, 2015). Literature on identity (re)construction is also abundant. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper reviews and discusses the neuroscience of a dynamic, contextual and polycultural self. Advances in neuroscience suggests that: (1) the brain can acquire contradictory cultural systems at the same time; (2) all three groups of bi/multi/ and mono-cultural individuals can activate corresponding cultural patterns of the self, based on the cultural cues given in a specific cultural context; (3) individuals may be born with some genetic predispositions and these interact with the cultural environment, such that the same genetic predisposition may have opposite expressions of the self in different cultural contexts. Based on these insights, future research could invest more in (1) understanding the neuroscience of polycultural and global citizens who may have a universal identity; (2) advancing new identity development models for monocultural individuals who have the potential of a dynamic, contextual and polycultural self, but don’t benefit from living in a diverse cultural environment; and (3) because people can be both products and producers of culture, future research can focus on ‘technologies of the self’, in the sense that individuals, organisations and governments can promote human agency (i.e. people as producers/authors of culture), proactively raise awareness and support the cultivation of a dynamic, contextual and polycultural self.
... That is the focus of our current article. To make sense of how culture shapes people's normative understanding of difficulty, we start with culture-as-situated cognition theory (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2017 which operationalizes culture at three connected levels. ...
Preprint
Difficulty can signal low odds (impossibility) and high value (importance). We build on culture-as-situated cognition theory’s description of culture-based fluency and disfluency to predict that the culturally fluent meaning of difficulty is culture-bound. For Americans, the culturally fluent understanding of ability is success-with-ease-not-effort, hence difficulty implies low odds of ability. This may disadvantage American institutions and practices --learning requires gaining competence and proficiency through effortful engagement. Indeed, Americans (Studies 1, 3 to 8; N=4,141; Study 2, the corpus of English language) associate difficulty with impossibility more than importance. This tendency is not universal. Indian and Chinese cultures imply that difficulty can equally signal low odds and value. Indeed, people from India and China (Studies 9 to 11, N=762) are as likely to understand difficulty as being about both. Effects are culture-based; how much people endorse difficulty-as-importance and difficulty-as-impossibility in their own lives did not affect results.
... That is the focus of our current paper. To make sense of how culture shapes people's normative understanding of difficulty, we start with culture-as-situated cognition theory (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2017, which operationalizes culture at three connected levels. ...
Article
Full-text available
Difficulty can signal low odds (impossibility) and high value (importance). We build on culture-as-situated cognition theory’s description of culture-based fluency and disfluency to predict that the culturally fluent meaning of difficulty is culture-bound. For Americans, the culturally fluent understanding of ability is success-with-ease-not-effort, hence difficulty implies low odds of ability. This may disadvantage American institutions and practices --learning requires gaining competence and proficiency through effortful engagement. Indeed, Americans (Studies 1, 3 to 8; N=4,141; Study 2, the corpus of English language) associate difficulty with impossibility more than importance. This tendency is not universal. Indian and Chinese cultures imply that difficulty can equally signal low odds and value. Indeed, people from India and China (Studies 9 to 11, N=762) are as likely to understand difficulty as being about both. Effects are culture-based; how much people endorse difficulty-as-importance and difficulty-as-impossibility in their own lives did not affect results.
... That is the focus of our current article. To make sense of how culture shapes people's normative understanding of difficulty, we start with culture-as-situated cognition theory (Oyserman, 2015a(Oyserman, , 2017 which operationalizes culture at three connected levels. ...
Preprint
Cultures often provide deservingness and authority-based narratives to explain the difficulties people experience in life. Accepting these narratives is culturally fluent but can be depleting. We predicted and showed that people often also interpret their life difficulties as opportunities for self-growth— a difficulty-as-improvement mindset. Our computational linguistic analyses of the “Common Crawl” corpus suggest that when people talk about difficulty they also talk about importance, impossibility, and improvement (Study 1). Studies 2-14 (total N = 2,378) use our brief difficulty-as-improvement measure to reveal that difficulty-as-improvement is both culture-general and culture-specific (endorsed more strongly in non-Western samples). Westerners (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA) and non-Westerners (China, India, Iran, Turkey) who endorse difficulty-as-improvement tend to experience themselves positively, as people who are optimistic, conscientious, virtuous, and whose lives have meaning. People who endorse difficulty-as-improvement tend to believe in deservingness (karma, a just world) and authority (spirituality, religiosity, conservatism).
... In particular, people can either focus on how experiencing difficulty signals that achieving the goal is less likely (reducing motivation), or they can focus on how experiencing difficulty signals that the goal is important . To the extent to which people view an action or goal as an essential part of their self, the more likely they are to interpret difficulty as a signal of importance (Oyserman, 2015). In turn, viewing difficulty as a signal of importance motivates goal pursuit and has been shown to improve actual goal attainment across a host of domains (Elmore et al., 2016;Oyserman et al., 2014;Oyserman & Destin, 2010). ...
