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How Does “Being Real” Feel? The Experience of State Authenticity


  • We thank Pete Yule for his skilled web design assistance, as well as Yasin Koc and Stephen Simeone for transcribing the handwritten narratives in Study 2. This research was supported by Economic and Social Research Council grant #RES-062-23-2595 to Alison P. Lenton and Constantine Sedikides.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Alison P. Lenton, Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, 7 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, United Kingdom. Email:



We propose that the experience of state authenticity—the subjective sense of being one's true self—ought to be considered separately from trait authenticity as well as from prescriptions regarding what should make people feel authentic.


In Study 1 (N = 104), online participants rated the frequency of and motivation for experiences of authenticity and inauthenticity. Studies 2 (N = 268) and 3 (N = 93) asked (local or online, respectively) participants to describe their experiences of authenticity or inauthenticity. Participants in Studies 1 and 2 also completed measures of trait authenticity, and participants in Study 3 rated their experience with respect to several phenomenological dimensions.


Study 1 demonstrated that people are motivated to experience state authenticity and avoid inauthenticity and that such experiences are common, regardless of one's degree of trait authenticity. Coding of Study 2's narratives identified the emotions accompanying and needs fulfilled in each state. Trait authenticity generally did not qualify the nature of (in)authentic experiences. Study 3 corroborated the results of Study 2 and further revealed positive mood and nostalgia as consequences of reflecting on experiences of authenticity.


We discuss implications of these findings for conceptualizations of authenticity and the self.