One exciting and fruitful line of research has investigated the cognitive mechanisms underlying self-enhancement and self-protection. We have appropriated social cognitive techniques from person perception research to investigate how individuals process information about themselves. To be specific, we have examined how individuals process and recall new behavioral information that: (a) refers to the self or an unknown other, (b) is either central or peripheral to the self-concept, and (c) is either positive or negative in valence. We asked individuals to form an impression of either themselves or an unknown other (Chris) based on this behavioral knowledge. People recall fewer negative central (but not negative peripheral) behaviors than individuals who process the information other-referentially, a phenomenon we have labeled mnemic neglect. This information has been presented hypothetically as well as in a more realistic feedback setting in which people think the feedback comes from a computer-administered personality inventory (Sedikides & Green, 2000).
However, individuals are strategic in processing this threatening information. They do recall threatening information (i.e., mnemic neglect is absent) when (a) the behavioral information is seen as reflecting malleable traits rather than fixed traits (Green et al., 2005), (b) the information is not highly diagnostic of negative traits (Green & Sedikides, 2004), (c) the information appears to come from a close friend (Green et al., 2009), (d) and a self-improvement motive has been subtly activated (Green et al., 2009). Even people who consider themselves relatively untrustworthy or unkind recall threatening information poorly (Sedikides & Green, 2004), and people do recognize threatening information quite accurately, suggesting that threatening information is encoded but not elaborated upon (Green, Sedikides, & Gregg, 2008). We continue to examine the possible mediators and moderators of this phenomenon (Pinter, Green, Sedikides, & Gregg, in press).
Sedikides, C., & Green, J. D. (2000). On the self-protective nature of inconsistency/ negativity management: Using the person memory paradigm to examine self-referent memory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 906-922.
Sedikides, C., & Green, J. D. (2004). What I don’t recall can’t hurt me: Information negativity versus information inconsistency as determinants of memorial self-defense. Social Cognition, 22, 4-29.
Green, J. D., & Sedikides, C. (2004). Retrieval selectivity in the processing of self-referent information: Testing the boundaries of self-protection. Self and Identity, 3, 69-80.
Green, J. D., Pinter, B., & Sedikides, C. (2005). Mnemic neglect and self-threat: Trait modifiability moderates self-protection. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 225-235.
Green, J. D., Sedikides, C., & Gregg, A. P. (2008). Forgotten but not gone: The recall and recognition of self-threatening memories. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 547-561.
Green, J. D., Sedikides, C., Pinter, B., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2009). Two sides to self-protection: Self-improvement strivings and feedback from close others attenuate mnemic neglect. Self and Identity, 8, 233-250.
Sedikides, C., & Green, J. D. (2009). Memory as a self-protective mechanism. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 1055-1068.
Pinter, B., Green, J. D, Sedikides, C., & Gregg, A. (2011). Self-protective memory: Separation/integration as a mechanism for mnemic neglect. Social Cognition, 29, 612-624.
In a related vein, I have more recently become interested in narcissism and how narcissists protect their inflated sense of self (Campbell & Green, 2007). I have several ongoing projects (many with Bobby Horton) that are investigating how narcissists respond to mortality salience, the role of the media (e.g., reality TV and social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace) in possibly increasing narcissism, and methods to reduce narcissism.
Campbell, W. K., & Green, J. D. (2007). Narcissism and interpersonal self-regulation. In J. V. Wood, A. Tesser, & J. G. Holmes (Eds.), The self and social relationships (pp. 73-94). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Horton, R. S., Barber, J., Green, J. D., Moss, D., & Reid, C. A. (manuscript in preparation). The link between narcissism and the exposure to reality TV.