The true self

Representations of and beliefs about the concept of “a self” vary across cultures, perspectives (first vs. third), and individuals. Yet my collaborators and I have found evidence suggesting that people exhibit a robust, invariant tendency to believe that deep inside every individual there is a “good true self” calling them to behave in a morally virtuous manner. We propose that this belief arises from a general cognitive tendency known as psychological essentialism.


  • De Freitas, J., Cikara, M., Grossmann, I., & Schlegel, R. (2017). Origins of the belief in morally good true selves. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(9), 634–636. **Review**

  • De Freitas, J., & Cikara, M, Grossmann, I., & Schlegel, R. (2018). Moral goodness is the essence of personal identity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(9), 739–740. [Original letter by Starmans & Bloom.]  **Review**

  • De Freitas, J., & Cikara, M. (2018). Deep down my enemy is good: Thinking about the true self reduces intergroup bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 74, 307–316.

  • De Freitas, J., Sarkissian, H., Newman, G. E., Grossman, I., De Brigard, F., Luco, A., & Knobe, J. (2018). Consistent belief in a good true self in misanthropes and three interdependent cultures. Cognitive Science, 42, 134–160. [supp. materials].

  • De Freitas, J., Tobia, K., Newman, J. E., & Knobe, J. (2017). Normative judgments and individual essence. Cognitive Science,  1551–6709. 

  • Newman, J. E., De Freitas, J., and Knobe, J. (2015). Beliefs about the true self explain asymmetries based on moral judgment. Cognitive Science, 39(1), 96–125. 

  • De Freitas, J., & Alvarez, G. A. (2019). Personal identity without mind. PsyArXiv

Moral judgment

These papers demonstrate (i) the pervasive impact of morality on non-moral intuitions and language, and (ii) that moral judgments follow the 'teleological stance', not just the 'intentional stance'. 


Other papers

  • De Freitas, J., Rips, L., & Alvarez, G. A. (2019). The limit of personal identity. PsyArXiv.