Motivation and emotion/Book/2023/Self-affirmation and psychological change

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Self-affirmation and psychological change:
How can self-affirmation be used for positive psychological change?


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Case study: Self-affirmations in Teacher Education

[[ File:Affirmations-1.webp|thumb|308x308px|Figure 1. Affirmations have the ability to transform your internal state]]

Former student teacher candidates incorporated self-affirmation writing exercises throughout a teacher education program whilst studying. The enhancement of self-integrity supported overall in overcoming challenges and the demands that were experienced during the time of their placement. Self-affirmations assisted in focusing on their own positive inner voice and self-acceptance (Robison, 2014), which overall improved their experience and education during this time.

Have you ever spoken nicely about yourself and had a really great day? Or have you ever been kind to yourself which led you to have more of a positive and clearer mindset? The idea of speaking good about yourself and creating positive thinking patterns can build confidence to allow successful healing throughout individual's lives. Self-affirmations have the ability to transform and alter pre-conceived opinions of individuals which ultimately can create positive thinking and with further visual success (see Figure 1).

When integrating self-affirmations into everyday life, there are significant changes and alterations that occur for individuals to seek better positive outcomes in all areas. Factors such as behavioural changes, improvement in academic performance and positive daily life all are areas that drive individuals to continue carrying out this application whilst still being educated along the way to learn how to continue these positive patterns.

Self-affirmations focus on how individuals can adapt and reflect on values that may be relevant and important to them personally. The idea of using nice words about yourself may seem simple, but can be quite difficult to do consistently. By implementing psychological theories and research, individuals will be able to adapt a better understanding on how to integrate the concept of self-affirmations into everyday life. Theories such as the glass half full theory, self-affirmation theory, self-defence mechanisms and behavioural changes all integrate significant factors for individuals to adapt and follow, whilst educating for a positive psychological change to occur.

Focus questions:
  1. What are self-affirmations?
  2. How can self-affirmations promote psychological change?
  3. What type of changes occur?
  4. What are the psychological theories that can explain the effects of self-affirmation?

What are self-affirmations?

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A self-affirmation may be defined as a positive statement or set of such statements about the self in which a person is required to repeat on a regular basis, often used as part of treatments for depression, anxiety, negative thinking, or low self-esteem (APA)[factual?]. Self-affirmations are expected to reduce the psychological discomfort associated with cognitive dissonance (McQueen & Klien, 2005), which can progress positive psychological changes within an individual. Individuals may view themselves as competent, compassionate and worthy, which sometimes their attitudes, intentions and behaviours may not match this ideal that they had previously (Critcher & Dunning, 2014). Self-affirmations can challenge individual abilities to defend their personal self-views which may be normally minimised and dismissed to then be positive and more self-aware. Integrating this type of behaviour will allow individuals to hold a better outlook on themselves and how they are growing as individuals for the better, which will overall promote positive psychological change.

Self-affirmations promoting psychology changes

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Self-affirmations may attempt to create more positive outlooks for individuals personally as well as other external factors that may normally cause stress and overwhelming feelings within their life (see Figure 2). Standards of the integration of self-affirmations continues to present people with opportunities to write about their important personal values that they consider having implications on their well-being (McQueen & Klein, 2006). The utilisation of self-affirmations has appeared to hold an increasing number of health behaviours shown in various change studies, which can advance understandings of the conditions of individuals after implementing and how self-affirmations can be most effective (Ferrer & Cohen, 2018)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. According to Harris and Epton (2009), intriguing consequences of psychological threat is[grammar?] caused by self-affirming which supports the reduction of other self-threatening information to ultimately promote the ability to think and perceive individual objectively. This implies that if someone integrates self-affirmations into their daily routine, there is the ability to confront self-threat and to manipulate the obstacles obstructing positive health-behaviour change in an effective way. It is also stated that self-affirmation manipulations are designed to make a central and positive aspect of the self-concept salient, to provide a reminder of ‘who you are’, also offer reassurance that self-worth can be derived from other aspects of the self rather than the threatened one[factual?]. Self-affirmations hold the ability to add to previous understandings to resist unwelcome and unimportant information which may affect psychological thought patterns of one-self. Integrating these types of behaviours into everyday life will ultimately support in the promotion of psychological changes.[factual?]

Growth mindset

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Positive psychological changes can be specifically recognised through individual growth mindset which is a factor that will assist improving and altering thought processes about oneself. Carol Dweck explains an expert opinion about growth mindset where she expresses the importance of viewing challenges positively, finding lessons in success, remain open minded and seek new perspectives or opportunities (Dweck, 2007). With support from Dweck, these components ultimately can assist with the success and education of psychological change for individuals and how they can expand into different thought processes which will allow growth in positive mindsets. Utilising this type of behavioural factor will allow individuals to control their negative thoughts which may be disabling to explore new outlets.

What type of changes occur?

