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Psychol Sci. 2012 Dec;23(12):1455-60. doi: 10.1177/0956797612448483. Epub 2012 Oct 22.

Preserving integrity in the face of performance threat: self-affirmation enhances neurophysiological responsiveness to errors.

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Department of Psychology, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY 13699, USA.


Self-affirmation produces large effects: Even a simple reminder of one's core values reduces defensiveness against threatening information. But how, exactly, does self-affirmation work? We explored this question by examining the impact of self-affirmation on neurophysiological responses to threatening events. We hypothesized that because self-affirmation increases openness to threat and enhances approachability of unfavorable feedback, it should augment attention and emotional receptivity to performance errors. We further hypothesized that this augmentation could be assessed directly, at the level of the brain. We measured self-affirmed and nonaffirmed participants' electrophysiological responses to making errors on a task. As we anticipated, self-affirmation elicited greater error responsiveness than did nonaffirmation, as indexed by the error-related negativity, a neural signal of error monitoring. Self-affirmed participants also performed better on the task than did nonaffirmed participants. We offer novel brain evidence that self-affirmation increases openness to threat and discuss the role of error detection in the link between self-affirmation and performance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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