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J Pers. 2006 Dec;74(6):1673-96.

Future orientation in the self-system: possible selves, self-regulation, and behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Social and Health Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0085, USA.


Possible selves are representations of the self in the future. Early theoretical accounts of the construct suggested that possible selves directly influence motivation and behavior. We propose an alternative view of possible selves as a component in self-regulatory processes through which motivation and behavior are influenced. We demonstrate the advantages of this conceptualization in two studies that test predictions generated from theoretical models of self-regulation in which the possible selves construct could be embedded. In one study, we show how viewing possible selves as a source of behavioral standards in a control-process model of self-regulation yields support for a set of predictions about the influence of possible selves on current behavior. In the other study, we examine possible selves in the context of an interpersonal model of self-regulation, showing strong evidence of concern for relational value in freely generated hoped-for and feared selves. These findings suggest that the role of possible selves in motivation and behavior can be profitably studied in models that fully specify the process of self-regulation and that those models can be enriched by a consideration of future-oriented self-representations. We offer additional recommendations for strengthening research on possible selves and self-regulation.

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