What Is Self Reference Effect – Previous work on aesthetic experience suggests that aesthetic judgments are self-representing. The self-reference effect (SRE) is the tendency for people to show better memory for items judged to be related to themselves. The present study sought to understand whether SRE exists for aesthetic judgments of music. Participants heard musical excerpts (classical, jazz, and electronic) and rated a) how much they liked the music (self condition), b) how much they wanted a close relative or friend to listen to the music (other condition), or c) how much they liked the music (other condition). A musical genre of music (genre status). After the retention interval, participants completed a recognition memory task for musical excerpts. Participants did not show better memory for self-encoded musical passages. These results extend the concept of SRE to the domain of aesthetic judgments, but do not support memory advantage when making aesthetic judgments about the self.
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What Is Self Reference Effect
, “the sculpture is beautiful”) is self-explanatory. For example, neuroimaging work has shown that aesthetic pleasure is associated with activity in the autonomic mode network (Belfi et al., Reference Bowl, Starr, and Rubin 2012), a system of brain regions involved in self-representation processes, including autobiographical memory (Buckner, Andrews-Hannah). , & Schacter, Buckner, Andrews-Hannah, & Schacter 2008). This finding is interpreted as evidence that people refer to themselves when evaluating works of art, that is, the assumption that aesthetic judgments are self-directed if art appreciation activates brain regions. Although the neuroimaging results have been interpreted as evidence for the self-representative nature of aesthetic judgment, there is no prior behavioral work for this. Here, we sought to examine whether aesthetic appreciation is similar to other self-representational processes. The self-reference effect (SRE) is a memory-based phenomenon in which people enhance memory for things that are judged in relation to themselves (Philippou, Duff, Denburg, Tranel, & Rudrauf, Phillippi, Duff, Denburg, Tranel, & Rudrauf 2012). SRE is observed for quality adjectives: for example, a person remembers an adjective like “quality” if they associate the quality with themselves rather than with a family member. The purpose of the present study was to understand the presence of SRE when making aesthetic judgments of music. We hypothesized that music would be judged aesthetically (
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The purpose of the present study is to investigate whether music makes aesthetic judgments about itself (
“What genre is this music?”) provides a memory preference for music. Although there are many types of judgments that can be considered ‘aesthetic’, here we consider the judgments we like. We hypothesized that self-judged musical passages would be remembered better than other-judged passages and passages defined in their genre.
= 0.70) participated in Experiment 2. Fifteen subjects in Experiment 1 and 15 subjects in Experiment 2 reported having formal musical experience (self-report of one or more years).
Participants completed a rating task and a recognition memory task. During the rating task, participants heard a piece of music and rated on a 4-point scale how much they liked it (behavior), whether a close relative/friend liked them (other condition), or the genre of the piece (genre condition). Participants rated 10 pieces of music in each condition. In Experiment 1, a rating scale was displayed on the screen while music was played. In Experiment 2, the rating scale was presented after the music ended. After a 15–20 min retention interval, participants completed the recognition memory task (see Figure 1).
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Figure 1. Scheme of experimental work. In Experiment 1, the rating question was presented on the screen at the same time as the presentation of the musical excerpt. In Experiment 2, a rating question was presented
Listen to the excerpt. For recognition memory, participants heard 30 previously played passages as well as 30 novel passages. After each passage, participants rated whether the passage was old or new.
Recognition memory scores were calculated as the proportion of hits versus false alarms (pHits-pFAs) for each participant. Hits are incorrectly identified as “old” fragments, correctly identified as old and false positives as “new” fragments. A one-way repeated-measures ANOVA was conducted separately for each version of the experiment. There was no significant difference in recognition scores between the three conditions in each experiment (F(2, 58) = 2.76,
= 0.99). Thus, memory for the “old” clips was no better than for the other or genre conditions (
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No SRE, see image). Furthermore, we repeated this analysis in each genre and found no SREs for any of the three genres in Experiment 1 (see Figure 3 ) or in Experiment 1. Details at https://osf.io/t3abh/.
Likes the truth. The boxes depict the median (solid black line) and the first and third quartiles (25th and 75th percentiles). Bars extend the range between pairs to 1.5x, and white diamonds depict the mean for each condition.
Figure 3. Categorized recognition memory scores by genre in Experiment 1. A two-way repeated measures ANOVA (genre, condition) revealed a significant effect of musical genre (F(2, 52) = 9.77,
= 0.12). The boxes depict the median (solid black line) and the first and third quartiles (25th and 75th percentiles). Bars extend the range between pairs to 1.5x, and white diamonds depict the mean for each condition.
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In Experiment 1, participants knew what decision they were making when listening to music. Knowing what they’re judging (yourself, others, or genre) may influence how they pay attention to music. For example, genres of music may require attention to specific musical features, while aesthetic judgments may direct the listener to memories or feelings associated with the music (Cubit & Janata, Cubit & Janata 2018). Therefore, in Experiment 2, listeners were unaware of the judgment
Listen to the excerpt. Anyway, there is no memory benefit for self-encoded music. One limitation of this work is the inclusion of musicians in the sample, as musicians perform better than non-musicians on short-term and working memory tasks (Talamini, Alto, Carretti, & Grassi, Talamini, Alto, Carretti, and Grassi 2017).
Overall, the results suggest no memory benefit for aesthetically judged musical passages. This suggests that aesthetic judgments may be distinct from judgments of self-presentation. Although previous neuroimaging work has shown that brain regions are involved in self-representation processes, aesthetic judgments may not directly reflect self-representation.
While previous work has suggested that making aesthetic judgments activates neural structures underlying the self, the present data do not suggest a memory benefit for aesthetically judged objects. There are many factors that could influence this effect – the length of the retention interval, the musical genre, or the musical experience of the participants. Therefore, although the present data cannot completely rule out the existence of an aesthetic SRE, the present work does not support the existence of this effect.
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AB designed the study, AK collected the data, and AB and AK analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript.
We thank Andrea Halpern, Daniel Retcho, Ed Wessel, and Jess Rowland for stimulus development and Peter Janata for helpful comments.
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Figure 1. Scheme of experimental work. Ratings in Experiment 1
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