Expanding and retracting from the self: Gains and costs in switching self-associations

Haixu Wang, Glyn Humphreys, Jie Sui*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


We report 2 experiments to assess the strength of forming and breaking associations to the self, familiar others, and unfamiliar others in a simple shape–label matching task. In each experiment, participants first formed shape–person associations (e.g., triangle-self). Subsequently, they had to relearn the associations with the shapes and labels rearranged (self→stranger in Experiment 1; self→friend in Experiment 2) and they carried out a matching task in which they judged whether shape–label stimuli were as newly instructed or re-paired. There were faster responses and fewer errors on match trials for newly formed self-associated stimuli. In contrast, after switching, reaction times were slower and accuracy was reduced on mismatch trials involving shapes previously associated with the self. The strength of the self-advantage in forming the new association on match trials correlated with the difficulty in switching from the old self-associated shape on mismatch trials. The results indicate that self-reference enhances the binding of associations in memory; this facilitates associations to new stimuli, but there is a cost of interference from old associations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-256
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
Early online date7 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the National Nature Science Foundation of China Project 31371017 and by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/J001597/1, U.K.) and the European Research Council (Pepe Grant 323883).


  • self-association
  • switching
  • memorial glue


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