Psychology

Self-Esteem

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Science  17 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6168, pp. 230
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6168.230-b

Being identified as a member of a group associated with unfavorable stereotypes can evoke behavior that conforms to those stereotypes. One remedy for which there is empirical support from field experiments is to elicit a brief episode of autobiographical self-affirmation. Hall et al. have adapted this methodology to enhance the performance of soup kitchen habitués on two standard cognitive function tests: fluid intelligence and executive control. In the treatment group, some of these impoverished individuals were asked to describe verbally an event that had made them feel successful or proud; people in the two control groups were asked either to describe their daily diet, which might have served to make the poverty stereotype more salient, or to watch a funny video, which did in fact serve to elevate their mood. The self-affirming group performed significantly better than the control groups on both tests. Furthermore, as one would predict, the performance-enhancing effect of self-affirmation was not observed when wealthy people (whose average annual income was 10 times that of the poor participants) were tested. Finally, the upside potential for this kind of intervention was revealed when three times as many treated (versus control) individuals stopped on their way out of the soup kitchen to collect fliers containing information about benefit programs aimed at the working poor.

Psychol. Sci. 10.1177/0956797613510949 (2013).

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