Authentic =? Accepted

We usually hear that being “authentic” is to “be yourself”, as opposed to “pretending”. But consider some clues about authenticity:

People who believe they’re behaving authentically are less distressed and have higher self-esteem. … Feeling inauthentic in one’s dealings with other people correlates with symptoms of depression. … Women … report much greater feelings of personal authenticity in their romantic relationships than men do, and as teens, they’re more likely than boys to say that they can be themselves with their best friends. On the other hand, teen boys report feeling more authentic with their dads than teen girls do—and young men say they feel more authentic around professors than their female classmates do. … When adults … were asked how authentic they felt in the presence of various people, work colleagues came in dead last. (more)

This clue seems especially telling:

Subjects sometimes reported feeling more authentic when they acted “out of character” during activities in the lab, such as playing Twister or debating medical ethics. Introverts felt “truer to themselves” when they were acting like extroverts; ditto disagreeable people who were acting agreeable, and careless people who were acting conscientiously. (more)

Note that people felt the most “authentic” here when they were less like their usual self! This tempts me to guess that the feeling of authenticity is actually a feeling of being accepted and respected, with an absence of stress about if one is so accepted. So when a personality spectrum has a more respected end, we all feel more authentic when we feel that we look like that end of the spectrum.

This fits the other correlates above; people feel more authentic when they feel more accepted and respected in their role, regardless of if that role is who they “really” are.

Maybe there is no real you. There are just the yous that you can construct, and the you that you can make that seems the most accepted and respected, that is who you prefer to see as the “real” you.

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  • Joshua Brulé

    “Identity does not mean, to such as us, what it means to other people. Anyone we can imagine, we can be…”
    -Quirrell, HPMOR chapter 63

    “…there is no real you. There are just the yous that you can construct, and the you that you can make that seems the most accepted and respected, that is who you prefer to see as the “real” you.”
    -Robin Hanson

    “…the still more worrisome thought was that Professor Quirrell hadn’t realized how disturbed Harry would be, how wrong that speech would sound to him, how much damage it would do to his trust in Professor Quirrell.

    There ought to always be one real person who you truly were, at the center of everything…”
    -HPMOR chapter 63

    But, fan-fiction aside, what would you say about how a person acts when they are alone? When there is no one else to to impress, when there is no one else judging your actions, isn’t *that* really you?

    (If we accept that definition, there’s a certain amount of poetry, in that the only person who ever gets to experience the “real” you is yourself.)

    I suppose the more cynical answer would be that, even in that case, you’re still trying to impress yourself, so you can tell yourself how good of a person you are, even if no one else knows. But this strikes me as twisting the interpretation a bit too much to fit the premise.

    • I’m not sure one can feel authentic or inauthentic except in the course of some social performance. [I don’t think I can.]

    • Len

      It’s funny you should bring up HPMOR, because it was stated that Quirrell was based off Hanson.


    “Maybe there is no real you. There are just the yous that you can construct, and the you that you can make that seems the most accepted and respected, that is who you prefer to see as the “real” you.”

    There IS a real “you”. But part of what makes you “you” is the predisposition to act in certain ways under certain circumstances. Being authentic isn’t about what you do but about how comfortable you feel doing it, in a way it’s a measure of how much your behavior matches your far mode values and ideals and the personality you want to have. It does seem like people have a penchant for saying things like “I wasn’t being myself” when they did something “under the influence” of near mode, but that’s ok (whether you choose to see your far mode actions as part of your personality, or as what your personality does when it is getting deceitful information, or even if you see your near mode as some form of automation by your brain, it doesn’t matter, they are all equivalent as long as you are clear about which of these views you adhere to).

    • brendan_r

      “feeling accepted” is a much more satisfying explanation of what authenticity feels like than this far-mode essentialism of yours.

      why are you extroverted? as a matter of far-mode principal!


      • IMASBA

        People say “I wasn’t being myself” when others don’t approve of it AND (in far mode) they don’t approve of it themselves either. Othwerwise you’ll hear things like “why are these people so uptight”, or “those people act so fake”, or better yet: “haters gonna hate”.

      • But people also might say (or if they don’t say it, know it true) they weren’t themselves when they do things that are exceptional. Acts of bravery.

        Most acts of bravery and acts of malice are highly stereotyped. They fail to express uniqueness, even if the former accords with far-mode ideals.

      • IMASBA

        I think you answered your own comment: people can feel inauthentic when performing some act that superficially is very idealistic for them but which was actually performed in a way that doesn’t really match the person’s ideals. Usually only the superficial act, the stereotype, is communicated to others.

        Example: with a lot of danger to your own life you kill a terrorist and save a lot of lives in the process but in the heat of the moment you realized your primary motivation actually was personal hatred for the terrorist, not saving all those innocent lives. You get called a hero and your action was superficially heroic but you are disappointed in yourself and feel inauthentic.

