Date of Award

10-5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Scoboria, Alan

Abstract

The overarching goal of this investigation was to explore how individuals experience and respond to autobiographical memories that contradict their self-concept. A secondary goal was to explore two potential determinants of the experience and response to self-discrepant autobiographical memories: self-threat and narcissism. In Study 1, 291 participants were asked to recall a time when they challenged another person’s memory for a past event. They were then asked to describe why they challenged the other’s recollection, among other questions. Overall, the motives identified for challenging aligned to a considerable extent with the previously theorized functions of autobiographical remembering. As expected, instances in which participants admitted to challenging in order to preserve or protect their self-concept emerged. Significant differences were observed between these self-protective challenges and other types of challenges on several dissonance proxies, including negative emotional states, importance of convincing the other, motivation to present a positive self-image, and distress at disagreeing with the other. There was a tendency for women who identified self-protective motives to have higher narcissism scores. In Study 2, 221 participants were instructed to recall a high self-threat event (a time when they engaged in intimate partner violence) and a low self-threat event (a time when they acted in a kind, supportive, and/or understanding way towards a romantic partner or date) in a counterbalanced order, and thereafter rated measures designed to capture dissonance-reducing appraisals. As expected, the high self-threat event produced more dissonance, as indicated by higher ratings of shame, than the low self-threat event. Consistent with the initial prediction, participants reported lower belief in accuracy and indicated being more critical of their past selves than their current selves after the high self-threat event. Regarding narcissism, shame-prone women tended to be more critical of their past-selves than their current-selves. More nurturing and more dominant participants showed a similar pattern of criticizing past selves. More nurturing participants tended to show higher belief in accuracy and higher belief in occurrence after the high self-threat event than after the low self-threat event. Overall, experiencing and responding to self-discrepant autobiographical memories appeared to closely resemble cognitive dissonance processes. Dissonance activation and use of appraisals depended on perceptions of self-threat and narcissism; as self-threat increased, dissonance increased, and appraisal use increased. The findings have implications for the utility of cognitive dissonance processes in understanding the experience and responses to self-discrepant autobiographical memories. The findings also have clinical implications for the utility of appraisals in protecting the current selfconcept.

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