Exploring early self-referential memory effects through ownership

Sheila J. Cunningham*, Francis Vergunst, C. Neil Macrae, David J. Turk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The self-reference effect (SRE) is the reliable memory advantage for information encoded about self over material encoded about other people. The developmental pathway of the SRE has proved difficult to chart, because the standard SRE task is unsuitable for young children. The current inquiry was designed to address this issue using an ownership paradigm, as encoding objects in the context of self-ownership have been shown to elicit self-referential memory advantages in adults. Pairs of 4- to 6-year-old children (n = 64) sorted toy pictures into self- and other-owned sets. A surprise recognition memory test revealed a significant advantage for toys owned by self, which decreased with age. Neither verbal ability nor theory of mind attainment predicted the size of the memory advantage for self-owned items. This finding suggests that contrary to some previous reports, memory in early childhood can be shaped by the same self-referential biases that pervade adult cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-301
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date29 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by a grant from the European Research Council (202893) awarded to David Turk. The authors would like to thank Joanne Brebner for her help with data collection, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments. We would also like to thanks the schools, parents and children who kindly supported the research.


Dive into the research topics of 'Exploring early self-referential memory effects through ownership'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this