        If you have examples of feeling inauthentic when it has nothing to do with disappointing about not living up to far mode ideals (or disappointment about not being able to act in a way that comes natural) I’d like to hear them (I really would), because I simply cannot recall any instance where I or people I know have felt inauthentic without it being about disappointment.

      • The heroic case I had in mind is where the person “went on adrenaline” and simply acted without thought. He doesn’t have a motive to disown his behavior, which conforms to his ideals.

        I don’t think authenticity has much at all to do with far-mode ideals (or with spontaneity, for that matter). That’s part of why many find so suspect ethics that value authenticity: authenticity is counterposed to other far-mode values. (So you can’t define it in their terms.)

        People discover all the time that they can derive deep feelings of authenticity by violating their deepest far-mode values. (As well as by deviating from spontaneous routine.) This may be most evident in the spheres of sex and art.

    • Perhaps you, IMASBA, feel most authentic when you are being idealistic, but it isn’t the case for all folks.

  • jjbees

    This is a very dangerous line of thought. If there is no identity, only a vague yearning for acceptance and a willingness to align ourselves in whatever place where we feel most comfortable, aren’t you denying the soul?

    Are we robots that seek a bit of warmer water in the stream and lay there, saying “mmmm this is us, definitely…” ?

    • Are you pointing to evidence that conflicts with this conclusion, or just to the fact that you wish the conclusion were not true?

  • Viliam Búr

    Maybe it’s actually a combination of “being myself” and “being respected”. It may feel better to be “80% myself and respected” than “100% myself and not respected”, because in the former case 80% of my identity are respected, and in the latter case it is 0%.

  • Vladimir Nesov

    My guess, based primarily on introspection, is that authenticity is how appearing trustworthy feels like from the inside. You feel authentic when you expect that other people consider your behavior trustworthy.

    Let’s go through the examples from the post. Appearing trustworthy probably correlates with higher status. It’s a standard idea that men are expected to be less honest in a relationship, so men may expect to appear less trustworthy in this role, regardless of their actual attitude. Not clear what’s going on with male/female best friends and professors. Boys, compared to girls, may expect fathers to be able to judge their sincerity more accurately. Work collegaues in the sample may be sufficiently competitive (in the office politics sense) to expect each other to suspect each other of being somewhat secretive and misleading, again regardless of how secretive and misleading they actually are. Discussing medial ethics in an idealistic way, acting like an extrovert or being agreeable may be expected (by the people who switch to these behaviors) to signal trustworthiness, perhaps more so if these behaviors are uncharactiristic and hence notable to them.

    This hypothesis suggests, for example, that a good con artist who expects to be trusted should feel authentic, while politicians (with low approval ratings) or very rich people should feel inauthentic when talking honestly to the suspicious masses.

    • IMASBA

      Your last paragraph has some good tests. I don’t think a con artist feels authentic when gaining people’s trust, he may at best feel proud of his “trade”, or just feel no empathy for the victim (ie. a psychpath). Politicians can still gain status from being popular and both they and very rich people may still hold far ideals about general trustworthiness and therefore be emotionally invested in people trusting them, I think that is more important than status when it comes to feeling authentic. In essence it’s about wanting to gain a high status in the eyes of an idealized version of yourself and/or an idealized mentor/hero/role model of yours (who may not know you personally or may even be dead but you want to feel like they would respect and approve of you). But perhaps it’s a bit like Viliam Bur said below and the mind will find ways to trick itself into making an elevation of status feel more authentic when being fully authentic would mean losing too much status.

    • What about a serial killer who feels authentic only when committing murder?

  • Jason Young

    “It is thus with most of us; we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.” – Eric Hoffer

    Good post. My only quibble is with the incendiary “there is no real you.” The “real you” is an abstract set of rules that determine how identities/personae/”attentional templates” will be cobbled together and when they’ll be deployed.

    • The “real you” is an abstract set of rules that determine how identities/personae/”attentional templates” will be cobbled together and when they’ll be deployed.

      You can say that. Just like someone might say the real you is your brain. But the claim being made concerns the phenomenological “you.”

  • brendan_r

    “This tempts me to guess that the feeling of authenticity is actually a feeling of being accepted and respected, with an absence of stress about if one is so accepted.”

    Sure. But rationalists, goths, crips, athletes, amish, muslims and soldiers differ in what sorts of personalities they respect. The experiments show that some people can be triggered to positively self modify within an existing group. But there’s a leash on self modification; the “real you” isn’t an essential thing, it’s a varying range of possibilities. Robin’s not gonna feel authentic free-style rapping with Crips no matter how the experimenters prod him. Finding the right peer group is important to feeling authentic and the weirder you are the fewer groups you can authentically mold into. You see that particularly in “introverts” who can’t shut up if you get them feeling comfortable in the right setting.

  • Robert Koslover

    I think Shakespeare may have touched on this topic in Hamlet, although the meaning of the words has shifted a bit since then:


    This above all: to thine own self be true,

    And it must follow, as the night the day,

    Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    • Jason Young

      I think there are more apt Shakespearean quotes, such as:

      All the world’s a stage,
      And all the men and women merely players.
      They have their exits and their entrances,
      And one man in his time plays many parts


      I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
      A stage where every man must play a part,
      And mine a sad one.

