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Beliefs About the Causal Structure of the Self-Concept Determine Which Changes Disrupt Personal Identity


Psychological Science



Authors / Editors

Chen S Y;Urminsky O;Bartels D M


Publication Year



Personal identity is an important determinant of behavior, yet how people mentally represent their self-concepts and their concepts of other people is not well understood. In the current studies, we examined the age-old question of what makes people who they are. We propose a novel approach to identity that suggests that the answer lies in people’s beliefs about how the features of identity (e.g., memories, moral qualities, personality traits) are causally related to each other. We examined the impact of the causal centrality of a feature, a key determinant of the extent to which a feature defines a concept, on judgments of identity continuity. We found support for this approach in three experiments using both measured and manipulated causal centrality. For judgments both of one’s self and of others, we found that some features are perceived to be more causally central than others and that changes in such causally central features are believed to be more disruptive to identity.


causal reasoning; personal identity; self-concept; open data; open materials

Available on ECCH


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