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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Dec;101(6):1157-73. doi: 10.1037/a0026105. Epub 2011 Nov 7.

Seeing failure in your life: Imagery perspective determines whether self-esteem shapes reactions to recalled and imagined failure.

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Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


The present research reveals that when it comes to recalling and imagining failure in one's life, changing how one looks at the event can change its impact on well-being; however, the nature of the effect depends on an aspect of one's self-concept, namely, self-esteem. Five studies measured or manipulated the visual perspective (internal first-person vs. external third-person) individuals used to mentally image recalled or imagined personal failures. It has been proposed that imagery perspective determines whether people's reactions to an event are shaped bottom-up by concrete features of the event (first-person) or top-down by their self-concept (third-person; L. K. Libby & R. P. Eibach, 2011b). Evidence suggests that differences in the self-concepts of individuals with low and high self-esteem (LSEs and HSEs) are responsible for self-esteem differences in reaction to failure, leading LSEs to have more negative thoughts and feelings about themselves (e.g., M. H. Kernis, J. Brockner, & B. S. Frankel, 1989). Thus, the authors predicted, and found, that low self-esteem was associated with greater overgeneralization--operationalized as negativity in accessible self-knowledge and feelings of shame--only when participants had pictured failure from the third-person perspective and not from the first-person. Further, picturing failure from the third-person, rather than first-person, perspective, increased shame and the negativity of accessible knowledge among LSEs, whereas it decreased shame among HSEs. Results help to distinguish between different theoretical accounts of how imagery perspective functions and have implications for the study of top-down and bottom-up influences on self-judgment and emotion, as well as for the role of perspective and abstraction in coping.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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