      We feel “authentic” when playing some roles but not others, and Robin wants to know when that feeling arises.

    • Salem

      OK, but Shakespeare wrote Polonius as a pompous windbag. Not a very good idea to quote him sincerely.

      • Robert Koslover

        Yes, I understand your objection, but I’ve always liked Polonius’ advice anyway.

  • Dave Lindbergh

    Almost right, I think.

    Behavior feels authentic when it is not influenced by a desire to look good to other people.

    We all feel our behavior is authentic when we’re alone. We dance stupidly when our favorite song comes on, then stop, embarrassed, when we realize someone is watching.

    When no one is looking we pick our nose or scratch our privates.

    When we’re accepted and respected, or when we have high status, we can get away with doing much of this in public, because it doesn’t matter what other people think. We have status to burn.

    A story: I had a pink dress shirt that I used to wear to work when I was feeling particularly nasty. I called it my “fuck you” shirt. Because where I worked, straight men don’t wear pink shirts. By wearing the shirt, I was publicly breaking the taboo. Daring people to make something of it.

    Nobody ever called me on it – not a look, not a tone of voice – nothing.

    Later, once I worked somewhere else, I wore the same shirt – and got lots of negative reaction.

    Why? Because in the first place I was a high-status executive, who nobody wanted to mess with. In the latter case, I was a nobody.

    (It was only when I got those negative reactions that I fully realized just how high-status I’d been at that earlier job…)

    Now I run my own company. I wear whatever I damn well please to work.

    • The sense of authenticity isn’t identical to the sense of spontaneity.

  • Existentialist philosophy makes “authenticity” one of its central tenets. I’ve never gotten into it, but it might help clarify the phenomenology.

  • Ivan

    I don’t disagree with Robins hypothesis. However, in the quote he provided from the study, it clearly says that subjects felt authentic while acting out of character only sometimes. It would be interesting to know exactly how frequently is sometimes in this case. This is why I would caution about making generalizations from this study observation.

  • stevesailer

    Although of course you end up becoming yourself, as David Foster Wallace said.

  • stevesailer

    I agreed with Robin at 22, but at 55 I don’t.

    And it’s not just that I can predict my own behavior pretty well, I can distinguish other people. For example, I moderate all my comments on my blog, so I read maybe 100,000+ comments per year. One thing I’ve noticed is how familiar regular commenters become. They have lots of novel insights, but each has an individual style. For example, dearieme and Simon in London are both British academics, but if you tested me by removing their names from their comments, I could probably guess which one wrote which comment with at least 90% accuracy.

    • Jason Young

      Robin isn’t making a claim about whether people are discernably the same most of the time. His claim is about what causes us to *feel* as if we’re acting like ourselves, whatever that means.

    • Why can’t the consistent person you see in these comments be the person they chose to be, as the one that is most consistently accepted?

      • Because, if a person aims for consistent acceptance, he won’t engage in self-consistent behavior.

  • mbka

    Well, there is a whole line of research going in the direction of a “context-dependent personality” or “context-sensitive self”. If you search these terms, or if you go by author and search articles by say, Diener et al, you’ll find a lot on that, how it influences subjective well-being, and how it varies between cultures. Say, recently, some articles by Suh et al indicate that East Asians have a more context sensitive self perception than US-Americans. Specifically, if people are experimentally primed with different social roles, the self-description of their own personality changes. It may change more in East Asians than in Americans, but it changes in all people.

  • The results (and discussion) in are particularly important:

    “the data consistently supported the statecontent significance hypothesis, such that increases in state Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Intellect were accompanied by increases in authenticity.”

    Combining Robin’s conjecture with this result, the implication is that basic personality traits are (contrary to how usually conceived) bipolar: Agreeableness, etc., not Disagreeableness, etc., are high status. The results indicate that the Big Five Traits linearly correlate with behavior that feels authentic.

    But I don’t think it’s the case that the more Agreeable or the more Introverted, the higher the status. So, I must disagree with Robin that authenticity is respected/accepted conduct.

    Let me try a slightly more idealistic hypothesis, which is in line with one mentioned by Sheldon, which is that the “positive” end of the Big Five support “autonomy.”

    “Authenticity” is experienced when our conduct most expresses our uniqueness. (We don’t express our uniqueness best when we act simply like we “usually” do.)

  • hmm did you ask your self ? do you are real?
    did some one tell you to be your self .because just like this you winn ?
    so if some comment are out from the hypocrisy culture this mean not ”real you”?
    do you know how every character human work?
    YOU GET IT ?
    if one smart person work like you thinking ( to pire to potami)
    th u

  • lemmycaution

    From the study:

    “Authenticity is achieved by expressing Extraversion, Agreeableness,
    Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Intellect in one’s behavior.”

    One way to view this is that these traits are “right” in some way.

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