I remember Being Nice: Self-Enhancement Memory Bias in Adults and Children

Rowell, Shaina, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Jaswal, Vikram, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Adults tend to remember themselves in a positive way. For example, they are more likely to remember their past good deeds rather than their bad deeds, which may help them to maintain good mental health and high self-esteem. In contrast, adults tend to have a negativity bias in memory for other people’s actions, remembering more of their bad deeds than their good ones. This is also adaptive in that it may help them avoid harmful individuals in the future. In the studies presented here, I ask whether children are also biased to remember their own good deeds better than their bad deeds. I additionally address whether this bias is linked to children’s developing self-concepts and to socialization practices during parent-child conversations about the past.
Study 1 showed that a well-known memory paradigm can be used to address questions about how well children and adults remember positively and negatively valenced material encoded in relation to themselves and others. Study 1a found that adults remembered nice verbs encoded with reference to themselves better than mean verbs encoded with reference to themselves or mean verbs encoded with reference to someone else. These memory differences were present even when statistical models were used that separated actual remembering from guessing strategies. Study 2 then found this same bias in 8- to 10-year-old children, providing some of the first experimental evidence for self-enhancement in children’s memory. Study 3 replicated the findings of Study 1a and sought to address potential mechanisms of self-enhancement bias.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
memory, children, self-enhancement bias, prosocial behavior, self-reference effect
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