But the Swedish study points towards something weirder: not just that we’re subconsciously influenced by our environments, but that we infer our very sense of who we are from our behaviour. Normally, we assume things work the other way: that a person who thinks of herself as compassionate will therefore act compassionately. But “self-perception theory” proposes that the opposite’s also true: we observe our behaviour, then reach conclusions about who we are. “After purchasing the latte, we assume that we are coffee connoisseurs,” as the psychologist Timothy Wilson writes on edge.org. After returning the lost wallet, we conclude that we’re honest. In reality, many pressures shape our behaviour – maybe, Wilson writes, we “returned the wallet in order to impress the people around us”. But we conclude “that our behaviour emanated from some inner disposition”.

Tags: self identity