Systems of meaning and transference: Implicit significant-other activation evokes shared reality

Elizabeth Przybylinski, Susan M. Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence shows that representations of significant others (SOs) are used in interpersonal relations-for example, in the social- cognitive process of transference (see Andersen & Chen, 2002), a process that is assumed to serve meaning-making functions (Glassman & Andersen, 1999b). Five studies tested the more specific notion that implicit activation of an SO representation in transference should indirectly activate the worldview shared with the SO, leading to its active pursuit, validation, and protection. Shared worldviews were assessed beforehand, both idiographically, as values (Studies 1 and 4), and nomothetically, as political ideology or religious beliefs (Studies 2, 3, and 5). In each experiment, participants learned about new persons, one subtly resembling their own SO. Transference was assessed (memory bias; positive evaluation; see Andersen, Reznik, & Manzella, 1996) and, crucially, as predicted, when considering the new person resembling their SO (vs. the control persons), participants showed faster response latencies in a lexical decision task to words reflecting the worldview shared with the SO (vs. held only personally, Studies 1-3, or only by the SO, Study 3). With this person, they also anticipated a more meaningful interaction and actively socially tuned to the SO-shared worldview, selecting conversation topics reflecting the SO-shared worldview (vs. personally held or SO-held topics, Studies 1-3). Finally, threatening the SO-shared worldview with this person (vs. threatening personally held, SO-held, or irrelevant worldviews) prompted goal activation to restore the disrupted meaning (Studies 4 and 5), assessed by response latency in a lexical decision task. Transference thus evokes shared meaning systems and serves epistemic functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)636-661
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Close relationships
  • Epistemic needs
  • Meaning
  • Social cognition
  • Worldviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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