Cognitive priming methodologies were employed to examine whether internally represented interpersonal information can affect the experience of self. In the first study, psychology graduate students evaluated their own research ideas after exposures, below the level of conscious awareness, to slides of either the scowling, disapproving face of their department chair or the approving face of another person. In the second study, Catholic subjects evaluated themselves after exposure to the disapproving face of either the Pope or an unfamiliar other. In both studies, self-ratings were lower after the presentation of a disapproving significant other. In Study 2 there was no effect, however, if the disapproving other was not a personally significant authority figure, either because the subject was a relatively nonpracticing Catholic or the picture was of an unfamiliar person. It is argued that the primes may have activated relationship schemas, or cognitive structures representing regularities in interpersonal interaction.
Baldwin, M. W., Carrell, S. E., & Lopez, D. F. (1990). Priming relationship schemas: My advisor and the Pope are watching me from the back of my mind. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 26(5), 435-454.