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Self-affirmation 'makes us receptive to mistakes and boosts performance'
Posted online: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 4:19:49 PM

Washington, October 25 : Researchers have explored 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," lead researcher Lisa Legault from Clarkson University said.

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 unfavourable 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.



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