Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Self-affirmation enhances performance, makes us receptive to our mistakes

Date:
October 24, 2012
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
From the mistakes we make at work or school to our blunders in romantic relationships, we are constantly reminded of how we could be better. By focusing on the important qualities that make us who we are -- a process called self-affirmation -- we preserve our self-worth in the face of our shortcomings. New research explores the neurophysiological reactions that could explain how self-affirmation helps us deal with threats to our self-integrity.

Life is about failure as much as it is about success. From the mistakes we make at work or school to our blunders in romantic relationships, we are constantly reminded of how we could be better. By focusing on the important qualities that make us who we are -- a process called self-affirmation -- we preserve our self-worth in the face of our shortcomings.

Related Articles


Self-affirmation has been shown to have powerful effects -- research suggests that it can minimize the anxiety, stress, and defensiveness associated with threats to our sense of self while keeping us open to the idea that there is room for improvement. But how does the process of self-affirmation actually work?

New research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores the neurophysiological reactions that could explain how self-affirmation helps us deal with threats to our self-integrity.

"Although we know that self-affirmation reduces threat and improves performance, we know very little about why this happens. And we know almost nothing about the neural correlates of this effect," says lead researcher Lisa Legault of Clarkson University.

Legault and her colleagues Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto Scarborough and Timour Al-Khindi of Johns Hopkins University posed several hypotheses. They theorized that because self-affirmation has been shown to make us more open to threats and unfavorable feedback, it should also make us more attentive and emotionally receptive to the errors that we make.

The researchers further hypothesized that these effects on attention and emotion could be measured directly in the form of a well-known brain response called error-related negativity, or ERN. The ERN is a pronounced wave of electrical activity in the brain that occurs within 100 ms of making an error on a task.

To test their hypotheses, the researchers randomly assigned 38 undergraduates to either a self-affirmation or a non-affirmation condition at the beginning of the study. In the self-affirmation condition, participants were asked to rank six values -- including aesthetic, social, political, religious, economic, and theoretical values -- from most to least important. They then had five minutes to write about why their highest-ranked value was important to them. In the non-affirmation condition, participants also ranked the six values, but they then wrote why their highest-ranked value was not very important to them. This was done in order to undermine self-affirmation in that group.

After ranking the values, the participants performed a test of self-control -- the "go/no-go" task -- in which they were told to press a button whenever the letter M (the "go" stimulus) appeared on a screen; when the letter W (the "no-go" stimulus) appeared, they were supposed to refrain from pressing the button. To increase the sense of threat in the task, participants were given negative feedback ("Wrong!") when they made a mistake.

While they were completing the go/no-go task, the participants' brain activity was recorded using electroencephalography, or EEG.

The findings suggest that self-affirmation improved participants' performance on the go/no-go task. Participants in the self-affirmation condition made fewer errors of commission -- pressing the button when they shouldn't have -- than did those in the non-affirmation condition.

But the participants' brain activity revealed an even more interesting story. While the self-affirmation and non-affirmation groups showed similar brain activity when they answered correctly, self-affirmed participants showed a significantly higher ERN when they made an error. This effect held up even after the researchers accounted for the number of errors of commission and errors of omission the participants made, in addition to their reaction times for the task.

Notably, the association between the ERN and the number of errors that participants made was stronger for the self-affirmed group. This suggests that self-affirmation enhanced the ERN response for those participants, which in turned predicted their performance on the task. The researchers speculate that participants who were self-affirmed were more receptive to errors which allowed them to better correct for their mistakes.

"These findings are important because they suggest one of the first ways in which the brain mediates the effects of self-affirmation," says Legault.

While these findings help to demystify the mechanisms that underlie self-affirmation, they may also have important practical implications. According to Legault, "Practitioners who are interested in using self-affirmation as an intervention tactic in academic and social programming might be interested to know that the strategy produces measurable neurophysiological effects."

Legault says that, ultimately, this research helps to show that "error-related distress, and our awareness thereof, can actually be a good thing."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. L. Legault, T. Al-Khindi, M. Inzlicht. Preserving Integrity in the Face of Performance Threat: Self-Affirmation Enhances Neurophysiological Responsiveness to Errors. Psychological Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612448483

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Self-affirmation enhances performance, makes us receptive to our mistakes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024150800.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2012, October 24). Self-affirmation enhances performance, makes us receptive to our mistakes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024150800.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Self-affirmation enhances performance, makes us receptive to our mistakes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024150800.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins