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Beyond Preference: Self-Concept Clarity and Social Decision Making

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Abstract

We investigate a novel link between self-concept and social decision making. Motivated by theories of evolutionary psychology and memory representation, we posit that self-concept clarity, a concept combining the organization and accessibility of self-related memory representations, can promote better decision making in situations involving other persons. In two pre-registered, correlational studies (total N = 702), we assessed the relationship between self- concept clarity and decision performance and observed substantial, positive relationships. Crucially, these relationships could not be accounted for by measures of processing speed or social preferences suggesting a direct link between self-concept clarity and decision performance in a social context. We conclude by discussing how this novel finding may share a common pathway with other, established links between the organization of mental representations and cognitive performance.
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 1
Beyond Preference:
Self-Concept Clarity and Social Decision Making
Pinar Ugurlar1 & Dirk Wulff2,3
1Social Cognition Center Cologne, University of Cologne, Germany
2 University of Basel, Switzerland
3 Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
Corresponding Author:
Pinar Ugurlar
Social Cognition Center Cologne
Richard-Strauss-St. 2
50931 Köln
Germany
E-mail: pinar.ugurlar@uni-koeln.de
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 2
Abstract
We investigate a novel link between self-concept and social decision making. Motivated by
theories of evolutionary psychology and memory representation, we posit that self-concept
clarity, a concept combining the organization and accessibility of self-related memory
representations, can promote better decision making in situations involving other persons. In two
pre-registered, correlational studies (total N = 702), we assessed the relationship between self-
concept clarity and decision performance and observed substantial, positive relationships.
Crucially, these relationships could not be accounted for by measures of processing speed or
social preferences suggesting a direct link between self-concept clarity and decision performance
in a social context. We conclude by discussing how this novel finding may share a common
pathway with other, established links between the organization of mental representations and
cognitive performance.
Keywords: social decision making, self-concept clarity, memory representations, evolutionary
psychology
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 3
Beyond Preferences: Self-Concept Clarity and Social Decision Making
And he who knows not the things which belong to himself, will in like manner be ignorant
of the things which belong to others
Socrates, in Plato, Alcibiades I, 350BC
In the well-known dialogue featuring the Athenian Alcibiades in conversation with
Socrates, Socrates gives advice to Alcibiades about how to become a good governor. He
recommends Alcibiades to follow the Delphian maxim of gnōthi seautoun, to know thyself. As
expressed in the above quote, he argues that a successful statesman must understand one’s own
knowledge and desires to be able to understand those of others and, in turn, to understand the
affairs of the state and to be able to make wise decisions. According to Socrates, our ability to
introspect our self-representation is linked, at least indirectly, to our ability to make good
decisions in social context. Correspondingly, evolutionary psychologists have suggested that
symbolic self-representations may have developed out of a rising pressure to negotiate complex
cooperative or adversarial relationships (Focquaert & Platek, 2007; Sedikides & Skowronski,
1997). However, our understanding of the relationship between the symbolic self and successful
decision making in social contexts is incomplete: Research has linked the symbolic self to
differences in decision satisfaction (Mittal, 2015; Schlegel et al., 2013), decision strategies
(Setterlund & Niedenthal, 1993), or responsiveness to feedback (Guadagno & Burger, 2007), but
investigations yet have to examine potential links between the symbolic self and the quality of
our decisions for ourselves and others.
To fill this gap, we ran two pre-registered studies examining the link between self-
concept clarity and performance in a self- and other-relevant decision making task. Self-concept
clarity (SCC) is defined as the "extent to which the contents of an individual’s self-concept (e.g.,
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 4
perceived personal attributes) are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and
temporally stable” (Campbell et al., 1996, p. 141) as revealed in actions or self-report. SCC is,
thus, concerned with the organization of the self-concept and the ability to access it, but not the
content of the self-concept or the evaluations regarding it (Campbell, 1990). Study 1 tested the
association between the accuracy of self- and other-relevant decision making and three SCC
measures: the SCC scale (Campbell et al., 1996), consistency in the me-not-me game (Campbell,
1990), and response times in a Big5-questionnaire. Self- and other-relevant decision making was
assessed using a two-person economic game. Study 2 replicated the findings of Study 1 for
incentivized decisions and tested whether they are robust to the inclusion of processing speed
measured using a verbal fluency task (Shao, Jansel, Visser, & Meyer, 2014) and social
preferences measured using social value orientation (Murphy, Ackermann, & Handgraaf, 2011).
Following Socrates thesis, we predicted that individuals with high SCC will make better
decisions for both themselves and others, even when controlling for processing speed and social
preferences
1
.
