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Personal self-support traits and recognition of self-referent and other-referent information.

Over the past several decades, among researchers in this field, interest has increased in the relationship between negative or positive personality and processing of negative or positive information. Negative or positive schemas are regarded as the cognitive substrates of the relationship between negative traits such as neuroticism (Robinson, Ode, Moeller, & Goetz, 2007), positive traits such as extraversion (Karademas, Kafetsios, & Sideridis, 2007), and negative or positive information processing. Although, in previous studies, researchers have always used attention tasks to present negative or positive information to participants, many (e.g., Abele & Gendolla, 2007; Martin, Ward, & Clark, 1983) have employed self-referent encoding in memory tasks to make information self-relevant when exploring the relationship between personality and memory bias in regard to negative or positive information. In addition, some researchers (e.g., Abele & Gendolla, 2007; Martin et al., 1983; Tafarodi, Marshall, & Milne, 2003) have found that the relationship between personality and memory bias in regard to negative or positive information disappears if the stimuli are encoded self-irrelevantly. In other words, the self-schema seems to play an important role in the relationship between personality and memory (Rusting, 1998; Tafarodi et al., 2003).

A schema refers to an internal cognitive structure of thought. Schemas include multiple subtypes such as self-schemas, other schemas, and world schemas. Consequently, broadly negative or positive schemas may be composed of many specific negative or positive schemas. Some specific schemas, such as the self-schema, may be associated with one or more specific traits to a greater extent than they are associated with general negative or positive schemas or other specific schemas. Thus, identifying which specific schemas are associated with a specific personality factor should help clarify the relationship between personality and information processing, and also help in clarifying understanding of inconsistent results in the existing literature. As already described, most researchers have explored only the role of self-reference in this relationship. So far as we know, other than self-reference, other-referent coding has been the only other task used in prior studies on this topic (e.g., Martin et al., 1983; Tafarodi et al., 2003).

In line with previous research, in the current study we examined the relationship between personality and memory bias for self-referent and other-referent information, using a Chinese indigenous personality construct of personal self-support. In contrast to previous researchers, we postulated that other-referent information would be related to personal self-support.

Personal self-support is considered to be a set of five traits that can help individuals solve personal problems in daily life and facilitate their personal development (Xia & Huang, 2008, p. 600). These five traits consist of personal independence, that is, the tendency and ability to deal with personal activity or problems independently; personal initiative, which is the tendency to initiate or carry out a task or action actively and ahead of schedule; personal responsibility, defined as the tendency to act carefully and precisely; personal flexibility, which is the tendency and ability to resolve personal life problems contingently and flexibly; and personal openness, defined as the tendency to accept new things and ideas (Xia & Huang, 2008, p. 600).

Three reasons have been suggested to explain why personal self-support traits have been presumed to be associated with positive self-schema and other schema. The first of these is that a positive attitude toward the self and others is thought to be characteristic of a healthy personality, and personal self-support is also believed to be one of the components of the healthy personality in a person of Chinese ethnicity (Huang, Zheng, & Lee, 2007). It has been suggested that individuals who demonstrate a high level of personal self-support have a positive view of themselves and other people. The second suggestion about why personal self-support traits are associated with positive self- and other schema is that it has been assumed that relational schemas are an underlying cognitive mechanism for the relationship between personal self-support and either mental health or social support (Xia, Ding, Hollon, & Wan, 2013; Xia et al., 2012). Relational schemas include the self-schema, other schema, and interaction patterns in interpersonal situations (Baldwin, 1992). Therefore, both a positive self-schema and a positive other schema should be related to personal self-support. Third, personal self-support traits have been found to be irrelevant to the trait of independence as measured by Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF; Cattell, Eber, & Tatsuoka, 1970) and Xia and Huang (2012) suggested that these traits were related to interdependence. Previous researchers (e.g., Burks, Dodge, Price, & Laird, 1999; Canevello & Crocker, 2010; Salmivalli, Ojanen, Haanpaa, & Peets, 2005) showed that peer perception and interpersonal goals were related to social behavior and interpersonal relationships. Positive other schema may contribute to understanding why personal self-support is associated with interdependence.

