Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

In this blog post, we will talk about the self reference effect (SRE). We will explain the meaning of this concept, and the SRE on our beliefs, coaching and in our day to day lives. 

Self reference effect: what does it mean?

The self reference effect is the tendency to better remember the information that is relevant to our self-concept. In this way, we discard the information that is not so striking or that is unnecessary to us. Furthermore, we discard all information that combines with our beliefs, as we tend to store what has been relevant to us in past experiences to confirm our self-concept.

Self reference can then be as positive as it is contrary in our process of self-realization. On the one hand, it helps us in the selection of those essential concepts for the formation of our self-concept, but on the other hand, it generates resistance to change and towards empathy. 

If we are always guided by our schemes, we will not be able to see other realities, other scenes that explain different points of view to ours.

Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

Commonly, we learn from experience, specifically from mistakes; but this is nothing more than an addiction to self-reference, to our schemes. That blessed falling twice on the same stone shows a facet of our way of storing information related to the confirmation of our self-concept.

Imagine situations that exemplify this self reference effect. Our political ideas, which carry inexplicable electoral results, are generated from self-references that we handle from childhood. Only if we manage to exercise creative thinking can we see this situation from a different point of view than the classic one “I can’t imagine how they could have won again.” 

Or that fashion that squeaks in the population younger than you, that you don’t understand. Or when we disobey a traffic signal, such as a STOP and we give in to consider a less than real danger, based on our experience as drivers.

The self reference effect is present in many of the everyday decisions we make every day.

In this sense, our self-concept weighs much more than we imagine. This is the reason why it is so difficult to eradicate prejudices and stereotypes since we have inscribed them in the formation of our self-concept. According to implicit bias, one can’t get rid of stereotypes fully.

But we indeed have weapons to dethrone the formation of a self-concept that is too personal or egocentric. Especially empathy, putting ourselves in the other’s place; It will help us understand different realities different from those that our self-knowledge has exercised. 

Travelling, getting to know other cultures, respecting differences and understanding the world as something diverse from which to learn every day, will bring us closer to a healthy concept, high self-esteem and self-knowledge directly related to self-realization, proactive and valid to face assertively and resilience nowadays.

Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

On numerous occasions, we have dealt here with the issue of self-knowledge and the mental representations we make of ourselves. Our identity is a complex element that goes beyond our relationships or our tastes. The complex knowledge we have of ourselves is as convoluted as it is necessary. 

In this way, we use our self-knowledge to build a positive self-concept that will affect the acquisition of higher self-esteem. And this self-esteem will be shown to others through behaviour. Behaviour, which in turn will be key in our relationships with others, that will define our social intelligence and that will provide future success in the social, personal or even in the workplace (in life in general).

The feedback we receive from our relationships with others, this introspective spiral, will be responsible for closing this circle of self-knowledge. If I have good relationships with my environment, I will be happier, I will love myself more, and I will build a more positive self-concept.

To understand self-reference effect better, you should take a look at what self expression is.

How is the self reference effect formed?

And how does this very complex system of organizing personal information work, then?

The labelling we build for our knowledge is very similar to the process we use to develop impressions of others; although self-knowledge will always be more detailed, precise and complex than the knowledge we postulate about other people. 

As we have commented on other occasions, we store information schemes about the people around us. This process helps us to label in our brain as if it were a large database, differences and similarities, groups and associations, and even prejudices and stereotypes.

 It has probably happened to you that you have a specific confusion when naming the members of your family and that when you call your son, you use the name of your brother or your mother (family label). 

Or that according to the way of dressing of a person you have associated it to a certain group. Or one of the most representative cases of labelling: white coat, scientific or medical. Am I right? 

This happens because we tend to group the information of those around us by informative similarities that help us store all the information we have effectively.

Well, self-knowledge works similarly, only it is much more complex. 

As is evident, the personal information that we handle about ourselves is greater and the self-schemas that we carry out go from the most elementary to the most intimate. 

Self-labelling, self-concept, will be organized around a large number of interest schemes, personal tastes, roles, interpersonal relationships, beliefs, values, ideas, experiences, expectations, learning from the past, desired realities for our future, etc. 

