The social uses of self-defining memories at work
Merlo, Kelsey L.
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A fundamental part of human experience is self-continuity, or the sense of me extended across time, yet these processes that give rise to this temporal extension have remained largely understudied in the work psychology literature. Self-defining memories provide one mechanism for beginning to understand the role of an individual’s unique past on their present moment, and when shared with others they provide a vivid and succinct snapshot to convey a part of the individual’s extended self. In this paper, I outline the memory sharing process from the sharer to the listener. In Study 1, workers were asked to recall a self-defining or everyday memory to explore the associated phenomenological memory characteristics and the language used to describe and share that memory. In Study 2, workers were asked to read memory vignettes provided in Study 1 to explore how the information contained in the shared memories are used by the memory listener to inform affective (e.g., likability, affective trust, and empathy) and informational (e.g., meaningfulness, insight, and cognitive trust) outcomes. Results indicate that self-defining memories, compared to everyday memories, are shared using self-focused and causal language that reflects achievement and power drives. When shared with the memory listener, self-defining memories are perceived as more affectively intense and central to the sharer’s sense of self, suggesting that the language used to share the memory can communicate phenomenological information to the listener. Finally, the listener’s perception of the shared memory is related to affective and informational outcomes. Specifically, perceived self-centrality was positively related to likability, affective trust, empathy, work meaningfulness, and insight. By studying the memory sharing process of self-defining work memories, we can begin to understand how the sharing of the temporally extended self with others can influence work-related processes and outcomes.