Method
Participants
The sample of each study consisted of 351 participants collected through the Amazon
Mechanical Turk. This sample size enabled the detection of small effects (r = .15) with at least
80% power. The sample of Study 1 and Study 2 had a mean age of 35.74 (SD = 10.66) and 37.42
(SD = 19.60) and was 44.7% (women = 157, men = 192, other =2) and 47.2% female (women =
166, men = 183, other =2), respectively. Participants of both studies received an Amazon
payment of $2.00. In Study 2, a bonus payoff up to $0.60 could be earned based on the
1
Hypotheses concerning social preferences were not part of the pre-registrations.
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 5
participants’ decisions.
Procedure
In both studies, participants first completed the self-relevant decision making task. In
Study 1, participants then completed in counterbalanced order three SCC measures, the SCC
scale (Campbell et al., 1996), the me-not me game (Campbell, 1990), and the response time in a
Big5-questionnaire. In Study 2, they completed in counterbalanced order two SCC measures, the
SCC scale (Campbell et al., 1996) and the me-not-me game (Campbell, 1990), followed by a
verbal fluency task (Shao et al., 2014) and the social value orientation scale (Murphy et al.,
2011), to measure processing speed and social preferences, respectively. Finally, participants of
both studies responded to a series of demographic questions and an open question about further
comments on the study. At the end, we provided them with a completion code that would enable
them to receive their compensation.
Tasks
Me/Other Game. We adapted The Me/Other Game (Ugurlar, Sumer, & Posten, 2019)
which consists of resource allocation decisions involving oneself and a hypothetical other
person. In this task, participants were first asked to enter the initials of a person they consider
close to themselves to serve as the hypothetical other person. In each trial, participants then were
presented with six resource allocation options, each offering one payoff for themselves and one
for the close other (e.g., option 1 offers a payoff of $30 to the participant and a payoff of $50 to
the other person, option 2 offers $60 to the participant and $50 to the other person, etc.). The task
of the participant was to identify within five seconds the option that satisfies one of the two
predefined decision rules provided to the participant: (a) the self-interested rule, or (b) the
altruistic rule. The self-interested rule asked participants to identify the option that
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 6
simultaneously maximizes their payoff and minimizes the other person’s payoff. The altruistic
rule asked participants to identify the option that simultaneously minimizes their payoff and
maximizes the other person’s payoff. Participants completed 30 trials for each decision rule,
where each trial contained one option that unequivocally satisfied the respective rule. Prior to
entering the task, participants completed two practice trials. We computed the total number of
accurately solved trials as the measure of performance in this task. Both studies relied on the
same task except that, in Study 2, we introduced a bonus payment of $0.01 for each correct
answer.
Me-Not Me Task (MNMT). Following the procedure of Campbell (1990), participants
evaluated a set of 50 adjectives composed of bipolar pairs (e.g., kind-cruel or tense-relaxed, see
Supplemental Material). Presented with one adjective at a time, participants were instructed to
judge whether the adjective was self-descriptive or not by pressing the “Me” or “Not Me”
buttons one the screen, respectively. From these judgments, SCC was computed as the
consistency across bipolar pairs. Consistency was high, when participants made opposite
responses for a given pair, e.g., responded “Me” to tense and “Not Me” to relaxed or vice versa.
We also recorded response latencies (Study 1) and decision confidence (Study 1). Find the
corresponding results in the Supplemental Material. Except for these additional measures, the
procedures of Study 1 and 2 were identical.
Self-Concept Clarity Scale (SCCS). Participants completed the Self-Concept Clarity Scale
(Campbell et al., 1996). The scale includes 12 items (e.g., In general, I have a clear sense of
who I am and what I am”) that participants evaluated on a 5-point Likert scale, 1 Strongly
disagree, 5 Strongly agree.
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 7
Personality Scale (Big5). As a third measure of SCC, we asked participants to complete
a 40 items Big Five personality questionnaire (the Big Five Inventory, BFI; John, Donahue, &
Kentle, 1991) and recorded the overall completion time. Participants rated items on a 5-point
Likert scale, 1 Disagree strongly, 5 Agree strongly. Following Boucher (2011), we expected
shorter times to indicate higher SCC.
Verbal Fluency Task (Fluency). To control for processing speed related to retrieving
contents from memory, Study 2 included a verbal fluency task. In this task, participants were
asked to generate in 60 s either as many members of one of two categories (i.e., animals or
vegetables & fruits) or words starting with one of two letters of the alphabet (i.e., “m” or “s”).
Participants were instructed to avoid repetitions as well as names of people or places (see Shao,
et al., 2014). The order of the four trials was counterbalanced. We computed the number of
correct answers in each round. The total number of correct words was used as our measure of
processing speed.
