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A Critical Test of Self-Enhancement, Exposure, and Self-Categorization Explanations for First- and Third-Person Perceptions


  • This paper was accepted under the editorship of James P. Dillard. Order of junior authors was determined randomly.

Scott A. Reid; e-mail:


The third-person perception is the tendency for people to believe that others are more influenced by media content than themselves (W. P. Davison, 1983). The current study provides a critical test of self-enhancement, exposure, and self-categorization explanations for first- (i.e., self more influenced than others) and third-person perceptions. Male and female participants (N = 323) judged the extent to which pornography elicitedaroused and excited (i.e., male normative) versusrepulsed and offended (i.e., female normative) reactions in themselves relative to average men and women. Men perceived an average woman to be more repulsed and offended by pornography than themselves, and women perceived an average man to be more aroused and excited than themselves (i.e., large third-person perceptions). Further, men perceived themselves to be more aroused and excited by pornography than an average woman (independent of the degree to which pornography was judged as antisocial), and women perceived themselves to be more repulsed and offended than an average man (i.e., large first-person perceptions). There were relatively small effects for same sex comparisons independent of norm. The pattern and magnitude of first- and third-person perceptions are consistent with self-categorization theory, irreconcilable with the exposure hypothesis, and difficult to reconcile with the self-enhancement explanation.