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autobiographical
the origin of all positive things and to deny that it has ever done anything bad.
memory Memory for
Is it true, as Greenwald predicted, that the self is a kind of ¬lter that makes us feel
information relating to the
self that plays a powerful good by gathering self-serving information and discarding information that discom-
role in recall of events. ¬ts us? The study of autobiographical memory”memory for information relating
Chapter 2 The Social Self 33

to self”shows that the self does indeed play a powerful role in the recall of events
(Woike, Gerskovich, Piorkowski, & Polo, 1999). The self is an especially powerful
memory system, because events and attributes stored in the self have many associa-
tions (Greenwald & Banaji, 1989). Letʼs say, for example, that you are asked to recall
whether you have done anything in your life that exempli¬es a trait such as honesty
or creativity. A search of your self-memory system perhaps would conjure up a recent
event in which you devised a creative solution to a problem. The memory of that event
might trigger similar memories from earlier periods in your history. You probably would
be able to generate a ¬‚ood of such memories.
Most people take only about 2 seconds to answer questions about their traits (Klein,
Loftus, & Plog, 1992). This is because we have a kind of summary knowledge of our
self-traits, especially the most obvious ones. Such a handy summary makes it harder to
access memories that con¬‚ict with our positive self-concept, however. As noted earlier,
memories that match a personʼs self-concept are recalled more easily than those that
clash with that concept (Neimeyer & Rareshide, 1991). If you perceive yourself as an
honest person, you will have trouble digging up memories in which you have behaved
dishonestly.
A research study of social memory of everyday life among college students bore
out these ¬ndings (Skowronski, Betz, Thompson, & Shannon, 1991). Participants
were asked to keep two diaries: In one, they recorded events that occurred in their own
lives, and in the other, they recorded events that occurred in the life of a close relative
or friend, someone they saw on a daily basis. The students had to ask the consent of
the other person, and they recorded the events discreetly. Participants made entries in
the diaries for self and other for roughly 10 weeks, the length of the academic quarter.
At the end of the quarter, the participants took a memory test on the events recorded
in the two diaries. They were presented with the recorded events from the diaries in a
random order and were asked to indicate how well they remembered the event, the date
it occurred, and whether it was a unique episode.
The researchers found that participants recalled recent events more quickly than
earlier ones, with faster retrieval of the oldest episodes than of those in the middle.
They also found that pleasant events were recalled better than unpleasant ones, and
extreme events, pleasant and unpleasant, were recalled better than neutral episodes.
Pleasant events that especially ¬t the personʼs self-concept were most easily recalled.
The self, then, monitors our experiences, processing information in ways that make us
look good to ourselves. We interpret, organize, and remember interactions and events
in self-serving ways, recalling primarily pleasant, self-relevant events that ¬t our self-
concept. Obviously, this built-in bias in¬‚uences the manner in which we understand
our social world and how we interact with other people. Without realizing it, we are
continually constructing a view of the world that is skewed in our favor.

Emotions and Autobiographical Memories Some of you may be thinking as you
read this, “These ¬ndings donʼt square with what happens to me when I think about
my past.” It is true that you donʼt always retrieve memories that are positive, pleasant,
or bolster good feelings. Indeed, sometimes the precise opposite is true. McFarland
and Buehler (1998) examined how negative moods affect autobiographical memory.
Generally, the memories you may recall seem to ¬t the mood that you are in. The
explanation for this mood-congruence recall is that our mood makes it more likely
that we will ¬nd memories of events that ¬t that mood: positive mood, positive recall;
negative mood, negative recall. People who experience lots of negative moods can
Social Psychology
34

enter into a self-defeating cycle wherein their negative moods prime or key negative
memories that in turn make the individual even more sad or depressed.
Why do some people in negative moods perpetuate that mood and others make
themselves feel better? It appears that the approach to how we retrieve these memories
is the key (Lyubomirsky, Caldwell, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1998). If you adopt a focused
re¬‚ective attitude, which means that you may admit that you failed at this task, you
explore the nature of why you feel bad and work to regulate that mood. This is in con-
trast to people who ruminate over their moods. That is, they focus neurotically and pas-
sively on negative events and feelings (McFarland & Buehler, 1998).
Of course, over our lifetimes our experiences may very well alter, sometimes dra-
matically, our sense of ourselves. If this change is signi¬cant, we may look back and
wonder if we are in fact the same person we once were. William James (1890), the
renowned 19th-century psychologist and philosopher, observed that the self was both
a “knower” (“I”) and an object (“me”). For college students, the transition from high
school to university may produce a con¬‚ict between the personʼs current sense of self
and that other person that existed before the transition: “I am not the same person that
I was 2 years ago.”
Psychologists Lisa Libby and Richard Eibach (2002) investigated what happened
when people thought about behaviors that con¬‚icted with their current self-concept.
When this happens, individuals refer to their “old self” in the third person, as if it were
an object no longer part of the psyche. Autobiographical memory, then, is not static, but
may be altered by our current self-concept. For example, someone who recalls that he
was a chronic overeater in the past may transform that bit of autobiographical memory
into motivation not to overindulge at this Thanksgivingʼs meal (Libby & Eibach, 2002).
Major life changes often require that people disengage from their past. Imagine, for
example, “born again” religious experiences, or surviving a deadly cancer, or a divorce
and the resultant radical change in lifestyle. These events can make people “disiden-
tify” with their autobiographical memories of their past selves (Libby & Eibach, 2002).
It is not as if we create a brand-new self, but rather we place the old one in a kind of
cold storage.

