Inaccurate self-knowledge formation as a result of automatic behavior

Yoav Bar-Anan*, Timothy D. Wilson, Ran R. Hassin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Four studies tested a post-priming misattribution process whereby a primed goal automatically influences people's behavior, but because people are unaware of that influence, they misattribute their behavior to some other internal state. People who were primed with a goal were more likely to choose an activity that was relevant to that goal, but did not recognize that the prime had influenced their choices. Instead, people used more accessible and plausible reasons to explain their behavior. The goals were seeking romantic interaction (Studies 1 and 2), helping (Study 3) and earning money (Study 4). People made choices related to these goals but misattributed the choices to temporary preferences (Studies 1 and 3) and more permanent dispositions (Studies 2 and 4). The misattribution had downstream effects, leading to choice behavior consistent with the erroneous self-knowledge. We suggest that automatic behavior can lead to a confabulated self-knowledge with behavioral consequences.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)884-894
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the support of research grant RO1-MH56075 from the National Institute of Mental Health and a McClelland Center Fellowship awarded to Yoav Bar-Anan.


  • Automatic social behavior
  • Confabulation
  • Goal priming
  • Self-attribution
  • Self-knowledge


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