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ED 236 51*4 



CG 017 066 





Mueller, John H. ; And Others 
Distinguishing Me from Thee. 
May 83 , 

12p. ; Paper presented at the Annual Meeting 
Midwestern Psychological Association (55th, 
IL, May 5-7, 1983) . 

Reports - Research/Technical (143) — * 
Speeches/Conference Papers 1 150 ) 

of the 
Chicago , 

MF01/PC01 Plus Postage. , > 

Cognitive Processes; Mndividual ^Characteristics; 
/^Personality Traits ; Recall (Psychology )•;./ *Self 
Concept ; *Self Evaluation (Individuals) 
*Self Definition " . 



"Trait adjectives which people use to describe 
themselves will have features both unique to the individual and 
shared with or common to many people. To examine the uniqueness 
descriptors of onrejs self, and how unique desti^i^ptor s might be ^ 
organized in memory, subjects (N=40)^made self -descr ipt iven^ss and 
other-descr ipt iveness rat ings for 'the same set' of 120 trait 
adjectives representing three levels of likability. Uniquely 
descriptive items took longer for self -descr iptiveness dedisions than 
for items that were descriptive of both self and other. Although fc 
unique features may be generated as descriptive of one's self, it 
appears they are accessed more slowly. This result is more consistent 
with a viewfthat sees trait distinctiveness* as computed rather than 
prestored. In terms of endorsement, un iquely descriptive i'tems showed 
minimal Hikability eff ects , whereas likable items were predominantly 
seen as descriptive of both self and other and\ unlikable items were ^ 
.rejected afe mutually nondescr iptive . Recall differences among the 
subtypes of items were n^t^pronounced ove'rall, \hough there was some 
variation by likability level. (Author/WAS) 



* Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that cafri be made * 

* 4 from the original document. * 






John H. Mueller 
Michael J. Ross 
Martin Heesacker 

University of Missouri, ^Golumbia 

1 • - V 

0 * 



* — i 




This document has been rnproduced as 
received from the person or organisation 

' originating it. 

^ Minor chantjes havr; b«en madu to improve 
reproduction qudlity. ^ 

• Points of vmw or opinions stated in thi^docu 
mt>ntdo not necessarily represent official NIE 
position or policy 




Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of l&e Midwestern Psychological Association, 
Chicago, IL, May 5-7, 1983. 



John H. Mueller, Michapl 1 Or,-, J\u 

, mcnaei J. R 0iS , andWtin Heesackei 

UniversftySf Missouri, CoTumbi, 


■ • / < • ■ > 

■a v 

^ • * 

Abstra ct 
it. ■ 

\ • 

• / 

Subjects made sel f-des-cripli veness and otherrdescrlptlveness ratings 
" for the same set of 120 trait' adjectives representing three levels of 
1 i kabi Hty. Uniquely descriptive items took longer -for sel f- 
descriptiveness decisions than for items that we're descriptive of both 
self and other. AJthough unique features ma^ be generated as 
descriptive of one's self, it appears they are accesL more slowly. 
This result is more consistent wi.ttt a view that sees trait 
distinctiveness as computed rather than pr*estored. In terms of 
endors'ement,jjniquely descriptive items shewed minimal likability 
effects, whereas; likable items were predominantly seen as descriptive 
of both self and other and iinl ikable items were rejected as mutually 
nondescriptive. Recall differences among "the subtypes of items were* : 
not pronounced. overall., though .theVe was some variation by liability 
level . - . • s 


Address ^11 corr^epondenc^ to: \ 

John x H. Mueller 
t Psychology Department 
210 McAlester Hall 
University of Misuari 
Columbia, MO 65211 I 
[3J4/882-3084, or 882-6860] 

Paper presented at the' annual meetings of thS 

Mtdwest^rn Psychological' Association, Chicago, May 6, 1983. 