In the present study, we employed a referential processing task (RPT; Vanderwal, Hunyadi, Grupe, Connors, & Schultz, 2008), which is a cognitive task used to investigate the effects of both self- and other reference. The RPT consists of a study phase and a recognition memory test separated by a time interval (i.e., a 20-minute relaxation period). During the study phase, participants are asked to process a list of adjectives, such as "smart" and "generous", under self-referent, other-referent, or semantic encoding conditions. After a relaxation interval, participants are given a recognition memory test that they had not expected to do. When self-referent/other-referent encoding words are recognized more frequently than are semantic encoding words, this is called a self-reference/other-reference effect.

In a factor analysis performed in previous studies (Xia et al., 2013; Xia & Huang, 2008) it was found that the five traits of personal self-support did not constitute a single higher order factor. Therefore, in the present study, we analyzed the scores for the five personal self-support traits independently, rather than analyzing total scores for personal self-support.



Participants were 69 students at Southwest University (31 men and 38 women) who participated in exchange for a payment equivalent to US$2. The students ranged in age from 18 to 28 years (M = 22.63). Participants were recruited via advertisements posted on the campus bulletin board system. They were told that they would be completing a cognitive appraisal task and gave informed consent. The Institutional Review Boards of the Faculty of Psychological Science at Southwest University approved all procedures.

Materials and Questionnaires

We used 256 adjectives in our study (128 positive and 128 negative). Of that total, in the study phase we used 120 adjectives that were assigned equally to three encoding tasks (self-reference, other-reference, and semantic). We matched words in the three conditions for length and frequency. We used another 120 adjectives as distracters in the experimental recognition session of the test. To eliminate primacy and recency effects, we used eight adjectives in the buffer trials at the beginning and end of the study phase and another eight adjectives in the practice session of the recognition test.

We used the Personal Self-Support Scale for Adolescent Students (PSSS-AS; Xia & Huang, 2008) to measure personal self-support. The PSSS-AS is a 20-item scale that was designed to measure five subscales of personal independence, personal initiative, personal responsibility, personal flexibility, and personal openness on 5-point Likert scales ranging from 1 = not at all to 5 = completely. Cronbach's a for the five subscales for the current sample ranged from .68 to .83.


The participants completed the PSSS-AS when they arrived. Then each of them was seated in a comfortable chair at a distance of 60cm from a computer screen. During the study phase, participants were asked to assess adjectives in three encoding conditions. In the self-reference condition, participants assessed the extent to which the adjective described the participants themselves. In the other-reference condition, participants assessed the extent to which the adjective described other college students in general. Mandarin Chinese has four pitched tones to distinguish between different homophonic Chinese characters and, in the third (semantic) condition, participants assessed the tone of the first Chinese character of the adjective. In the self- and other-reference conditions assessments were made on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = completely disagree to 4 = completely agree. In the semantic condition, assessments were based on tone, with four alternatives (1 = first tone to 4 = fourth tone). We conducted the study in blocks of repeated trials, with each trial under the same conditions. Each block began with the encoding task presented for 2,000ms, followed by presentation of 20 trials (10 positive and 10 negative adjectives). Participants were required to make their assessment as rapidly as possible by pressing the appropriately labeled key on the computer keyboard. At the beginning of each trial, a fixation point was presented for 500ms, followed by an adjective that appeared at the center of the screen. The adjective would disappear when participants gave a response at or after 4,000ms. All trials in the blocks and all blocks were presented in a random order. There were 128 trials in the study phase, including eight buffer trials. The experimental session consisted of six blocks of 120 trials.

After the study phase, there was a 20-minute interval before the second phase began, during which participants were instructed to watch online a film named Chinese National Geography ( They were not aware that after this they would be asked to complete a recognition test.

After 20 minutes had elapsed, 240 adjectives were presented in a random order. Participants were asked to give a response to the question of whether or not each of these adjectives had been presented before. There was no time limit in this test. In each trial, a fixation point was presented at the center of the screen for 500ms, followed by an adjective. Participants were instructed to do a practice session with a list of adjectives before starting the task so as to become familiar with the recognition task.


