Self-Affirmation: Understanding the Effects



Self-affirmation theory proposes that individuals possess a flexible self-system, such that they can respond to threats in one domain of life by affirming self-worth in other domains. In social psychology research, this has been examined in studies where people affirm important values in the context of self-threatening events or information. This paper reviews the literature demonstrating the effects of values affirmations and proposes a theoretical account to understand how self-affirmations reduce defensiveness in response to threats to individuals' health, attenuate physiological stress responses to laboratory and naturalistic stressors, and improve academic performance among individuals experiencing identity threat. The proposed model has three components: Self-affirmations boost self-resources, broaden the perspective with which people view information and events in their lives, and lead to an uncoupling of the self and the threat, reducing the threat's impact in affecting the self. This model helps explain what occurs when individuals affirm values in the context of threats, and how self-affirmations may instantiate lasting effects through changing the nature of ongoing experience.