Memory for performance feedback: a test of three self- motivation theories

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


The current study tests the adequacy of three self-motive theories to predict recall of performance feedback, memory sensitivity, and ratings of perceived accuracy. Self-enhancement (Jones, 1973) predicts individuals are motivated to maintain their self-esteem. Individuals will therefore recall positive relative to negative feedback and will rate positive feedback as more accurate. Self-consistency theory (Swann, 1985) predicts individuals are motivated to maintain their self-conceptions. Therefore they will recall feedback consistent with their expectations and rate consistent feedback as more accurate. Finally, Competence motivation (White, 1959) predicts individuals are motivated to master their environment and predicts individuals will recall feedback about important feedback dimensions, or feedback with high diagnostic value. The results clearly show individuals are biased toward recalling negative feedback. Individuals tended to recall more specific negative feedback statements relative to specific positive feedback statements (p < .06), and recalled more total information about negative feedback dimensions compared to positive feedback dimensions (p < .05). The superior recall for negative feedback may be explained by two theories. The first is a modified version of competence motivation. Recalling negative information may help the individual master his/her environment because negative feedback indicates which behaviors were performed below standard, and need to be changed. Self-enhancement theory may also explain these results. Individuals may have attempted to refute the validity of the negative feedback, and this lead to greater processing of and enhanced recall for this information. Memory sensitivity data did not support any of the theories. Ratings of feedback accuracy supported previous literature and showed clear support for self.enhancement theory. Individuals rated positive feedback as more accurate than negative feedback, but only when the feedback dimensions were important or had high diagnostic value.