1 * 
John H. Mueller, Michael 'J. Ross, and Martin Heesacker 
University of Mi ssouri ,a Col umbia 

— ->- JL-- 

The 'study I'm going to* report today examined the- un iqueness of 
descriptors of one's self, and how unique descriptors might be 
organized in memory relative to less distinctive features. As- nany y 
authors have observed (e.g., Snyder & Fromki n , 1980) , weQpend a great 
deal of cur lilves trying to. estahj i sh individual identities, though — 


judging from the standard of living achieved by various, fashion 

designers — relatively. few of us, are completely successful! 

For various reasons, some trait adjectives may not distinguish 

* \ : ^ o. V 
oge person from another very well. At one extreme, for example, some 

characteristics may &e so. desirable or befiign that we attribute them .' 

to others as freely^as^to ourselves (e.g., ciecent, friendly, 

honorable, witty), or' perhaps the corresponding adjectives are so 

\7 ■ 
generally descriptive that' they apfply to a large number of people 


(e.g., American, masculine, right-handed, Protectant). At .the other 

extreme, some characteristics may be sd dastardly that we hesitate to 

attribute them to anyone (e.g., evil, incestuous, lascivious,' 

rapacious, /Hthles^ wanton), or perhaps i n yictuari-al ^terms we just 

rarely 'encounter anyone whtim we would label with*a particular 

adjective (e.g., acrobatic, dainty, messianic, weird). Of course, 

many factors will determine just which terms are distinctive, 

including reference grouo^and perhaps even veVbal facility, not^just 

( * . ^ I 

base rate. \ \ \ 1 s 

v . 

Mueller, Ross, Heesacker . 7 2 

v . . . ' • V 

Assuming that we would thus "find both unique and shared features 
in our self concept,- the question arises as to their relative 
importanceand accessibility. In one relevant study * McGui re knd (1976). had subjects generate self descriptions. Tbey^ 
fpund that 'the features mentioned tended to be those .that set the 

subject aparv from other people, hot those aspects that were, most 
common. Of course, .this doesn't- mean shared 'features are not a part 
.of our self concept, but /unique features seemed especially relevant in 
the" course of unpaced spontaneous descriptions . Q However, order in an 
^unpaced description' coul d reflect processes other than. speed of. access 
to a'-sinqle' specific aspect of >he seTf concept. For one thing, 
unpaced descriptions maximize the "editing" of rSsponses^jjU^wi ng the 
unique featured to'domi nate 'output whether -they^e actual ly accessed 

first or not. - * 

Still, it is intuitively appeaTHg^hat unique traits might be 
accessed* rapidly, and Figure 1 shows' two simple models consistent with 
this notion." Mpde?l A in Figure 1 represents a scheme where traits are 
organized w'ithin the self concept by%i s ti ncti veness , so that a 1 
top-down search process would provide rapid affirmative decisions for 
distinctive, nonshared traits. Slower affirmations would occur for 
shared- 'features, because these characteristics are accessed only aHer 
the most definitive trafts h'a^ been reviewed. Model. B shows' a • 
different arrangement, where- each feature^has stored With it a "tag" 
denoting 'some^egree of distinctiveness, In this case, If the feature 
tag exceeds some high criterion, a rapid affirmative response results, 
whereas a slowe'r affirmative response results for less distinctive 



Mueller, Ross, tfeesacker . ' "3 

features, wi'l/h negative responses being slowest of al 1 
■ < . \ 

'Insert Figure 1 .about here ■. . • 


As sensible as these, two model s jirfojht seem, the data we will 
present^don 1 t fit either one, nor any conceptual ization that makes the 
same basic prediction, namely thatv unique'are accessed fa?ter n 
than shared. Instead, some process Kke that shown *in. Mode,! C seems 
more likely, and it is in general consistent with McGuire and V". 
Padawer-Singer 1 s interpretation that we determine the most salient 
features of our selves by a process of comparison to the context of . 
the decision/. For example, being an American in* Paris is much more 
sal ient than., being an American in Peoria — not to mention more fun! 
Therefore, in contrast' to Models A and E* comparative models such as 
» Model' C would predict"'that access would be faster for shared'traits, 
with the determination of unique traits ^equ^'ring more.tir^e/ Self § 
descriptions (viz. McGuire t & Padawer-Si riger , 1976) might still contain 
predominkntly.dVstincti ve. feature.s, given an unpaced task, but such 
'traits .are available only after .a process that cortsumss some time. In 
ModetfC, trait Uniqueness is computed , so to speak, rather than 
prestored as in Models A and B. 

