The self-reference effect (SRE) in memory is thought to depend on specialized mechanisms that enhance memory for self-relevant information. We investigated whether these mechanisms can be engaged “by proxy” when we simulate other people, by asking participants to interact with two virtual partners: one similar and one dissimilar to self. Participants viewed pairs of objects and picked one for themselves, for their similar partner, or their dissimilar partner. A surprise memory test followed that required participants to identify which object of each pair was chosen, and for whom. Finally, participants were shown both partners’ object pairs again, and asked to indicate their personal preference. Four key findings were observed. Overlap between participants’ own choice and those made for their partner was significantly higher for the similar than the dissimilar partner, revealing participants’ use of their own preferences to simulate the similar partner. Recollection of chosen objects was significantly higher for self than for both partners and, critically, was significantly higher for similar than dissimilar partners. Source confusion between self and the similar partner was also higher. These findings suggest that self-reference by proxy enhances memory for non-self-relevant material, and we consider the theoretical implications for functional interpretation of the SRE.
Allan, K., Morson, S., Dixon, S., Martin, D., & Cunningham, S. J. (2017). Simulation-based mentalizing generates a ‘proxy’ self-reference effect in memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70(6), 1074-1084. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2016.1209532