Action Identification

What do people think they're doing? An action can often be identified in many ways. For example, eating might also be described as chewing and swallowing, or as reducing hunger, gaining weight, getting nutrition, or simply doing what people do at mealtime. The theory of action identification (Vallacher & Wegner, 1985, 1987, 2012; Wegner & Vallacher, 1986) holds that identities of action vary in level, from the low level identities that tell how an action is done (such as chewing and swallowing) to the higher level identities that indicate the action's consequences (such as getting nutrition or gaining weight). According to the theory, people identify the actions they perform at the highest level they can. When they cannot perform an action as identified, however, they will re-identify the action at a lower level to remind themselves how the action is done. The theory is concerned, then, with the problem of how thinking about an action is related to the performance of the action.

Vallacher, R. R. & Wegner, D. M. (1985). A theory of action identification. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 
  • Wegner, D. M., & Vallacher, R. R. (1986). Action identification. In R. M. Sorrentino & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior (pp. 550-582). New York: Guilford.
  • Wegner, D. M., Vallacher, R. R., Macomber, G., Wood, R., & Arps, K. (1984). The emergence of action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 269-279.
  • Wegner, D. M., Vallacher, R. R., Kiersted, G., & Dizadji, D. (1986). Action identification in the emergence of social behavior. Social Cognition, 4, 18-38.
  • Vallacher, R. R., & Wegner, D. M. (1987). What do people think they're doing? Action identification and human behavior. Psychological Review, 94, 3-15.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Vallacher, R. R. (1987). The trouble with action. Social Cognition, 5, 179- 190.
  • Vallacher, R. R., Wegner, D. M., & Frederick, J. (1987). The presentation of self through action identification. Social Cognition, 5, 301-322.
  • Vallacher, R. R., Wegner, D. M., & Somoza, M. (1989). That's easy for you to say: Action identification and speech fluency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 199-208.
  • Wegner, D. M., Vallacher, R. R., & Dizadji, D. (1989). Do alcoholics know what they're doing? Identifications of the act of drinking. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 10, 197-210.
  • Vallacher, R. R., & Wegner, D. M. (1989). Levels of personal agency: Individual variation in action identification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 660-671.
  • Vallacher, R. R., Wegner, D. M., McMahan, S. C., Cotter, J., & Larsen, K. A. (1992). On winning friends and influencing people: Action identification and self-presentation success. Social Cognition, 10, 335-355.
  • Kozak, M., Marsh, A. A., & Wegner, D. M. (2006). What do I think you're doing? Action identification and mind attribution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 543-555.
  • Marsh, A. A., Kozak, M. N., Wegner, D. M., Reid, M. E., Yu, H. H., & Blair, R. J. R. (2010). The neural substrates of action identification. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2010; doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq004
  • Vallacher, R. R., & Wegner, D. M. (2012). Action identification theory: The highs and lows of personal agency. In P. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories in social psychology (pp. 327-348). London: Sage..

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