Religion and the Self
Peers, school experiences, and involvement in religious activities and institutions may
have profound effects on self-knowledge. As we suggested in the previous section, the
self-concept is not an unchanging vault of personal information but is powerfully in¬‚u-
enced by social, situational, and cultural forces. We saw the in¬‚uence of the church on
the life of James Carroll, the priest. In novelist Carrollʼs books after he left the priest-
hood, we can see that the church still has an enormous in¬‚uence on his thinking and
his view of himself and the world.
Bruce E. Blaine and his coworkers investigated the impact of religious belief on
self-concept (Blaine, Trivedi, & Eshleman, 1998). Blaine pointed out that religion
ought to be a powerful in¬‚uence on the self-concepts of believers. Religious beliefs
typically set standards for character and behavior, emphasizing positive behaviors and
exhorting believers to refrain from negative ones. Blaine found that individuals who
indicated that they maintained religious beliefs (Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish) provided
more positive and certain self-descriptions. These positive self-descriptions were not
limited in Blaineʼs study to religious spheres solely but were also related to positive
self-descriptions in the individualsʼ work and social lives.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 35

Blaine and his colleagues (1998) suggested several reasons for these ¬ndings. The
¬rst is that religious teachings may have clear relevance to the business world to the
extent that people who hold religious beliefs actually apply them to other life activities.
As one example, Blaine notes the Jewish Torah warns that interest ought not be charged
on goods sold to needy countrymen. Religion also may be an organizing principle for
the self-concept and thereby embrace all facets of life.

The Self: The In¬‚uence of Groups and Culture
individual self The part
Thus far we have focused on the individual self, that part of the self that refers to our
of the self that refers to our
self-knowledge, including our private thoughts and evaluations of who and what we are.
self-knowledge, including
But as we saw in James Carrollʼs life, the groups to which we belong and the culture
our private thoughts and
in which we live play crucial roles in sculpting our self-concept. evaluations of who and what
The collective self is that part of our self-concept that comes from our membership we are.
in groups. This collective self is re¬‚ected in thoughts such as, “In my family I am con-
collective self The part of
sidered the responsible, studious one.” It re¬‚ects the evaluation of the self by important
our self-concept that comes
and speci¬c groups to which the person belongs (Greenwald & Pratkanis, 1984). Basic from our membership in
research on groups shows that the groups we belong to have a strong in¬‚uence on self- groups.
concept (Gaertner, Sedikides, & Graetz, 1999). Our behavior is often changed by what
other group members demand of us.
These two representations, the individual and the collective selves, do not occupy
equal space and in¬‚uence in the self-concept. The relative importance of each compo-
nent of the self for an individual is determined in large part by the culture in which the
person lives. In some cultures, the individual self is dominant. Cultures that emphasize
individual striving and achievement”societies that are concerned with people “¬nding
themselves””produce individuals in which the private self is highly complex, containing
many traits and beliefs. Other cultures may emphasize speci¬c groups, such as family or
religious community, and therefore the collective self is primary. Collectivist societies
show a pattern of close links among individuals who de¬ne themselves as interdependent
members of groups such as family, coworkers, and social groups (Vandello & Cohen,
1999). However, even within societies, the degree of collectivism may vary. Vandello
and Cohen (1999) argued that collectivist tendencies in the United States would be
highest in the Deep South, because that region still maintains a strong regional identity.
Vandello and Cohen also thought that the greatest individualistic tendencies would be
found in the West and mountain states. Figure 2.1 shows a map that identi¬es regional
differences in collectivism. You can see that Vandello and Cohenʼs predictions were
con¬rmed. Note that the states with the highest collectivism scores contain either many
different cultures (e.g., Hawaii) or a strong and dominant religion (e.g., Utah).
One way to determine whether the individual or collective self is the dominant
representation of who we are is to observe what occurs when one or another of these
images of the self is threatened. Is a threat to the individual self more or less menacing
than a threat to our collective self? If the status of the important groups to which we
belong is threatened, is this more upsetting to us than if our individual, personal self
is under attack?
In a series of experiments, Gaertner, Sedikides, and Graetz (1999) tried to answer
these questions by comparing individualsʼ responses to threats to the collective or indi-
vidual self. For example, in one study, women at a university were given a psychological
test and were told either that they personally had not done very well on the test or that
an important group to which they belong (women at the university) had not done well.
Similar procedures were used in other experiments. Gaertner and his colleagues found
Social Psychology
36




Figure 2.1 Map of the
that compared to a threat to the collective self, a threat to the individual self resulted in
United States showing
the perception that the threat was more severe, a more negative mood, more anger, and
regional patterns of
the participantsʼ denial of the accuracy or validity of the test or source of the threat.
collectivism.
The results suggest that the individual self is primary, and the collective self is less
From Vandello and Cohen (1999).
so. Of course, this does not mean that the collective self is not crucial. It and our group
memberships provide protection and ¬nancial and social rewards. But all things being
equal, it appears that, in the United States, our individual self is more important to us
than our collective self.

