What are your actions saying?

Self-Perception Theory is when you determine your beliefs/attitudes based on your actions.


This is contrary to conventional wisdom. Usually, we have an attitude towards an object/person/event etc. From there, we will choose actions that are in line with our attitudes.


What I Believe –> How I Act


However, sometimes we’ll do something strange. We’ll reverse the logic. We’ll reason:


How I Act –> What I believe


This suggests that we look at our actions (as if from a 3rd party perspective) and make judgments about our thoughts. Sound a little weird?


"Smiling" Condition
“Smiling” Condition


"Angry" Condition
“Angry” Condition

An experiment showed that when people were asked to bite on a pencil (using the muscles that make a smile), they report to be HAPPIER afterwards than people who were asked to hold a pencil on their upper lip (using the muscles that make a frown).






A personal example is when I went to Six Flags in December 2010.


My college friends and I were on a road trip in Cali, and visited Six Flags Magic Mountain in LA. It was surprisingly cold, and the temperature even dropped down to 32°F after sunset.


It was already pitch black when we were waiting for our last ride – X2. With dives, flips, and twists, along with fire flames and flashing lights – the whole shebang – it was no ordinary ride. At that point, I started to shiver.


X2 Ride with flames
X2 Ride with flames

I’m not normally scared of roller coasters. Like others, I’ll feel the rush of adrenaline and a mixture of excitement and nervousness. But I’ll never SHIVER.


…I guess I’m just EXCEPTIONALLY scared about this ride?


Here, I looked at my movement (shivering) and decided my attitude (I’m scared of the ride).


In hindsight, I wasn’t shaking because of the ride. I was shaking because it was freezing cold! … in California!


When we experience things that are ambiguous or novel (like going on that ride for the first time), we’ll likely take clues from our own actions to verbalize our attitudes even though it might not always be reflective of our true thoughts.


Can you think of a time you used your actions to make judgments about your attitudes?





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