Open Journal of Social Sciences
2013. Vol.1, No.6, 40-42
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access
Effects of Self-Esteem on Self-Face Recognition: An Eye
Movement Study
Yuanyan Hu1,2, Shasha Liao1, Wenbo Luo1, Weijie He1*
1School of Education, Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences, Chongqing, China
2Laboratory of Cognition and Mental Health, Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences, Chongqing, China
Email:, *
Received November 2013
In this study, effects of self-esteem on self-faces recognition toward four types of faces were evaluated by
eye movements tracking within a self-face recognition paradigm. Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSES)
was used to assess self-esteem level of participants, high (n = 16) and low (n = 16) s e lf -esteem under-
graduates participated in it. Participants completed a self-face recognition task wherein eye movements
were recorded during the presentation of self-face, partner’s face, famous face and stranger face. Findings
showed that high self-esteem group pay more attention to s elf-face, partner’ face and famous face than
unfamiliar face; low self-esteem individuals, however, pay the same attention to all categories. These re-
sults not only enriched the research about the self-esteem, but also the self-face recognition.
Keywords: Self-Esteem; Eye Movement; Self-Face Recognition; Pupil Size
Self-awareness is an individual’s subjective perception and
judgment towards his own physical, mental and social adapta-
tion ability. It refers to one’s self-consciousness which includes:
self-perception, self-experience, and self-monitoring (Duval &
Wicklund, 1972). Self-face identification falls in the ca tegory
of self-perception and it is one of the key indicators of an indi-
vidual’s level of self-awareness. Being a significant social vis-
ual stimulus, self-face is of special meaning to humans due to
its strongest level of stimulation to one-self and uniqueness
comparing to one’s name, hence it is recognized as the most
powerful and straight-forward cue in self-information process-
ing studies (Kircher et al., 2001).
Previous studies have shown that the processing of self-re-
levant information differs from the processing of general in-
formation. According to Keenan et al. (1999), one’s recognition
towards his own face is significantly faster than to the faces of
his acquaintances or strangers; In a visual search task, partici-
pants’ response towards their own faces is faster than that of the
unknown faces when they are exposed to a mixed faces back-
ground—this advantage remains effective even after hundreds
of time’s practice towards unknown faces (Tong & Naka-yama,
1999); another experiment in examining whether the signs of
familiar faces is relevant to one’s angle of observation also
revealed that one’s self-naming is significantly earlier than that
of other faces unknown (Troje & Gersten, 1999).
As part of self-experiences embedded in the self-awareness,
self-esteem is a distinctive emotional assessment one has to
himself either positive or negative. Most studies of self-esteem
have been focused on the thoughts and moods. For example,
comparing individual with low self-esteem, those with high
self-esteem have been showed to possess clearer self-concepts
(Campbell & Lavallee, 1993); to be less vulnerable to loneness
and depression (Creemers et al., 2012); to persist in the f ace of
failure (Di Paula & Campbell, 2002), and to perceive negative
feedback as a challenge rather than a threat (Seery et al., 2004).
It should be noted that little empirical study on self-esteem has
been focused on the self-face recognition. However, what kind
of characteristics individuals with diverse levels of self-expe-
riences, e specially individuals with high self-esteem and those
with low self-esteem would have in their self-face recognition,
have been mentioned in literatures therefore answers to this
question would be of significance in helping to explore human
psychological functions, especially self-face recognition and
Additionally, with the development of eye tracking technol-
ogy, physical measures such as the pupil size, fixation duration
and fixation counts have also been used by researchers in their
studies in human’s information processing, which has greatly
strengthened our explorations to various human psychological
activities (Zhang & Ye, 2006).
To better understand the details of information-processing on
the self-face recognition across different self-esteem levels, we
used pictures of oneself and others (e.g. one’s partner, unfami-
liar and famous people) to examine not only the behavioral
response, but also eye moveme nt da ta. Thus, our primary ques-
tions were the following: 1) Could we detect differences in
participants behavioral response between their self-face and
others’ face? 2) Could we detect differences between partici-
pants of high self-esteem and low self-esteem’s in their reac-
tions during the self-face identification? 3) Did high self-es-
teem individuals display different eye movement from low
self-esteem individuals? Method
The final participants were 32 undergraduates recruited from
Corresponding author.
Open Access
Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences in Chongqing,
China. They ranged from 17 to 22 year old (M = 19.9). The y
were paid for their participation. They all had normal uncor-
rected vision or their vision was corrected vi a glasses. All par-
ticipants were Chinese and right-handed, and were required to
choose a partner of his/hers from the 32 participants to match
either of the gender.
The Rosenberg’s Self-esteem Scale (RSES) is a widely used
measure to establish participants’ self-esteem level (Rosenberg,
1965). 34 participants were select ed from 202 undergraduates,
they were split into two groups (17 participants in each group),
including high (33) and low (23) group.
Eye movements were recorded using a video-based iView X
Hi-speed tracking system (SensoMotoric Instruments, Germany)
with a sampling rate of 250 Hz connected to a Core II DELL
compatible computer. All stimuli were presented on a gray
background on a 21-inch monitor (85 Hz) with a screen resolu-
tion of 1024 × 768 pixels. In order to minimize the head move-
ments and keep distance of 80 cm between the participants and
the center of the stimulus display screen, participants were re-
quired to put their chin on a soft head restraint and keep their
forehead close to the concave panel. Before the formal task, a
standardized calibration procedure was performed by requiring
participants to focus on 9 black dots randomly appearing on the
gray display.