Article
A body of empirical research shows that pursuing goals via means that do not fit (vs. do fit) one's regulatory mode creates resistance that disrupts motivation. However, other empirical research shows that resistance sometimes motivates people to work harder toward their goals, suggesting that regulatory nonfit (vs. fit) might be more motivating at times. The current research tests this possibility while also demonstrating how an integral dimension of a goal-a person's preexisting commitment to it-determines when regulatory nonfit (vs. fit) is more motivating. Three initial studies provide evidence that, among people low in preexisting commitment, regulatory nonfit (vs. fit) demotivates people: goal value and intentions to pursue the goal become lower with nonfit (vs. fit). However, among people high in preexisting commitment, regulatory nonfit (vs. fit) motivates people: goal value and intentions to pursue the goal become higher with nonfit (vs. fit). Three additional studies document an experimental causal chain providing evidence for underlying mechanisms: regulatory nonfit (vs. fit) creates an experience of resistance that people need to interpret, and preexisting commitment shifts whether people interpret resistance as a negative or positive motivational signal. Finally, two studies demonstrate how naturally occurring variance in preexisting goal commitment moderates the effect of experiencing regulatory nonfit (vs. fit) on people's subsequent goal-directed behavior. By identifying an integral dimension of goals that can reverse the motivational effects of regulatory nonfit, the present research connects with other work documenting the importance of mindsets about resistance, and suggests novel implications for motivating desired behaviors. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
Chapter
Disenfranchised students often develop identity systems that are incompatible with their sense of academic competence and growth, undermining engagement with and persistence in secondary education. This chapter describes a classroom-based approach to enhancing literacy-related task engagement through students' identity exploration and development. The program was designed to address the unique needs of high school students from historically marginalized backgrounds but can be modified for other grade levels and populations. The program presented here guides practitioners and education specialists to integrate a sociocultural approach to identity negotiation within existing curricula. Beyond enhancing task engagement, identity work in classroom settings has the potential to build student agency and wellbeing and increase the likelihood that students will develop academic identities such as reader and writer.
Article
In order to comprehend the attributes of expert teachers, the current study investigated professional identity (PI) and related metacognitive thinking procedures of experienced Korean teachers of English through a questionnaire survey and interviews. The teachers’ PIs contained pedagogic meanings that highly regarded teachers’ having language knowledge and skills, realising learner-centred practices, teaching communication skills for practicality, and developing professionalism. They relatively less valued practising teacher-led, test-preparation lessons but also using challenging tasks and creative materials and combining content, materials, and activities, which reflects their unestablished meanings of learner-centredness. Some of the interviewed teachers revealed their active performance of metacognitive monitoring and regulations of different meanings (cognitions), emotions, and actions over their pedagogical problem-solving processes for overcoming teacher-led, test-preparation lessons. Thus, experimenting with negotiated pedagogies and modifying their pedagogic meanings by learning from this, they tried to balance identity-congruent actions and verification, and reshaped their PI and related metacognitive thinking procedures; others’ pedagogic experimentations and related experiences were rejected by contextual rigidities. Comprehension of the PI and related metacognitive thinking procedures of experienced teachers provided several implications for teacher education.
Book
Full-text available
Imagine a twelve-year-old boy; on the one hand, he wants to do well in school and hopes to become an all ‘A’ student. On the other hand, schoolwork is not all that interesting; it is not clear how well he will do; and when he looks around to figure out what boys care about and value, what their goals are, and how they act, he sees girls outperforming boys academically. How do these competing sets of knowledge (“I want to do well,” “Girls outperform boys”) influence how he is likely to interpret his experiences at school? School and gender are salient for most children from an early age, so he is likely to notice that gender and school performance seem to go together. If schoolwork is associated with girls, then gender is an easy at-hand interpretation for any difficulty he might experience with schoolwork. The interpretation goes something like this: “Of course this schoolwork is hard for me, I am a boy and boys do not do schoolwork as well as girls.” This interpretation undermines effort; it implies that trying is a waste of time and that he might as well shift his attention elsewhere. Does this example suggest that boys are doomed to underachieve compared with girls, or are there small changes in context that can make a boy’s feelings about his gender compatible with school attainment, just as being a girl currently does? The same scenario can be played out by substituting racial-ethnic, national, or religious heritage or social class for gender, and all sorts of books promise to explain the secrets behind group-level differences in attainment. These are the sorts of question that this book is meant to answer, but rather than thinking about group-level effects, I focus on the dynamics of what I term identity-based motivation.
