The true self in reflections? Visual self-recognition and the Big Five

Elena Stephan, Mirella Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Typically, individuals are motivated to see themselves in a flattering light regarding their physical and personality characteristics. We suggest that visual self-perception is anchored in the true self which is largely the self-enhancing self, and may also reflect the privileged access to one's traits and internal states. Here, we examine the impact and limits of self-enhancement motivation and egocentric bias on individuals’ recognition of variations of their portraits in terms of the Big Five personality dimensions. We predict that individuals recognise themselves better in positively altered portraits, namely, portraits looking more agreeable, conscientious and open. We also predict that self-enhancement is anchored in reality: Individuals recognise themselves less in strongly altered than in slightly or non-altered portraits. In Study 1, we measure the directions of self-recognition distortions by investigating in which random variations of their portraits individuals recognise themselves. In Study 2, relying on a mouse tracking paradigm, we additionally measure the degree of distortion, and the conflict individuals experience during the self-recognition task. Results of both studies mainly demonstrate self-recognition distortions towards agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism. Moreover, results from Study 2 reveal that self-recognition is anchored in reality. Findings of two studies applying different methods convergently show systematic biases in self-recognition regarding the Big Five dimensions, both enriching understanding of the self-enhancement processes and demonstrating that the methods applied might be useful for future research focusing on self-recognition.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). European Journal of Social Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Big Five
  • face modelling
  • reverse correlation
  • self-enhancement
  • visual self-recognition


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