Neutral information enjoys beneficial processing when it is associated with self and significant others, but less is known about how the identity referential advantage is constructed in the initial stages of a relationship. We offer a novel solution by asking if a newly met stranger could provide a processing advantage in a shape-identity matching task where shapes were associated with the names of different identities. Each participant was paired with a newly met partner in a joint shape-identity matching task in which three shapes were associated with the names of the participant or his/her best friend, the partner, and a stranger, respectively. The participants judged whether or not the shape and name correctly matched. Intriguingly, the trials related to a newly met partner exhibited instant referential saliency, which was more accurate and faster than that related to the stranger’s name (baseline) when the partner was physically present (experiments 1, 2, 4, 5), but not when the partner was absent (experiment 3). Self-advantage, however, was robust and lasting. The precursor of physical presence when forming referential saliency toward a stranger and its distinct temporal dynamics imply a novel referential benefit unendowed with familiarity, which is qualitatively different from the well-documented self/friend-advantage effect.
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