I’m Not the Person I Used to Be: The Self and Autobiographical Memories of Immoral Actions

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Abstract

People maintain a positive identity in at least two ways: They evaluate themselves more favorably than other people, and they judge themselves to be better now than they were in the past. Both strategies rely on autobiographical memories. The authors investigate the role of autobiographical memories of lying and emotional harm in maintaining a positive identity. For memories of lying to or emotionally harming others, participants judge their own actions as less morally wrong and less negative than those in which other people lied to or emotionally harmed them. Furthermore, people judge those actions that happened further in the past to be more morally wrong than those that happened more recently. Finally, for periods of the past when they believed that they were very different people than they are now, participants judge their actions to be more morally wrong and more negative than those actions from periods of their pasts when they believed that they were very similar to who they are now. The authors discuss these findings in relation to theories about the function of autobiographical memory and moral cognition in constructing and perceiving the self over time.

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