A Shoulder Imp manifests on the shoulder of the protagonist when they experience moments of jealousy or rage and attempt to manipulate them into doing wrong, whilst the Angel attempts to steer them on a more ethical train of thought.
The Shoulder Imp symbolizes the darkness within all of us and although often depicted as cartoonish in appearance it is always a dangerous and ultimately self-destructive force, often the protagonist will side with the Shoulder Imp for a short while until they see how their misdeeds are affecting others: at which point they normally side with the Angel and banish the Shoulder Imp (who often vanishes in a puff of smoke or hellfire).
Due to their conflicting nature the Shoulder Imp and the Angel continually quarrel with one another, symbolic of the protagonist's own battle with their inner-demons.
The angel represents the conscience, the devil repesents temptation.
In Popular Culture
- In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back Jay is shown to have two Shoulder Imps, which in one scene attacked his lone Angel and convinced him to do wrong, until his Angel showed up
- Daria Morgendorffer has a moment of conscience with her Imp and Angel. Both have exactly the same personality as Daria, which leads them to forget their feud and go out for beer
- In South Park Mr. Mackey, after being fired from his counselling position for his unorthodox methods on discouraging children from using drugs, is offered a beer. His Shoulder Imp tells him to drink it and his Angel wholeheartedly agrees
- Doug Funnie's Shoulder Imp resembles his arch-enemy Roger, whilst his Angel resembles his crush Patti
- In Treehouse of Horror, as a twist on the convention, Bart plays Shoulder Imp to an oversized replica of a devil. He convinces the devil to trash the school, the devil seems reluctant at first, but then Bart runs over to his other shoulder and says "I agree, destroy the school!". The devil happily obliges
- In both the How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family Halloween episodes, various characters dress up as either angels or devils and convince Ted (HIMYM) or Manny (MF) to listen to one or the other.
- Many cartoons employ this tactic - such as Figaro and Pluto from Disney as well as many others (Tom and Jerry notably has a recurring shoulder imp based on Jerry who exists to tempt the already mischievous mouse, usually in times of jealousy).
- In Just Shoot Me, Dennis Finch is visited by his shoulder imp and wonders where the shoulder angel went. His imp reminds him that he's not decent enough to have an angel.