Each participant was photographed in similar conditions, the
image was used asself-facefor him/herself and as “partner’s
face” for his/her partner. The images of unfamiliar were ob-
tained from the Chinese College Students’ Affective Face Pic-
ture Data Base (Wang & Luo, 2005). Morph Editor (SoftKey
Corporation, Cambridge, MA) was used to create digital mor-
phs between the subjects’ and the others, resulting in 21 unique
faces. All images were edited by Adobe Photoshop CS 2 in
order to remove external features (hair, ears) and created on a
uniform grey background (Figure 1). A scrambled face was
created by randomly rearranging one image.
There were three blocks for every participant and each block
was composed of 50 trials, totally 150 trials per participant.
Half of the participants were required to click the “up” key of
mouse if the image was himself/herself and the “down” key for
Figure 1.
Self-partner morph series.
Behavioral Data
Data from 2 participants were excluded due to a loss of be-
havioral and eye movement integrity. A two-way repeated
measures ANOVA was performed to determine whether there
was a difference in recognizing the self-face, partner’s face,
famous face and unfamiliar face depending on whether the par-
ticipant is high or low self-esteem. The main effect of image
types was significant, F(3, 90) = 7.262; p < 0.001. Post hoc
comparisons revealed that, while the mean response time of
self-faces (578 ms) was faster than those to unfamiliar faces
(716 ms) (p < 0.01) and famous face (632 ms) (p < 0.05), the
mean response time was not significant between self-face and
partner’s face (607 ms) (p > 0.05). However, the main effect of
self-esteem was not significant, and the interaction between the
self-esteem and image types was not significant either (Figure
Eye Movement Data
A two-way repeated measures ANOVA with Self-esteem
(high vs. low se lf-esteem) and Image types (self, unfamiliar,
famous and partner) as factors were conducted on pupil size,
fixation duration, and fixation count respectively.
For pupil size, the interaction between Self-esteem level and
Image types was significant, F(3, 90) = 3.771, p = 0.013. Sim-
ple effect revealed that for the high self-esteem group, the pupil
size of self-face was significantly larger than unfamiliar face (p
< 0.05); however, the difference among self-face, partner’s face,
and famous face was not significant (p > 0.05). In contrast for
the low self-esteem group, the difference among the four types
of images was not significant (p > 0.05). The main ef fect of
self-esteem level was not signific ant F(1, 30) = 0.101, p =
0.753, and the main effect of image types was not significant
either, F(3, 90) = 0.323, p = 0.809 (Table 1).
For either first fixation duration or first fixation count, the
interaction between the face types and self-esteem was not
significant. Neither main effect of image types nor main effect
of self-esteem was significant, p > 0.05.
Consistent with previous studies (Keenan et al., 1999; Tong
Figure 2.
Mean reaction time to different images of all partic-
Open Access
Table 1.
Mean and standard deviation of pupil size for high and low self-esteem
SE level Self-face Partner Famous Unfamiliar
High M 876.05 784.20 782.07 773.63
SD 221.05 235.62 242.44 238.28
Low M 738.66 798.62 781.56 799.18
SD 244.03 234.88 231.73 257.80
& Nakayama, 1999; Sui, Zhu, & Han, 2006), our behavioral
data indicated that responses to self-faces were faster than those
to others (famous, and unfamiliar faces). It can be explained by
the self-face recognition advantage effect that humans respond
faster to self-faces than to other faces, and this has been dem-
onstrated over either familiar or unfamiliar fac es (Sui, Zhu, &
Han, 2006). In contrast, consistence with Kircher et al. (2001),
the reaction time between self-face and partner’s face was the
same. The self-face recognition advantage effect is not exist
when partner face was processed. Keenan et al. (1999) showed
that the right cortical hemisphere appears to be important for
processing self-face. The effects of hand use (left or right hand),
however, have not been taken into account. That’s may be the
reason why we failed to detect a significant interaction between
self-esteem level and image type s.
In our study, we have found that the pupil size of high group
were larger when self-face, partner’s face, and famous face
were processing than unfamiliar face. In contrast, the pupil size
of low self-esteem group was the same across the four types of
images. A number of literature suggested that pupil size is an
important indicator for eye movement tracking, and is reflected
to a certain extent by mental activity (Zhang & Ye, 2006).
Moreover, som e studies have demonstrated pupil size was posi-
tive relate to cognitive load, interesting and attitude (Han &
Yan, 2010; Partala & Surakka, 2003). Thus, it can be explained
that compare to the low self-esteem group, high self-esteem
group show greater interest in all familiar images (self-face,
partner’s face, and famous face), and pay more attention to
In conclusion, we have demonstrated that 1) The processing
is unique for individual to recognize self-face; 2) high self-
esteem participants paid more attention to self-face, however,
the low self-esteem participants paid more attention to others.
This st udy was supported by the Natural Science Foundation
of China (Grant 30900399).
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