Selfish learning: The impact of self-referential encoding on children's literacy attainment

David J. Turk, Karri Gillespie-Smith, Olave E. Krigolson, Catriona Havard, Martin A. Conway, Sheila J. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Self-referencing (i.e., thinking about oneself during encoding) can increase attention toward to-be-encoded material, and support memory for information in adults and children. The current inquiry tested an educational application of this 'self reference effect' (SRE) on memory. A self-referential modification of literacy tasks (vocabulary spelling) was tested in two experiments. In Experiment 1, seven-to nine-year-old children (N = 47) were asked to learn the spelling of four nonsense words by copying the vocabulary and generating sentences. Half of the children were asked to include themselves as a subject in each sentence. Results showed that children in this self-referent condition produced longer sentences and increased spelling accuracy by more than 20%, relative to those in an other-referent condition. Experiment 2 (N = 32) replicated this pattern in real-word learning. These findings demonstrate the significant potential advantages of utilizing self-referential encoding in the classroom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-60
JournalLearning and Instruction
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Self
  • Memory
  • Literacy
  • Engagement
  • Attention


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