Self-affirmation produces large effects: Even a simple reminder of one’s core values reduces defensiveness against threatening information. But how, exactly, does self-affirmation work? We explored this question by examining the impact of self-affirmation on neurophysiological responses to threatening events. We hypothesized that because self-affirmation increases openness to threat and enhances approachability of unfavorable feedback, it should augment attention and emotional receptivity to performance errors. We further hypothesized that this augmentation could be assessed directly, at the level of the brain. We measured self-affirmed and nonaffirmed participants’ electrophysiological responses to making errors on a task. As we anticipated, self-affirmation elicited greater error responsiveness than did nonaffirmation, as indexed by the error-related negativity, a neural signal of error monitoring. Self-affirmed participants also performed better on the task than did nonaffirmed participants. We offer novel brain evidence that self-affirmation increases openness to threat and discuss the role of error detection in the link between self-affirmation and performance.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Self affirmation enhances responsiveness to errors.
Legault et al. note brain responses that correlate with augmented attention and emotional receptivity to performance errors caused by enhanced self affirmation. The experiments used the usual group of undergraduate psychology students, who were split into two groups given writing exercises designed to either enhance or undermine self-affirmation. Both groups then performed a simple go, no-go exercise, with errors getting negative feedback. EEG recordings were made during this exercise. Here is their summary extract: