Ascribing meaning to the past: self–other differences in weighing good and bad deeds

Andreas Steimer, André Mata*, Cláudia Simão

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In three studies, this research found evidence for self-serving tendencies and a self–other asymmetry in the way people ascribe meaning to past behavior: Participants saw their past good deeds as more revealing of their present self than their past bad deeds (Studies 1–2), and they made inferences about their present personality from positive past behaviors, but not from negative ones (Study 3). In contrast, participants perceived the past behavior of others as diagnostic of their present personality (Study 2), and they made inferences about others’ present traits from that behavior (Study 3), regardless of whether it was positive or negative. In support of a motivational account, we also found evidence for moderated mediation of our effect (Study 2), such that the valence effect on ascribing meaning to the past was mediated by desirability only when self-relevance was high (i.e., for the self), not when it was low (i.e., for others). Implications of this self–other asymmetry are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-196
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Autobiographic memory
  • Belief updating
  • Meaning
  • Motivated reasoning
  • Person memory
  • Self–other differences
  • True self


Dive into the research topics of 'Ascribing meaning to the past: self–other differences in weighing good and bad deeds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this