Self-Referential Biases on Attention and Memory triggered by Object Ownership

  • Stella Lucia Becci

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science (MSc)


Self-referential processing has been argued to hold a unique status in cognition. Self-referred information benefits from attentional biases which might facilitate its elaboration and retention. The present enquiry investigates self-referential biases on attention and memory, triggered by object ownership. In a first experiment, participants sorted shopping items as either belonging to self or other, guided by ownership cues; memory for the items was later measured with an old-new test. ERPs were recorded during both the sorting and test phases. More self-owned items were recognised, adding to the evidence that encoding items within an implicit self-referential context facilitates their retention. An attentional bias was elicited by self-ownership cues, as measured by a larger P300 component, replicating previous findings (Turk et al., 2011). This difference in P300 persisted amongst subsequently recognised items, suggesting a contribution of the self-attentional bias to qualitative aspects of memory that were not behaviourally measured. Ownership modulated the late old-new effect, with a larger LPC observed for recognised self-owned items, possibly indexing the enhancement of recollection by self-reference. To investigate this possibility, a further ERP experiment was designed which employs a remember-know task during the memory phase of the shopping paradigm, to dissociate between recollection and familiarity-based recognition. The ERP-viability of this design was tested in a second behavioural experiment. More self-owned items were recollected, suggesting self-referential encoding enhances recollection specifically (van den Bos et al., 2010). Insufficient numbers of remember responses indicated the design would not be viable in an ERP experiment. Whether self-other differences seen in the ERPs in the present enquiry can be accounted for solely by differences in activity of regions involved in episodic memory retrieval, or also by activation of self-specific brain structures, remains to be further investigated by future enquiries. The potential application of self-reference to the enhancement of learning is discussed.
Date of Award25 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorPhilip Collard (Supervisor)


  • self-reference
  • attention
  • memory
  • object ownership
  • ERPs

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