No self to spare: How the cognitive structure of the self influences moral behavior

Maferima Touré-Tillery*, Alysson E. Light

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


People represent knowledge about their self-concept in terms of multiple cognitive structures or self-aspects. “Self-overlap” refers to the extent to which people perceive their various self-aspects as interconnected, such that their thoughts and feelings about themselves are similar across these self-aspects. The present research shows self-overlap influences moral behavior. Specifically, people high in self-overlap (interconnected self-aspects) are more likely to behave ethically than people low in overlap (independent self-aspects), because they tend to see their actions as “self-diagnostic” (i.e., representative of the type of person they are). In six studies, we find this pattern of behavior for chronic/measured (Studies 1 and 2) and situational/manipulated self-overlap (Studies 3 – 6). We show people low in self-overlap behave as though they have “no self to spare”—unless their actions are presented as non-diagnostic for inferences about the self (Study 5), or unless they do not value the context-relevant moral characteristic (e.g., being altruistic; Study 6). Finally, we introduce a 7-item measure of perceptions of self-diagnosticity (SDS).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-64
Number of pages17
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Moral behavior
  • Self-diagnosticity
  • Self-overlap
  • Self-signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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