The predictions seem taifly clear then, and the data we collected 
were intended to .'provide some initial information about the 
organization of features as a function of distinctiveness. In the \ 
Interest of time, we will have to focus on just the one question: are 
unique-trait decisions made faster than shared-trait decisions? The- 

V 4 ' • 


Muel ler,/ Ross, Hees.acker « ■■ ■ . - 4 - 

methodology is simple, so^I will describe it only briefly. I will be 

happy' "to provide further details to anyone who wants them. 

r * 

1 t Method & 

Forty subjects Vated 120 trait*, adjectives* selected fram-^hree 
likability 'levels in the Anderson (1968) norms: 40 likable items, 40 
unlikable, and 40 "neutral" items, all from the high meaningf iriness 
subset in the' norms. A subject first i;ated all 120 items for 
sel f-descriptiveness and then for descripti veness of their /"best 
friend/ 11 or vice versa. Responses were indicated on an 8-point scale, 
on the basis of a rapid f i rsOynpressi on . The two rating phases were 
followed by an unannouncfed^recal 1 test for the 120 items. 

In addition, the Self Consciousness Questionnaire (Buss, 1980) 
was also administered, nt had been expected that high self;-aw y are [ 
subjects might be especially aware of their unique traits, and access 
them. f,asteic than less self-aware subjects, particularly under the 
prestored assumption. However, this seemed not to be the case, so 
these data won't be considered further. - j 

Results and Discussion 

\ .■ I'tems were tabulated 'on the basis >of their descriptiveness 
of each target pers(jn. (For purposes of analysis, items rated 1-4* 
were considered nondescripti ve', with 5-8 being descriptive.) Thfs 
results in -four subtypes of items, shown as column headings in Tabl'e 
1. Some items were judged descriptive of BOTH targets, sor/e 
descriptive of SELF ONLY, some OTHER ONLY, while the remainder were, 
descriptive of NEITHER target. Three aspects, of the data are shown in 
Table 1: how many items were classified o£ endorsed into each of the ' 



Mueller, Ross, Heesacker 

four categories, how rapidly deci sions were made for each subtype of 

. ( 

item,, and the incidental recall of items of each type.- Let me quickly 
summarize the h^h points of the result's. u ~ 

\ ' . Insert Table 1 about here / 

'■ The way subjects classified the items is shown in t}ie top section 
of Table !. Perhaps the most pertinent, result in terms of item 
endorsement was a significant Self by "Other by Likability triple 
interaction (F (1 ,78) = 34.82). Most adjectives 'were considered 
descriptive of neither or both targets (see' thp fourth* row of Table 1, 
labeled "All"). This would be expected,, assuming we share many traits 
with our 'best friend. "While these mutually descrl^i ven^ns show 
pronounced likaMity gradients (first and fourth column in Table 1), 

neither of the unique descriptors show such likabilTty effects (second 
and third column in.Jable 1). & x <J ( - / 

- Going to the next section of the table, in the' data of greatest 
interest, analysis of the la-Sffncjes for self descripti veness decisions 
•revealed a significant Self by Other interaction (F (1,39) = 7.11). 
As Table -1 shows (in line 8, labeled "All"), decision speed was faster 
ipr scared descriptors (Ms = 3297 and 3395 msec, for Both, and Neither, 
respec\i vely) than* for unique descriptors (Ms = 3486 -and 3622 msec, 
'for Self-Oaly and Other-Only, respetti vely) . In the individual 
comparison^ of greatest interest, the Self-Only items (3486 msec) and 

/ 0 c* 

Both items (3297 msec) were significantly different (Tukey test)/- 
* Thus, it appears that rapid self-reference decisions are made 

Mueller, Ro^s, Heesacker 

6 - 

only for items that are generally descriptive, and that decisions 
about unique features require more time. As I said "earl i er , .when 
editing output in an unpaced test (McGuire & Padawer-Singer, 1976), 
unique items might still "occur' first and more often as the most 
definitive descriptors, .but the self-reference descision per-se seems 

* b > 7 • 

slower for unique-items. On this basis, it appears that Madels.A and 

B and others of that class can be rejected, and that ( something like 


Model C serves as a better description of the organization of features 
in the self concept. V # . 