Social Value Orientation (SVO). To control for social preferences, Study 2 included the
six primary questions of the SVO Slider Measure (Murphy et al., 2011). In this task, participants
were paired with another anonymous, hypothetical person and were asked to make a series of
resource allocation decisions between themselves and the other person. In each of the six trials,
they were presented nine allocation options (e.g., you receive: 85, other receives: 76) and
participants marked the allocation they preferred by clicking on the respective option. Following
Murphy et al. (2011), we computed one composite SVO score per participant.
Results
Figure 1 shows the first-order, Pearson correlations between all included measures
separately for Study 1 and 2. Consistent with our predictions, both studies showed moderate to
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 8
large, positive correlations between the unincentivized (Study 1) and incentivized (Study 2)
accuracy in the Me/Other game and both the SCC scale (Study 1: r = .21, p < .001; Study 2: r
= .25, p < .001) and the consistency in the Me-Not Me task (MNM; Study 1: r = .46, p < .001;
Study 2: r = .44, p < .001). Contrary to our prediction, but consistent with more recent analyses
(DeMarree & Bobrowski, 2017), Study 1 showed a small positive correlation between accuracy
and overall competition time of the Big5 questionnaire, implying that higher accuracy was
associated with longer completion times. Moreover, Study 2 showed moderate, positive
correlations of verbal fluency and with both the decision accuracy and consistency in the MNM
task (Accuracy: r = .24, p < .001; MNM: r = .20, p < .001), but not the SCC scale (r = .10, p
= .079). No correlations involving the social value orientation reached significance.
Figure 1. Correlation results of Study 1 and 2. The panels show the Pearson-correlations and
associated p-values for the pair-wise relationships between the performance in the Me/Other
game (Accuracy), the self-concept clarity scale (SCCS), the consistency in the Me-Not Me task
(MNM), the overall completion time for the Big Five questionnaire (Big5), the performance
Study 1
0.34
p=<.001
0.17
p=0.002
0.21
p=<.001
0.36
p=<.001
0.46
p=<.001
0.15
p=0.003
MNM
Big5
Accuracy
SCCS MNM Big5
Study 2
0.37
p=<.001
0.1
p=0.079
−0.06
p=0.277
0.25
p=<.001
0.2
p=<.001
0.09
p=0.086
0.44
p=<.001
0.06
p=0.258
0.24
p=<.001
0.09
p=0.075
MNM
Fluency
SVO
Accuracy
SCCS MNM Fluency SVO
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 9
across all four verbal fluency tasks (Fluency), and the social value orientation (SVO) separately
for Study 1 (left panel) and Study 2 (right panel).
Crucially, regression analyses predicting decision accuracy by either SCC measure while
controlling for processing speed (Fluency) and social preferences (SVO), still yielded significant,
positive effects of both the SCC scale (t(347) = 4.63, p = <.001) and the MNM task (t(347) =
8.28, p = <.001; see Supplemental Material) on decision accuracy. Furthermore, these results
were not affected by analyzing decision accuracy separately for self-interested trials (SCCS:
t(347) = 3.76, p = <.001; MNM: t(347) = 6.87, p = <.001) and altruistic trials (SCCS: t(347) =
4.79, p = <.001; MNM: t(347) = 8.31, p = <.001). Consistent with our prediction, these results
confirm that the relationship between decision accuracy and SCC is robust to the inclusion of
processing speed and social preferences and present for both self-interested and altruistic
decisions.
Discussion
Across two studies, we demonstrated a positive relationship between a property of the
symbolic self, known as self-concept clarity, and decision quality in a social context. This
relationship was not driven by processing speed or social preferences and persisted for both self-
interested and altruistic decisions. These results suggest that self-concept clarity may have a
direct effect on decision quality, possibly driven by fundamental memory processes. Evidence is
mounting that the structure of memory representations influences cognitive performance in basic
memory and language-related tasks, such as, for instance, the lexical decision task (e.g., De
Deyne, Navarro, & Storms, 2013; see Wulff et al., 2019, for a review) and in preferential
judgment and decision making tasks (see Bathia, 2017, for an overview; see also Stolier,
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 10
Hehman, & Freeman, 2018). As making decisions about oneself and others requires accessing
the underlying memory representation of oneself and others, we suspect that the differences in
the organization of individuals’ self-concept may via similar pathways affect individual’s ability
to make fast and accurate decisions. One interesting prediction from this perspective is that the
role of self-concept clarity for decision making could be limited to decisions involving oneself
relative to others. Nonetheless, we conclude that Socrates indeed gave useful advice to
Alcibiades: Knowing oneself makes good governance.
Running Head: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY AND DECISION MAKING 11
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