When someone wrestles with a temptation, two miniature versions of himself, an Angel and a Devil, sit on each shoulder and try to pull him in different directions. The Devil will invariably be on the left (the conflicted character's left, or "sinister") shoulder. Alternatively, as in Full House ("The Devil Made Me Do It"), the Angel and the Devil may manifest as life-sized people on either side of the conflicted character rather than as miniatures on their shoulders.
Expect a female character's Devil to dress all Stripperiffic, to invoke Evil Is Sexy, Horny Devils, Hot as Hell, and Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains. If a character is particularly bad, it's common is to give them two Devils (and visa versa for particularly good characters). Another is for the devil to kill, injure or incapacitate the angel, leaving only the devil as counsel (or vice versa). Sometimes the devil for a male character mentions that the Angel wears a "dress." ("It's a robe.") It is far less common for the angel to tell the devil to Please Put Some Clothes On. As the conversation among the three progresses, it may drift away from anything to do with good or evil and resemble a Seinfeldian Conversation involving Metaphorgotten or Sidetracked by the Analogy.
The technical, if somewhat dated, term for this is the Psychomachia ("Battle of the Soul"); in its original version, this implied a full-scale war between all of an individual's personified virtues (such as Humility, Chastity, Patience, etc.) against his personified vices (Pride, Lust, Anger, etc.).
Compare Floating Advice Reminder and Ghost in the Machine. When an external character takes it upon themself to play the Bad Angel, they're The Corrupter. When an external character takes it upon themself to play the Good Angel, they're The Conscience. Consider Right Way/Wrong Way Pair.
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- Used in an episode of Muppets Tonight, with Seymour and Pepe pretending to be Jason Alexander's good and bad conscience in order to convince him to do an act with Gonzo. And some other episodes.
- The concept appeared in Sesame Street.
- Spitting Image: Neil Kinnock has Michael Foot as his angel and Jim Callaghan as his devil while he wrestles over whether or not to reappear on The Tube. He compromises by saying that he can't as he is rehearsing for Last of the Summer Wine, which pleases them both.
- A variation comes up in a Ron White comedy bit where he cheats on his wife with a woman he meets in Ohio after not having sex in three months. As it turns out, the shoulder devil isn't necessary.
Ron: And you know that little guy that sits on your shoulder and reminds you of your prior commitments and your moral fortitude? I didn't hear a peep out of that guy. He hadn't been laid in three months either. He was speechless for twenty minutes; then he was like, "Suck her titties!" "I was gonna!" I'm having a three-way with my conscience. As soon as the whole thing's over, he's back at his post. "That was WRONG, mister!" "Hey, twenty minutes ago, you were beatin' off on my shoulder, Monkey Boy."
- This gets illustrated in Ron White's book I Had the Right to Remain Silent...But I Didn't Have the Ability with Devil!Ron egging him on while Angel!Ron conspicuously does nothing.
- One supplement for the Mystara setting included creatures called "blue imps" and "red imps", respectively resembling tiny angels or devils, which would covertly approach and pester young apprentice wizards, trying to persuade them to study either good or evil magics. Although such imps had an existence of their own, independent of the people they tried to influence, this trope clearly inspired the concept.
- Supermarioglitchy4: "Let him [Toad] die! MWAHAHAHA!!! Steal his [Toad's] underwear afterwards!" "Um... err... yeah, I got nothing."
- Red vs. Blue:
- The AIs play with this trope — there's (usually) only one of them to an individual, but they appear floating over the person's shoulder and exist to help and give advice. If you have a good one, great — you don't have to worry about its evil counterpart undermining its efforts. Unfortunately, that same lack of symmetry means that if you get stuck with an evil one, you're pretty much hosed.
- Season 10 gives us an instance of "Bad Angel, Worse Angel" when Gamma and Sigma team up to dupe Carolina into choosing to have two AI implanted into her.
- A series of short flash cartoons, entitled Dog, Buddha, Elvis uses the three title figures to represent a man's psyche.
- Parodied in the machinima series The Strangerhood, where Griggs' Good Angel and Bad Angel get into a fistfight, then the other characters' Good Angels show up and throw a party.
- The Homestar Runner cartoon "The Baloneyman" uses Strong Bad's good and bad angels together as a (neutral) personification of his brain, which he tries to "fool" into feeling refreshed by rubbing a baloney sandwich shaped like a popsicle on his head:
Devil Strong Bad: You see this guy? Rubbin' a sammich on his head?
Angel Strong Bad: I know, I know... just let it go. You gotta pick your battles.
- It's probably worth mentioning that Angel Strong Bad is noticeably shorter than Devil Strong Bad.
- In The Annoying Orange episode "Cruel as a Cucumber," Orange wants to get Cucumber to like him. Angel Orange and Devil Orange both pop up to give him advice, but both of them just suggest ways to annoy Cucumber. Angel Orange's suggestions are nicer, though.
- In the Napster Bad short "Metallica Millionaire", James Hetfield has just one of these, a devil in the shape of Lars Ulrich.
- In Chargesdotcomdotbr, there's one story with Corrupt Politician Paulo Maluf receiving visits from these angels. When Maluf stated there was no Money of his in any tax-free paradise, a good angel showed up and told him not to lie. Then a bad angel showed up to point out he's telling the truth. The money he keeps in Kayman Islands isn't his; it's the people's. Then Maluf claims that, if anything on his name is found, he promised to donate everything to Saint House. Upon the good angel's doubts, the bad one claimed he meant the house where Maluf lives with his saint family. Maluf also claimed the accusations are a consequence of the Brazilian Presidential elections of that time because he lead the run. The bad angel said it's just someone summon him for an oficial statement and he runs off to Paris. The good angel quit after that.
- In the If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device short featuring Sly Marbo, tiny demonic and angelic versions of Sly appear when he's confronted with a Sadistic Choice. Their advice? "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!"
- In the Robotzi episode "Sugstanță'', Mo gets both an angel Mo and a devil Mo when he plans to drink the toxic substances prepared by F.O.C.A. However, their personalities are almost the same. Angel Mo at first says they seem very toxic, while Devil Mo wants Mo to drink them and the angel agrees.