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Health Psychol. 2009 Sep;28(5):554-62. doi: 10.1037/a0014663.

Psychological vulnerability and stress: the effects of self-affirmation on sympathetic nervous system responses to naturalistic stressors.

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1
Department of Psychology, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA 93106- 9660, USA. david.sherman@psych.ucsb.edu

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Everyday stressors can threaten valued aspects of the self. Self-affirmation theory posits that this threat could be attenuated if individuals affirm alternative self-resources. The present study examined whether self-affirmation would buffer cumulative stress responses to an ongoing academic stressor.

DESIGN:

Undergraduate participants provided 15-hr urine samples on the morning of their most stressful examination and baseline samples 14 days prior to the examination. Participants were randomly assigned to the self-affirmation condition where they wrote two essays on important values over the 2-week period prior to exam, or a control condition.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Samples were analyzed for urinary catecholamine excretion (epinephrine, norepinephrine), an indicator of sympathetic nervous system activation. Participants also indicated their appraisals of the examination experience.

RESULTS:

Participants in the control condition increased in cumulative epinephrine levels from baseline to examination, whereas participants in the self-affirmation condition did not differ from baseline to examination. The buffering effect of self-affirmation was strongest among individuals most concerned about negative college evaluation, those most psychologically vulnerable.

CONCLUSION:

The findings demonstrate that sympathetic nervous system responses to naturalistic stressors can be attenuated by self-affirmation. Discussion centers on psychological pathways by which affirmation can reduce stress and the implications of the findings for health outcomes among chronically stressed participants.

PMID:
19751081
DOI:
10.1037/a0014663
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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