Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Scoboria, Alan



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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.