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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2007 Jun;2(2):124-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00033.x.

Better, Stronger, Faster: Self-Serving Judgment, Affect Regulation, and the Optimal Vigilance Hypothesis.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, London, Ontario, Canada
University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.


Self-serving judgments, in which the self is viewed more favorably than other people, are ubiquitous. Their dynamic variation within individuals may be explained in terms of the regulation of affect. Self-serving judgments produce positive emotions, and threat increases self-serving judgments (a compensatory pattern that restores affect to a set point or baseline). Perceived mutability is a key moderator of these judgments; low mutability (i.e., the circumstance is closed to modification) triggers a cognitive response aimed at affect regulation, whereas high mutability (i.e., the circumstance is open to further modification) activates direct behavioral remediation. Threats often require immediate response, whereas positive events do not. Because of this brief temporal window, an active mechanism is needed to restore negative (but not positive) affective shifts back to a set point. Without this active reset, an earlier threat would make the individual less vigilant toward a new threat. Thus, when people are sad, they aim to return their mood to baseline, often via self-serving judgments. We argue that asymmetric homeostasis enables optimal vigilance, which establishes a coherent theoretical account of the role of self-serving judgments in affect regulation.

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