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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » Self-Affirmation

Self-Affirmation

The Skeptics’ Daily Affirmation

Like most psychological questions, the effects of self-affirmation are complex and not completely understood. It seems that they have a negative effect on people with low self-esteem. For people with average to high self-esteem, there is a slightly positive effect which can make people less defensive and more open, but also more likely to use confirmation bias to dismiss esteem-threatening information. And, the effects of self-affirmation on actual behavior seems debatable.

I’ve always seen this as a ridiculous thing to do, but upon further thought, it makes a whole lot of sense.

Confidence has a lot to do with not believing you can fail. Being ignorant of possible obstructions can certainly assist to this end. Standing in a bar, telling yourself that you are I am the fucking man and that women love you works.

The same, it turns out, is true of daily affirmations. A recent study published in Psychological Science finds that for people with low self esteem saying positive self-affirmations actually lowered their self-esteem. For people with high self-esteem at baseline, affirmations has only a slightly positive effect. Seem counter-intuitive at first, but researchers Wood, Lee, and Perunovic believe that for people with low self-esteem the self-affirmation just makes them consider how untrue the contrived statement is, lowering their self-esteem.

Which makes sense if you have a problem with over-analyzing and second-guessing your every move – things I know I am certainly guilty of when my self-esteem is down.

They liken this to excessive praise. If a parent tells a child that that they are the most wonderful child in the world, they are likely to just role their eyes. Unrealistic praise is not as effective as more targeted and realistic praise.

Which seems like a bit of the science behind this gem – and more advice from the same blog. Not that knowing why it works makes it any more effective.

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