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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Travel Grant Report

04.11.2015, by Kai Sassenberg in grant report

Marta Marchlewska (University of Warsaw)
Visit to Aleksandra Cichocka (University of Kent)

The EASP Travel Grant gave me an opportunity to visit School of Psychology (University of Kent, United Kingdom). The purpose of the visit was to continue my collaboration with dr Aleksandra Cichocka – Lecturer in Social Psychology at University of Kent and also my PhD co-advisor. During my stay at the University of Kent, we worked on an empirical paper which focused on the role of visual perspective in retrieving autobiographical memories threatening to the self in relation to narcissistic and secure self-esteem.

Researchers have identified two manners of retrieving autobiographical memories (e.g., Galton, 1883; Henri & Henri, 1897; Nigro & Neisser, 1983). People may visualize their past selves using internal (first-person) or external (third-person) points of view. In the first-person perspective we picture situations from the same viewpoint experienced at encoding. In the third-person perspective we can view ourselves in the memory, as if we were an observer visualizing past actions from an external vantage point (a ”bird’s eye” view).

Clinical psychologists indicated that memories threatening to the self are retrieved via third-person visual perspective (Bernsten, Willert & Rubin, 2003). They also claimed that third-person visual perspective servers distancing or somehow defensive mechanisms to disavow responsibility and dampen the emotional impact of threatening events. On the other hand, recollecting events by first-person visual perspective seems to be associated with amplifying past experiences and connecting the pictured situation to the present self (Sutin & Robins, 2008).
Specific hypotheses involved within our project were formulated on the basis of previous research on mnemonic perspective and individual reactions to self-threatening stimulus in relation to narcissistic and secure self-esteem. Self-esteem is hypothesized to moderate the mnemonic reaction to self-threatening past events. Specifically, retrieving self-threatening autobiographical memories among individuals with narcissistic self-esteem should strengthen the needs to cope with unpleasant situation by evoking third-person visual perspective. On the other hand, among individuals with secure self-esteem recollecting such events should be connected with facing negative emotions by first-person visual perspective.
In two studies, conducted among Polish students (Study 1) and Mturk workers (Study 2), we manipulated self-relevance of memories and emotions connected with retrieved event. Visual perspective of memory retrieval was measured as the dependent variable. In Study 1, narcissism predicted third-person perspective especially in self-threatening memories, while secure self-esteem predicted first-person perspective in self-threatening and self-boosting memories. In Study 2, narcissism predicted third-person perspective, while secure self-esteem predicted first-person perspective for self-threatening memories (but not for non-relevant negative memories).

In summary, the results show that narcissistic individuals naturally evoke third-person point of view and avoid first-person perspective during self-threatening mnemonic retrievals. We claim that third-person point of view gives them an opportunity to reanalyze past events and distance themselves from the threat. This explanation highlights beneficial properties of external visual perspective which would serve here as a mnemonic tool in the service of the self (Libby & Eibach, 2011).

During my stay at the University of Kent we finished an empirical paper – which is at the moment under review in Journal of Personality and Individual Differences. We also planned further studies on the described topic. I would like to thank the EASP for this wonderful experience! It was not only an opportunity to make progress in my research, but also a chance to meet wonderful people and visit incredibly beautiful places. Especially, I would like to thank Sibylle Classen for her great help in dealing with all the formalities connected with my visit.

References

Berntsen, D., Willert, M., & Rubin, D.C. (2003). Splintered memories or vivid landmarks? Qualities and organization of traumatic memories with and without PTSD. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17, 675-693. doi: 10.1002/acp.894
Galton, F. (1883). Inquiries into human faculty and its development. London: MacMillan. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14178-000
Henri, V., & Henri, C. (1897). Enqueˆte sur les premiers de l’enfance [An investigation of early childhood]. L’Anne´e Psychologique, 3, 184–198
Libby, L. K., & Eibach, R. P. (2011). Visual perspective in mental imagery: A representational tool that functions in judgment, emotion, and self-insight. In M.P. Zanna & J.M. Olson (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 44, pp. 185 – 245). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-385522-0.00004-4
Nigro, G., & Neisser, U. (1983). Point of view in personal memories. Cognitive Psychology, 15, 467–482. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0010-0285(83)90016-6