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During the adoption process of self-affirmation throughout everyday life, regular changes and positive outcomes may occur for individuals quite rapidly, which can ultimately lead to positive outcomes[factual?]. These interventions bring upon [awkward expression?] a better expansive view of the self and its resources, weakening the implications of a threat for personal integrity (Cohen & Sherman 2014), which implies that the success of self-affirmation on an individual can cause strong positive changes. Social psychological self-affirmation research shows that value affirmations often boost adaptive functioning, which has been shown to improve all areas of life to benefit the present and future self (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Significant alterations that occur for individuals can also positively impact neural mechanisms, leading to promoting health behaviours and improvements in academic performances, suggesting that self-relevance and values are exerted as a neural response (Falk et al., 2015). Self-affirmation also has an effect on psychological interventions which increase physical activity behaviour, improve communication tools, and reduce altering risk behaviours (Falk et al., 2015). These changes will occur consistently daily, which therefore will improve all future applications and mindsets to lead to a confident change in wellbeing[factual?].

How can self-affirmations assist in everyday life?

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Self-affirmation is a psychological technique that is effective in increasing receptivity to interventions across domains from promoting health behaviours in high-risk populations to improving academic performance in underrepresented groups (Burgess, 2014). Examples of this occurring could be represented within school students, university students or throughout workplaces where an individual's presentation and daily execution is highly respected and expected to be satisfactory each time. This type of assistance will improve all areas and applications towards work, as well as any form of educational performance. Not only will this improve important aspects of life, it will also increase the possibility of positive mind sets for daily life to ensure individuals are expanding their motivation for change.[factual?]

Supporting psychological theories

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The importance of psychological change happening with regards to self-affirmation can contain various theories that all have an impact on the psychological well-being of an individual. Here, the self-affirmation theory, self-defence mechanisms, behavioural changes and the glass half full theory are all factors that provide examples on how this can cause positive outcomes on psychological well-being. The key tenets of integrating these theories posits that people have a need to see themselves as a good and adequate person which can be considered as having “self-integrity” (Steele, 1988). A challenge to one's self-integrity is often experienced as a sense of psychological threat causing an aversive state in which important aspects of the self are challenged (Easterbrook et al., 2021).

Self-affirmation theory

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Self-affirmation theory proposes that individuals possess a flexible self-system, such that they can then respond to threats in one domain of life by affirming self-worth in other domains[factual?]. In social psychology research this has been examined in studies where people affirm important values in the context of self-threatening events or information (Sherman, 2013), which provides insight into how effective this specific theory is on an individual. This particular theory has compatibility with the topic of competence within well-being as a whole, which argues for the importance of maintaining one's sense of worth and adequacy in the face of threat which is a particular important aspect of optimal functioning (Howell, 2016). This theory provides many positive contributions for psychological well-being which will continue throughout an individual's life.

Case study

Grace begins her day by saying; 'I am kind', 'I am worthy' and 'I am loved', which has created a positive self-view to continue on with the rest of her day.

Self-defence mechanisms

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Another theory that can support the positive psychological change in individuals is self-defence mechanisms which provide psychological protection which can overall protect oneself from threat and internal conflicts, which may also be the root of various other issues. Most research has suggested that individuals automatically have a 'psychological immune system', which implies the protective adaptations when an actual or impending threat is perceived (Gilbert et al., 1998). This initiates those various strategies may be put into place for individuals to create a psychological barrier which ensures that personal worth and well-being has been placed at the forefront to become less threatening (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). This will continue throughout life for individuals to view their thoughts and feel responsible for positive outcomes, rather than blaming themselves for the negative outcomes.

Case study

Luke has struggled with anxiety and depression for over 5 years. He continually puts himself down which makes him feel sad and isolated. He has begun using self-affirmation theories which has protected his self-integrity and created a barrier between the negative voices and his positive self.

Behavioural changes

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Figure 3. Image of brain where psychological changes occur

Another supporting theory and factor into integrating positive outlooks on individuals[grammar?] psychological well-being is the concept of behavioural changes. As the application of self-affirmations can allow considerable changes, providing healthier lifestyles, it leads individuals to be encouraged to pay close attention to their behaviours and persuade them of the need for change (Harris & Epton, 2009). In a study conducted by Falk and Colleagues (2015), self-affirmation effects were tested using functional magnetic resonance which examined neural processes with affirmations during the exposure to threatening health messages. While focusing on the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex (VMPFC) (See Figure 3), self-related processes and positive valuations can be tested. Those in the self-affirmation conditions had more activity in VMPFC during the exposure. This suggests that affirmation and the core values may exert effects allowing self-relevance. How does this affect behaviour?

Case study

Taylor started implementing self-affirmations into her morning routine. She has begun to see major changed in her behaviours and how she act around others. She has started to appreciate little things and change her views about situations more.

Glass half full theory

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The glass half full theory can be linked to optimistic outlooks which can have an impact on an individual's well-being and how they adapt change[factual?]. Optimism can be described as a cognitive construct or expectancies regarding future outcomes which may also relate to factors of motivation (Carver & Scheier, 2014). This particular theory can be broken into big optimism and little optimism. Big optimism reflects generalised expectations about longer term positive outcomes, and little optimism reflects specific expectations about acute positive outcomes (Gyurcsk & Brawley, 2001). This type of outlook will eventually cause a better relationship with oneself and life as a whole when individuals adapt the optimistic lifestyle[factual?].

