ory, the less likely that OR will prove as effective a mnemonic strategy relative to SR.
The finding that SR has an advantage when length of stimulus presentation is briefer for both the S R - O R and the SR-semantic classes is important because it suggests the possibility that SR may promote good retention more quickly than either semantic or OR processing; both semantic and OR processing seem to require more processing time to be mnemonically effective. One interpretation of these findings is that the SRE is "time sensi- tive": SR may be an especially effective strategy, compared with OR, if participants have to wait a long time between encod- ing and retrieval or if they have to encode stimuli very rapidly. Thus, our findings suggest that SR may be more spontaneous or automatic in promoting memory than OR.
However, before special mnemonic properties are attributed to SR, we thought it wise to investigate the possibility that these effects exist also when participants refer a word to memory structures that may be very similar to the self in memory (Aron et al., 1991). When these models are tested using only highly intimate others, we found that the short-term memory interfer- ence created by either a distractor task or failure to expect a test, as well as the findings with regard to length of stimulus presentation, all fall away when highly intimate others are refer- enced. However, these model tests with high-intimacy others involved a small number of studies. These possibilities are par- ticularly intriguing and deserve to be investigated in primary- level research.
These findings suggest patterns that have been virtually ig- nored in the SRE literature until our meta-analysis. Based on our assumption that SR is constant across both manipulation classes, the patterns suggest an important difference between OR and semantic encoding. Because, in the SR-semantic class, the magnitude of the SRE is unaffected by distractor tasks or expectation of a test, we assume that semantic encoding is resis- tant to the effects of these task parameters on short-term memory.
Researchers repeatedly have asked the question, "Is the self unique?"4 Although our study cannot directly address questions about the self-structure in memory, it indicates that certain as- pects of engaging in an SR task may indeed pose special mne- monic advantages. First, although SR is posited to promote both relational and item-specific processing, even when SR is paired with a task judged to also promote these processes, an SRE emerges. Of course, we have not made assumptions about the degree to which these tasks promote both kinds of processing, but our results suggest that SR is more effective in promoting memory. Results with regard to stimulus items and length of stimulus presentation suggest that SR may be particularly spon- taneous and efficient when stimulus items are commonly judged through person reference (e.g., traits; Markus, 1977). Moreover, although SR is superior to OR in promoting memory and even when intimate other targets were judged, we observed that in many ways the referencing of an intimate other appears to have similar effects to SR. For example, even the short-term memory disruptions that we observed disappear for judgments of highly intimate others.
The everyday implications of these findings extend to many different areas. Certainly the power of SR has been underesti- mated in some areas and, possibly, overestimated in others. One implication of our study is that SR works best to facilitate memory when certain kinds of stimuli are used--stimuli that are commonly organized and elaborated on through SR. When these stimuli are used, however, SR appears to be a very efficient, possibly spontaneous processing mode. Of course, future re- searchers must address these questions with more direct compar- isons of SR, OR, and semantic encoding, with particular atten- tion to differences in the kinds of stimulus material used and their importance to the individual participant. More important, we hope that researchers will address several new potential causal processes suggested by our meta-analysis that may ex- plain why the SRE occurs. Our evidence suggests that SR is a uniquely efficient process; but it is probably unique only in the sense that, because it is a highly practiced task, it results in spontaneous, efficient processing of certain kinds of information that people deal with each day--material that is often used, well organized, and exceptionally well elaborated.
4We recognize that there is still debate in cognitive literatures as to the question of the self's uniqueness (Breckler, Pratkanis, & McCann, 1991; Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1987; A. G. Greenwald & Banaji, 1989; Higgins & Bargh, 1987). As Breckler et al. pointed out, it is premature to conclude that the self is a unique structure. For one thing, theoretical models of the self are not sufficiently specified to assert that the self is a unique structure in memory (G. T. Greenwald & Pratkanis, 1984). Moreover, the criteria for uniqueness are unclear, although such criteria have been pursued by researchers in other areas of memory (see Oster- gaard, 1992).
References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the meta-analysis.
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