A 3 (condition; self-reference, other-reference, semantic) x 2 (valance; positive, negative) repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a significant main effect for condition, F(2, 136) = 107.59, p < .001, and a significant condition x valance interaction, F(2, 136) = 3.66, p < .05. Tests of main effects for condition indicated that recognition accuracy was greater in the self-reference and other-reference conditions than in the semantic condition. In other words, there were significant self-reference and other-reference effects.

Scores were calculated for the positive/negative self-reference/other-reference effects and then analyzed further. Scores for the positive/negative self-reference/other-reference effects equaled the mean recognition accuracy in the self-reference/other-reference conditions with positive/negative adjectives minus the mean recognition accuracy in the semantic condition with positive/negative adjectives. The correlation coefficients between scores on personal self-support traits and scores on positive/negative self-reference/other-reference effects are presented in Table 1 and, as shown, both personal independence and personal initiative were positively correlated with the scores for both positive self-reference effect and positive other-reference effect.


Our results in this study showed that, among our participants, personal initiative was correlated with a positive self-reference effect. Consistent with the results gained in previous studies, this suggests that people with a high level of personal initiative have a positive self-schema. For example, in previous research a relationship has been found between extraversion and positive self-view (Watson, Suls, & Haig, 2002) and a negative relationship has been found between procrastination and self-view (Ferrari, 1992). Personal initiative is similar to the activity dimension of extraversion and, in a study conducted in 2009, Xia and Huang found that personal initiative was negatively correlated with procrastination

Personal independence is also associated with a positive self-reference effect. Xia and Huang (2012) found that personal independence was not related to the trait of independence as measured by the test for field independence in Cattell's 16 PF (Cattell et al., 1970). To our knowledge, in no previous study has a trait similar to personal independence been found to be associated with a positive self-schema. Thus, we believe that our finding in the current study may be a unique contribution to the literature.

According to the results in our study the personal independence and personal initiative of our participants were associated with a positive other-reference effect and this suggests that personal independence and personal initiative also relate to a positive other schema. These findings are inconsistent with those in previous studies where it has been found that personality factors, such as neuroticism (Martin et al., 1983) and self-esteem (Tafarodi et al., 2003) were not associated with memory bias toward other-referent information. As far as we know, our study is the first in which the traits of personal independence and personal initiative have been found to be related to memory in regard to other-relevant information. We believe that these findings have important implications. First, these findings suggest that personality may be associated with other specific schemas beside the self-schema. Second, the other schema should help clarify the relationship between personality and either interpersonal relationships or mental health, because several researchers have suggested that the other schema may influence an individual's social behavior, interpersonal relationships, and mental health (Burks et al., 1999; Canevello & Crocker, 2010; Salmivalli et al., 2005). Therefore, further exploration of the relationship between personality and the other schema is warranted.

Although we have suggested that our findings make a unique contribution to furthering understanding of the relationship between personality and memory bias for other-relevant information, these findings need to be replicated using other cognitive tasks (i.e., attention and interpretation) and different other schemas (i.e., friend, mother, classmates).


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Southwest University

Steven D. Hollon

Vanderbilt University

Ling-Xiang Xia, Jun-Cheng Li, and Yan Song, Faculty of Psychological Science, Southwest University; Steven D. Hollon, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University.

This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30900396) and the Key Project for Team Development of the Faculty of Psychological Science at Southwest University (TR201206-4).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Ling-Xiang Xia, Faculty of Psychological Science, Southwest University, 1 Tiansheng Road, Chongqing, 400715, People's Republic of China. Email:
Table 1. Correlations Between Personal Self-Support
Traits and Reference Effects

Variable                     Positive         Negative
                              self-            self-
                            reference        reference

Personal independence          .29 *           -.02
Personal initiative            .30 *            .01
Personal responsibility        .11              .04
Personal flexibility          -.02             -.04
Personal openness              .07             -.02

Variable                     Positive         Negative
                              other-           other-
                            reference        reference

Personal independence         .25 *             .01
Personal initiative           .41 ***           .05
Personal responsibility       .02               .10
Personal flexibility          .06               .02
Personal openness             .16               .03

Note. N = 69; * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
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Article Details
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Author:Xia, Ling-xiang; Li, Jun-cheng; Song, Yan; Hollon, Steven D.
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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