In this way, we have global self-knowledge of ourselves, as well as being profound connoisseurs of concrete realities of our existence, such as concerning the social, emotional, academic, work, family, etc. levels.

You should also be aware of how reverse psychology works, in order to improve your self-concept and understand self-reference effect.

Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

The self reference effect on beliefs

Self reference is a key factor that can make a belief turn into a mental virus. The self reference occurs when the belief becomes circular or self referential. Self referential creations feed on themselves, just like a virus. Hence the name of mental viruses.

An example of self referential belief or mental virus is not believing in anything. This self-reference constitutes a paradox since if I do not believe in anything, I cannot have the stated belief either.

An example of “self-referenced” perception would consist of standing between two mirrors and seeing our image in a mirror that reflects it on the other, thus creating the experience of “seeing oneself”.

External reference or self reference

Self-referential processes can be contrasted with those that have external references. External reference processes operate in response to rules and feedback coming mainly from abroad, or that are foreign to the process or system itself. Healthy systems generally maintain a balance between “self-reference” and “external reference” (or “other” reference).

The self reference effect in ontological coaching

Ontological coaching has known how to take advantage of the concept of self reference. The Coach becomes an observer, who is not part of the client’s belief or behaviour system. In this way, the Coach’s gaze seeks to show his client, something that she could not see for herself, due to self reference.

The effect of self reference in psychology

The self reference effect is called the tendency to remember much better the information relevant to self-concept – understanding self-concept as the perception that a person has of himself than any other type of information.

First, the important aspects of the self are well structured and organized in memory. Secondly, the information that affects the ego significantly is elaborated more than another type of information and, since it is well structured previously, it is better codified.

This effect of the information relevant to the self on memory has been verified in a meta-analysis carried out by Symons and Johnson. 

These authors’ review leads them to the conclusion that information about a well-known person (not just self-related information) is generally better remembered because that information is well organized and It has been carefully crafted. This general trend would explain why information about the person who is best known: oneself is especially well remembered.

Other self reference examples

For example, only self-referential people seem self-centred and arrogant.

Cancer is a biological example of a system (or part of the system) that has become excessively self-referential. It grows and spreads to a point where it is destructive to the rest of the system.

Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

FAQ about The self reference effect

What does self reference mean?

Self reference means the ability to relate to oneself. It helps us in the selection of those essential concepts for the formation of our self-concept, but on the other hand, it generates resistance to change and towards empathy. 

Why is the self reference effect important?

The self reference effect is important because it helps us to select and understand better that important information for the formation of our self-concept. Thus, we discard all information that combines with our beliefs, as we tend to store what has been relevant to us in past experiences to confirm our self-concept.

What is self referential thinking?

Self referential thinking is the tendency to better remember the information that is relevant to our self-concept. In this way, we discard the information that is not so striking or that is unnecessary to us.

How does the self referential effect influence memory?

The self-reference effect relies on the notion that relating information to the self during the process of encoding it in memory facilitates recall, hence the effect of self-reference on memory.

Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about the self reference effect (SRE). We explained the meaning of this concept, and the SRE on our beliefs, coaching and in our day to day lives. 

The self reference effect is the tendency to better remember the information that is relevant to our self-concept. In this way, we discard the information that is not so striking or that is unnecessary to us. Which in many cases seem to be a good thing.

On the other hand, the self-reference effect generates resistance to change and towards empathy. 

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

References

Brown, Polly; Keenan, Janice M .; Potts, George R. (1986) The self-reference effect with imagery encoding.

Gutchess, A., Kensinger, B., Yoon C. & Schacter, D. (2007) Aging and the self-reference effect in memory.

Myers, D. (2006), Psychology 7th edition. Pan American Medical Editorial: Madrid

Philippi C., Duff M., Denburg N., Tranel, D. & Rudrauf D. (2011), Medial PFC Damage Abolishes the Self-reference Effect.

Rogers, T .; Kuiper, N.; Kirker, W. (1977) Self-reference and the encoding of personal information.

Symons, C .; Johnson, B. (1997), The self-reference effect in memory: A meta-analysis.

Self reference effect in psychology (its effect)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.