Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969.

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This article argues for the concept of “possible selves” as an important element of one’s self-knowledge, which can either act as incentives or disincentives for certain behaviors, as well as provide a context for the current self. This kind of self-knowledge is also described as more sensitive to changes in one’s environment. Markus and Nurius maintain that by exploring the notion of “possible selves”, research psychologists and psychotherapists can better understand what appear to be discrepant, unstable, or illogical human cognitions and behaviors. This article is largely a theoretical piece which explores how the notion of possible selves can complement and extend contemporary theories of self-concept, motivation, affect, and cognition.

This article was an important landmark in individual psychology in how it accounted for the influence of previous selves and imagined future selves in working models of the self. Work previous to this had mainly focused instead on one’s more stable or “current” self-concept, which failed to account for how these imagined selves may influence one’s psychology.

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