Causal projection, similarity projection, and coping with threat to self-esteem1


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    . The authors wish to thank David S. Holmes for his constructive comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

Requests for reprints should be addressed to Thomas G. Burish, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37240.


The effectiveness of causal projection and similarity projection in controlling stress associated with threat to self-esteem was investigated. To induce threat to self-esteem, half of the subjects were told that they had done poorly on an important achievement test while the remaining subjects were not told that they had done poorly. The projection strategies were manipulated by encouraging subjects to attribute the cause of their poor performance to the examiner instead of to themselves (causal projection) or to estimate how poorly their friends would have scored on the test had they taken it and not performed well on it (similarity projection). Measures of subjective anxiety, depression, and anger indicated that (a) the testing situation and negative feedback were effective in increasing stress, (b) causal projection was effective in controlling stress, and (c) similarity projection was partially effective in controlling stress. The results provide evidence that causal projection can be effective in controlling stress and also have implications concerning the conditions under which the use of projection will and will not be effective for coping with stress. The importance that situational factors may have on the effectiveness of cognitive coping strategies was emphasized.