Special Session Summary When You're Happy and You Know It ...: Self-Referencing, Memory, and Affect

Gita Venkataramani Johar, Columbia University
Geeta Menon, New York University
[ to cite ]:
Gita Venkataramani Johar and Geeta Menon (1996) ,"Special Session Summary When You're Happy and You Know It ...: Self-Referencing, Memory, and Affect", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 80.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 80



Gita Venkataramani Johar, Columbia University

Geeta Menon, New York University


Literature on self-referent encoding suggests that information about oneself is elaborated upon and is therefore accessible in memory. Activating such information about oneself can affect the manner in which people make judgments about a related stimulus object such as a product. This finding is explained by the affect transfer process where affect associated with the product memory is transferred to the product evaluation.

Two research questions that emerge from this literature are: (a) Does self-referencing always enhance persuasion?, and (b) If not, is it because retrieved product memories are not always positive? These issues are important to consumer behavior because self-referencing cues are often used in advertising.


The first paper by Joan Meyers-Levy and Laura Peracchio was entitled "Moderators of the Impact of Self-Referencing on Persuasion." They examined how self-referencing affects persuasion and whether the motivation to process the ad moderates these effects. Self-referencing was manipulated using wording of the ad copy and the perspective from which the ad photo was shot. Results indicated that moderate levels of self-referencing enhanced persuasion, while extreme levels undermined it. Further, such self-referencing effects only emerged when the ad had an unfavorable outcome which motivated subjects to attend to the ad. No self-referencing effects were observed under low motivation conditions when the ad had a favorable outcome. Recall of ad material showed the same pattern of results. Diminished recall under extreme self-referencing conditions was attributed to interference from excessive thoughts about the self.

Another possible explanation for diminished persuasion under high levels of self-referencing is the valence of the retrieved information about the self. This was the focus of the second paper. Geeta Menon and Gita Venkataramani Johar presented this paper which was entitled "Valence of Personal vs. Product Experiences: What do you remember when you're feeling blue?" This research investigated the accessibility of positive versus negative experiences in memory. Past research on the retrieval of personal experiences has demonstrated that positive experiences are more accessible in memory than negative ones. Experiment 1 replicated these findings for person memory but showed that both positive and negative product experiences were accessible. The authors suggested that one reason for observing the positivity bias in person memory is mood congruence. Subjects may have been in a positive mood at the time of retrieval. Mood congruency may not be present for product memory because mood may not be strongly linked to product experiences in memory. Experiment 2 tested this proposition and established that manipulating mood at the time of retrieval influenced the valence of recalled personal experiences, but not that of product experiences.

Finally, Norbert Schwarz summarized a comprehensive research program that investigated the informative functions of affective states in his presentation entitled "Feelings as Information: The Impact of Moods on Judgment and Processing Strategies." This presentation explored the use of one's affective state as a heuristic on the basis of which people arrive at different kinds of judgments. Traditional models that trace the impact of mood to mood-congruent recall of valenced information in memory were contrasted with those that view affective states as informational input to judgments. Schwarz presented findings from a series of research studies which showed that the impact of mood on processing strategy and judgments was eliminated when its informational value for the judgment was discredited via misattribution for the mood. Schwarz discussed implications of these findings for product evaluation and advertising strategies.


Mita Sujan set off the discussion by presenting her view of research on self-referencing and affect. She suggested that self-referencing can vary along dimensions such as extent, valence and content. She also pointed out that affect can serve many functions including informational ones.

The ensuing discussion focused on both theoretical and methodological issues. Some of these issues were: the outcome favorableness manipulation used to motivate ad processing in the first paper; an editing explanation for the lack of mood congruence in the second paper; the differences in the valence of recalled product experiences between the two experiments reported in the second paper; the relevance of the "affect as information" heuristic to consumer behavior; and ideas for future research on self-referencing and affect.