Article
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Self-concept and identity provide basic answers to the questions "Who am I" and "Where do I belong". In that sense they are inherently both individuating and connecting ways of making sense of oneself. Modern theories tend to assume that the self includes so much autobiographical knowledge and has so much content linked with it that at any point in time only a subset of the self is accessible. Moreover, while the self is often understood as stable, it is clear that it is also quite sensitive to contextual cues.
Chapter
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In the continuing analysis of sex and gender differences, there is a growing awareness of the possibility of fundamental differences in how women and men perceive themselves and their worlds, in how they take meaning, and in how they come to know or reason (e.g., Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Block, 1984; Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1987; Chodorow, 1987; Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1986; Ruddick, 1980). The nature of these differences and the psychological structures and mechanisms that mediate them are not well understood. Such differences are likely to be subtle and not easily isolated but when closely analyzed may prove powerful. Our goal is to examine the divergent theories of the self that can be held by men and women and to explore how they may influence basic perceptual and cognitive processes.
Article
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Students often fail to devote sufficient time to schoolwork even though they value school success. One reason may be they (mis)interpret what experienced difficulty with schoolwork implies because they misgauge their relative standing. To test this prediction we divided students into four guided-recall groups. For half, the recall was a time that they interpreted experienced difficulty with schoolwork as meaning that it was important to succeed and for half the recall was a time that it meant it was impossible to succeed. Students were then led to believe that they had the guided interpretation more or less frequently than others. Students in the difficulty means importance more for oneself than for others and in the difficulty means impossibility less for oneself than for others conditions were more academically engaged (Study 1) and invested more time (Study 2). Investment mattered, influencing performance on a test of fluid intelligence (Study 2).
Article
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People aspire to be healthy but often fall short of this goal. Poor health is associated with macro‐level factors—social stratification and low socioeconomic position, including low education, low income, and low status racial‐ethnic group membership. These social determinants differentially expose people to health‐promoting (or undermining) contexts and to having (not having) choice and control over their lives. But social determinants cannot cause individual action directly. Identity‐based motivation theory addresses this gap, articulating how social determinants operate at the micro‐level to influence whether or not a behavior or choice feels congruent with important identities and how such identity‐congruence, in turn, influences which strategies are chosen and how difficulty is interpreted. Lack of choice and control make an interpretation of difficulty as meaning that effort is pointless and “not for people like me” (rather than important) more likely, reducing belief that one's action and effort matter.
Chapter
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People believe they do not need to seriously weigh the pros and cons of many choices before deciding, that their identities provide a meaning-making anchor. They know who they are and who they are directs their choices. In that sense, choices large and small feel identity-based and identity-congruent. As we will outline in this chapter, this feeling of knowing oneself is important even though the assumptions on which it is based are often faulty. Feeling that one knows oneself facilitates using the self to make sense and make choices, using the self as an important perceptual, motivational and self-regulatory tool. This feeling of knowing oneself is based in part on an assumption of stability which is central to both everyday (lay) theories about the self and more formal (social science) theories about the self. Yet the assumption of stability is belied by the malleability, context-sensitivity, and dynamic construction of the self as a mental construct. Identities are not the fixed markers people assume them to be but instead are dynamically constructed in the moment. Choices that feel identity-congruent in one situation do not necessarily feel identity congruent in another situation. This flexibility is part of what makes the self useful. In the first section (Setting the Stage), we briefly operationalize what is meant by self and identity, drawing on other reviews from both sociological and psychological perspectives In the second section (Understanding Process), we consider what the self is assumed to be – a stable yet malleable mental construct, and what gaps remain in how the self is studied. In the third section (Thinking is For Doing), we address the basis for future research, outline in the fourth section (Dynamic Construction) with predictions about what the pragmatic, situated, experiential and embodied nature of mental processing imply for self and identity. Our final section (Wrapping Up and Moving Forward) provides a bulleted summary and highlights what we see as important new directions.
Chapter
Social identity theory is an interactionist social psychological theory of the role of self-conception and associated cognitive processes and social beliefs in group processes and intergroup relations. Originally introduced in the 1970s primarily as an account of intergroup relations, it was significantly developed at the start of the 1980s as a general account of group processes and the nature of the social group. Since then, social identity theory has been significantly extended through a range of sub-theories that focus on social influence and group norms, leadership within and between groups, self-enhancement and uncertainty reduction motivations, deindividuation and collective behavior, social mobilization and protest, and marginalization and deviance within groups. The theory has also been applied and developed to explain organizational phenomena and the dynamics of language and speech style as identity symbols. Chapter 1 provides a relatively comprehensive and accessible overview of social identity theory, with an emphasis on its analysis of intergroup conflict.