- The probability of recall data indicated a marginally significant 
triple interaction of Self by Other by Likability (F (2,78) = 5.57, £ 
< .07). Neutral items were, not recalled very well at all, likable ^ 
item*: tended to be recalled better when not self-descriptive, and / 
unlikable items'were recalled ^est f or commonly descriptive items'. 
The interpretation of this interaction is unclear, and likely risky in 
view of the marginal level of significance. 

In closing, o it/appears that self-referent decisions involving 
distinctive traits take more time than is the case for shared traits. 
We have also observed this in some similar-experiments that I don l t 
have time to cover here. ThisS^suggests. that distinctiveness 
information - is not prestored in our sel f, concept , unless one argues 
that we "search through le§s distinctive features first, as in a 
bottom-up search in-Model A. While not proving Model C-specifically, 
the data are at least consistent with Model C, and in accord with a 
•comparative process as outlined by people sucly as' McGoire and 
.Padawer-Sfnger . 

MuelleY, Ross, Heesacker 



Anderson, N. H. Likableness ratings of 555 personality-trait words." 

Journal %f Personality and Social ^ychology, 1968, 9, 272-279. 
Buss, A. H. Sel f consciousness arrd social anxiety. San Francisco, 

CA: W. H. Freeman, 1980. ' - 

McGuire, W. J . , &* Padawer-Si nger, A. Trait salience in the, 

spontaneous self-concept./' Journal of Personal i ty and Social 


Psychology, 1976, 33,' 746-754. 

v- y 

Snyder, C.R., & Fromkin.'H. L. Uniqueness: The human pursuit of 
difference, ^few York: Plenum Pres^s, 1980. 

V ♦ 



Mueller, Ross, Heesacker 

^ ,. TABLE 1 

Number Rated by Mutuality of Self- and Other-Descri ptiveness , 
Latency of S£l f-RTf erence Decision, and Probability of Recall 

Self-Other Descri ptiveness Types 

& ■ ■ . m 









Number of each type 




3.2 ■ 


j Neutral 




, 5.3 








46 . 3 ! 




8 Latency (msec) 

' Likable ' 








' 3922 

3577 _ ' 

LJnl i kabl e 





All * , 





• * Probability of recall 




• Likable' \ 


.28 • 

i .31 

■ 34 

• Neutral | 



. 20 N 

Unlikable '* \ 





All • j 





Note: Both refers to a word rated as descriptive of self and 

other, Se?1f-0nly refers to \ word rated \s descriptive of 
but not descriptive of other, Other-Only refers to,a word 
was not self-descriptive but was\other-descriptiy^ 
and Neither, refers to a word descriptive of neither self 
nor v other . 


MODEL A: Strength Hierarchy 

MODEL B: Distinctiveness Tags * 

"Am I (X)?" 

fast '"yes" (unique) 

slow "yes" (shared) 

• Am i^ixp 

Access X 



tag - c 




tag ■ K? 

fast 'yes' 1 (unique) 

slow "yes'" (shared) 

"no * (slowest) 

MODEL C: Feature Set Comparison 

"Am f(X)" injplies contrast: 
'Am 1 more (X) than others?" 

Retrieve SELF feature set 
and OTHER feature set 

Is X in both-sets? 

Is XJn SELF set? 



fast "yes (shared) 

slow "yes" (unique) t 


~ 'Figure 1. Three theoretical conceptions about the relative speed 
a sel.f-descriptiveness decision about a trad t QO* that is either 
shared with other people or which mgre uniquely describes us.