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Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer is a Professor at the Psychology Department of New York University and the University of Konstanz. He has developed various models of action control: the Theory of Symbolic Self-Completion (with Robert Wicklund), the Rubicon Model of Action Phases (with Heinz Heckhausen), the Auto-Motive Model of Automatic Goal Striving (with John Bargh), the Mindset Theory of Action Phases, and the Theory of Intentional Action Control (distinguishing between goal intentions versus implementation intentions). In these different models relevant determinants and processes of behavior change are delineated. His recent research combines insights from research on implementation intentions (Peter Gollwitzer) and mental contrasting (Gabriele Oettingen) to develop time- and cost-effective behavior change interventions.

Self-completion Research: A Goal Perspective on Identity

People who are committed to identity goals (e.g., becoming a great scientist, teacher, athlete, or parent) respond to the experience of a relevant shortcoming with a sense of incompleteness. This feeling of falling short can be triggered by experiencing a lack of any of the many relevant
indicators (e.g., relevant successes, skills, personality attributes) of having attained the aspired-to identity. But it is easy to compensate for it! Incomplete individuals only have to acquire or intend to acquire alternative indicators; these can be relevant positive self-descriptions, successful performances, or pointing to the possession of symbols of success (e.g., awards). Past research has
shown that these compensatory efforts (also referred to as self-symbolizing) are executed rather impulsively, and that they are particularly effective in restoring completeness when they are noticed by others (i.e., acquire social reality). Recent research shows that the activation of the mental representation of the identity goal and the strength of the identity goal are enhanced when individuals committed to identity goals experience respective shortcomings. Moreover, it was found that incompleteness with respect to an identity goal cannot be reduced by heightening a person’s general self-esteem via engaging in self-affirmation; in other words, effective compensatory efforts need to be specific to the incomplete identity goal at hand. And finally, it was found that incomplete individuals engage in compensatory self-symbolizing even when such action goes against one’s moral values. I will end my presentation with pointing out how important it is to bring together different sub-disciplinary perspectives in psychology (e.g., cognition, personality, motivation and volition) when it comes to exploring broader concepts such as identity.