Case study

Mike had a really stressful day at work and is feeling very down and tired from it. He is planning on catching up with friends later that night. He can see a positive ending to the day and doesn't let his bad day at work ruin the rest of the night.


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Self-affirmations are a psychological theory that can promote psychological well-being in a healthy and positive way, whilst still allowing room for improvement and individuals to understand the negative factors occurring in their daily life that may need alteration. Self-affirmations demonstrate the process of thinking or writing about one's core values, utilising psychological techniques (Falk et al., 2015), which can cause individuals to physically or mentally speak positive about them self or their achievements which will acknowledge all types of optimistic outlooks.

The main themes are, firstly, the idea of contributing a positive impact on to [awkward expression?] everyday life for individuals. This type of factor follows through in all areas of life to be quite effective and holds outstanding results and to give opportunities for individuals to incorporate positive mindsets for previously negative tasks. Harris and Epton (2009) have addressed this by disclosing the importance of self-affirmations on psychological well-being and how it allows individuals to uphold positive talk about oneself and what type of behaviours come from that. By implementing encouraging expressions daily, individuals will be able to face many challenges with an optimistic outlook, which will overall provide change in all aspects in life. This links to growth mindset and how individuals will continually explore and grow by finding new perspective and outlooks in life.

Psychological theories have provided an extensive confirmation on the importance of self-affirmations and how they can impact individuals in a positive way. Firstly, the self-affirmation theory can provide flexible systems to adapt to this. Self-defence mechanisms will allow individuals to create a strong barrier between negative inputs, changing them to become positive outputs which will alter the thought process of oneself. Behavioural changes will source new ways of thinking to ensure individuals are adapting a new and developed positive change. Lastly, the glass half-full theory supports optimistic outlooks to ultimately reflect specific expectations in a different viewpoint.

As speaking nicely about yourself may be deemed as impossible when there is preconceived views or negative outlooks, the idea of incorporating self-affirmations into daily life may be necessary for particular individuals. It is important to recognise the issues and be able to adopt new and significant applications that will support and change the behaviours that individuals may hold. Overall, by embracing self-affirmations daily, individuals will be able to effectively hold a positive psychological well-being, impacting all areas of life for the better.


1 What are self-affirmations?

Saying something mean about yourself
Speaking nicely about yourself leading to positive psychological change
Saying something nice to someone else

2 Who can integrate self-affirmations into their life?

No one
Only under 30 years of age

See also

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APA Dictionary of Psychology

Burgess, D. J., Taylor, B. C., Phelan, S., Spoont, M., van Ryn, M., Hausmann, L. R. M., Do, T., & Gordon, H. S. (2014). A Brief Self-Affirmation Study to Improve the Experience of Minority Patients.” Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 6”(2), 135–150.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2014). Dispositional optimism. “Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18”(6), 293–299.

Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65(1), 333–371.

Critcher, C. R., & Dunning, D. (2015). Self-Affirmations Provide a Broader Perspective on Self-Threat. “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4”1(1), 3-18.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.

Easterbrook, M. J., Harris, P. R., & Sherman, D. K. (2021). Self-affirmation theory in educational contexts. Journal of Social Issues, 77(3), 683–701.

Falk, E. B., O’Donnell, M. B., Cascio, C. N., Tinney, F., Kang, Y., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., An, L., Resnicow, K., & Strecher, V. J. (2015). Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(7), 1977–1982. Ferrer, R. A., & Cohen, G. L. (2019). Reconceptualizing Self-Affirmation With the Trigger and Channel Framework: Lessons From the Health Domain. “Personality and Social Psychology Review, 23”(3), 285–304. Forgeard, M. J. C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Seeing the glass half full: A review of the causes and consequences of optimism. Pratiques Psychologiques, 18(2), 107–120.

Gilbert, D. T., Pinel, E. C., Wilson, T. D., Blumberg, S. J., & Wheatley, T. P. (1998). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75”(3), 617–638.

Gyurcsik, N. C., & Brawley, L. R. (2001). Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty? The Relationship of Big and Little Optimism With Acute and Longer Term Exercise-Related Social Cognitions. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 6(2), 108–127.

Harris, P. R., & Epton, T. (2009). The Impact of Self-Affirmation on Health Cognition, Health Behaviour and Other Health-Related Responses: A Narrative Review. “Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3”(6), 962–978.

Howell, A.J. Self-Affirmation Theory and the Science of Well-Being (2017). J Happiness Stud 18(293–311).

MCQueen, A., & Klein, W. M. P. (2006). Experimental manipulations of self-affirmation: A systematic review. “Self and Identity, 5”(4), 289–354. McQueen. (2006). Experimental manipulations of self-affirmation: A systematic review. “Self and Identity, 5” 289–354. Robinson, S. (2014). A Case Study of Self-Affirmations in Teacher Education. “Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 20”, 27–36.

Sherman, D. K. (2013). Self-Affirmation: Understanding the Effects. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(11), 834–845.

Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The Psychology of Self‐defense: Self‐Affirmation Theory. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 38(83–242). Elsevier.

Steele, C.M. (1988) The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21(2), 261–302.

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