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Friday, December 27, 2013

The power of self-affirmation

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The Third Metric, Self Affirmation, Self Affirmation Mental Boost, Self Affirmation Poverty, Self Affirmation Poverty Mental Boost

Boosting Self-Worth Can Counteract Cognitive Effects of Poverty

Sometimes a little bit of self-affirmation is all it takes to give you that much-needed push.

A new study in the journal Psychological Science shows that:

 i) remembering a past achievement or a proud moment is associated with better performance on problem-solving tests among people in poverty, and 

ii) also seems to increase the desire to seek out local government aid services.

"This study shows that surprisingly simple acts of self-affirmation can improve the cognitive function and behavioral outcomes of people in poverty,"
study researcher Jiaying Zhao, a professor at the University of British Columbia, said in a statement. Zhao worked on the study with colleagues at Princeton University and the University of Washington.

The study included 150 people who visited a New Jersey soup kitchen over a two-year time period. Some of the study participants were asked to privately tape-record a personal story of a past achievement or success before undergoing some problem-solving tests. The other participants served as the control group, and were not asked to specifically tell a story of a past achievement.

Researchers found that those assigned to recount a past achievement did better on the problem-solving tests -- what researchers said was the same as a 10 point increase in IQ scores -- and were more likely to express a desire to get some help from aid services.

In addition, "the effects were not driven by elevated positive mood, and the same intervention did not affect the performance of wealthy participants," they wrote in the study. 

"The findings suggest that self-affirmation can improve the cognitive performance and decisions of the poor, and it may have important policy implications."

In previous research, Zhao has found an association between poverty and having less mental "bandwidth" to put toward other aspects of life that could potentially help someone break out of poverty, such as education and time management.

"Previous accounts of poverty have blamed the poor for their personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success," Zhao previously said in a statement. 

"We're arguing that being poor can impair cognitive functioning, which hinders individuals’ ability to make good decisions and can cause further poverty." 


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Psychological Science

Psychological Science (PSS), the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology, is a peer-reviewed monthly journal with cutting-edge research articles, short reports, and research reports spanning the entire spectrum of the science of psychology.  

Psychological Science is the source for the latest findings in cognitive, social, developmental, and health psychology, as well as behavioral neuroscience and biopsychology.

For people in poverty, remembering better times — such as past success — improves cognitive functioning by several IQ points and increases their willingness to seek help from crucial aid services, a new study finds.

The findings suggest that reconnecting the poor with feelings of self-worth reduces the powerful stigma and psychological barriers that make it harder for low-income individuals to make good decisions or access the very assistance services that can help them get back on their feet.

“This study shows that surprisingly simple acts of self-affirmation improve the cognitive function and behavioral outcomes of people in poverty,” says study co-author and University of British Columbia professor Jiaying Zhao. The study will be published this month in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The main experiments took place in a New Jersey soup kitchen over two years. Nearly 150 study participants were asked to privately record a personal story with a tape recorder before doing a variety of problem-solving tests.

Compared to a control group, participants randomly assigned to “self-affirm” — to recount a proud moment or past achievemen performed dramatically better on the tests, equivalent to a ten-point increase in IQ. They were also more likely to seek out information on aid services from the local government.

While previous studies have successfully seen self-affirmation improve test scores in two other marginalized groups — African-American students and female math students — this is the first study to show it in the poor, and the first to use oral self-affirmation techniques due to participants’ low literacy levels.

The study has important policy implications, including the potential to improve enrollment in government or charity assistance programs (health care, food stamps, tax rebates), which are used by only a fraction of eligible participants.

Zhao and co-authors Eldar Shafir of Princeton University and Crystal Hall of University of Washington theorize that:
- self-affirmation alleviates the mentally overwhelming stigma and 
cognitive threats of poverty,  
which can:
- impair reasoning
- cause bad decisions and 
- perpetuate financial woes.

This study builds on previous research by Zhao and colleagues from Princeton, Harvard and University of Warwick, which found that poverty consumes so much mental energy that those in poor circumstances have little remaining brainpower to concentrate on other areas of life.
As a result, less “mental bandwidth” remains for education, training, time-management, assistance programs and other steps that could help break out of the cycles of poverty.


Jiaying Zhao is an assistant professor in the Dept. of Psychology and Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology.
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