Who Am I? The In¬‚uence of Culture on Self-Concept
Nothing, it seems, could be more personal and individual than how we answer the ques-
tion, Who am I? But as it turns out, our answer is powerfully shaped by the culture
in which we grew up and developed our self-concept. As we have suggested, some
cultures place more emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual”the private self”
whereas others focus on how the individual is connected to important others”the
collective self.
In a culture that emphasizes the collective self, such as Japan, individuals are more
likely to de¬ne themselves in terms of meeting the expectations of others rather than of
ful¬lling their own private needs. In fact, if you asked Japanese participants to answer
the question, Who am I? (a common technique for investigating self-concept), you
would ¬nd that they give many more social responses (“I am an employee at X”) than
do Americans (Cousins, 1989). In contrast, Americans are more likely to emphasize
the content of the individual (private) self, de¬ning themselves with such statements as
“I am strong-willed.” The Japanese view themselves as part of a social context, whereas
Americans tend to assume they have a self that is less dependent on any set of social
relations (Cousins, 1989; Ross & Nisbett, 1991).
Individuals in cultures that emphasize the collective self are also less likely to view
themselves as the focus of attention in social interactions (Markus & Kitayama, 1991;
Ross & Nisbett, 1991). Japanese appear to view their peers, rather than themselves,
as the focus of attention. Consequently, social interactions in Japan are quite different
from those in a society such as the United States.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 37

Individual-self societies emphasize self-ful¬llment at the expense of communal
relationships; collective-self societies are more concerned with meeting shared obliga-
tions and helping others. In Haiti, for example, where the culture emphasizes the col-
lective self, people are willing to share houses and food with relatives and friends for
long periods of time.
Of course, no matter the dominant sense of self in each culture, sometimes situ-
ational factors will determine which self is dominant. Gardner, Gabriel, and Lee (1999)
showed that the individual self may be temporarily more dominant in a collectivist
culture when people are focused on personal issues”say, oneʼs intelligence or oneʼs
goals in life. Similarly, people who live in an individualistic culture may temporarily
focus on collectivist factors when confronted by issues involving group belongingness
(“I am a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma”).
However, whatever the effects of temporary situational factors, obviously, the
thoughts and traits that make up the core of the self of a Japanese or Haitian person are
likely to differ from the content of the self of an American. We would expect many more
individual attributes to be part of an American self-concept. Japanese or Haitian indi-
viduals would probably emphasize attributes that re¬‚ect their similarities with others,
whereas Americans are more likely to emphasize attributes that make them different
from other people.
This tendency to emphasize attributes that make an individual stand out in American
society and to blend in and not be conspicuous in Japanese society may very well be due
to historical and cultural processes that affect how individuals behave. For example, in the
United States, our sense of well-being, of being happy or pleased with ourselves, depends
to a great extent on whether we are seen as better”more accomplished, perhaps richer”
than other people. But, Shinobu Kitayama, a Japanese social psychologist familiar with
the United States, suggests that a sense of well-being in Japan depends less on attributes
that make individuals different from others and more on correcting shortcomings and
de¬cits (Kitayama, Markus, Matsumoto, & Norasakkunkit, 1997). Research shows that
the psychological and physical well-being of Japanese persons can be predicted quite
accurately from the lack of negative characteristics and not from the presence of positive
attributes (Kitayama et al., 1997). In the United States, in contrast, how positive we feel
about ourselves is directly related to our sense of personal well-being (Diener & Diener,
1995). So these social psychological aspects of self-representations”the individual and
the collective selves”are caused by historical forces that emphasized individuality in
the United States and group harmony in Japan.
We see in this example both the pervasive role of the self-concept in directing
behavior and the widespread role of culture in determining ideas about the self. The
self-concept is not just a private, personal construct; culture plays a part in shaping the
individualʼs deepest levels of personal knowledge.

Organizing Knowledge: Self-Schemas
Whatever the culture one lives in, people donʼt think of themselves as just chaotic
masses of attributes and memories. Instead, they arrange knowledge and information
self-schemas
about themselves and their attributes into self-schemas (Markus, 1977; Markus &
Self-conceptions that guide
Zajonc, 1985). A schema is an organized set of related cognitions”bits of knowledge
us in ordering and directing
and information”about a particular person, event, or experience. A self-schema is
our behavior involving how
an arrangement of information, thoughts, and feelings about ourselves, including we represent our thoughts
information about our gender, age, race or ethnicity, occupation, social roles, physical and feelings about our
attractiveness, intelligence, talents, and so on. People have many different self-schemas experiences in a particular
area of life.
for the different areas of life activities.
Social Psychology
38

Self-schemas serve a very important function: They organize our self-related expe-
riences so that we can respond quickly and effectively in social situations. They help us

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